Thoughts About Life And Business On My 41st Birthday

Aaron Hoos

41. Wow.

My “forties” seemed so far away when I was a kid. Looking back from today’s perspective, life has raced by in a flash.

Don’t worry; this isn’t a blog post where I bemoan getting older or I get all introspective or whatever. I’m actually going to talk about something else: growth, evolution, and change.

MY PERSONAL DEFINITION

It starts when I was a kid: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Other kids wanted to be astronauts or firefighters, I wanted to write.

Every chance I’d get, I’d write. My family and teachers humored encouraged me with it, which I suspect is probably how most kids develop skills in anything. For example, whenever my family played Scrabble, we’d write down all the words played during the game and then I would go write a story with all of those words in it. And a high school teacher let me skip all of those little English writing assignments if I wrote a book by the end of the year (I did). There are many other examples, too.

As I got older, though, the reality of what I could do to earn a living as a writer started to come into question. Book authoring was (and still can be) a who-you-know industry; and journalism wasn’t for me (I tried it and felt like an ambulance chaser). Copywriting wasn’t even something I realized existed (which is probably my biggest regret — that I didn’t start studying copywriting until well after college).

I pursued a different career in college before realizing that I would die if I didn’t write for a living. So, right after college, I started my first business. (I won’t bore you with the details here… you can read about it in my blog post Aaron Hoos — More Than You Need To Know Plus 8 Random Facts About Me.)

Anyway, my point is, I only ever wanted to be a writer. I worked my ass off and I am proudly living my life-long dream today.

All has been good since I started writing full time. Sure, there were some lean years early on but I’ve built enough skill and reputation that things have been pretty good.

But things have taken an unexpected turn lately, in a way I couldn’t have predicted: business has been REALLY good. Almost too good. So good, actually, that it’s a problem.

THE PROBLEM OF GROWTH

For years, my business grew steadily and predictably. But in 2013, after I made some tweaks to my branding and services and my prices and my target market, BOOM — my business started growing exponentially. This year it hit a point where it was too big.

I should have seen the signs throughout 2015 but by December 2015 I had SO much work, regardless of my higher rates, that I was turning away many people. And it was starting to impact my clients, too. At the beginning of 2016, 3 of my biggest clients each came to me and offered to put me on 100% retainer — essentially “buying” 100% of my time. And when I turned them down, they all suggested I think about expanding my business by hiring junior writers because they had so much work to send me and I couldn’t keep up.

And here’s where the problem lies…

… there is a cluster of mental obstacles that prevented me from hiring other writers to do my work:

  • I’ve hired an occasional writer from time to time and was never truly happy with the results.
  • In a previous business I was a manager in charge of a team and I didn’t love it, and later I was an editor-in-chief of a magazine and didn’t love that experience either.
  • I’m a very fast writer with specialized knowledge of my industry, so in the time it would take me to assign a project and then edit it afterward, I could have written the content myself.
  • Perhaps the biggest challenge: I’ve always defined myself as a writer… the person who sits at a keyboard and creates copy… I was afraid I’d be giving that up to become an editor (and editing other peoples’ work is a task I don’t love doing).

These were hurdles. I could ignore them for a long time (years) because it never really impacted me or my clients.

But starting in December, and growing in intensity in the first quarter of this year, I’ve had to make a change; I was my own bottleneck and it was well beyond the crisis point. I may define myself as a writer but I have clients and they need to be served so I’m rethinking how I run and grow my business.

AM I STILL A WRITER?

I’m building a team. I’ll continue to do what I do (writing, consulting, etc.) but I’ll be rearranging my business to work on some of the higher level stuff (and the higher-end copy and consulting) while the smaller stuff gets handed off to a team member. In fact, as I write this, I’ve hired 2 writers and have a short list of 2 more that I will likely hire shortly.

It’s not going to be easy because I’ve spent nearly 41 years defining myself as a writer and right now it feels like I’m giving that part up. (Okay, I’m sure I’m not fully “giving that part up” but it kind of feels that way right now.)

On the other hand, ever since I made the mental shift to grow my business in this way, and I started reaching out to other writers to hire them, I am thrilled by new opportunities that have presented themselves to grow my business in ways I wasn’t thinking about before. I have a number of new ventures that have come to the forefront in the past couple of days because of this, plus I also see the possibility of maybe being able to take a well-earned vacation (sometimes I probably should do more of but always resisted in the past).

I’m a little scared because last year at this time it certainly wasn’t where I expected to be in a year. On the other hand, we have to keep changing and growing and this could very well be the next step in my evolution.

I don’t fear change; I love it. But I also want to find a way to remain aligned with my goals and vision for my life and I’m embarking on the next step of a venture in which the path is less clear and the risk of misalignment feels very high. But I’m taking the step anyway.

Related Post: 37 Lessons About Business On My 37th Birthday

Inbox Fatigue: Why This New Era Of Anti-Email Isn’t Better, And A Prediction Of Future Communication

Slack. Asana. Voxer. We live in a time of amazing software that connects us and allows us to communicate for business.

… but is it good?

And is it better than email, which many are saying it is?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I’m not convinced we’re in a better age.

I’m experiencing inbox fatigue — not fatigue from my email inbox but rather fatigue from the sheer number of inboxes I now have to manage.

Aaron Hoos Writer
This is not me. It’s a stock photo… doubtlessly of someone experiencing inbox fatigue!

THE EARLY DAYS WERE SIMPLER…

When I started my business (well, restarted my business) over 10 years ago, I had basically 3 inboxes:

  • Email was my primary inbox and in those early days I also used it as a project management system. I would accept projects in my email, work on them on my desktop, and then deliver them back through email.
  • And my phone — people would call and if they had to leave a voicemail then I’d get back to them.

These first two were my primary inboxes.

  • I also had an account on a site called Guru.com, which is a job-posting site that people would use to hire freelancers. I ran a bunch of my projects through there as well, so it was technically a third inbox (although those projects were automatically emailed to me so I could still monitor my Guru account in my email inbox).

So basically 2-3 inboxes.

Pretty simple.

…THEN THERE WAS INBOX CREEP…

Over time, things changed: There was the concurrent development of the growth of my own business as well as the advancement of technology.

So more clients, more complex clients, and more complex technology meant more inboxes to pay attention to…

  • Skype
  • Texts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • More job boards (like Guru… including oDesk, Elance, etc.)
  • Basecamp
  • Client’s internal/proprietary project management systems

I also got my own act together and started managing my projects in another system instead of email (I tried a couple different ones but really clicked with Evernote, which I still love today).

It was a lot, and growing, but also manageable.

…AND NOW THERE’S INBOX OVERLOAD!

But today it’s become even more complex:

I have several clients using Slack, several more using Asana, and several more using Voxer, on top of the systems I’ve already mentioned above.

Yes, these all serve different purposes (some are communication-centric, others are for project management), but the bottom line is: they are all inboxes.

In short, I’ve gone from running a business with 2-3 inboxes to running a business with dozens of inboxes, sometimes multiple inboxes for just one client.

And it seems like we’re coming out with new inboxes all the time. Slack is relatively new, for example, and it’s touted as an email killer. Not surprisingly, several clients have jumped on board to use Slack instead of email. This will continue and it will grow as the next Slack and the NEXT Slack and the NEXT NEXT Slack is invented.

I’M NOT TURNING INTO AN OLD MAN — I HAVE A LEGIT POINT!

I swear — I’m NOT turning into a curmudgeonly old man. I realize that the level of client I now serve probably requires more complex communication and project management systems, and some of these systems provide value that email did not (such as versioning control). And to be frank, my business is far more complex and financially successful than in those simpler 2-inbox days so I definitely welcome the added features!

It seems like we’re in an era of “anti-email” — where communication is being done in more specific, more robust software that is more attuned to a single purpose.

But this new era of communication and project management causes me to wonder: is it better?

I don’t think it is.

In fact, I think this new era of anti-inbox communication is actually hurting us, for the following reasons:

1. We’ve reduced emails but we haven’t reduced messages: We once had inboxes that BURST at the seams with hundreds of emails flooding in every day and that was overwhelming.

(In fact, I still have a few clients with whom I have frequent “Replay All” email conversations between 4 of us, and if I miss a few emails while in a meeting then it takes a while to catch up.)

I understand that the sheer volume of emails is exhausting. But here’s the point I think people are missing: we’re not reducing the number of messages we once had; we’re just spreading them across more inboxes.

So instead of one big and daunting pile of emails (which is admittedly overwhelming) we have several small piles of messages in email, text, Skype, Facebook, Slack, Asana, Basecamp, Voxer, etc.

2. We are now paying an “invisible” price for this. We think we’re reducing email but we’re not — and now we’re ALSO paying a “switching cost” to check all of these different inboxes instead of just one. We now have to sign into several different inboxes to check those inboxes, communicate, etc.

3. We still use email for “important” things. Well, I don’t know about you but this is the case for me and my clients. We communicate on projects through all these various inboxes but whenever someone wants to raise the importance of something, they send an email. So email is still valued as a way to communicate but it’s become almost a place to indicate priority.

4. Even the anti-email mindset still benefits when there is only ONE inbox. It seems like people want multiple inboxes for different things, depending on the situation. They can have project management work in one set of inboxes and communication in another set of inboxes, etc. There’s this implicit idea that a single-inbox email is inefficient and old-school. Yet, how do you stay on top of all the notifications from each of these new and diverse inboxes? If you’re like most people I know, you do so through the notifications on your phone: each inbox has an app and each app notifies when there’s a new message. So all we’ve really done is take the single inbox value out of email and put it onto our phone. (But we still pay a “switching cost” to go from one app to another).

I THINK WE’LL SEE A SHIFT BACK

There is a lot of value to these apps. I use them and I like them. For example, I’m a big fan of Voxer. And Asana is growing on me (although it feels like a lot of its features were crammed in as an afterthought without a ton of user-experience consideration — IMO).

I think we’ll eventually* see a shift back to a single inbox in the future. We might not call it “email”. I predict that we’ll have some kind of inbox/dashboard/gathering-point, where all notifications will come into a single place from everywhere allowing us to review, sort, prioritize, and then launch into the right app.

… and this single inbox/dashboard/thing will need to be device agnostic so it works everywhere — on our mobile devices (replacing the mobile device itself as an inbox) and also on our laptops (for those of us who use them for work).

(* “eventually” = I’m not sure when. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It could happen this year but I doubt it.)

My mobile device is working just fine as a notifier but I’d like something on my laptop too (so that I can download files I need to work on, etc.) and I’m hacking something together with my Evernote inbox, email, and IFTTT. But it’s sketchy.

If you are a developer looking for a project, I think this is going to be huge. People think they want an email killer but what they really want is one place to gather EVERYTHING. Right now we’re using our mobile devices to do that, but that has limitations. What we really need is an inbox that is like our email inbox right now (everything in one place) but doesn’t seem like email… and from which we can review, sort, filter, prioritize, and manage all those messages from all those inboxes… and to be able to access that anywhere (mobile devices, online, desktop/laptop, etc.)

In the meantime? I assume we’ll just keep piling on the apps every time a new supposed “email-killer” inbox comes out. And I guess we’ll just use our mobile devices to ping us every time we get a message.

Eventually we’ll get tired of it and do something about it.

Social Media Business Hour Podcast: Learn The Secrets Of Profitable Sales Funnels And Copywriting

social-media-business-hour-podcast-aaron-hoos-201512

I was familiar with Nile Nickel’s Social Media Business Hour podcast so I was honored to be invited on as a guest. We covered a lot of ground and the podcast went by so quickly!

We talked about how a sales funnel should be defined (most people define it incorrectly), and the importance of an intentional sales funnel, rather than a sales funnel that grows organically and exists by default. We talk about how I got into sales funnels in the first place and what attracted me to profitable sales funnels as one of the most compelling opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs. Then, since the podcast is about social media, I connected it back to social media and showed how your sales funnel needs to exist even in your social content. Then I shared (overshared?) my formula for creating amazing headlines — this piece was really valuable for Nile’s audience!

Click here to listen to my interview with Nile Nickel about profitable sales funnels and copywriting

Want to interview me on your podcast? Click here to learn how to book me as a guest.

Financial Fiction Review: ‘The Billion Dollar Sure Thing’ By Paul E. Erdman

Love financial fiction? So do I. And I review them for you!

In this post I’m reviewing…

The Billion Dollar Sure Thing by Paul E. Erdman

The purest form of financial fiction… one of the originals!

The Billion Dollar Sure Thing by Paul E. Erdman

OVERVIEW: The Billion Dollar Sure Thing is THE original financial fiction book! It’s set in the mid-1970’s when America’s currency (which had been decoupled from the gold standard) was facing devaluation. In spite of the decoupling from gold, the US currency was still the financial standard of the day. (That much is true). In the book, the US President is concerned that various European governments are grouping together to take control of the financial markets away from the US dollar, so the President takes a financial gamble to recouple the dollar to the gold standard. Along the way, several different groups from all over the world attempt to profit from the potential financial ripples that this change will create.

REVIEW: This book, written in 1973, is Paul E. Erdman’s first book. Erdman had worked in the financial industry for many years before this book was written, so it’s not surprising that his experience and knowledge comes through. The style is classic 1970’s fiction: I don’t just mean that the telephones require talking to operators or that gold is valued at $100 an ounce… I mean, it’s slightly racist, slightly misogynistic, everyone has a mustache, and there’s always a layer of cold war anti-Russian fear lingering on every page. Just like every other 1970’s work of fiction. If you can get past that, it’s a great financial fiction book. I read this book before — many years ago — and didn’t love it at the time; I just didn’t like the old school feeling of the book, plus I barely understood what was going on. Since then, I’ve spent nearly a decade in the financial industry (or closely associated with it) and have a stockbroker’s license and an MBA… and those things really help. haha

I’ll warn you, this book is actually pretty advanced, financially. Although the author does try to explain everything, there are times when some readers may wonder what’s going on if they’re not experienced with the financial markets. This book covers currency, FOREX, shorting, and futures trading, so it can be heavy reading if you’re not familiar with those things.

Like many books of the age (which always trumpet “soon to be a major motion picture!” across the cover), the book includes plenty of international intrigue. In this book, characters zip back and forth between many of the major financial centers and power centers of the world — Washington, New York, London, Zurich, Moscow, and Beirut — as they make deals with different groups (all of whom end up being an ethnic stereotype, a la 1970’s fiction).

But what makes this book a “pure” financial fiction (in my opinion) is that it’s not about murder (which a lot of financial fiction books include in order to ramp up the conflict in the book) but it’s really just about a lot of people trying to make A LOT of money. Period. So if that’s enough of a conflict to motivate you to read the book then you’ll love this book.

I loved the deep financial aspect of the book and the purity of the financial storyline. And as you can probably infer from my earlier comments, the book does feel dated in many ways… so make sure you read it with an understanding that it’s a slice of fiction written in a very different time. (In some ways that adds some context and authenticity to the book, even if it does get distracting).

FINANCIAL FICTION QUOTIENT: As I’ve said, this book is the granddaddy of financial fiction and the financial quotient is VERY high and fairly advanced.
Here’s a quote from page 210-211 of my copy of the book to give you an example:

“… in the foreign exchange department, the phones had just begun to light up. At eight forty-five twenty traders went into action simultaneously. The Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt was offering $25 million spot. The General Bank agreed to take them at the rate of 3.3015, the absolute floor price for the dollar, a level that had never been reached before. The Deutsche Bank accepted. The Credit Lyonaise in Paris offered $50 million. They did not like the price. They would come back in ten or fifteen minutes. The Banque do Bruxelles wanted to sell $35 million three months forward. The trader consulted Zimmerer. They decided to put a 5 percent discount on the forward dollar: they offered Brussels the corresponding rate of 3.136. They did not even hesitate but accepted immediately. Two minutes later the Bana Nazionale de Lavoro was offered the same rate on $50 million. They also accepted. The traders huddled with Zimmerer. The decided to drop the three months forward rate another full percent. Then came the break.”

That’s just one small example that is fairly easy to follow. There are many others. If you like that kind of thing, as I do, then you’ll enjoy the book.

SUMMARY: Eerdman’s work is financially solid and engaging, although there are times when his experience may outpace the reader’s ability to understand. And although the book is dated, it’s still a great story of big money. If you’re into financial fiction, you should read this book just because it started the whole thing.

Click here to check out Paul E. Erdman’s The Billion Dollar Sure Thing on Amazon.

Find more financial fiction reviews here.

Here’s how I would fix restarts in NASCAR

I love NASCAR. Actually, I love all motorsports (but who has time to watch them all???)

But for the past couple of years, restarts have been a problem in NASCAR — frustrating for drivers and for fans — and those problems to be getting worse.

Restarts explained

Currently, when the field needs to restart, cars line up in 2 rows (the lead car gets to choose whether to drive the bottom line or the top line). I’ve created a rough diagram to approximate how cars are lined up. In this example, the lead car has chosen the lower line…

restarts now

As the field of cars comes around to the start/finish line (the dotted line in the diagram above), the lead car is expected to lead everyone by accelerating first. They can do this in a space leading up to the start/finish line called “the restart zone”.

If the lead driver hasn’t accelerated and taken the lead by the start/finish line then everyone can go… but the lead car can accelerate at any point inside the restart zone.

Here’s why restarts are a problem

Sometimes the lead car can’t accelerate as fast as everyone else. Maybe they have old tires or they spin their tires on a dirty track or they have a mechanical problem or they miss a gear… whatever… there are times when they don’t accelerate, and sometimes they even actually slow down.

This puts the second car in a very awkward position. The second car needs to keep pace with the first car but can’t pull ahead… but there are times when it happens because the lead car doesn’t go.

In the past few races, we’ve seen this happen a couple of notable times.

In the past couple of races we’ve seen it happen at Chicagoland and at New Hampshire (off the top of my head), and I think there was one in Richmond as well.

NASCAR has on-the-spot video reviews and they’ll sometimes black flag a driver for starting too early… but they don’t always seem very consistent about their rulings (at least from my perspective).

Even drivers don’t like it (check out this great video of drivers voicing their concern).

NASCAR has doubled the restart zone but I don’t think that’s the solution either.

Here’s what I would do if I were in charge of NASCAR (which I’m most definitely not!)

I would put the first driver on the very front, with all other drivers in paired formation behind the lead driver. Like this…

restarts improved

And then I would make a rule that the lead driver’s rear bumper had to pass over the start/finish line before any other car’s front bumper.

  • This ensures that the lead car always controls the race
  • It forces the lead driver to make some strategic decisions about which line to race (and gives them a slight advantage by allowing them the option to race either line)
  • It also forces subsequent cars (i.e. cars 2 and 3) to hold back, but…
  • It gives those subsequent cars the ability to speed up strategically prior to the start/finish line (and potentially pass the lead driver right after the start/finish line… as long as the lead driver’s rear bumper passes the start/finish line before the subsequent cars’ front bumpers).

I think this will make for restarts that are clearer (less confusion) and more exciting (better strategy opportunities for the lead car and the cars in the second and third spots).

It’s not likely that we’ll see this change anytime soon. But if I were in charge of NASCAR, that’s a change I would make.