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Boring is Sexy – Business Model Analysis

I have occasionally had posts on here over the years that reflect my evolving thinking on business and business strategy.

Today’s post I want to reflect on what I have learned over the last 2 years, as I shifted much of my focus to adbank and blade – then came back to do a deep assessment on the health of the other businesses.

This was a unique opportunity for me because I got to come back to some parts of the business with what felt like cold eyes- and really review what was working and what was not working. What businesses stood the test of time, what businesses improved and which ones got their asses kicked!

What businesses Struggled, which were Stable & which Thrived?

Struggled

  • Portfolio of sites – minimal/no management and most struggled
  • My personal site (AuthorityWebsiteIncome) – Not posting for 6 months doesn’t help!
  • FBA Business without a manager

Stable

  • Boring SAAS business – listingeagle.com has continued to be stable with 0 effort in years
  • Some very evergreen hyper niche content sites were stable
  • Evergreen ecommerce business with minimal management
  • LightningRank.com – Kelley was able to keep this business stable

Thrived

  • Content Refined – With Madeleine as the manager in place and properly incentivized -Content Refined continued to thrive
  • BrandBuilders – Manager in place properly incentivized to grow the business
  • FBA Business with a Manager

What is the key Takeaway – Boring is Sexy!

The only projects that survived/thrived were ones that had a manager in place or were boring/evergreen businesses (either SAAS or content).

What does this mean for the future of my online businesses. Here is how this review impacts my plans moving forward by business type…

  • Content Sites – Boring evergreen niches or divest other sites that require more active management
  • SAAS Portfolio – Focus area for growth with proper management in place from the start
  • Productized Services – If the manager is well aligned and the customer acquisition channels are diversified this model can be very stable.
  • AuthorityWebsiteIncome – There is a need for my increased involvement – which is great as I really enjoy it!

The key takeaway is that boring is sexy when it comes to long term stable success!

This is not a unique insight and one that is supported by the most successful conglomerates for many decades.

For example…

Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire Hathaway does not need a lot of introduction. Many people know the basics of how Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger applying a relatively unchanged set of investing principales from Omaha have outperformed pretty much everyone over the last 50+ years and grown it into a monster with them becoming 2 of the wealthiest people alive.

I have long been a fan of everything Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet, I highly recommend reading The Snowball, Warren Buffet and the Interpretation of Financial Statements and Berkshire Beyond Buffet along with his annual shareholder letters.

The key takeaways we can apply to online businesses is a focus on

  • Decentralized great management with minimal overhead at main office
  • Focus on the very long term
  • Don’t be afraid to go against the crowd

Constellation Software

Constellation Software is a relatively unknown Canadian company that doesn’t make a lot of noise but has achieved phenomenal results (over 1 decade of stable 30% annualized return on invested capital). They focus on boring low churn B2B SAAS businesses.  To get a real sense of the business I recommend the 10 years of president letters (here). The CEO and CFO did a deep dive looking at the high performing conglomerates and shared the insights in the 2016 and 2017 letters which were very telling.

Key Traits:

  • Decentralized management
  • Focus on cost and a few key metrics for operating units (CEO is 6’4” and flies coach)
  • Capital allocation rigor bordering on fanaticism – not being afraid to walk away from deals that don’t meet their hurdles and not bending those hurdles for years!

3G Capital

The 3G Way, Dream Big and True Power (tougher to get through) all provide a great insight into the management system and culture behind 3G Capital.

Key Traits:

  • Fanatical focus on costs (CEO is on the road 200+ days a year and flies coach)
  • More centralized than constellation or Berkshire
  • Meritocracy with A LOT of responsibility placed on managers

Another similar company to these above many haven’t heard of is ESW Capital (great story in Forbes here) who share many of the same traits but is arguably the most centralized out of the list.

What do all these high performing companies have in common…

  • Fanatical focus on controlling/cutting costs but with above market compensation to top performers
  • Disciplined focus on a set of key metrics, the metrics are not always the same
  • Mostly decentralized with much responsibility to the business managers

Hopefully this honest assessment of what businesses struggled, which were able to stay stable and which ones thrived is useful. The similarity of the traits the businesses that thrived shared with the example companies is very telling.

I look forward to continued sharing on what is working and not working across all my projects.

The Power Of Continuous Learning

As Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

In this post, I go into detail about my continuous learning (lots of room for improvement!). Over the past 4.5 years I have listened to hundreds of audible books (have 300+ books in my audible). When a student at Nebraska State asked Bill Gates and Warren Buffet the superpower question, Gates answered, “Being able to read super fast.” And Buffett echoed him, adding, “I’ve probably wasted 10 years reading slowly. ” To help with this, I often listen to my audiobooks on 2x speed so that way I can use the time I have to read these books more efficiently. It takes some time to get used to that speed but once you do it really helps get through books quickly.

Each month I like to pick out 5 books to read for that month . Sometimes I don’t get to all 5 but it helps when I finish a book to have another one lined up as sometimes it can take a while to choose one to read.

I also believe books are a great way to provide training for team members. I often recommend for them to read a book and then discuss at our weekly 1:1 on the key takeaways from it.

Since I tend to listen to quite a few audible books, I have a VA create and update a spreadsheet each month of my favour books with a link to cheat sheets to go with them so I can remember what I have learned from each book.

The practice of going back and looking at the cheat sheet for a critical book has been an efficient method of increasing retention on key books.

Here are a few of the books I like along with their synopsis.

Here is the spreadsheet I use to keep track of my favourite books and a the summary of each for me to brush up on… here.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

START WITH WHY shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles—counterintuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life. I think of this as the hand-hand self defense for negotiation… best to set things up so these skills are not needed

 

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill, America’s most beloved motivational author, devoted 25 years to finding out how the wealthy became that way. After interviewing over 500 of the most affluent men and women of his time, he uncovered the secret to great wealth. By understanding and applying the thirteen simple steps that constitute Hill’s formula, you can achieve your goals, change your life and join the ranks of the rich and successful.

My recent new favourite is Traction! It feels like a combination of EMyth Revisited plus Scaling Up. Great for smaller companies looking to achieve high performance!

Conclusion

Continuous learning through books is about expanding your ability to learn by regularly upgrading your skills and increasing your knowledge. I never really have time to sit down and read so I solved this problem by listening to my books when I am in the car (without the family) or on long bike rides. There have been many great lessons that I have learned from these books that I have applied to my companies from the way the organization is made up to simple strategies we use when executing projects.

If you are a big reader/consumer of knowledge do you have any hacks for increasing retention?

Assessing Client Needs for Business Growth – The Smart Way!

We don’t do much of the “fill out this form”, “how did we do today?”, or “rate our services online” stuff for my businesses.  We usually go for more of a personal touch.  When we ask for feedback, it’s more direct through emails or phone calls with clients.  So, how do you gather that feedback as data to assess client needs and the future of your business?

Today I want to talk about those changing needs and determining direction.

crunching numbers business accounting

1. The Numbers Don’t Lie

Track your expenses and income.  Hire an accountant if you’re not great with numbers and/or don’t have the time yourself.  And don’t forget about that bottom line.  If you’re spending too much on a service or offering, and people aren’t paying enough for it (or not enough people are interested in it), then you know something’s wrong.  Maybe you can cut some of your expenses and rebuild that offering in a way that makes sense financially.  Or, hey, maybe that offering is done and it’s time to move on to something else.  I know I’m painting this as very black and white, but it really does help to take a step back, look at the numbers, and determine whether an offering is worth it based on the revenue (or lack of revenue) that it’s bringing in.

One of the tricky parts here is timing.  I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this in the comments as well.  Personally, we track and review numbers across all teams weekly.  If something is outside of the safe zone, we talk about it in our weekly business meeting.  If that continues for a few weeks, we talk more seriously about it.  If a few months go by and we’re clearly wasting our time and resources, it’s time to make a drastic change.

Obviously I can’t share our spreadsheets here, but you’ll need to create a document with your own financial goals in mind that can be updated on a weekly basis.  Include sales and analytics as needed for your business.

So that’s one objective way to see whether your service/offering or product is working for your clients.  But how do we see it coming before wasting that time and those resources?

2. Create Products/Services Based on Repeated ‘Custom’ Client Requests

I can use Content Refined as an example here.  Content Refined is primarily a content marketing company that works on a monthly subscription-based content creation cycle.  Madeleine, our Co-Founder and Business Manager, was finding that she was getting a lot of “custom” requests for upgrades to existing content on clients’ websites.  These clients had content already on their site that they needed someone to go through, clean up, and ‘refresh’ to help it rank higher.  So, that request came in enough times that Maddie thought, “Hey, we need to make this a real offering, not just a special custom thing we do when people ask for it.”

We figured out our pricing needs and built the system around ‘content upgrades’.  Now it’s front and centre on the home page of Content Refined’s site.

Word of warning: you do have to take all requests with a grain of salt.  There’s a fine line between being flexible and bending over backwards.  Custom requests only work if the numbers work.  So you have to be careful at how far you bend your standards to meet client needs.

Which brings me to my next point.

 

assessing business needs

3. Dominate Your Field Before Expanding Out

It’s extremely difficult to expand out to new service offerings when you’re still working on mastering the original one.  Until you’ve got a great system worked out for your business and you’re handling everything on your plate really well, don’t try to start something new.  Pretty reasonable, right?

To be a master in your field, you’ve gotta stay on top of the trends and news in your industry, and really do your research.  Especially in the digital world, things are moving so quickly that it’s hard to stay relevant.  Check out what’s going on in conferences, and get in the networks with the top players in your field.  This way you can figure out what you should be offering before your clients are even looking for it.

To continue with our example of Content Refined, we constantly look at trends in the content marketing world.  With anything SEO related, you really have to look at the data and figure out which tools and methods are the most effective.  Last year around this time we did all kinds of data analysis on all the content that we had created for clients.  Then we had a statistician go through everything to confirm our findings.  Right now we’re in the process of going through everything again to renew those findings and update any strategies as necessary based on the results.  By continuing to evaluate our business with the actual data, we’re able to stay focused in our field while maintaining great results for our clients.

Final Thoughts

Assessing client needs is super important to keeping your business relevant and growing.  It can take your business in new directions that you may have never foreseen.  Have you had experience with something like that?  Leave me your stories in the comments!

How to Stay Focused and Productive When Working

Working on multiple business and trying to stay focused on tasks can sometimes be hard, and sometimes my time on certain projects lacks more than it should. Over the course of the last few years, I have been working on finding more solutions and ways to keep on task, prioritize important tasks, and stay motivated with the doom and gloomy tasks.

1. Create A To-Do List

The night before work or the morning before I start work I create a To-Do list for the day. This helps me sort which are the more important tasks to get finished and which ones are lower, but still important tasks. This plans out my day and doesn’t make me spend any more effort on what I should/shouldn’t be doing, it’s all laid out for me at the start of the day. By creating this list, I am able to stay more focused on the tasks as I know what needs to get done and am able to wrap my head around the game plan for the day. I highly suggest for anyone to create a to-do list each day, it doesn’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to stick to it 100% but its a good starting point on staying on task and being productive. On top of it all, it’s always satisfying when you get to scratch off a task on the sheet and eventually get down to a few tasks left.

2. Working in 30 Minute Intervals

For anyone, it can often be distracting working in an office or at home on a computer. There are many things to do on a computer and staying on task can sometimes be hard. I like to do work in 30 minute increments, or if you have a task that’s 40 mins, sit and ensure that gets done before anything else. Once the task is done or 30 mins has passed, stand up stretch your legs, take a walk, or do something else for 2-3 mins that isn’t work. Scientific research shows that you are most focused in 30 min intervals with a small break then trying to stay focused for longer periods of time, this is called the Pomodoro technique.

I have a couple hourglasses on my desk to help with this technique. I can’t say I use it all the time but when I am really trying to push I definitely do find it very helpful!

3. Determine Productivity

There is always a certain time of day that we feel we are most productive, some people find they are more productive in the morning and some find they are more productive after lunch. Whatever time of day is your most productive, try and schedule the more important tasks during that time. For me, the morning is always the more productive time, so my to-do list reflects this by always putting the more important tasks first.

4. Don’t Multi-Task – WORK ON ONE THING AT A TIME

Some people try to multi-task with tasks and some might even be really goo at this, but I find dedicating time to one project yields more positive results then splitting your time with multiple projects. If you can give a task your 100% attention, you are more likely to finish it quicker and to a better standard then if you have multiple projects on the go at one time.

My Work Vacation in Mexico

During the month of November, I went on a work vacation to Mexico with both my family and a few employees. I knew that there would be many distractions around that I needed to figure out a solution on how to deal with. Before leaving, we came up with a schedule on what times of days would be work, and what times of day would be for family time and other activities. It was sometimes hard to stay focused and on task when I saw my wife and children playing in the pool or going on cool excursions, but I was determined to stay on my schedule. I had a seperate office away from all the noise, which helped me to tone everything out and settle down and work just as I would if I was working here in Ontario using the tips above that I discussed. Cold Coronas were always a welcome reward for sticking to the plan!

 

Books that have Been Influential in Helping Me Stay Focused and Motivated

I always love to find new books that can help me improve my overall business sense. Whether riding a bike or in my car, I often listen to ebooks. There have been many books out there that I have listened to, but two of my favourite ones on being focused and motivated are Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek and The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey.  I highly suggest anyone who likes to read to tackle Simon Sinek’s and Chris Bailey’s books as they provide a great inside look on how some of the most influential businessman stay focused and on task and continue to be motivated by the work that they do.

Conclusion

There are many different tips and tricks that can be used when staying on task. The above are some of the few I use each and everyday to help me with my businesses. These tasks may not work for everyone, and some might even have a better more defined strategy that may be worth looking into. If you have other tips and tricks you would like to share with me or the readers please do!

Alias – What Are Your Thoughts?

In 2012 I decided to document my journey of building up one of my online businesses and this site was born.

At the time I was working hard as an Engineer/Manager at a large Oil and Gas company and I didn’t want anyone there knowing I was grinding 3-4hrs/night building up my online businesses.

So I had a problem…use my real name or an alias.

I would be interested to hear feedback from the many long-time readers… apologies if anyone feels tricked!

Until I was 0% in my career I wanted to give and appear to be 110% there.

As my wife likes to remind me… I suck at lying because my memory is so bad I forget even the simplest of white lies. I almost revealed twice I was about to propose to her the day I did…I moved up the timeline so I didn’t reveal it.  

So I needed a simple solution to an alias that had everything about me being true but not as easily traced back to my employer.

So everything I have ever shared is accurate with the exception of my last name.

Haver no more… real name is Jon Gillham… but everything else is the exact same!

An Alias – NOT Alter Ego

If you haven’t seen Terry Gene Bollea talk about his alter-ego/alias Hulk Hogan it is pretty hilarious and recommended. I am sure if I had planned to create an alter-ego/alias it would have been a more exciting mystery man then a spreadsheet and systems loving family man who builds online businesses!  My point is it is not an alter-ego only a last name change.

Alias (everything but my passwords shared)…

Not Alter Ego…

So… Why Share Now?

I have my most ambitious project ever underway which has been going on behind the scenes for a while involving 5 new in house staff/co-founders including one who co-founded and sold a Digital Advertising Network which sold to Google for $xx,xxx,xxx!

My plans for a long time have been to untangle the alias as I have always had some anxiousness about having the alias and explaining to people in person my last name is Gillham not Haver.

Now is as good a time as any to make this change!

What is the new project?

I have eluded to it a few times throughout the year about a bigger project in the online space and we are very close to being able to share more details. Blockchain technology is one of those things that once you grasp it you realize it is going to change everything (especially disrupt middle-men).

A team has come together around a unique application of blockchain technology and applying some business model innovation to take a GIANT swing at the most interesting problem I have ever tackled. Our development team is working away and the alpha version is closing in on being done with more details to follow.

There are few times in life where the idea/team/resources/skill-set & opportunity all align and I am excited to see what we can do!

If you are interested in projects in the crypto/blockchain space feel free to contact me and I can share more details.

 

Does this change anything here?

Nope – same spreadsheet, data, systems and online business building focus moving forward!  AuthorityWebsiteIncome (although I am not a fan of the name) is a ton of fun to geek out on projects and try to provide some useful guides to people building online businesses.

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