Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On the Horizon


I've been busy, and not just the usual busy of juggling work and training with my personal life and my not-so-secret love for video games. I've been my favorite kind of busy: busy building, busy creating, busy putting things together that make me excited to write and share. You will be hearing a lot more about these projects soon, but I wanted to give you a preview.


  • The Cauliflower Chronicles. I am releasing a new edition of The Cauliflower Chronicles.This edition will feature new cover art, new illustrations, and the addition of author commentary. For each chapter in the book, the new edition will include a brief reflection added at the end. Since so much of the book is about learning about myself and about jiu-jitsu, I wanted to provide a perspective that encapsulates what I've learned since those days in Hilo, how I've changed, and how my thinking has evolved in the time between 21 and 27, between white belt and purple belt.
  • Precision Social Media. Having worked with a range of clients in a variety of industries, I have started to see commonalities in misconceptions as well as challenges, and these hurdles are complicated by a wealth of misinformation spread by consultants that want to make a load of money managing social media accounts. In the first volume of this e-book series, I run through the no-nonsense basics of picking and managing a social platform whether you are a small business or an international corporation.
  • White Belt Problems. If you haven't been following my work with Artechoke Media (you should be!), you might have missed the launch of White Belt Problems. White Belt Problems aims to make it easier for white belts to start and stick-with jiu-jitsu by answering every question they are likely to have about the sport, from getting started to what gi to buy. The book exists both as a free wiki and as a paperback so that you can share it as a quick URL or make the gift of jiu-jitsu more meaningful with a physical book. Read White Belt Problems today.
  • Gym Owner Support. With the Artechoke Instructor of the Year contest behind us, I have been thinking more deeply about what it means to support the organic growth of jiu-jitsu, so in the next few weeks we are going to unveil a pilot program designed to support instructors so that they can spend more time on the mat teaching and less time fiddling with the back-end of their business. This won't be a full release at first, so be on the lookout for the announcement that we are accepting applicants.
As always, I am eternally grateful to have the opportunity to do the work that I do. Thank you for your support, and thank you for your valuable feedback.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mastering the Crucifix is Officially for Sale


I love books. I love reading them. I love writing them. I love taking them apart and figuring out how they work. And I love to experiment with their potential to engage readers in new and interesting ways.

Mastering the Crucifix is the follow up to Artechoke Media's 3-D Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, an instructional that we released for free to demonstrate our vision for what jiu-jitsu books could and should be. This instructional formed the basis of a highly successful Indiegogo campaign which raised the money we needed to shoot Mastering the Crucifix, the first book from the acclaimed blogger behind Aesopian.com.

Obviously, I want you to buy the book. I'm proud of the work we've done, and I'm proud of the instructional model that we developed and continue to refine with each project. Making money from the project would be nice, but that's not what interests me most. I am most interested in being able to engage more leaders in the jiu-jitsu community and give them a vehicle for sharing their knowledge, their stories, and their expertise.

I want Artechoke Media to be the platform that gives the unsung heroes in our community a platform so that the community as a whole can appreciate and learn from their experiences.

Would we make more money if we did limited run, $250 DVD sets with the hottest competitors on the scene? Would we make even more money if we offered a 50% affiliate marketing rate to every jiu-jitsu blogger we could find? What if we followed that up with a bunch of squeeze pages full of bolded and highlighted text that made outrageous promises like that you could get your black belt in 3 years or that you could win worlds thanks to this one super expensive product? Could we make an extra batch of money six months later when we magically find a batch of DVDs that we "forgot" in the company basement?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. For some reason, that style of marketing seems to work really well in the martial arts community, but I think the jiu-jitsu community deserves better.

So we are releasing fairly priced products that are DRM (digital rights management) free. They are loaded with high quality content that far exceed the depth and interactivity of other instructional products on the market, and they feature top-notch instructors that have been giving freely to the community for many years. Matt Kirtley has run Aesopian for more than a decade, giving away content for free that has helped countless jiu-jiteiros learn the art. Our next author, Jeff Rockwell, is known in jiu-jitsu communities like MGInAction and Grappler's Guide for sharing insightful videos and helping people troubleshoot technique.

These are the kinds of people I want Artechoke to support, and I hope that the rest of the jiu-jitsu community agrees that its worthwhile.

Click here to buy Mastering the Crucifix by Matt "Aesopian" Kirtley.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rethinking the Freelance Life, Part Two: The Way Clients Work with Us


Last week, I wrote about how freelancers could benefit from re-framing the way they think about their relationships with clients. This week, we look at the other end of the relationship: clients.

The motivations to hire a freelancer vary on a case by case basis, but usually a client chooses to hire a freelancer for one of the following reasons:

  1. The client needs to supplement an existing team with an additional resource for a short period of time.
  2. The client has a long term need for a resource but that need doesn't necessarily require full-time employment.
  3. The client needs the fresh perspective of an outside consultant to shake-up the status quo of the company.
  4. The client is a small business owner and hiring a full-time resource doesn't make sense financially.
And all of these are reasonable justifications for seeking out a freelancer. To make the most of your investment in a freelancer, from the vantage point of a client, the way you think about your relationship with that freelancer is critical. Thinking of freelancers as vendors is tempting. In many cases, they provide short term support on a project by project basis, so the exchange often feels like a purchase of goods.

This is a missed opportunity for everyone involved and can hurt your bottom line. When you think of a freelancer as a vendor rather than a partner or a team member, you undermine the potential of your collaboration from the very start. When you treat a freelancer as a partner in your success, you set the stage for a meaningful, productive relationship. Consider these points:
  • Integrating a freelancer into your team and making him or her feel as though they are a stakeholder in the success of your business helps to make the work more meaningful for the freelancer. Essentially, if you make a freelancer feel like he or she matters, you will see that passion shine through in the final product.
  • Freelancers have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects and within a number of companies, giving them unique perspectives on problems and challenges. Given the opportunity, a freelancer could bring a new solution to the table that moves the needle.
  • Don't be afraid of a freelancer that challenges the way your team thinks (in a respectful way of course). If you ask a freelancer for his or her opinion or thoughts, be willing to consider new ideas, even if they scare at you first.
  • Though the project at hand might have your immediate focus, engage freelancers as though you plan to hire them again in the future. You never know when you might need them, and you're better off working with someone that is familiar with you, with how your business works, and with your goals instead of starting over with a new resource.
For these points to ring true, for them to be viable options, requires a high level of trust. You wouldn't trust just anyone to contribute to the direction of your business, and you shouldn't. Engaging the right freelancers sets the stage for the points outlined above, so be just as rigorous with your freelance selection process as you are with your full-time hiring process.

Ultimately, you hire freelancers because you want to make a difference in your business. Don't forget to empower them to make that difference.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rethinking the Freelance Life, Part One: Our Work with Clients


Freelancing has been my life for the last eight years. My unwavering passion for all things writing—a career path not exactly known for fulltime, long-term employment—collided with an economic trend toward hiring contract workers and temporary employees, one of the many job-related challenges facing my generation.

For me, it’s worked out, and I’ve come to enjoy the freelance lifestyle. I have a calendar full of appointments and assignments. I’m paying my rent. And I’m working with interesting, passionate clients on a variety of projects.

In that time, I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with other freelancers, from designers to programmers to fellow writers. In every case, I learned a lot from these people and have had very few bad experiences. I’ve noticed, though, a common line of thinking amongst many freelancers (not all): they compare themselves to pirates.

The philosophy, as it was explained to me once, goes like this:

“We’re pirates. We sail from project to project collecting treasure where there is treasure to be had. We join forces with other pirates when the treasure is too big for one pirate, we go our separate ways when the project is done, and since we are all pirates, we will mutiny if the leader isn’t doing his job.”

It’s a romantic view. Pirates are free and independent. They chase adventure. They are risk-takers and visionaries because they have chosen the freelance path. It’s a sink or swim life, so if you meet a veteran freelancer you know that he or she has had the chops, the creativity, and the mettle to succeed in a challenging environment.

I’m fine with being proud of and enamored with the independence and challenge of freelancing. Where I get uncomfortable, however, is equating clients with treasure. In the pirate metaphor, this starts to suggest that clients are ports to be plundered. Do the job, get the loot, and get out.

Fans of the pirate metaphor may rightly argue that they never meant it that way, and I would believe them, but I argue that the picture you paint of yourself can easily become your reality if you’re not careful. If you’re a leader, the young and impressionable around you may buy into the picture as well, taking the painting for face-value regardless of your original meaning and its caveats.

The best freelancers I’ve met and worked with behave less like pirates and more like helpful neighbors. Their permanent business residences may be their own, but they are active, contributing members of their communities. They go where they are needed and fill the gaps. Sometimes the projects are big. Sometimes they are small. Sometimes the freelancer is the leader of the team because he or she is the expert, and sometimes he or she is following the lead of someone within the company. The freelancer could be there for a month, or maybe a year, or maybe he or she pops in and out for the foreseeable future.

While they are doing their work though, the most effective freelancers aren’t fixated on plunder like a pirate might be. They are getting paid, yes, but their focus is on doing what’s best for their clients. They want to leave their clients better off than when the project first began, and they are respectful of client limitations like budget and bandwidth. They might be able to squeeze a few more coppers out of the deal, but they establish reasonable scopes for their work because the clients are often better off.

A pirate asks for more budget for the sake of a bigger paycheck. A neighbor asks for more budget for the sake of capitalizing on an authentic, viable opportunity.

It may not sound romantic or exciting, but people are more likely to trust and collaborate with a neighbor than a bandit that sails in, fills his ship with treasure, and disappears when there is nothing left to loot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choosing the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Brand


I talk to a lot of business owners about social media marketing. It comes up just as often in casual settings as it does in formal meetings because business owners have been hearing for years that social media can change the way they do business. Gurus and experts and marketing executives have portrayed social media as a magic bullet for generating interest in the products or services that you offer.

There are no magic bullets. Ever.

But people, especially passionate business owners, want to believe that there are, which has created an unfortunate situation where the loudest marketers have convinced businesses to buy into the notion that social media can create instant returns. Since these marketers are often trying to sell their services to clients, they also encourage businesses to adopt a slew of social media platforms because why settle for one magic bullet when you can have seven?

I'm sure you've seen it. You log into a company's website and you see a caterpillar-looking collection of social media icons in the header: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google+.

Are these platforms full of potential customers? Almost definitely (looking at you with a great deal of suspicion, Google+). Does using every platform available make sense for your business? Probably not. Here's why:

  1. Every social media property you connect to your brand is both an opportunity and a liability. An out-of-date profile reflects poorly on your business, and if you aren't checking each platform regularly you could miss out on a customer inquiry or complaint, poisoning what was once an opportunity to use social media as a means of providing great customer service.
  2. For many businesses, even large ones, time is precious. If you don't have the time to manage seven social media properties, take the practical route and only take on what you can realistically handle.
  3. The latest and greatest social media platform may not make sense for your business. For example, Pinterest is currently the leader in social media conversion, but if you are selling construction equipment, you probably won't find a sizable chunk of your target audience using Pinterest. And that's okay. When you are choosing platforms for your business, use what you know about your target audiences to identify which platforms they are likely to use.
  4. It's better for your brand if you do one or two things really well than to be barely mediocre at seven or eight. Ultimately, social media is an opportunity to connect directly with your customers. In that spirit, you are probably better off focusing your efforts in less places so that you can create the best experience possible for your audience.
In the interest of full-disclosure, a big part of my consulting work involves social media, and I often recommend that my clients continue incorporating it to some degree into their marketing mix. That said, in the last week alone, I've talked with two different clients about what makes the most sense for their particular businesses. In one case, we decided that LinkedIn was a good fit for connecting with their customers and Facebook was a good way to continue fostering a positive work environment. In the other case, we decided that some basic LinkedIn activity was the most practical option both for their target audience and for their resources as a business.

Every business is different, so be wary of one-size-fits-all solutions. Your business deserves better.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Danger of Blindly Chasing Marketing Metrics


Data is powerful. It drives the scientific process. It helps us cut through the amorphousness of anecdotal insights so that we can base judgments and decisions on concrete, verifiable information. At the same time though, data can be manipulated. So for as much as we look to data to tell us the real story about a study, or in our case a marketing effort, we should have the presence of mind to see the big picture that data fits into.

If the sole purpose of your communications efforts is to boost metrics, you end up chasing numbers, not people.

For example, the photo above appeared on my LinkedIn feed today, and I've seen variations of this "challenge" on Facebook pages for a variety of brands. Even though the tactic is aging, it is still an effective way to inflate metrics. People respond (for some reason), throwing in their one word replies in quick succession. With this activity, engagement and traffic metrics go up, so at the end of the month when the communications manager develops her report, she can point to the boost as evidence of her doing a good job.

"Look at how many comments we got!"

But it's meaningless engagement. The discussion isn't relevant to the brand, and even though people are participating, it's mostly mindless. There is no value.

And most marketers would agree, but meaningless engagement can come in more convincing disguises. As an example, when I launched a crowd funding campaign to launch a book project with a friend, we ran a giveaway via his Facebook page. The post received 116 likes, 127 comments, and 11 shares, making it one of his most active posts ever. Despite the jump in metrics, however, we lost money on the giveaway. We didn't receive a single contribution from the effort. Not one. The metrics looked great, but the activity constituted zero value for the brand or for our efforts.

Even a simple metric like the size of your audience, whether it's based on web traffic or the number of your Facebook likes, can become useless if your focus is exclusively on making the number go up. To return to the Facebook example, mindlessly buying likes can certainly make a page look good, but it can hurt your ability to communicate with the people that actually care about what you do.

And that's what the real focus should be: communicating with the people that care in a meaningful way. If you use metrics as a tool for measuring how well you've done that, you are on the right track because your data is grounded in the right context. Statements along the lines of "We need more likes" or "Our reach is down 5%" or "We need to make 10 posts a week" are symptoms of metric-chasing.

Instead, pursue the meaningful. Give your audience relevant, worthwhile content. Make metrics a tool for accomplishing that goal rather than the goal itself.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jon, If You're Out There

Late in 2010, I received a message from Jon Vacura. He had read the Cauliflower Chronicles and wanted to share some of his own story with me. That story inspired me, and recently, my wife reminded me of his story. She had never forgotten it because her birthday coincided with a key but tragic event in Jon's life.

I published a blog for Victory Belt about it. Since that blog is now gone, here is the post that I wrote in Dec. of 2010:
As a journalist, I have met a variety of people. Each person I have met has a unique story, a story much more interesting than mine will ever be. That’s why I love being a journalist; I get to hear and share these stories. Many of my favorite stories are in The Cauliflower Chronicles, but the publishing of that book has led to more.

Which is why I want to tell you about Jon and Katie.
After reading my book, Jon added me on Facebook to tell me that he enjoyed it. I clicked to his profile to make a reply post on his wall and noticed that he listed a blog just below his picture. I loaded the blog out of curiosity. What I read felt like a punch in the stomach. The title of the blog: “For My Katie.”
I am a man made of words, and suddenly I had none, which feels a bit like stepping into the cage with your arms taped behind your back. You’re defenseless. You take every shot on the chin. So I kept reading, each sentence another blow.
Katie passed away on March 27 from a cerebral aneurysm. She was 24. Jon considered her to be his soul mate, and he maintains the blog as a tribute to her brief but beautiful life. The blog is filled with essays—memories scrawled as though in the fog of a dream—and photographs—of Katie and of her letters and of her artwork. Jon is like us. He is a fighter. I suspect that his writing is therapeutic—his way of fighting through—but more than anything, I think that he writes so that he can remember. As I read, I realize that Jon is more of a fighter than I will be. He has been in that cage with his arms behind his back since March 27.
In one of his messages to me, Jon wrote, “No one and I really mean no one has been able to really reach out to me and help put what I’ve been through this year into perspective the way your book did.”
That was the greatest compliment for my work I could ever receive. I’m not sure how it did, but I am happy that reading my book softened at least one of those blows. I urge you to read Jon’s blog. Maybe you sharing Katie’s memory will make some of the future blows easier, at least a little bit.
Jon's beautiful blog has been closed. I don't know why, but I am sure he had his reasons. Unfortunately, Jon deleted his Facebook as well.

Jon, if you're out there, drop me a message. I'd love to catch up with you and hear more of your story.