Episode 41 | 6 Ways to Stay Happy While Running Your Business

Show Notes


[00:00] Rob: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 41.

[00:03] [music]

[00:11] Rob: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you have built your first product or are just thinking about tit.  I’m Rob.

[00:20] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:21] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.  What’s the word this week, Mike?

[00:26] Mike: I am in the middle of trying to parse out a very, very long blog post that I wrote about my Lasik experience.  I looked at it and it’s like 5,000 words long.  I thought I’d actually cut it into two to three different articles.

[00:41] Rob: Or making it into a book?

[00:42] Mike: Maybe!

[00:43] Rob: [laughs]  Have you published it yet or you’re still editing it?

[00:45] Mike: No, I’ve already edited it, but actually, going back and looking at how long it is, I may actually want to  parse it out and put it into a couple of different posts.

[00:56] Rob: You know, I think I’ve only done that once in the last five years of blogging where I’ve had a continued next week or whatever.  Those are super popular.  They have like the highest, you know, it’s like page views per article, per landing; those posts do because everyone wants to continue reading.  Whereas normally, I have like less than two page views per visit.  And that’s very typical of blogs, right?  They kind of average around 1 or 1.5.

[01:22] These particular articles averaged like three or four because everyone kept jumping to the next one.  So doing a series I think is actually a good way to get people to kind of engage with your blog.

[01:31] Mike: Interesting. The other thing I was going to be doing with it was taking a look at doing a little bit of keyword stuff with it; maybe just some experimentation to sharpen my skills a little bit.  I actually pulled up the Google AdWords keyword tool and started looking at seeing what keywords are looked at the most, and what the global and local search terms are for the different phrases around Lasik surgery, eye surgery, laser eye surgery, etc.

[02:02] Not something I usually do.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever done in the past with a blog post.  But I’m just kind of curious to see how that goes; just to do a couple little experiments.  You ever do that before, or no?

[02:14] Rob: Yeah, I have.  It’s always fun.  It’s fun to rank for terms like that that you don’t necessarily care about.  Assuming you do rank for them, you’ll start to see 50 uniques a month for a search term like “Lasik” or “Lasik: your town name”, or some weird thing.  It’s kind of crazy these searches that you would never think your blog would get.

[02:36] Now, they’re not going to convert, right?   No one’s going to subscribe or anything.  But yeah, I used to post about a lot of different topics, and so I still get searches for just bizarre keywords.  And I have used the AdWords keyword tool, not to like write a headline, but to…I’ll write a headline and it just kinda isn’t working, and I’m thinking like, “What’s a better term for that?”

[02:54] And I don’t go to the AdWords keyword tool because I want more people to necessarily find it, but it’s like, “What is everyone calling this?”  It’s almost like I go to it like it’s a dictionary or a thesaurus; that’s really what I’ve used it for.  And it helps you to see what the most common terms are for that particular thing.

[03:12] Mike: Got it.  What I’m doing is I’m looking at the competition levels for it in terms of the keywords and just taking a look at that and saying, “Is this something that I could realistically rank for, or is it not something I would end up on the first page at all for?”

[03:30] Rob: Right. Now, the competition in the AdWords keyword tool, that’s Google AdWords competition…

[03:38] Mike: Correct.  So that would be paid advertising for those.  However, I wonder how well that translates into getting onto the first page in terms of the SEO?

[03:48] Rob: Yeah.  It doesn’t tend to…I mean it can correlate, but it also doesn’t in a lot of cases.  So it’s not a very good indicator, in other words.

[03:56] Mike: It’s a test.

[03:57] Rob: Yeah. No, no, totally.  And again, it’s not like you’re trying to convert people with the term “Lasik”.  So it’s fine.

[04:03] Mike: Exactly.

[04:04] Rob: You know, I did a fun test and I registered an exact match domain name just for kicks, and it has to do with Fresno, right when I moved here.  I was like, “Oh, the .org is available!”  And so I registered it.  And I think I’m number one in Google now for this term.  And I kinda got there by accident, and now I’m getting people calling and emailing asking for this service.  It’s Fresno Web Design is what it is.  I was like, “Ah, I’ll just do it for kicks.”

[04:25] And I don’t do web design.  You know what it’s really helped?  I get probably one email or call a week and it’s helped me establish relationships with local web design firms, because I’ll be like, “Hey, I just got this referral,” blah, blah, blah, and I’ll just send it over.  I’m not asking for money or anything.  I just say, ‘Here you go.” Now people are like, “That guy’s cool!”  It’s almost like giving…I’m liking buying…

[04:49] Mike: You’re whoring yourself out!

[04:51] Rob: [laughs]  No!  Is that what it sounds like?

[04:53] Mike: [laughs]  I think so.  You’re buying your friends!

[04:55] Rob: I joked with one of them and I said, “I think I need to do some Black Hat stuff to get off this first page, because this is getting irritating now.”  Every week I’m like, “Oh, come on!”

[05:04] Mike: Just sell it to one of them.  I mean if it’s guaranteed…

[05:08] Rob: Yeah, I think it’s in the top three; been there for a year or something.  I didn’t do much to it, so…moving on.  By now everyone’s probably heard that you and I are putting on a conference called MicroConf, and that’s going to be June 6th and 7th.  It’s a Monday and Tuesday in Las Vegas.  Again, you’ve probably already heard about it.  But if you haven’t, head over to Microconf.com.  The conferences is for self-funded startups and single founders in the great tradition of what Mike and I have experienced and what we like to talk about.

[05:40] So I’m pretty stoked, Mike.  I mean this is our first live event.  Hopefully there will be more.  I think my eyes are pretty big because I get nervous doing new things.  So this is like such a big thing to bite off.

[05:53] Mike: Yeah, I mean there’s a huge amount of work that we’re putting in just to pull off the conference itself.  I mean I didn’t really think about…I guess I did think about how much work it would be when you start getting into the details of what you need to do to actually host a conference, and find a venue, and handle the registrations, and get tickets distributed, and do the marketing and sales and everything else.

[06:15] And you’ve got a very short time period in which to get it done.  So it’s exciting, but at the same time it’s a little nerve-racking as well.

[06:23] Rob: Yeah.  So far, so good, though.  We’ll keep everyone posted on that.  Something else I wanted to bring up was I heard that someone on this podcast was named a friend of Red Gate.  So let’s give the listeners a few moments to guess if it was me or you.

[06:38] [pause]

[06:39] Rob: All right, it was Mike.

[06:40] Mike: I don’t think we’re going to hear from them. [laughs]

[06:41] Rob: Yeah.  [laughs]  I got tired of waiting.  So friend of Red Gate, sir!  What does that mean?  How did you get it?

[06:47] Mike: So basically, Red Gate software has a Friends of Red Gate program where if you are active in the community, so, for example, if you are a SQL or .NET MVP, or a popular blog writer, or community site owner, then you can apply to be a friend of Red Gate.  And essentially, what that does is that gives you access to pretty much any of their software that you ask for.  And there’s certain conditions and terms and stuff that you have to agree to in order to get them.  But it’s more or less just to get you familiar with their products so that you can, I’ll say extol the virtues of their software.

[07:24] And I’ve used their software before.  I mean I like their software and have used it in the past.  I think that it’s worth buying if you have the money to buy it.  You know, they make all these different database tools, for example, that I think are extraordinarily useful.  And they’re actually tools that kinda put Red Gate on the map.

[07:39] So, for example, there’s one that’s called SQL Compare which will allow you to compare database schemas between two databases, and it will show you exactly what is different between the two databases.

[07:49] Rob: I’ve used it.  It’s awesome.

[07:50] Mike: And it will give you the scripts and allow you to execute them that will fix those two databases and bring them into…

[07:59] Rob: Sync them up.

[07:59] Mike: Yes, basically sync them up.  Then they have another tool called SQL Data Compare which does the same thing for the data that is inside the databases.  And they have a laundry list of all these different tools.  But they’ve got SQL tools, .NET tools.  They’ve even started getting into Oracle tools.

[08:16] If you’ve never looked at Red Gate before, there’s tons of information there.  Lots of good tools.  And they’re even the ones who, along with Fog Creek Software, put on the Business of Software conference.  So if you have a chance definitely check them out.  It’s Red-Gate.com.

[08:28] Rob: Nice.  Well, congratulations, sir.

[08:31] Mike: Thank you.

[08:32] Rob: The other thing I want to bring up is I had a guest post on Darmesh Sha’s blog on Startups.com.  It was “The Five Minute Guide to Cheap Startup Advertising”.  And so that went live last week.  This is late March right now.  So yeah, if you haven’t got a chance to check it out, I spent a  lot of time putting it together and I tried to use a lot of examples with my experience with specific numbers.

[08:55] That’s what I found lacking in other things, is I would look up like Reddit advertising.  It was this general thing of, “Oh, you can post ads here!”  But I wanted to get like, “How much are the clicks in general?”  So that’s what I tried to do in the post.

[09:07] So did you read it at all?  Did you check it out?

[09:10] Mike: I have not had a chance to actually look at it.  [laughs]

[09:12] Rob: Of course!  You’re like, “Ah, I don’t need that guy’s crap!”  [laughs]

[09:15] Mike: No, I mean we talked about it before.  It’s interesting the mentality that a lot of people have when they go out and they read blogs.  They’ll subscribe, and as soon as a blog post comes out, they want to read it right away.

[09:27] I view things a little bit differently.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy seeing my number of RSS subscribers go up and my email subscribers go up.  But at the same time, I don’t necessarily go out and read something the second it comes out, because I know that whether it’s a day later, 10 days later, or even 10 weeks later, it will still be there.  And if there are other things that I am working on at the time that I need to get done or need to work on, for example, AuditShark, I can go back and read those things later and kinda catch up.

[09:56] I also will take things like that and I’ll just throw them into a Word…I’ll just do a massive copy/paste, throw it into a Word document, throw it in Dropbox, and then when I’m traveling or something like that, if I’m on a train or a plane or something like that, I’ll just pull it up and read it then.

[10:08] Rob: Right.  You know there’s something called Instapaper that helps you do that.  It’s a browser plugin.  You just click “Read Later” and it actually sucks a text version of the web page.  And the next time you open your iPad with WiFi it will pull them all down. So you need to open it once, but it will be offline from them on.

[10:25] Mike: Hm.

[10:25] Rob: Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

[10:28] Mike: Instapaper you said?

[10:30] Rob: Instapaper, yeah.  It’s really handy.  And you can read it on your iPhone or your iPad.  Of course, it all syncs and everything.  So you might want to check it out.

[10:37] Last one.  You just mentioned AuditShark.  I’m sure folks are interested to hear an update on that.  How are things with that?

[10:42] Mike: So I’ve been getting some more signups to the launch/signup page lately, so I think some of my early marketing efforts are starting to pay off.  But to be perfectly honest, I really haven’t started getting into the bulk of the marketing efforts.  But it’s definitely promising to see some of the interests.  I have heard that there are people who are looking at the products and actually kind of awaiting its release so that they can get a better feel for exactly what it can do and how they can use it in their environments.

[11:10] Rob: Or so they can just bash it and be like, “This is the crappiest pile of bleep I’ve ever used!”  [laughs]  Anyways, hopefully no one’s waiting…Oh, that’s just me?

[11:20] Mike: Yeah.  That’s just you.  You’re on a separate list.

[11:23] Rob: Nice!

[11:24] [music]

[11:26] Rob: So today we’re going to be talking about five ways to stay happy while running your business.  I was actually reading through an old blog post of mine.  It was called: “Nine things developers want more than money”.  It’s one of the more popular posts I’ve had on my blog, which is kind sad because it’s five years old now.  I think it was from 2006.

[11:41] But it’s been read…you know, it’s had like maybe 150,000 views or 200,000 views over the past several years.  And I realize that the article was aimed at software developers.  It was talking about things that you don’t necessarily…while raises are always good, there’s these other factors that can keep developers happy and make them want to work…you know, just make us happy and make us want to continue staying at the company.

[12:03] And I realized that while it was aimed at developers, a lot of them applied to entrepreneurs as well.  So what we’ve done for this episode is we took a look through them, we’ve adapted the most relevant ones.  You might think of this as “Six things entrepreneurs want more than money,” even though that would be a really stupid title, so we didn’t use it.

[12:18] Mike: The first one is that you have to choose things that are interesting, meaning that you want to choose things that you either know how to do and you enjoy doing those, or you have to choose things that you are willing to put the time into in order to teach yourself, or you need to be willing to find somebody else who can teach you those things.

[12:35] Because obviously, if you’re not working on something that’s interesting, it’s not going to make you happy.  If you’re doing it for the money, granted the first couple of weeks or couple of months are going to be great because you are going to be say, “Yes, I’m making a huge amount of money and I’m making three or five times what I was when I was doing this other thing,” but that will eventually wear off. If you can find something interesting, it will certainly prolong the time between when you start and when you decide that you want to move on.

[13:05] One of the things that I’ve noticed is that if you choose something that is fairly repetitive, after a while it’s no longer interesting.  That kinda goes back to the idea that if you choose something just for the money, it’s not going to make you happy in the long run.  And again, if you choose something that is fairly repetitive, for example, if it’s the same problem over and over, or if you’re doing consulting and you’re installing the same product over and over again, it gets old fairly quickly.  It doesn’t matter how much money you’re making, or what your schedule is, or any of those things, you start to dread doing it.

[13:38] So, as I said, number one: choose something that’s interesting.

[13:43] Rob: And number two is to be a good boss.  That might sound funny as an entrepreneur, but what I’m talking about is being a good boss to yourself, like treating yourself with respect as the owner of the company.

[13:55] And this includes things like not working yourself to the bone, knowing when to take some time off; step back, get some perspective.  And frankly, knowing when to delegate.  We’ve talked about it a lot in the past.  And something Mike just brought up is keeping things interest; continuing to do work that excites you and that is not repetitive.

[14:13] I think it’s a common mistake that entrepreneurs get something set up…I mean I’ve done this many times.  Back to my beach towel website, I was manually processing orders for several months before I realized that I hated it and I started letting the orders go longer and longer.  They would pile up in my inbox.  Customers were starting to ask why their stuff was shipping late.

[14:33] And I realized pretty quickly that if I’m going to maintain this site and continue to own it, I have to figure out a way to get rid of this.  So I was trying to be a good boss to myself, essentially.  I realized that this is a repetitive task.  Find someone who is more geared to do that.  And that was an early VA that I had that took that over for me.  So that’s number two: Be a good boss to yourself.

[14:53] Mike: Number three is a little bit related to number one, which is keeping things interesting.  But number three is learn new things.  This might be better stated as “know thyself”.  If you know you can stick with a product or business for years without learning something new, then you should be open to starting a new business where things don’t change very often.

[15:10] But if you tend to get bored working on the same business for years on end, then think about a way you can have multiple businesses or choose a product that is going to require ongoing learning in order to stay competitive.  Knowing how you work and how you think is really the best way to not burn yourself out on your business.

[15:26] And that’s kind of one of the points behind making sure that you are happy about the things that you’re doing and staying happy.  And if you burn yourself out, it’s very difficult to not only continue whatever product you are working on, but also to continue working on other products or just running your business or businesses in general.  Once you’ve burned yourself out you have to figure out how to recharge, and that can take a lot longer if you never burned out to begin with.

[15:54] Rob: Yeah, this one is big:  learning new things.  I can’t tell you  how many times I have let myself get to the point where I am not learning new things.  I always have a good reason for doing so.  Typically it involves staying in my comfort zone or having a lot of money come in, like when I was consulting.  And it just feels like this is the right thing to do because of this reason, because someone’s writing me a huge check, or because it’s just what I know.  And every time it led to me completely crashing and burning and having to pick myself up and figure out where I was going to go from that wreckage.

[16:26] It has always involved a pretty big kind of self pivot into a new thing, you know, learning a new thing.  So it’s good to know that about yourself, whether you need that or not.

[16:36] Number four is exercise creativity.  What I mean by that is give yourself license to think creatively about problems.  You can’t always indulge yourself, take an entire day to sit in the coffee shop, think about the future, whatever.  I know most of us enjoy doing that.

[16:53] It’s hard to give yourself permission to do this once in a while, to take like an entire day, or even to take 30 minutes every day to sit down and look at your problems and to not react and not just…when you sit in front of your computer, emails come in bam, bam, bam, you just react really quickly because you’re trying to get things done.

[17:09] But if you take 30 minutes a day or, like I said, one day a month to really step back and take the high level look at things, exercising that creativity and putting forth that vision can make you…it  can give you clarity and it can make you really realize early on if a business is heading south for a number of reasons, whether it’s heading south because your lack of interest or whether it actually needs a new influx of some new marketing idea or new features or something.

[17:34] I really believe in kind of taking time to step back and think creatively.  I don’t know if I ever told you this Mike, but about six months ago I got my first tattoo, and it’s the word “create” with a period after it.  It’s on  my wrist, so it’s facing me, because I realize the importance of creating things.

[17:52] I think in all of us, like developers, designers, kind of artists…You know, Seth Godin uses the term “artist” to kind of mean authors, developers, and all of us, the people who create.  I think that’s like burned into us at some point.

[18:06] Mike: Kind of like a tattoo?

[18:08] Rob: Kinda like a tattoo!  That wasn’t burned, though.  That was a poke with a needle and that thing hurt.  I believe wholeheartedly…so I had this tattoo done, and when the guy put it on he put the temporary one on and he said, “Oh, should it be this way?” and he faced it towards him.  It’s on my wrist.  I said, “No, I want it to face myself because I want it to be a reminder to myself that I need to create.”  Like, this is what fulfills me and this is what makes me happy.

[18:33] So when I go for a month or two months and I realize that I’m just chugging along and, hey, the money is coming in, the businesses are running, this is great, but I know that I’m going to be unhappy pretty soon.  Because if I’m not creating, then I’m not fulfilled.  And I think most of us, as entrepreneurs, also need that.  So that’s why point four was exercising creativity.

[18:54] Mike: So the fifth way to stay happy while running your business is to know what it is that you don’t know.  We haven’t really talked about outsourcing in a while, but in a way, that’s the point of this particular line item, I’ll say, on this list.

[19:07] If you don’t know how to do something and you want to learn, then go ahead and teach yourself.  I mean by all means, go ahead and do it.  And even if it’s something that people go to school for years and years to learn, for example, if it’s architecture, or if it is studying law, for example, you don’t necessarily need to get a degree in that stuff to learn enough about it to be able to kind of guide your business down that path.

[19:32] So taking architecture, for example, if you were building software that did that kind of stuff, you might want to learn exactly how to design buildings and how to put a different face on a building, for example, but still maintain the structural integrity.

[19:49] It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go out and get the certifications for it, but it may be something that you can help guide your business in.  So when it comes to contracts negotiations, for example, you may want to be able to learn how to read a contract.  It doesn’t mean you won’t still send it over to your lawyer, but you’re going to want to learn what sort of things are common, what sort of things  you should expect to see in different contracts.  And then when you get a contract from somebody and you look it over and you say, “Well, this just looks really odd,” and your able to take those types of things and those abilities and things that you’ve learned and point them out to whoever it is that you’re having ultimately look over the stuff that you’re doing.

[20:32] So, for example, I know at this point a lot of things about contracts.  I’ve seen tons and tons of contracts.  I’ve seen lots of stuff that looks like boiler plate and I’ve seen other things that are just so far off the wall and out of left field that I can look at it and call it out to whoever the prospective partner is or whoever I’m singing the contract with and say, “Look, this just does not look right, or there are these implications around what it is that you’re asking.”

[20:54] But knowing the things that you don’t know allows you to save time and money by avoiding mistakes, and it allows you to do things like not sign contracts that you should not have signed.  Just make sure that when you are trying to learn these things, you know when you’ve kinda gotten in over your head.  And that’s one of the key points of this, is knowing where to draw the line and say, “Look, I need some help.”

[21:18] Rob: Yeah, you know, I think an overarching principal that links most of these together, and especially the last two, the one you just said and the one I’ll introduce now, is that getting some outside counsel, even before you, let’s say, hired on outside CPA or a lawyer, but even just having kind of a mentor or someone who you could talk to to give you a sanity check is really important, because we’ve talked about knowing what you don’t know and about knowing if you are the kind of person that needs to learn new things, knowing when you need to take some time off.

[21:50] You know, you’re not always the best judge of that stuff.  One person can only know so many things.  And it really does help to have someone else involved.  That might be a business partner, it might be a spouse, it might be someone in an accountability group or a mastermind group.  So I just wanted to point that out.

[22:05] As I was listening to us talk, I realized there almost needs to be an external someone to really help guide you through these things to help kinda keep you on track.

[22:14] The sixth way to stay happy while running a business is to set yourself up to succeed.  So what we mean by that is don’t choose something where the competition is going to kill you.  Don’t go into a market that is so overrun by venture –funded companies, or that is just way out of your league if you happen to be a solo founder with a $500 budget.

[22:36] Check into the market first.  We’ve talked about this a lot before, but it’s still something until you hear someone say this, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t think about it.  They just want to rush to the kind of where everyone is going.  It’s easy to set yourself up for failure if you’re doing that.

[22:51] Another thing is to watch out when you’re going into a market where you need intimate knowledge to succeed when you don’t already have that knowledge.  As an example, Mike is going into audit compliance software.  And he has this incredible knowledge of this because he’s worked in that industry for years.

[23:07] If I were to try to build an application for that because I saw it from outside, I saw it as an opportunity, and I told Mike, “Hey, I’m going to build this thing that audits computers,” I would hope that he would hit me in the head with a hammer and say, “Back off because you don’t know the market.”

[23:24] So I used to do this.  I don’t do it as much anymore, and I see a lot of entrepreneurs doing this.  It’s seeing an opportunity from outside a market and thinking that you have the knowledge to pull it off.  But without at least one or two people inside that market that you can talk to, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

[23:40] And the last part that I’ll bring up is, essentially, know what you’re getting yourself into as you’re launching and building your business.  I realize that’s easier said than done, but it really easy something that requires having someone on the inside who can help you and guide you along, whether that’s, like I said, a mastermind group, or a spouse, or a mentor of some kind.  Without that it’s kinda hard to know if you’re on the right track or not.

[24:04] Mike: Yeah, I think another way to phrase setting yourself up to succeed is know how to not set yourself up for failure.  That’s another way to put it, but depending on how you view things—cup half empty, half full or twice as large as it needs to be, you have to keep those things in mind and make sure that you’re not doing things that are ultimately going to shoot you in the foot.

[24:26] Rob: Definitely.  So that wraps up our six ways to stay happy while you’re running your own business.  And to recap, number one was: choose things that are interesting.  Number two was: be a good boss.  Number three was: learn new things.  Number four was: exercise creativity.  Five was: know what you don’t know.  Six was: set yourself up to succeed.

[24:45] Now, we know we’ve missed a few of these, so if you have suggestions, please come to Startupsfortherestofus.com and add them to the comments.

[24:51] [music]

[24:54] Mike: If you have a question or comment, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690…

[25:01] Rob: No one calls us Mike.  No one’s called us ever!

[25:04] Mike: You’re right!

[25:05] Rob: Should we even keep saying this?

[25:07] Mike: I don’t know!  I tell you what.  If somebody calls us after this episode goes out, then we’ll keep saying it.  Otherwise, well, you know.  We may just gradually let it go.

[25:19] Rob: Save ourselves $2 a month on the 800 number.  All right.

[25:23] Mike: Or you can email it in MP3 or text format to: questions@startupsfortherestofus.com.  If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “startups”.  You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at Startupsfortherestofus.com.

[25:35] A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: startupsfortherestofus.com.  Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons.  Thanks for listening.  We’ll see you next time.

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