How To Use Discipline To Execute Strategy

“One minute to start!” said the announcer over the loud speakers.

I clicked my Nike running watch to “Stopwatch” mode. I wiped my sweaty brow one last time before the gun fired and I took a gulp of muggy, Charleston, SC air before forcefully exhaling.

My warm-up felt good, my shoes were broken in, and it looked like the rain would hold off long enough for me to run a dry race. There was nothing left to do but set my 10K (6.2 miles) personal record. Or, as runners refer to it, “PR.”

“Ten seconds to start,” boomed the announcer. “Good luck runners!”

It didn’t matter that I had run the Cooper River Bridge Run six previous times, I still had butterflies. My training, though grueling and thorough, was solo. This was a competition – something I hadn’t done in a while.

“Three… Two… One…!” The starting gun fired and I raced South with 40,000 fellow runners, walkers, and joggers.

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The Quickest Way To Get Your First Hundred Email Subscribers

I began collecting emails for my book launch a year in advance. During casual conversation I would mention what I was working on. If someone seemed interested, I would offer to add their email address to my list. I added one or two at a time, nothing magical about the process, but the list grew steadily.

I had collected my first 100 emails by the time I made first contact with the list – roughly six months in advance. My website was live, the Facebook page was streaming with content, and launch day was in my sights. I shifted my focus to using social media channels instead of leveraging personal connections to gather emails. I directed people to my website and I showed off all the fancy promotional pieces I had been working on. The list’s growth was slower than sap running from a Maple Tree in winter.

As the months passed I could see the book launch coming into focus. Extensive research told me that my email list would be the most important part of launch day; the bigger the list, the more books I could sell because I had their undivided attention. But my list’s growth was still unimpressive.

Finally, after I tried everything in my bag of tricks, I went back to what got me started. I started scrolling through my phone and individually texting people to ask if they’d join my list. Results were… fantastic!

I kicked myself for not sticking with this. Not only were people quick to respond, over 90% of them said they’d join my list. It grew by 50% by the time I scrolled to “Z” in my phone. Then I took it a step farther and asked a few of my true fans to send out their own text messages. I knew they deeply cared about the project and/or me and they would be willing to help. I wrote up a simple text that read:

Hey ______, my friend Mike McCann is writing a book set to launch this fall & I think you’d enjoy it. He asked if I knew anyone who was generous enough to consider joining his email list for pre-launch updates. Of course, I thought of you. It’s a true story of hope set around his 2005 college football team. If you’d like to join, send me your email or check out If not no worries, just thought you might like the book. Take care!

I asked those influencers (four or five of them) to text some of their friends and family. The strategy continued to work. When the experiment was complete, the list had grown over 150%.

My conclusion, and my advice to you, is two-fold.

1) Start with your warm market before asking strangers to join your list. If you can’t get someone who knows you to sign up, your idea needs tweaking before it’s released to the masses.

2) The latest techniques and technology are not always the most effective tools. Sometimes low-tech options are the most effective. Do not rule them out until you have tried them.

Why I Don’t Care About The Title Of The Book That Changed My Life

It started as a hobby. It was a non-event, something that happened without effort. Nobody warned me what I was doing would change my life in a dramatic way.

It was simple: I picked up a book because I didn’t care to watch TV.

It happened to be a book about motivation and owning your work – right up my alley. I vaguely remember some of the principles but I cannot recall the title. It doesn’t matter.

Many of the author’s ideas became practices for me. They were new and novel and made me want to be better at my job. Many of those practices, like waking early, became habits. But that isn’t what mattered most from the experience.

Here is: when I read this book, I was changed. I was changed in a way that made me realize I had learned something that would help me. Up to this point in my life, my mid-twenties, my education had come from school (which ended years prior) and from work-related training. Both school and work experience are fantastic teachers, but this was different.

School ends for most between 18 and 25. Work starts around the same time and those lessons pick up where the schooling left off. But, education through school and work are about what other people want you to learnI realized, after reading this book, that I could learn about anything for very little. 

When you leave the subject of your education up to others, they will typically teach you just enough. In school, this often means enough to pass the class; not always it’s day-to-day application. In work, this often means enough to get the job done; not necessarily how to think about improving the business. Not everyone wants you to have your own opinion. You have to be the one to who makes the choice to educate yourself.

My eyes were opened. The subject matter wasn’t what changed me, it was the idea that I could change me. I didn’t have this beautiful revelation where I finished the book with tears streaming down my cheeks. I did, however, go immediately to the book store to buy another book.

That next one didn’t change me as much as the first. Nor did the one after that. Or the one after that. But the fourth one did. Not every book will make you reassess your life, but if you don’t continue learning, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to do so.

Some people don’t like reading, fair enough. But don’t let that be an excuse. This is about educating yourself, not necessarily reading. Reading a book was simply what opened my eyes.

NOTE: I say books, instead of blogs, because there is a LOT of bad information on the internet, be careful.

Podcasts are plentiful and audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular. Some people don’t have the money, fair enough. But before you say that, Google “free ebook + your topic” or YouTube “free audiobooks” to see what type of results you come up with. I can’t promise you’ll find something that will change your life, but I promise you’ll find something worth your time.

Why You Need To Be Busy To Stay Productive

“Busy is a trap.”

I heard someone say this on a podcast a few weeks back. Then, this past Sunday, the message at church was about not allowing ourselves to be so busy that we neglect our relationships. A double-dose of this idea, that busy is bad, made me analyze my busy-ness level.

First, it’s important to note that I do not have a full time job. I freelance and I’m in between major projects so my load is lighter than normal. I have things to do every day, but I am not busy. Nor am I terribly productive.

Because nothing is pressing, my days are lazier than normal. I don’t need to be as regimented as I was when I was writing the book because there’s plenty of time to get everything done. I don’t need to plan my meals because there’s no need to save time. I can spend an hour and half on lunch and all my assignments will still be checked off at the end of the day. This leaves me with extra time for wasteful things like social media, projects I’m not excited about, excessive house-cleaning, etc.

In order to stay productive, I need to stay busy.

When you have tasks to accomplish, you stay on track. When there is no agenda, you bounce around aimlessly until something “urgent” comes up and you chase it like a cat chasing a laser pointer. These shiny objects don’t lead anywhere but they give you something to do. When the sun sets, you realize not much was accomplished even if you felt like you were doing something all day.

Be busy to stay productive. This means planning. Many freelancers and small business owners fail because they don’t know how to plan their day. This includes setting objectives and consequences if these tasks aren’t accomplished – just like you would at a job. For example, to combat this unproductive spell, I have front-loaded all my tasks in the morning. I don’t allow myself to eat lunch until all of my daily tasks are done. Even if my afternoon is a waste, my morning was productive. I typically get everything done before distraction sets in; hunger is a strong motivator.

Be busy to stay productive

Photo courtesy of jeanbaptisteparis 

Be busy to stay productive. This means creating a buffer and prioritizing. If you’re overloaded and your calendar looks like a game of Tetris, be sure to build in buffer. I was unproductive for years. I created massive to-do lists with everything from “Call Reggie” to “Take out the trash” and at the end of the day, my most important job duties, like “Finish forecasting Q1” didn’t get addressed. Because I tried to do everything in a day, I wound up checking off as many things as I could. Many of these tasks were menial, but they added up to a full schedule. This sometimes left me neglecting the duties that were significantly more important than taking out the trash.

Be busy to stay productive, but not too busy. If you’re overloaded, find space in your schedule and say, “NO” a few times. If you’re underloaded, look for ways to give yourself deadlines or consequences so you stay on track. There is no perfect answer for how much work is right, each person has their own threshold. One thing’s for sure, it’s not on the extreme end of the spectrum.

The Kind Of Organization I Want To Work For

the kind of company i want to work for

I recently interviewed for a job. It was an odd situation because I never thought I’d be on that end of the desk. But sometimes God has a plan that’s beyond our comprehension.

While explaining my previous work history, I told the interviewers about my experience with the furniture company. I told them all I had done, how the company had grown, my role, and I wrapped with why I left. I told them, “it was like a divorce.”

Later, they asked me why I wanted to join their team. Among other things, I told them I was looking for a second marriage. A relationship in which the company and I give unselfishly to each other. An arrangement in which both parties mutually benefit from being together. An agreement that we can’t do without. I wanted to love going to work, again.

If you have the ability, and we all do on some level, make your organization a place that is worthy of people’s loyalty.

Leading With Energy

Every group is defined by their energy. In a work setting, this is sometimes called your company’s culture. I think it’s more than that. Groups can be a small work meeting or organized teams or simply a family gathering. Each group has its own energy.

Most of the time that energy is defined by the loudest, most outgoing person in the group by default. Other times the energy is defined by the situation. When you’re solving a problem the atmosphere can be exciting and when you’re talking about loss the mood can be dampened. A group’s energy is fickle. It is not pre-determined by any set of magical factors. Group energy can be easily swayed by anyone willing to (consciously or unconsciously) pour themselves into the group. Energy can take its own form or you can mold it to your will – that choice is yours.

Emotions are contagious. And if you’re willing to lead, you can be the one to lift your group’s emotions out of the proverbial gutter.

First, you have to recognize that your group needs your energy. The best time to decide this is before you’re together. Get yourself in the mindset that you, and only you, can bring the energy the group needs. If you depend on someone else you’re not leading. And if you’re not set on doing it beforehand, you probably won’t have the strength or motivation to do it in the heat of the moment.

Bringing emotional energy to a group can be scary. Some people will ridicule you and try to bring you down. They don’t hate you, they just aren’t ready to stray from the pack. If you’re not prepared to stick with your strategy, you’ll abandon it. By resolving to be positive before you’re in a group, you’ll be more likely to carry out your plan.

Next, don’t be brought down by Debbie-Downers or Negative-Neals in your group. You will have them and they will oppose you, but you mustn’t allow them to drag you down. The other members of your group, besides you and Debbie/Neal, will be faced with a choice. They will have to choose to follow you or Debbie/Neal. People want to be happy and excited. Your argument for positive thinking must be as strong or stronger than your opponents or you’ll lose that swing vote.

Finally, lead with energy! Wear a smile, make eye contact, and don’t be afraid to touch people (in appropriate ways, of course) to demonstrate your leadership. When you speak, let your eyes light up and use your hands. When you listen, nod your head and pay close attention. When you have the floor, let people feel your passion and excitement for the topic. People will recognize your energy and they will respond.

Remember, if you don’t bring the energy, it will take its own form. That could be decided by Debbie and Neal or it could be decided by you. The choice – to lead – is yours. 

Using A Sniper Rifle To Acquire Customers

Acquire Customers

“Focusing on customer acquisition over ‘awareness’ takes discipline… At a certain scale, awareness/brand building makes sense. But for the first year or two it’s a total waste of money.”

This quote succinctly said everything I’ve thought about early-stage marketing. Most marketers (and we’re all marketing something) don’t realize that it is, in fact, better to do nothing than to just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

Most projects have a marketing budget. Each time you fling something against the wall, you use part of your budget. And if you answer to someone, each time you fling an idea, your credibility goes with it. You can fling nine failures, but that tenth better have some sticking power.

In practice, this looks like:

  • Opting for specific marketing copy with explicit calls to action – instead of “awareness campaigns”
  • Tracking all of your efforts (there is technology for anything you’re marketing)
  • Not spending money on a campaign unless you can track success/failure
  • Having the discipline to label something a failure and not revisit it (before tweaking, at least)
  • Knowing who you’re targeting and using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun

Yes, a shotgun is fun to carry. Anybody can pick it up, pull the trigger, and hit something if it’s within range. But you have to be close to use it, it’s results are unpredictable after a short distance, and a non-direct hit probably won’t deliver the desired results.

Contrast the shotgun with the sniper rifle. You know exactly what you’re shooting at; there’s only room for one target in your scope. Hit or miss, you know exactly what happened, there is no guess work about results. Finally, you can hit things much further away with a sniper rifle than you can a shotgun.

I am in the first year of marketing my book. Nearly all of my efforts have used campaign tracking URL’s that allow me to determine clear success or failure. Many of my efforts have not worked. The good news is that I know they haven’t worked. The bad news is that I am now tasked with continuing to fling trackable ideas before my budget runs out.

I am in a stage where I must stay disciplined and not waste resources on “awareness campaigns” that are untraceable. If your business/idea/product is still in its infancy, look to do the same. Spend resources wisely on campaigns you can track the success/failure of. For instance, my next approach will be using the proverbial sniper rifle to target a very small community of people (former high school/college football players) who I believe will enjoy my book. If my efforts work, results will be clear. If they don’t, I know exactly how much I spent. Find your “ideal customer” and go after them with a traceable, targeted effort.

If you’re not in this stage, you can still track your efforts, but odds are you’ll have more unknowns due to length of time in the market. Your efforts should be tracked, but they will inevitably be more diluted.

What are some of your most successful “sniper rifle” campaigns?

A New Twist On An Old Idea: Customer Scheduling via Text Message

Ideas run rampant in my head all day, every day. Many of them are business ideas like how to improve this, how to add more sales to that, a spin-off of so-and-so… you get the idea.

This morning at 6:19 am, as I lie in my bed with the flu needing to cancel my chiropractor’s appointment, an idea strikes me worse than a coughing fit: “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just text a number to cancel my appointment?” Then I remembered how bad my neck had been hurting since I hadn’t slept in 3 nights. “I will need to reschedule so I’d still have to call or email them.”

I began research on existing platforms for scheduling software. If this sort of software is available, I want to share it with my chiropractor (and a number of other businesses I frequent) because I think it would be helpful. After 15 minutes I couldn’t find anything other than mass texting apps, reminder text apps, and other apps that aren’t quite what I’m looking for.

This lead me to the conclusion that an app needs to be built. Why, you might ask, don’t I build it? I simply don’t have the resources nor the desire to start a project of this magnitude. Plus, I’m not greedy. I like sharing my business ideas. You probably won’t pick this idea and run with it, either. But you might read it, get your own gears grinding, and come up with your own idea.

customer scheduling text message software

Here’s how the ideal scenario would look from a text message standpoint. I don’t have the technical background to explain what’s needed to build this sort of platform, I only have the end goal in mind. It would need to tie into whatever scheduling software is being used by the organization and it would need to be automated (the MVP could be manual; very inexpensive to test). It would be nice to be able to include a way to customize the messages for each business. Beyond that, I haven’t dug into the details, that’s for someone else to run with.

If this already exists, it is hard to find and they need a new marketing person or an SEO company. If it doesn’t, maybe you’ve found your new side project. I want no claim to this, if you have the ambition and the resources, go for it. I am, however, always up for talking about new business ideas and how to launch them. In the mean time, I need to get some orange juice and make a phone call to my chiropractor. Hope your day is better than mine is sure to be!