Deliberate practice: applying the abstract theory to careers

On our recent trip to Morocco my Kindle tragically broke. It was a Kindle Keyboard 3G, and I’d had it since 2011. It featured a full sized keyboard and a 3G connection anywhere in the world, free! Unsurprisingly those features rarely came in useful, but it served me well. Sadly when I put the Kindle down when I sat down on the flight the screen broke. We were just taking off! The worst time to break a Kindle!

peak

I had changed my mind about bringing any physical books at the last minute, so when we arrived at our Riad (hotel) one of the first things I did was download the Kindle app for my phone and find something to read. I settled on Peak by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at Florida State University.

The subtitle is Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, and the book is about Ericsson’s work in researching “deliberate practice”, a theory of skill development which argues the most efficient way of learning is solo practice on specifically honing a part of your skill. Racking up the hours in general (the “10,000 hour rule”) is rubbished; instead it’s racking up the hours focused on specifically improving your skill.

This got me thinking, a lot: deliberate practice is most easily applied to “traditional” skill areas like music or dance or chess. What would a program of deliberate practice for my field of marketing – and indeed my career – look like? This post explores the parameters and options.

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WordCamp London 2019: an organiser’s perspective

Photo of Track A at WordCamp London 2019

This weekend was WordCamp London! By all accounts, it was a very successful event! People seemed to enjoy themselves, the talks were excellent, and everything ran smoothly. As mentioned last week I was on the organising team, and it was my first time doing so.

Nearly all of the team was new to organising, but fortunately with the same venue as last year we were able to build on the excellent work previous organisers have done. We focused on changing two things: content and sustainability.

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The pocket notebook, and capturing creative ideas

Almost no one claims to get their best ideas at work. – Michael Gelb

I’ve recently been returning to ideas around Deep Work, and re-evaluating my workflow now that I’m fully settled into life and a new office in Oxford. The vast majority of my work energy goes into running Ellipsis, and I squarely think of this as a creative endeavour and myself as a creative person.

Allow for Serendipity: Move outside your normal realm of comfort and interest, explore far and wide, while stayng open and avoiding jumping to conclusions. Let yourself be surprised and discover new opportunities. Keep a notebook with you at all time and record ideas as they appear to you.

One of the highest-impact things I’ve started doing in the last year is appreciating how important ideas and then following-through with these ideas is in running a creative business.

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Getting things done in the long run: think harder and further ahead

I found Sam Altman’s post How To Be Successful very interesting. Sam is President of Y Combinator, a startup incubator which has funded the likes of Dropbox and Airbnb, and thus spends his time talking to extremely driven – and in some cases – extremely successful people. This gives him a unique situation from which to judge, which is in part where this post comes from: “how to be successful”.

There’s a lot packed into here, and if one wanted to I’m sure it would be possible to pad out each of the sections into a successful business book.

I was struck by how much of this revolves around cultivating long term thinking, and then executing on that. Short term thinking is fun because you get the answer quickly, but we’d probably all do better to look into the future more.

The post breaks out eleven points, a third of which revolve around “think deeply about what you should be doing, look further into the future, and then get on with it”. Another third revolve around believing in what you’re doing, and not caring too much about what people think, and the final third are miscellaneous points.

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Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, book notes and commentary

Let My People Go Surfing book notesI read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Let My People Go Surfing, by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, on a trip to Japan two years ago. This was the same trip where I read Deep Work for the first time, so clearly I chose my reading list well.

Indeed, I chose these two books because I was about to start working for myself full-time: I’d just graduated University, and after the Japan trip would be starting my entrepreneurial journey.

Both Deep Work and Let My People Go Surfing have been influential on my work since. Deep Work has largely informed how I work, and Let My People Go Surfing has informed why I work.

This was the first time I read something which so clearly laid out the possibilities for using business as a real force for good, both in the way one conducts one’s business, and the potential impact one can have by sharing ideas and talking about how businesses are run. This latter point – the potential impact – wasn’t something I’d really thought was possible before, and has since inspired how we do work at Ellipsis.

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Getting Black Friday right for WordPress products

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have the opportunity to be some of the biggest profit generators all year for WordPress products.

Hopefully you’ve been profitable all year and this isn’t – as with traditional retail – the sale event which makes you profitable, but it’s still a great opportunity and over the last couple of years I’ve seen the Thanksgiving period consistently provide a nice boost to WordPress business’ earnings.

Yet, it’s important to get Black Friday right. You need to create an offer which works for you, is attractive for your customers, and does not impede your ability to make money in the long term.

You shouldn’t take those three points for granted; this post gets into the how and why, and how to get Black Friday right for WordPress products.

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Marketing channels, and how to think about marketing your WordPress business

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one.

You can make a great product or service, but if you’re not able to effectively get it in front of people who need and will pay for it, that’s not too much use. Despite all the hours that go into making a great product, having it thrive or not can be decided by choosing – or not choosing – the right marketing channels.

Thus, you must have the right set of marketing channels. You must be able to connect your offering with potential customers who can and will pay you.

But what are marketing channels? What constitutes a “channel”? How do you pick the right channels? This post gets into all of this! We’ll show you the channel-based marketing philosophy, and aim to give you a clear framework on how to think about marketing your WordPress business.

 Let’s talk about marketing channels

Marketing channels are categories of marketing activities. This part isn’t complicated: there are around twenty channels which cover the vast majority of marketing work.

Here’s a sample of five of these channels. These apply to every industry, not just WordPress products:

  1. Content marketing
  2. Paid search ads
  3. Sponsoring conferences (like WordCamps!)
  4. PR stunts!
  5. TV ads

You get the idea: these are broad categories, and some are more appropriate to certain markets than others (you almost certainly, for example, by TV ads to market your WordPress business unless you’re Automattic, in which case test it carefully).

There are a handful of go-to channels for WordPress businesses. Sponsoring, attending, or speaking at WordCamps is a good one for getting started. Content marketing and affiliates can be good fits for the right kinds of products. Partnerships, community building, and SEO can be good too.

You get the idea: these are all marketing channels. Let’s now talk about how this channel-based philosophy of marketing works in practice.

Why the channel-based philosophy works so well

The channel-based philosophy of marketing works so well for two reasons:

  1. It forces you to test and find out what works.
  2. It forces you to focus on what works, and abandon everything else.

You start off by brainstorming and identifying three, four, or five possible marketing channels. The channels I mentioned above would certainly be a good start, but given getting the channels working is so valuable, you may wish to get a professional opinion. Ellipsis does this, and we’d be happy to help – get in touch.

Identifying and testing your marketing channels

However you go about getting your initial channels, the process from then onwards is the same:

  1. You identify your possible channels, doing small tests to see if they work.What constitutes “small tests” depends on which channel you’re trying: paid search ads get results very quickly, so one month might be sufficient. Content marketing can take longer, so you might need to stick with it for three months. An industry newsletter – like MasterWP – might need three months to see if the idea works, and then another nine months to see if it can get good traction.Screenshot of the MasterWP websiteWhichever channels you look at, you must set success criteria and a timeframe before you start. Once underway make sure you can track the results from each channel – for example by using UTM codes – and make sure you stick to the channel for the duration of the test. By the end, you should have a good idea of what can work and what can’t. One or two working channels is a perfectly good outcome here.
  2. Once you have one or two working channels, you just focus on these.When it’s clear what’s going to work, double down on what works. Just focus on the one or two marketing channels if you’re just getting started, or three, four, or five if you’re further down the line.You want as few marketing channels as possible, and each channel working as hard for you as it can. This means really focusing on doing everything to maximise your channels!
  3. Only when a channel is working and “full” do you then turn your attention to new channels.You find your new channels by testing out a couple of ideas again! And, you say no to everything which doesn’t fit in the channels you’re focusing on. This latter part is especially important, as I’ll touch on again in a moment.

This makes for an incredibly efficient marketing strategy! You find what works, and then only focus on those things that work, getting as much value as possible out of them. If a channel wanes or is at maximum capacity, then you can turn to new channels. That’s it. You don’t do anything else.

The channel philosophy makes it easy to say no

Furthermore, the value of being forced to focus on a working marketing channel shouldn’t be underestimated: once you do start getting customers, marketing opportunities will start springing up. You’ll be asked to sponsor content, conferences, and all sorts. A lot of WordPress business owners I speak to have a really difficult time choosing between these opportunities:

  • What constitutes a good opportunity?
  • Should you copy what other people are doing?
  • What sounds like a good idea, and what is a good idea?

With the channel-based marketing philosophy, it’s easy to filter these opportunities: if something fits with the channel you’re focusing on, do it. If not, don’t do it.

The philosophy is also extremely elegant for us when working with clients: it lets the Ellipsis team build a focused marketing strategy from scratch if that’s what the client needs, it lets us tweak and fit into an existing strategy, or it lets us take care of one channel for clients who already have other parts in place. This works for WordPress businesses of literally all sizes, from startup plugins, to the very biggest SaaS companies. It also intuitively makes sense, so you can certainly get a barebones version of this running for your WordPress business.

Quick case study: Envira Gallery’s marketing channels

Here’s a quick example of this in action, from a WordPress product we have no affiliation with: Envira Gallery. This is a gallery plugin for WordPress which was acquired for multi-million dollars in late 2017. In an interview with The Plugin Economy, owner Nathan Singh mentions the following:

Our continued success has been a healthy mix of Facebook retargeting, laser focused content marketing, industry affiliate relationships, and listening to our customers by delivering updates that matter to them. If you haven’t yet, send surveys to understand what they want.

Screenshot of the Envira Gallery website

We’re taking “build a great product” as a given, so if we take that out we see a three-channel marketing strategy:

  1. Facebook retargeting
  2. Content marketing
  3. Affiliates

You might even argue that this is a two-channel marketing strategy, with the Facebook retargeting merely increasing the effectiveness of channels the other two channels, which are the ones bringing people to the site.

Envira Gallery is a multi million dollar business, and it’s using two marketing channels; this shows you it really is true that you want as few marketing channels as possible, and you want to get them working as efficiently as possible.

Now you’re ready to choose your marketing channels!

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one. This post has shown you how to make use of the channel-based marketing philosophy to build a winning marketing strategy.

It’s conceptually very simple, and that’s part of the beauty: you want to test a couple of channels, choose the one or two that work, and then just focus on them.

There is, of course, more to building a winning marketing strategy than saying “let’s do content marketing”; there are plenty of ways of doing content marketing. Some of these will be good and some of these won’t; you do have to be specific. Note how, for example, Nathan Singh referred to “laser focused content marketing” above. And, whilst this is a simple process, it’s an open-ended one; you always want to be on the look out for new possibilities.

I’ll endeavour to get more into building out winning marketing strategies in a later post. If you can’t wait for that, or if you want an expert opinion from the start, then get in touch with Ellipsis, and we’ll be happy to look into this for you. We do this as the initial work for the vast majority of our clients, and have an excellent track record of uncovering a winning way forwards.

I’ve turned on comments for any queries: ask below, or tweet me! Thanks for reading, and enjoy your winning marketing strategy.

Deep work in practice for remote teams

Nearly two years ago I wrote how I was doing Deep Work in practice as a remote worker. The post discussed the “Deep Work” idea that you should focus hard, on hard things, for a long time in order to yield the best results.

The idea comes from Cal Newport, a Computer Science Professor, and is something he expands on in his book of the same name. Here’s the idea in Cal’s words:

Deep work is cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve… . Deep work results in improvement of the value of your work output… and an increase in the total quantity of valuable output you produce.

The post clearly struck a nerve, “going viral”: it hit the front page of Hacker News, had a thousand plus shares on Twitter and Facebook, and fifty thousand or so visitors.

undraw_digital_nomad_9kgl

In the two years since writing this I’ve continued to heavily subscribe to the Deep Workthesis, and as I’ve transitioned first from freelancer to running my digital marketing agency Ellipsis I now run a small team and have been able to build a company culture that revolves around Deep Work, deep focus, and giving everyone the space to do their best work.

This post is about working deeply in a remote team: about the why, about the how, and about the benefits.

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Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: book notes and comments

Photo of the Traction book coverI read Traction, a classic startup marketing book, at the start of this year. I’d previously seen and loosely embraced some of its ideas, but have happily fully embraced its thinking and marketing philosophy with Ellipsis since. It’s pretty simple, but really good.

There are already a ton of book summaries and notes on the internet, so this isn’t my attempt to do that; instead I want to pick out the parts I found especially interesting, and add my own analysis.

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What I’m Doing Right Now: June 2018

It is actually sunny outside ☕️ 

I’m writing this in the lovely British sunshine (it’s actually sunny, honest ☀️), outside at my favourite coffee shop.

Whenever I sit here, I think about what I wanted to be doing when I decided to work for myself roughly three years ago, whilst on a backpacking trip through the Balkans and Turkey.

This is roughly, I think, the dream: I’m running a remote web-based business and can work whenever, and wherever. I get to shape the business into the job that want, and have the space to explore other passions and projects.

This story was the precis to a couple of conversations I had at WordCamp Europe two weeks ago, and whilst it is accurate, it’s also misleading; running a business is hard, working remote is hard, and creating the space to explore other passions is also hard. There are good days and bad days, as with anything.

I find quarter-based goal setting really helpful: it’s a long enough time frame to be ambitious in scope, but short enough that I can be realistic about commiting fully and confident my thinking won’t have changed dramatically. I tie this in with weekly goals and a weekly review I do – from another coffee shop, obviously – where I can tie the micro and macro pictures together, and pick up on anything amiss.

I’ve felt recently that something has been amiss, and I’ve put my finger on more open-ended thinking and writing as the answer. I’m doing a lot of creative work for Ellipsis, genuinely pushing the boundaries with new approaches for clients, but this is firmly in the digital marketing category. Ellipsis is a digital marketing agency so this is obviously important, but I also need to be thinking sharply and critically to be at my best.

I’m thus keen to write more, and this post aims to serve as an introduction to doing so. I’m anxious about publicly commiting to a timeframe or regularlity, but I’d be very pleased to have a post a week or so. I’d like to explore more of the topics I’m interested in and develop and push my thinking in these areas. Under this banner we’ve got:

  • Running/growing a digital marketing agency.
  • Doing good, creative deep work.
  • Building an ethical business, and issues around this.
  • Reading and sharing/developing new ideas.

I don’t have specifics posts or an SEO strategy in mind; the primary aim of this writing is for me to develop and share ideas. If other people like the content (the Deep Work post above hit the front page of Hacker News #humblebrag) then that’s an added bonus. There should also be space here for non-work bits and sharing photos, which I’mkeen to do ever-more of.

So; this is for me to develop ideas, share ideas, and think more. If you’re reading – thank you – and I look forward to writing to you again soon.