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.


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.

The Future of Work is Scary

This evening I’ve got the pleasure of speaking at WordUp Brighton’s October Meetup, about “The future of work is scary: Deep Work in the WordPress economy”.

This should be a fun talk! It’s a topic I think is really important, and am very interested. Here are some links and resources pulled out from the slides:

  • Deep Work by Cal Newport. The authority on this stuff!
  • Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K Glei. A really practical book about similar ideas to Deep Work.
  • The Organised Mind by Daniel Levitin. A research-based book that explains how you think.
  • Pomodoro Technique (do this in 50 or 75 or 100 minute chunks instead of 25).
  • Focus for Mac, or Timewarp for Chrome for blocking distracting sites.
  • Messenger.com is a great way of getting Facebook chat without the distracting features bolted-on.

And, of course, here are the slides:

A tale of two product launches: WordCamps Brighton and Bucharest

I recently had the great pleasure of speaking at WordCamp Brighton, and tomorrow will be speaking at WordCamp Bucharest. My first time at both, and a real treat!

I wanted to make my slides and useful links easily accessible, which is what this post is. You’ll find both below:

Must reads on online product launches:

These are all good, but read them with your “survivorship bias” goggles on: you’re hearing about the handful of product launches which worked, and not the ones which didn’t. This is hard, and may take you a couple of goes to get right, but that’s really okay.

I really hope you found the talk and these links valuable. We can be friends on Twitter if you like, I’d recommend taking a look at my weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals, and I’m taking on some work at the moment, so do get in touch.

Exploring a purchasing decision: “Double Your Freelancing”

I’ve just purchased Brennan Dunn’s “Double Your Freelancing” course, as it’s a) on sale today (urgency!) and b) solves a problem I’m interested in at the mo. My thought process for making a purchasing decision was very interesting. Couple of notes, which I thought were worth sharing:

1. I’ve been subscribed to Brennan’s list for a long time, but only today considered purchasing. Before, his course hasn’t solved a problem I needed; now it does. A one-day urgency sale, with a single reminder email was enough to prompt me to buy.

2. The sales page was very good, but I skimmed a lot of it. I only read it properly when I was pretty sure I wanted to buy. So, making sure sales pages are skimmable is important.

3. There was so much social proof on the page I didn’t look for independent reviews. Social proof from people whose names I recognised was very powerful.

4. I presumed I wanted the most expensive tier – and even added it to my cart – but then looked at what was in the cheap tier. I realised I didn’t actually want or need any of the things in the more expensive tier, and saying “you don’t get free updates” seemed like a technical nightmare. On purchasing, turns out that hunch was right, and there are free updates. Thus – adding real value to a more expensive tier is key.

5. I was surprisingly price-insensitive. With a discount code, I was happy to pay the $200 for the top tier, on the justification I only need to take away a couple of things for it to be worth it. Quite possibly I would have used that logic right up to $400 or $500.

Brennan does around $80k/month in sales, so he obviously has this down. Interesting nonetheless to work out how I decided to buy this course, caveats on what’s weak in the sales process, and how one can avoid them going forwards.

How to read a totally reasonable number of books in 2017

I read twenty eight books in 2016, the most I’ve ever read in a year. I’d aimed for thirty, but given in 2015 I only managed twelve, I’m pleased with the results.

As the new year has come around I’ve seen my social feeds fill up with “I’m going to read more in 2017” and “how to read more in 2017” and, to be perfectly frank, a lot of these articles are total bullshit.

Two headlines showed up recently that illustrate my point:

  • Tim Ferriss’s Guide to Reading 3 Books Every Week, No Matter How Busy You Are
  • Why I read a book a day (and why you should too): the law of 33%

I’ll link these at the bottom for the curious. These are obviously preposterous: if you are busy and don’t read anything you’re not going to read one book in a week, let alone three, and the literally awful TED talk on “a book a day” advocates only reading the first and last pages of a book and calling it quits.

Reading books a lot is seen as an authoritative thing to do, and and a lot of “hey it’s a new year” articles quote Warren Buffet saying “I just sit in my office and read all day” (obviously a gross exaggeration), set unreasonable expectations and offer ridiculous “tactics” and “secrets”.

What should you do if you’d like to read some more books this year, but you also have other things to do and would just like to settle for a reasonable number? Twenty or thirty books this year, perhaps?

Well, I read a totally reasonable number of books in 2016 and I’ll do the same in 2017. I’d like to share the totally reasonable things I did in order to read more.

A good reading list is essential to making this work

A quality reading list is a very good place to start. It’s much easier to read when what you’re reading is interesting.

What should be on your reading list depends on what you want to get out of this; most of my reading is motivated by the lofty aims of wanting to be a better informed citizen and seeking knowledge that will help me in work and life. To this end, I tend to read non-fiction, with a particular interest in political economy, thoughtful business books and psychology.

You may, however, prefer fiction or other genres and that’s totally cool! Read whatever interests you: there’s no right or wrong way of doing this.

Filling your reading lists with quality books is an interesting challenge. I have a number of useful rules:

  • Recommendations from people you respect are the best starting point. Collecting recommendations is a great place to start!
  • Best seller lists aren’t very useful. They’re easily and frequently manipulated, especially on Amazon, and a lot of best selling books just aren’t very good.
  • Don’t spend too long looking at reviews, but if a book has fewer than four stars on Amazon or Goodreads, it’s probably not very good.
  • Don’t purchase right away: come back in a couple of days and decide then if you really want to sink several hours you’ll never get back into reading a title.
  • Spend a bit of time doing some research to see if you’ll like a title: who’s the author; what’s the book about; what are other people saying about this.

I like to keep a big Amazon wishlist that makes up my reading list. I might not buy the book on Amazon, but it’s just a case of deleting the item once you’ve read it. I also like to use Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve actually read: the app makes it easy to add books to your “currently reading” and “completed” list, and you’ll even get a convenient year-total tally of books read.

One final note on choosing what to read: don’t get too stuck on the total book count for the year. If you’re focussed on this too much you’ll find yourself reading lots of short, easy books with massive fonts. Very long books can be very rewarding; last year I read a 1,000 page book on Keynes with Bible-style paper and tiny margins. It counted as one book, but could have been five regular sized books. Delving very deep into one topic was, however, immensely rewarding, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Don’t avoid these gems.

To read books you need to make time for reading books

This is the secret sauce, the secret life hacks! In order to read books in 2017, you just need to spend time reading books. Indeed, this is something many “life hack” style articles try and compromise on. It’s not possible: you’ve just got to put the time in.

You have plenty of time to read. You simply choose to spend it on other things… You can never find time. You can only allocate time. – Nat Eliason

Most of my reading gets done at the weekend with a nice cup of coffee, or after I’ve finished work. I don’t tend to read just before going to sleep, cause that keeps my brain whirring when I want it to calm down and sleep.

I’d recommend having two distinctly different books on the go at any one time: one that’s easy to read and one that’s hard. The former can be your page turner when you’re tired after work and the latter can be for when you can focus more intensely. I don’t like reading any more than two at the same time, but if it works for you then great.

Initially I struggled to concentrate for prolonged periods on “hard” books. I still do, but I’ve gotten better at it. Various scientific research shows simply practicing concentrating and immersing yourself in a task will allow you to concentrate for longer periods, so this makes sense, but I’ve also learned not to try and read the difficult stuff when fatigued. There are also other benefits to be had: I’ve no idea if it’s related, but I’ve generally got better at deep work and long periods of concentration since starting to read more.

Remembering things from books

This is an interesting one: how do you remember what you’ve learned? This obviously applies primarily to non-fiction, so if fiction is your jam you can safely skip this part.

I tend to just keep a highlighter to hand and mark next to anything I find especially interesting. I’ll also mark the top of the page so my note can be easily found later. From there the intention is to copy notes into Evernote and organise into categories and topics, but in practice this doesn’t happen a lot. I tend to read physical books; if you primarily read on a Kindle this becomes a whole lot easier.

Still, we can all aspire! I like Nat Eliason’s take on this: even just copying out your notes and never looking at them again is going to help you remember your notes in the long term.

Ryan Holiday's notecard system looks really cool but must be a real pain to actually do. http://ryanholiday.net/the-notecard-system-the-key-for-remembering-organizing-and-using-everything-you-read/

Ryan Holiday’s notecard system looks really cool but must be a real pain to actually do. 

I also like the idea of writing notes out on hundreds of notecards (mainly cause it looks cool), but given I struggle with the basic Evernote version of this, I think we can write this off as impractical. Maybe one for the future.

Some sort of system for remembering is important. It does add on to your reading time, but the marginal value of that time is huge. You might spend three hours reading a three hundred page book, but add on an extra half hour to make your notes and you’ll remember what you’ve read much more clearly.

Being moderately good at this is fine

I hope you’ll find these thoughts on reading more actually useful, and if you’re trying to read more you’ll put some of these into practice and see the benefits.

By no means am I an expert in this, but that’s precisely the point. For most people being an “expert reader” is not the goal: being moderately good at reading and trying to read a reasonable number of books a year is a much more useful approach.

If you’re interested, here’s the list of what I read in 2016. Particular highlights were:

You can take those as my recommendations but, as we know, do your own research and don’t just take my word for it.

I am, after all, only moderately good at this – but I’m also very happy with that.


P.S. Here’s the a book a day video if you really really want to waste some time. The Tim Ferriss article mentioned is slightly less bad: it’s a serialised write-up of a Quora answer he gave which makes some interesting points, but the title is still ridiculous.