5 Things needed for business success

I cannot recall what I listened to, watched, or read. Sadly my notes don’t include the author of this incredible information. Being that it is “5 Things” I would guess that it’s from John Maxwell.

1. Find the Problem that needs solving.

To be successful in business value needs to be added to others. Find the pain points of customers and then find a solution that helps.

2. Understand the Problem

Once the problem is understood – WHY does this happen? – WHAT the Problem is becomes a leadership/strategy issue.

3. Push against the Problem

Discover HOW to move it by:

  1. Asking questions of the people that are surrounded by the Problem – Push “how fast, how high, etc.”
  2. Listen
  3. Their opinions determine their performance
  4. Determine a Solution / Strategy / Plan
  5. Expect Opposition – First within the company, then externally

4. Take the Vision from ‘Me’ to ‘We’

This is the Change Management step of clearly communicating the vision and getting everyone in the company on board and then getting everyone externally on board.

5. Simplify & Focus the Organization

Looking at military operations – an individual is either a supplier or a combatant. In business it is the same – you’re either supporting or you’re selling.

Action Step

Stay Focused

9 AAR questions that lead towards success

Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.

Peter Drucker

In the military they use after action reports to reflect on what happened, both good and bad, and what lessons can be learned. As the year and decade close off, the holiday time off is a perfect opportunity to perform an AAR.

  1. Looking back, what went well?
  2. What choices did you make that worked?
  3. What failed?
  4. What surprised you?
  5. What has become a good habit?
  6. What needs to change?
  7. What is an outrageous goal for the next year?
  8. What S.M.A.R.T. goals do you have for the coming year?
  9. What does your schedule need to look like for those goals to be accomplished?

How I manage stress

As a Christian, I find that prayer and trusting the Lord is ultimately my biggest stress relief. Faith is trusting that God is an active participant in my life. The other part of the human-divine equation is my responsibility.

I am a husband to an incredible wife. We were married fresh out of college in July 2001 at 22.

At 24 we were parents. At 28 I started my own graphic design and web development company, began pursuing my masters degree, and we welcomed child number two. At 30, I had employees at the company and we welcomed child number three. At 32, we had child number four, massively shifted the focus of the company, and moved to a third world country.

At 37, I began pursuing my doctorate degree. I was still running my company in the USA and working a full time job here in South Africa. It took massive discipline to manage my family, my responsibilities, and my education. During that season I developed a system of daily and weekly disciplines that have helped me manage stress.

I have a daily planner that I write in. Every Sunday I perform what I call a “mind-dump” (read about it here), where I go through this routine:


  • Get things out of my head and onto paper
  • Collect any other notes lying stray
  • Process into the right place(s)

Reflect on the last week

  • Did I get everything done?
  • If not, why not?

Review next week

  • What commitments do I have?
  • What preparation do I need to do?
  • How much (sensibly) can I do in a day?
  • Allocate things from my monthly goals/tasks into my time
  • Make sure that there is a reasonable balance between the different key areas over the week

Review the next 4 weeks

  • What events are in there (and do I need to do anything about them?)?

Review goals/projects

  • Ensure they each have clear next action points to work on (in monthly goals)
  • Edit out impossible/pointless/out of balance things
  • Add anything new that has recently come up


What is the routine that helps you stay sane?

Custom WordPress plugin – nextSunday

I was contacted this morning by the pastor of our church. He built a wordpress website and has been logging into every week to simply change the date on the homepage. Currently there is a statement that says join us next Sunday “December 15th, 2019” and he has been manually changing that date each week for a LONG time.

It struck him this morning that there is probably a better way, so he shot me a message. I was able to write a quick plugin for WordPress that anyone can use. He simply has to put a shortcode into the paragraph text now and it will automatically update the date each week to the next Sunday.

Check it out and let me know if it works for you. You can download it here. I will attempt to place it onto the WordPress plugin directory soon, but from what I’ve read, it seems to be a mission and I don’t have the spare time at the moment.

Thinking slowly

It’s interesting what happens when you intentionally choose to slow down and think through a problem. I have found that while building websites and applications that there is a slippery slope when you run into a problem. The natural inclination is to chase after the problem in order to find the solution.

When I have actually stopped and gone for a walk in order to think through the issue, those are the times that I have found the most elegant solution.

I found this story about Warren Buffet and I really liked the perspective. If you are actually attempting to solve the problems of those you are working for, you will find success.

The first was to find out what people need and use that to get access to them. In 1951, after Buffett finished his studies, he set himself up as a stockbroker. But every time he tried to get a meeting with a local businessman, they turned him down. Who wants to meet some young guy with no track record, trying to sell stocks? So Buffet thought of a different approach: He started calling business people, telling them he could help save them from paying too high taxes. Now they finally wanted to meet, and Buffett was able to kick-start his career.

The Third Door by Alex Banayan


What solution are you working out? What is it that your customer needs? It’s cliche, but what are their pain points, not just physically, but emotionally? How do you solve those problems?

User Experience and the ease of usability

The definition of usability is sometimes reduced to “easy to use,” but this over-simplifies the problem and provides little guidance for the user interface designer. A more precise definition can be used to understand user requirements, formulate usability goals and decide on the best techniques for usability evaluations. An understanding of the five characteristics of usability – effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant, easy to learn – helps guide the user-centered design tasks to the goal of usable products.

  • Usability means thinking about how and why people use a product. 
    Good technical writing, like good interaction design, focuses on user’s goals. The first step in creating a usable product is understanding those goals in the context of the user’s environment, task or work flow, and letting these needs inform the design.
  • Usability means evaluation.
    Usability relies on user-feedback through evaluation rather than simply trusting the experience and expertise of the designer. Unlike conventional software acceptance testing, usability evaluation involves watching real people use a product (or prototype), and using what is learned to improve the product.
  • Usability means more than just “ease of use”
    The 5 Es – efficient, effective, engaging, error tolerant and easy to learn – describe the multi-faceted characteristics of usability. Interfaces are evaluated against the combination of these characteristics which best describe the user’s requirements for success and satisfaction.
  • Usability means user-centered design
    Users are satisfied when an interface is user-centered – when their goals, mental models, tasks and requirements are all met. The combination of analysis, design and evaluation all approached starting from the user’s point of view creates usable products.

Read the well written, in-depth post by Whitney Quesenbery on her site here: http://www.wqusability.com/articles/more-than-ease-of-use.html

Starting a consulting business

A close friend recently approached me asking for advice. They are considering launching a consulting business and in doing their research, they wanted to know any “off the cuff” words of wisdom I might have for them. Having run my own graphic design and website development firm for several years, I had some things to say.

When I was starting my company in the USA I had approached a businessman and asked a similar question, his wisdom was invaluable and I would say it is part of the reason my company was successful.

First, let’s define successful.

Each individual needs to define success in their own terms. For me personally, success would look far different today than it did a decade ago. I’m going to assume you’re reading this because you’re defining success monetarily, so let’s move on.

Look around enough and you will begin to recognize the “blah blah me too lemming-like” marketing speak everywhere. It’s boring and useless and begins to look pathetic. Be bold enough to plant a flag on ONE specific mountain and work hard to be the unquestionable SME (subject matter expert) to defend it. Find good people you can trust to hand off certain requests you are regularly getting asked for, maybe even work out a finders fee, but stand firm on top of your mountain. Get speaking gigs, get recognized, be the expert.

ADD VALUE. When you are an expert and you are adding value, you’ll be busy and well paid.

Consider these very distinct stages in how you make money in consulting, in order:

  1. Know your hourly rate and use it as a positioning tool.
  2. Get a second shift job to keep from compromising while you build it. 
  3. Fill >60% of ALL the time you work with residual fees. 
  4. Maintain >60% with an increasingly higher hourly rate. 
  5. Move exclusively to package pricing w/o reference to hours. 
  6. Build scalable income (webinars, books, etc.).

I personally have not made it to ‘6’ yet. I always am a bit nervous to put myself out there as I do not want to come across braggadocios.

Be very helpful in giving away terrific advice for free as long as you don’t personalize it; then charge ridiculous amounts of money to do so.

I spoke at an event once where I gave ALL of my secrets away. It was a wild plan, but it worked. I gained more business from that engagement than I could possibly handle and my hourly rate nearly doubled because of it. The reason: the business owners trusted me.

Figure out why you’re in business. I’d suggest these three things, in this order: 

  1. Make money. 
  2. Make a difference. 
  3. Enjoy the process.

If you don’t charge enough, no one listens and you don’t have an opportunity to make a difference. But just charging a lot of money, especially in a service-client relationship, can be soul crushing. You must find the win-win balance where you’re making enough money while feeling like your customers are winning. 

Take chances and be different. This leads me into my second take-away:

Be amazing at communicating. I have found transparency as highly valued in the C-Suite.

What I mean by transparency is: communicate as clearly and often as possible. Imagine yourself in the C-Suite and answer the questions you imagine them asking – especially the difficult ones. If your product is necessary then it will be easy to sell. Find out why it’s necessary and walk boldly as the expert in that category. In 2007 the iPhone was the answer – Apple wasn’t hiring salespeople to sell it, the product sold itself. 

How to write emails with military precision

Consulting this week with a large corporation I found they were drowning in emails. Many of the exco team were stressed and it reminded me of this amazing article, which I presented to the team and am working on having implemented into daily routines – from the top down.

Subject line keywords are:

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. Here’s an example BLUF from the Air Force Handbook:

BLUF: Effective 29 Oct 13, all Air Force Doctrine Documents (AFDDs) have been rescinded and replaced by core doctrine volumes and doctrine annexes.

Here is an email example for corporate use that uses keywords in the subject, bottom line, background bullets, and active voice:

Subject: INFO – Meeting Change


Bottom Line: We scheduled the weekly update meeting for Thursday at 2 PM CST to accommodate the CFO’s schedule.


  • We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
  • CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
  • He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.