We’re Headed to St. Louis

 

Today we’re headed to St. Louis.

We’re going to be in St. Louis until Sunday hanging out with Austin and Hunter’s cousin, David. After that we’ll be visiting a client in Cincinnati until the 30th. We love road trips because it gets us out of our daily tasks and fires and brings back a sense of adventure.

We’ll do some followup posts with some pictures (if we take some good ones). Hope you’re having a great week!

Always Be Prepared: The Key to Slaying Dragons at Work

The Dragons of Inefficiency and Lethargy

The other day, I was feeling very unproductive. It was a feeling that had persisted for a couple of weeks and I was growing more and more frustrated by the day. At first I thought, “Well, it’s just a bad day.” But that excuse can only hold for so long.

So I started to ask myself, why am I being so unproductive? What is preventing me from getting all the work done that I want to get done? It was like there were these two dragons named Inefficiency and Lethargy sitting outside my castle, stomping, roaring, and breathing fire at me anytime I tried to come out and get things done! Not cool.

After considering my dilemma for a while, I decided to do a little reconnoissance on these pesky dragons. I began by trying to understand what gave them their strength. I figured that if I found the source of their strength, then I could destroy it and conquer the beasts. So I started by reflecting on my average day. Not only did I consider my actions, but also my emotional state throughout the day, all in an effort to pinpoint what was fueling my lack of productivity and apparent lethargy. Pretty soon, I discovered that the primary cause of my problems was a lack of preparation. I was not well prepared for each day. More specifically, (1) I lacked a clear direction, and (2) I allowed too many obstacles to get in my way. These were the source of the dragons’ strength.

Problem #1: Lack of Clear Direction

Waking up in the morning, I felt lost about where to start. I felt overwhelmed, and anxious, like I was about to go fight some unknown monster and I didn’t know where to begin or how to go about doing it. The problem was that I didn’t have a specific enough list of tasks to guide my work during the day. As a result, I felt overwhelmed, and I lacked a sense of purpose and direction for the day. Not defining my day and my starting point clearly enough not only made me less productive during the day, but it made it so much easier to just stay in bed and not get up in the first place. Not good for an entrepreneur that sets his own schedule and doesn’t have to report to work at a specific time.

Problem #2: Too Many Obstacles

But even if it was a good day and I had worked through the challenges I was facing and prioritized the tasks I needed to get done for the day, another wave of lethargy and apathy hit me. This time, the problem was that I felt overwhelmed by all the little preparatory tasks I realized I had to do just to accomplish one of my main goals for the day.

For example, if one of my main goals for the day was to “Send followup emails to interested investors,” then there are a whole lot of little tasks that need to be done in order to actually be able to send the emails. First, what specific materials (PDFs, videos, etc) do I need to send them? I need to create those. Next, exactly how many investors am I going to email and which ones specifically? I also need to prioritize and gather each investor’s contact information, and the list goes on and on. I hated this part and dreaded doing these little tasks because I felt like I was spinning my wheels, doing so much work before I could even get to crossing off just one of my main tasks for the day. Not only was this very demotivating, but it is where I found myself getting distracted most often. I didn’t just have one task to do, but a lot of tasks that I hated doing so it was much easier to get distracted by Facebook or TV. Soon enough, I was way behind schedule and never meeting my goals.

In short, I was like a knight going out to slay a Dragon with neither a map to define my journey nor the sword I needed to slay the beast. I was not prepared to say the least. Of course that would not do, so I resolved to create my map and take up my sword. This is how I did it:

Solution #1: Draw Your Map the Day Before

In order to counter the unproductive feelings I had waking up without a plan, I started writing down my goals the day before. And this time, I went into as much excruciating detail as possible. Now, not only do I list my main goals, but I have also started listing out every task I need to complete and all the materials I need to prepare in order to reach each goal. By doing this, I wake up feeling prepared, relaxed, and confident in my game-plan. I have defined the monster that is today’s work and I am ready to attack it with purpose and a sense of direction. I don’t have to waste any mental energy (which is precious in the morning) on wrestling with what to do and how to do it. It’s simple, but effective, and it’s the same principle behind what your mom was always trying to teach you when she told you to set out the clothes you are going to wear the night before – Always Be Prepared. That means getting what you need before you need it.

For example, whereas before my goal might have read, “Email interested investors,” now my goal reads “Email 3 interested investors: John Doe, Mike Smith, and Harry Williams” and it is accompanied by a list of the materials and information I need to accomplish this goal.

Additionally, I will only allow myself to write down three major goals per day. Those three are my top priority and get done first. I like three because it is easily remembered, feels manageable, and keeps me more motivated than a long laundry list of tasks. Of course, I also have a section for “Bonus” tasks that I can work on if I complete those three main goals, but the success of my day and sense of accomplishment depends upon whether or not I get those three things done.

Solution #2: Take Up Your Sword

But it’s not enough just to have your map ready the day before. I have found that I am also much more productive when I have my sword sharped, polished, and ready to go in the day before as well. What I mean by that is have all the tools and materials you will need to complete the day’s main goals ready the night before. In light of that, I have started building in two hours at the end of my day that are solely dedicated to creating and preparing the materials and tools I will need for the next day’s goals. For example, if I need to send an informational PDF to interested investors tomorrow, then I will create that PDF at the end of my day today. I will also have gathered all the contact information I will need the day before as well. That way, when I wake up, I have everything that I need to email them ready to go. There is only one task to accomplish, not some long, multi-step process where it is so easy to get distracted.

Moral of the Story

So, the moral of this story is that if you want to slay the dragon, you have to draw your map and have your sword ready to go the night before your quest. Be prepared and have a plan for what you are going to do the day before you need to do it. Decision making consumes a lot of mental energy, and the more decisions you can take off your plate in the morning, the more focused, effective, and efficient you will be.

Teams Make You More Resilient

Two Heads Are Better Than One

You’ve heard the old adage, “Two heads are better than one,” and it’s true. Those two heads have formed the beginning of a team. Not only are teams better for generating ideas and accomplishing more knowledge-based work, but studies show that they also enable individuals to accomplish greater physical feats as well.

HBR and the RAF Study

According to the Harvard Business Review, the British Royal Air Force tested members in new and challenging physical exercises, and found that those members that were part of a team were far more durable, successful, and experienced quicker recovery times from the new challenges. In other words, teams made them more resilient.

Anecdote from Cirion Group

We have also seen this principle at work in our own company, Cirion Group. The three of us together make each of us individually far more productive and resilient than we would be by ourselves. The reason is because the group has fulfilled our need to belong, and we are there to encourage each other every step of the way in both word and deed. It also gives us a common purpose and meaning in our lives. Our core values and mission statement are very clear and we hold each other accountable to them. The group also creates momentum such that if one of us is faltering or falling behind, the momentum of the group helps pulls us out of the rut and continuing on in the right direction.

We Can’t Live Without Teams

There is evidence of the power of teams in just about every aspect of life. Why do you think most churches have Bible Study groups? Why do many executives join Executive Peer or Coaching Groups? Why do you think most organizations organize themselves around teams? Because trying to accomplish anything of meaning or importance alone is a very difficult task and you are not nearly as resilient as you are if you have a group behind you.

The Source of a Team’s Power

Thus the strength of teams lies in the fundamental nature of all people. We were created to be social beings; to interact with each other and to love one another. That’s why everyone feels an innate desire to belong and to fit-in with a group. Teams give people that satisfaction. Teams tell people that they are special and that they belong; that they matter and that they have a purpose. It’s this psychological support that cultivates greater resilience in us both mentally and physically. So whether you are at work or out exercising, join a team and cultivate a sense of community. If you do, not only will you accomplish more, but you will have more fun and less stress doing it.

Life Advice From Doctor Who

More Than Food and Water

You don’t need water to stay alive. You don’t need food to stay alive. So what do you need? People. Life is about connecting and forming relationships with other people.

As Doctor Who so elegantly explains, there are a lot of things we need to live and to make our way in this universe, but there is only one thing we need to come alive – that is to be able to hold someone’s hand as we move through life and experience the world. Holding someone’s hand is a powerful symbol of human connection. It represents two people’s journey through shared experiences as they build love, trust, and memories.

The Human Connection

Yes, we need water and food to live, but if that’s all we have then we are no better than animals. We as humans only become truly alive when we form relationships with other people. We were created with a need to connect with other people because we were created with a need to give and receive love from others. Love is what colors our experiences, piques our interests, enthralls our imaginations, and stimulates our emotions. This is what it means to be alive!

Ask Yourself…

So the question is this: are you being intentional about how you spend your time? Are you spending it investing in relationships with other people? If not, you need to be.

There is Always a Reason for Suffering

Sometimes life just seems so unfair…

…like there’s no method to the madness, no reason for the suffering.

A parent is taken from their children just when they need them most.

Suffering becomes a constant companion to a sickly child, constantly battling illness and robbing him of an active and carefree childhood.

When a marriage ends with infidelity and heartache after making an eternal commitment to love and cherish one another only and always.

But the most difficult thing to accept, even more than the apparently senseless heartache and turmoil, is the fact that everything, even our greatest pain, has a purpose. Though it often takes days, months, or decades to find out why tragedy and difficulty strike, there’s always a reason. There’s always some task or crucible down the road for which we would have been unprepared, except that our earlier suffering, which seemed so cruelly pointless at the time, actually equipped us to handle the very calling or challenge we’ve stumbled upon later in life.

If you don’t believe me there are plenty of examples out there. Even in our own lives we have plenty of unanswered questions about pointless suffering, but I’ve found in my own life that there are always one of two explanations for the apparently “senseless” naturing of my suffering. I was either too caught up in my pain and anger and situational survival that I missed the reason for the suffering or I just hadn’t yet come across the thing for which I was being prepared. I know those are the last words you want to hear if you are thinking about a specific example of suffering for which there is no attached explanation, but trust me. It hurts and it’s frustrating, but it’s there.

A Lesson from George Washington

Take George Washington for instance. Did you know that our beloved Revolutionary War leader and first President of the United States spent his whole life fighting sickness? As a child Washington survived a host of nasty bouts with illnesses such as diphtheria, malaria, smallpox, dysentery, and quinsy. His battle with smallpox left him confined to his bed in great pain for a month, almost killing him and leaving him scarred for life. He also fought recurring episodes of high fever and pleurisy, which is an infection in the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs that can cause severe, sharp pains with every inhalation of breath. In fact, his own brother tied of tuberculosis and during the French and Indian war he was so ravaged by a case of dysentery that his death was prematurely reported throughout the camp and the surrounding area.

Needless to say, Washington’s tough life on the frontier and lifelong battles with sickness and it’s shadow of death seemed to be cruel afflictions without justification. It seemed like a cruel fate of persistent torment. But it was exactly this lifetime of familiarity with death and sickness that made him the best leader for the revolutionary army. He was used to fighting through deplorable conditions and as a result of both his ability to cope and the immunity rendered to him by his many illnesses, he was perhaps the only man who could have led his ragtag continental army through the brutality of their winter in Valley Forge and the uphill battle that faced them in securing independence for their country. The odds were constantly against him and his men, but Washington had been equipped to lead his men through such harsh conditions by his lifetime of suffering.

One of Washington’s most cited accomplishments as a leader in the Revolution was his ability to motivate his men and keep them going, especially during the abysmal stay in Valley Forge during winter. But because of the immunity (particularly to smallpox) afforded by his lifetime of sickness and the empathy that came from having illness as such a close companion, Washington spent many hours each day with the sick and dying men of the infirmary at Valley Forge. On a daily basis he walked among them, talked to them, and encouraged them during their greatest plight. His inspirational leadership and tireless encouragement of the sick and dying among his army are the most cited reasons for their survival that fateful winter early in the Revolution. If you’d like to read more about Washington and the incredible events of the Revolutionary War, I highly recommend checking out the book 1776 (affiliate). It’s historical non-fiction but it reads like a riveting war fiction.

Though there are always many factors that determine a final outcome, it’s the concert of these factors playing in delicate harmony that causes history to unfold the way it does. When one of those factors is altered or missing, so too is the result altered. A common illustration of this concept is the proverbial rhyme that highlights the importance of small events and their effect on the bigger picture:

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In similar fashion, we may extrapolate the consequences on history had Washington never experienced the sickly battle that was his life and on whom no one would wish such suffering.

As a result of Washington’s battle with sickness he became immune to small pox and other prevalent diseases.

Because he was immune and experienced in the suffering of illness, he was able to encourage and lead his sick and dying men through the winter at Valley Forge, saving his army and forestalling defeat.

As a result of preserving his army Washington was able to continue the campaign against England and ultimately win the American Revolution.

As a result of winning the Revolutionary War, America gained it’s independence and set it’s course in history to become a major world superpower and source of immeasurable contribution to the world.

So once could say that the world is the way it is today because one boy suffered a lifetime of illness, yet used it to make his unmistakable and celebrated mark on history.

Though the suffering is never enjoyable and it often seems like pointless cruelty, there’s always a reason – it just takes time to discover. But when you do you’ll know you would have been unprepared to meet your next challenge without it.

Hive Atlanta

Spon-ge-ne-i-ty (n):

Cirion Group’s philosophy of life-long learning and the constant mindset that we should be ready to learn from anyone, anywhere, at anytime, regardless of the situation.

Just yesterday we got a full dose of Spongeneity when we attended a conference in Atlanta called “The Gathering.” Put on by an organization called Hive Atlanta, The Gathering lived up to its name and provided the ideal gathering place for Atlanta-area entrepreneurs, start-ups, tech lovers, and leaders to meet, mingle, and share their ideas. The place was a veritable hive of young entrepreneurs and leaders buzzing with incredible experiences, passions, and wisdom to share with one another.

“A movement belongs to those who join it, not those who lead it.” – Blake Canterbury, beremedy.

From State Farm agency owners and entrepreneurial pastors to nationally recognized social good organizations and acclaimed web designers, there were no shortages of connections to be made and networking to be done. The incredible thing, however, is that somehow the organizers managed to pull together people who were both incredibly talented and up-and-coming leaders of the business world, but who also had the rare quality of humility that made each one approachable and willing to help their neighbor.

This was exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it. You see, at Cirion Group we’re getting ready to make the transition from our beloved Athens, GA to the big city of Atlanta. We’ve had great opportunities, experiences, and contacts here in Athens, but we’ve been feeling it’s time to make the move down 316 into enemy (Georgia Tech) territory. With that in mind, we’ve been trying to approach the next few months with an intensely intentional focus on getting connected with a strong, healthy community of entrepreneurs, business people, tech lovers, and young people in the Atlanta area. No sooner did we set this focus than I received a message from a college friend telling me about an event called The Gathering, an evening conference hosted by Hive Atlanta that he believed would fit perfectly into our company’s values, mindset, and approach to business and leadership.

“We exist to craft community that inspires action.” – Hive Atlanta Mission Statement

And he could not have hit the nail more squarely on the head. From the moment we approached the courtyard at the Brickyards in Marietta we knew we had found a new group of friends we would connect with right away. First, you have a very cool, trendy brick building that seems to ooze creativity and community from it’s homey brick walls. When we arrived we were greeted by two kind young women handing out name tags and packets, arming us with notepads and a few other items we would use throughout the night. From there we were ushered into a room with beautiful artwork and a Polaroid photo booth. After having our pictures taken we were directed to the skills wall where we placed our now fully developed pictures on a card from our packet alongside a list of self-described skills and sources of inspiration. After putting our names on the wall we were encouraged to mingle, meet, and take refreshment. Everyone there was so approachable, we didn’t even experience the tempting pre-conference standing around where everyone knows they’re supposed to mingle but just takes a greater than usual interest in the surrounding scenery and refreshments.

“Don’t be too tied to your passion vomit. Telling a clear and compelling story is key.” – Josh Webb, Root Radius (at Hive Atlanta)

Did I mention that each of the event organizers knew who we were, what company we worked for, and what we’ve been working on lately before we even introduced themselves? They initiated contact with us. Yeah. They’re intentional about relationships and they really do care about facilitating meaningful connections between the various attendees of their FREE event.

Anyway, we kicked off the night with a fun and lively “speed dating” event where we had the opportunity to meet other attendees with the express goal of sharing our stories and determining how we could help one another. Right off the bat everyone was talking, making friends, and jumping right into how we could each provide mutual benefit to the other. As the night went on we heard from great Atlanta area leaders who have proven they can make things happen, got the opportunity to have burning questions answered through the Help Bowl, and were given intentional break times to visit the skills wall and connect with others who could meet our current need areas.

“When you decide what you want your life to be when you’re gone, you can start living that life today.” – Blake Canterbury (at Hive Atlanta)

During those breaks and even an hour after the event the speakers hung around and made their way through conversations with attendees, just as much a part of the learning and networking as everyone else.

And that’s how we spent our Tuesday night.

Meeting new friends, making a lot of great connections, and pushing ourselves to learn more, maintain focus, and make ourselves better for the effort.

If God gave you something amazing to do with your life, then why would you waste it? – John Saddington (at Hive Atlanta)

So thank you, Hive Atlanta, for the new friends and a renewed determination to make an impact in our community.

P.S. – the delicious Crave shaved ice and ever tasty Chick-fil-A cookie didn’t hurt either.

Making the Most of Your Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most cost effective forms of marketing. Sending one message is essentially the cost of sending 100. And, if you’ve spent time honing in your value proposition and messaging, your target market will WANT your content, services or products.

But how can you make sure you’re getting the most from your email marketing efforts? Let’s take a closer look at 5 practical ways.

Be Genuine.

This is the one we always start with because if you’re not genuinely trying to help people, you should check yourself. How selfish is it to add to the immense amount of noise out there if your products, services, and or content doesn’t add value to the person you’re trying to reach? Incredible selfish. But, it’s something everyone faces. We all want the quick ride to the top – but it takes time, effort, and consistently trying to bring something that will benefit the user.

Ask People to Take Action.

Now that you’ve built your list of people are like what you have to offer, you need to ask them to act. Measureable actions can include things such as “opens”, clicking on a link, replying to a message, and sharing the message. This will help you determine (very quickly) whether or not your email messaging was successful or not. If you send out 1000 messages and only 3 people take action, that is a clear sign something needs to change. How long should you wait to determine if your messages were successful? Well, there is a vast range of opinions, but we generally recommend waiting 36 – 48 hours before checking the statistics.

Gather Feedback.

“It’s all about the people, stupid”. If you are still having trouble understanding marketing, these three words will help make it very simple: relationships, relationships, relationships. Now, we don’t believe that forming and sustaining online relationships is the equivalent of, say, having a best friend. But, in it’s own respective state, there are “good” online relationships and there are “better” ones. The people and companies with great online relationships are the ones who win. Do yourself a favor and start LISTENING. Traditional marketing has always been about push, but now we have an easy opportunity to engage and listen to our community. Start gathering feedback.

Make Your Messages “Share” Friendly.

This is a pretty simple, but often forgotten, idea. Craft your message in such a way that has content that people will want to share, then make it really easy for them to share. This can include things such as forwarding the email to friends and sharing on social media platforms.

Archive Your Messages.

When it’s all said and done, sometime people just don’t have time to look at your incredibly valuable content, for now. But that doesn’t mean the messages are wasted. Make sure you have an archive of all the content you’ve ever written so that when someone remembers you and how beneficial your content may be, they can find everything they’re looking for in one place.

*Please Note…

The tactics we talked about above are incredibly important. But, you will never have use for them until you grow your email list. Take a look into which opt-in email subscription tool is best for you. We recommend Anchor Tab because, well, we made it. 🙂

Email Marketing: How Often Should You Send an Email?

 

How often should you send emails? It is something everyone struggles with. This is especially true once you realize the potential revenue boost email marketing can have on your business. If you send one, you get X amount of dollars. But when you send two, you get X Y. So should you send two? What about three? It’s all something that must be figured out on a per business basis, but here are a few things you should use when determining how often to send.

1. Are You Adding Value?

If your email content is valuable enough, you could conceivably send an email every hour. Now, the likelihood of that being the case is slim to none, but it’s possible. The question we consistently tell people to ask themselves is “what problem am I solving?”. If you’re helping people make smarter buy decisions, that could be pretty valuable. If you’re sending out jokes you make up, I may not want to read a new one every hour. It’s all about the content.

2. What Does Your Audience Expect?

This is a followup to the question of “are you adding value”. Sometimes, email marketers use the name or title of the email subscription list to communicate how often they will send an email. The best example we found of this was weather updates, where receivers get an email every day for the weather. On the other hand, if your list is “Weekly Crafting Projects”, you should probably stick to one email per week. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, setting expectations up front with your audience cannot be over looked.

3. How Often Does Your Audience Need Your Content?

The difference between and “want” and “need” is big here. You should never play the guessing game with your audience. Our suggestion is to be conservative and listen for feedback. For example, if your audience is making purchasing decisions weekly based on your information, they may need your content more more frequently than once per month.

4. How Much Does Your Content Change Per Email?

People don’t like reading the same thing twice. There will be times when some of your content overlaps or you simply wish to remind readers of certain details, but as a general rule, avoid sending our messages that have the same basic message.

5. Are you writing multiple posts for a single series?

If your audience knows you are doing a specific series, they may be more likely to expect a higher number of posts within a given time.

So here’s our question for you…

How Many Emails Should YOU Send?

Implement, test, analyze, repeat.

We hope these five points will help you gain a better understanding for how often you should send an email. Best of luck to you and your team in your email marketing efforts!

3 Tips for Professional Email Marketing

Professional Email Marketing

3 Tips for Professional Email Marketing

This post is in the Anchor Tab Email Marketing series. When it comes to email marketing, there are a lot of individuals and businesses that doing it well, and a lot who aren’t. It’s been our experience that there are a few simple tips or tactics that you should adhere to in order to be perceived in the way that you wish. We’ll share those with you in the lens and we hope this adds value to your journey. Enjoy!

Just Because You’re Not Spam

Doesn’t Mean People Will Listen.

In our Email Marketing & Spam Laws post, we talked about tactics you should use when executing your email marketing strategy. Those tactics are a great start, but just barely clearing the bar for the CAN-SPAM Act won’t necessarily guarantee that people will love your email. Learning how to write a professional email may not be something you learn overnight. Regardless, here are three simple things you can do now to increase your credibility in your journey to becoming a trusted email marketer.

  1. Be Transparent and Honest.
    Whenever you’re collecting email information, you should start off the relationship you have with your new contact by being completely open. Make sure you ask for explicit permission before sending them an email. There’s nothing worse than having the wrong expectations when it comes to communication.
  2. Don’t Automically Check “Subscribe” Boxes.
    This includes things such as email check boxes when filling out a form. Some companies automatically “check” the box for you, but our recommendation would be to leave it unchecked and put a description out to the side.
  3. Use a Welcome Letter.
    Once someone subscribes to your list, you have an incredible opportunity to make a first impression. Why not send a professional email welcoming them to your community? This is also a good time to go ahead and set expectations with the person who has subscribed by letting them know how often you will be sending them emails, what they should expect in each one, and anything else that is important for them to know. Our final recommendation on this point is to add value – even starting with the first email. If there is some valuable tip (or free ebook, etc) that you could offer, it will make for a much sweeter welcome.

Of course, all of these tips are useless unless you actually have subscribers to your email newsletter. Check our our post on Anchor Tab, a tool that will help you build your email list.

Anchor Tab reaches Bootstrap Checkpoint Zero.

So what exactly is “Bootstrap Checkpoint Zero”? This post is from none other than Matt “Farmdawgnation” himself on the topic of what it means to bootstrap, the challenges that come with it, and how reaching checkpoint zero is a valuable step for any startup who’s looking to bootstrap. As the lead software engineer for Anchor Tab, he’s got a front row seat to everything you’ll want to know before jumping in. Click the text in the black box above to read the post on his blog.

Find him on Twitter at @Farmdawgnation.