What fighting taught me about my career

Cross post from my personal blog – this also applies to life and business.

I’d like to start by saying that I’m more of a hobbyist and fight fan than an actual fighter. My record of amateur and pro fights is an impressive 0-0. I have however been training in various martial arts over the past 20 years ranging from Tae Kwon Do, to Judo, to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, to Muay Thai Kickboxing. In all of these classes I have learned some valuable lessons that I’ve been able to apply to many other facets of my life, most specifically my career.

1 – Belts don’t really matter with few exceptions – just like degrees, certificates and awards

I am kind of embarrassed I didn’t figure this one out earlier. I remember being an athletic 15 year old taking Karate lessons where the “teacher” was a skinny 12 year old black belt. I honestly thought that because the kid had black belt he could kick my ass. I also thought that because I had trained a lot of karate and had won several no contact “point fighting” tournaments I was pretty bad ass.

Let’s just say my world came crashing down when a drunk kid started throwing punches that he actually intended to hit me with.
The honest truth is that most martial arts belts don’t really signify much in terms of fighting ability with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Judo, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu and a few others).

All that they really mean is the person awarded with the belt has paid enough money to get it and meets some basic knowledge requirements. The same can be said for degrees, certificates and most awards.

What really matters is the person.

2 – You need to have contact, otherwise you might as well be learning to swim on land

Now, you should learn the basic movements first, otherwise you’ll just flail around and tire yourself out first, but you should always have a target of getting into the ring and into live sparring.

Training to fight without contact is like training to swim while on land. Learning some basic movements while on shore is helpful, but you wouldn’t want your first actual swimming experience to be when you were potentially swimming for your life.

In your career you need to push yourself. If you never do, then you won’t be ready for it when someone/something pushes you (e.g. a competitor).

3 – Quit being afraid. With hindsight, few things are as bad as you thought they would be, including getting punched in the face

Now, I’m not talking about real violence here. I’ve been lucky enough to have never been involved in a situation where someone truly wanted to take my life. I think it’s pretty safe to say that a gun fight is something that could easily become much worse than you ever thought possible. I’m talking about getting into the ring with boxing gloves on and sparring with someone full contact. Most people are afraid of this. I was the first time I did it.

It’s really not that bad

I didn’t feel the punches during the session, but I did have a headache that night and the next morning. I was pretty bad at blocking when I first started real contact sparring. Turns out that blocking punches that were never really intending to hit you is easier than blocking ones that are. The only way to get better at it was take a few punches to the face.

Don’t be afraid to jump into new projects, move on from a shitty situation, or change careers. It could be the best thing you ever did, and you shouldn’t ever let fear be the deciding factor as to why you don’t make a positive change for yourself.

4 – Hard work pays off

People starting out at my gym ask me how to kick or punch with a lot of power. They often don’t like the answer, because people often don’t like to put in the time and work. Your kick will become powerful by going through the following process: learn the basic technique, kick the bag a few thousand times (over several days), got pointers to refine technique, kick the bag several thousand more times (over days/weeks), repeat for many years. The more smart work you put in, the better you will become. It really is that simple.

Note that a key part to the process is refining the technique. In your career this equates to working hard and working smart. Having a mentor and/or colleagues who have complementary skill sets which can be cross trained is hugely beneficial to success.

5. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not getting better

You shouldn’t be the best person at everything at your gym unless you’re the instructor and aren’t actively fighting. If you are, you will never learn anything. The best place to train at is a gym where you are the least skilled person there. The first Judo club I tried as an adult had several kids in the class, and I found that I was able to beat most of them based on strength and some rudimentary skills alone. I was a fairly competent striker at this point, was an athletic 22 year old man, and wanted to learn a bit about this grappling stuff I had seen in those early UFC’s.
I thankfully tried another gym that had adult only classes and was thoroughly destroyed by everyone in the class that I went up against.

It was an uncomfortable, frustrating, difficult, and humbling experience, but I have never experienced that level of rapid learning since.

In your career you need to seek out challenges. The fastest way to succeed is by being brave and trying difficult things. You will fail more, but it is well worth the effort.

6 ways you’re thowing away traffic on your food blog

You worked hard to get people to your site.  You took some great photos, tweeted to your followers and shared with your facebook fans, submitted to foodgawker, and got a whole bunch of traffic – yay! But oh no! They didn’t stay or come back?  Why did your traffic bottom out again after a single great day?  Why isn’t anyone leaving comments?

1. Too many distractions

Do you have every award that you have ever won plastered somewhere on your pages?  How about a badge for every community you joined?  Take a step back and really look at your blog.  Does it look cluttered?  Is this how you really envisioned what a professional food blog should look like.  Look at some big food blogs.  Do they do this?  No?  Don’t take my word for it, look at some top blogs, like the pioneer women, pinch of yum, or white on rice couple.  Seriously, go look.  I’ll wait.

Did you look?  You’ll probably notice a serious lack of badge or awards.

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Badges and awards are are a scam.  They’re almost all total nonsense.  They are fake, meaningless awards designed to direct traffic from your blog over to the site that gave you the award.  Why do you have a big call to action on your site directing your hard earned traffic over to someone else’s site on your blog?  Take it off now.

2. Lack of teasers to browse more content

Have you ever fallen into a clickhole?  If you’ve spent any time on the internet lately you likely know what I’m talking about, but may not know what they’re called.  A clickhole is a site designed keep you there clicking on as many links and generating as many pageviews as possible.  The onion even did a parody site about it.  I’m not going to give you a link to it because if you go there you’ll never come back here [I’m not kidding – I just went and got sucked in for about 5 minutes.  I had to tear myself away to finish this post].

Those sites work because at the end of every article there are numerous teasers with racy headlines designed to pique your interest, you just have to click on them, and they just keep making money on those pageviews.  You want to do this on your food blog with related posts at the bottom and/or the sidebars of your content.  They have to have enticing images and headlines.

3. No Recipe Index

So people have come to your blog, they’re interested in your content and want to learn more.  You want to make them search or browse through your archives to discover your other recipes?  Why would you do that to them?  Almost everyone is going to bounce and you’ve lost them forever.  Ensure you have a recipe index.  It looks professional, will generate more pageviews, and keep visitors on your site longer.  A great looking recipe index will also help you work with brands because they will be able to see the depth of your work.

4. Recipe Index that isn’t updated regularly (automate it!)

Do you have a recipe index that hasn’t been updated in months?  Is it something that you know you really should be doing but are dreading it?  Did you pay a web designer/developer to make one for you, but now you can’t update it because you don’t know how?

Why haven’t you automated this yet?  There is a wordpress.org plugin that will handle this for you.

Use Visual Recipe Index (full disclosure, I developed it).  It’s free (although a pro version is coming soon) and is very easy to install and set up as long as you already have your content already categorized correctly.  If you have another one you prefer let me know in the comments.

5. No email list

Think that you don’t need an email list?  Think again.  Heck, think about your own behaviour.  What does your twitter feed look like?  Is it 80% great stuff that you really need to read, or is it 98% fluff that you can safely ignore?  What about facebook, same thing?

Now think about your email.  What do you get in your inbox.  Important things.  I’m going to say that again more forcefully: EMAIL IS FOR IMPORTANT THINGS.  Yes you get important things in your inbox.  Things like bills that you have to pay, communications from loved ones that they expect you to reply to, work related stuff and other things that are often time sensitive.  You want a notice about a new recipe you posted in this mix, not buried in a facebook or twitter feed.  I would trade 20 facebook likes or tweets for a single email signup simply because you can be sure that every email you send will be seen by them.

I recommend mailchimp for everyone starting out because of their free plan.

So what do you think?  Do you have an opinion?  I’d love to hear it.

Leave a comment below if you’re going to change anything on your blog as a result of reading this – and why.

WordPress Plugin Marketing and Usability

I’ve been doing some research on my competitors and I think that I have a major strength that they don’t have.  Marketing and Usability skills.

Yes I have some significant development expertise, but honestly many of my competitors are probably better at it than I am.  Thankfully, my career took a wild swing several years ago and got me exposed to marketing expertise at the highest level.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best digital marketing groups in North America and the UK for more than 3 years so I’m intimately familiar with what is required to sell products.

What my competitors are doing, is not it.   I’ll break this into two major themes.

1. Usability – of lack thereof

Without exception, every paid gallery plugin I reviewed was a usability nightmare.  So many needless options exposed on the first  settings screen that won’t be used by 98% of users.  Very complicated workflows, requiring all sorts of manual effort.  Why isn’t it simplified?  These are blog plugins.   The majority of bloggers aren’t technical.  In the day and age of smartphones and macbook pros, even technical people don’t like to have to learn a silly workflow and which options they have to pay attention to in order to get something basic out of a plugin.  If you have to spend 30 minutes reading documentation or watching videos on how to configure a plugin so it will do something basic for you before you buy it you have lost an astounding amount of customers.  If your plugin truly needs a lot of options – fine.  Just hide them in an advanced tab.  There isn’t any excuse you can make to me that your plugin can’t have default settings and you can’t make it easy enough that your mom/grandma/<some relative that needs help getting email> can figure it out.

Most admin interfaces seem to be an ad-hoc mess.  I’m sure there weren’t paper mock-ups, wireframes, or user stories/paths at any stage of the development process.

2. Marketing/Growth Hacking

The extent of the majority of the gallery related plugins seems to be to put it on code canyon and hope for the best.  I can’t imagine putting in all of the work to create a great product, and then leave the likelihood that it will sell to chance.  If there is a free product, where are the links to give it a five star review?  Where is the content marketing – guides to tell people how to solve pain points (with a handy paid plugin), customized for industry and vertical.  Why isn’t everyone with a free/pro version adding a pro-lite version where the only requirement to get it is an email address (to generate recurring eyeballs for that content marketing).

If I were a more underhanded type of person I would be tempted to fork some really good free plugins, make minimal updates, market the shit out of them and laugh all the way to the bank.  It would be perfectly legal according to the GPL license – I would just have to provide the source code on demand, but it would not matter, because the audience that I would be marketing to is not the type to be installing things from source, plus I would own the conversation with them, not the original developer.  Alas I am not that  type of person.  At the minimum, I will make massive usability improvements to existing plugins.  I believe that marketing/selling those would both add value and benefit the community.  In the end all wordpress plugin authors who want to be paid are standing on the back of the wordpress platform, so we’re all benefiting from someone else’s work.  Once I get a little more familiar with the code base it will likely be easier for me to make most of my ideas from scratch anyway.

If someone forks my GPL code then so be it.

Committed to starting a software business

I’ve decided to start a software business on the side.  I have a full time job right now, but I feel like I want more.

I have experience as a software developer as well as a marketer/analyst.  I think I’m well suited for it but I know it will be a lot of work.

My first product will be a wordpress plugin called visual recipe index.  I quickly forked an existing plugin and made several modifications to simplify it and make it much easier to use.  My plan is to make a pro version that goes along with the free version.  The pro version will incorporate many new features and a streamlined interface.  You can sign up for information and early access to the pro version at http://kremental.com/visual-recipe-index.

I originally designed the free version in an attempt to build links for my wife’s food blog: Strawberries for Supper.  I’m not sure how well it will work out, it was definitely worth the effort just to get something out the door and establish a quick win to keep me motivated.