Online Business Quick Start

Fast money. Easy money. It's the unspoken dream of many wanna-be entrepreneurs who look at building a business online. But is it a reality?

What does it take to launch a business online?

What does it take to make it profitable?

What does it take to scale it?

Are any of those things even possible?

Here's the straight truth: you can build a successful business online.

You can build a wildly successful, massively profitable business online.

Here's the catch: it's going to take hard work.

Creating a business online is the key to the profit and freedom many entrepreneurs want, but you have to be willing to do some work to get it started.

If you're looking for the latest get-rich-quick scheme, this isn't for you…

…if you're willing to put in some work, follow a proven plan, and commit to making lives better for your visitors, subscribers, and customers, keep reading, because you've already taken the first step to building a successful online business.

You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

Zig Ziglar

Building a Profitable Business

I've been in online business for over a decade at this point. I've done a lot right – and I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, too. I've taken good advice, and I've taken bad advice. At this point I have a thriving authority site and a growing second site. My sites are geared towards helping families – and that's really the reason I started Milk and Mud as well, too. Online business can bring freedom:

  • Freedom to spend more time together
  • Freedom from financial stress
  • Freedom to travel
  • Freedom from other people controlling your life and schedule
  • Freedom to be with your children
  • Freedom to home school, live outside of the city, or other choices impossible before
  • Freedom to care for parents, give to charity, etc.

I'm sure there are many things you can think of that I haven't even mentioned! All of those reasons – and all of your reasons – are why I created Milk and Mud. I want to help you find the freedom that an online business can bring.

There's actually a dark secret in Internet marketing, and I hinted at it above…

…there's a belief that wild success should be easy (and overnight) on the Internet.

But that's not true.

Building a profitable business is simple but it's not “easy” – it takes work. That's why this website is here – to take you step-by-step through building a website that works…

…and beyond that to a business that changes your clients' lives – and your own ūüôā

It's About Changing Lives

Remember the Zig Ziglar quote I shared above? Go back and read it again if you just skimmed over it, because it's a key I want you to hold onto.

You are going to do a lot of foundational work as you build your business:

  • Building a website
  • Starting an email list
  • Creating email campaigns
  • Creating products
  • Creating funnels
  • Tracking and testing

All of that can be really “technical” and “numbers-focused” – which is good but that's not the heart of your business. It's easy to get caught up focusing on the dollars (especially when that's how your family needs to eat.

But it's crucial to realize that the money you make comes from real people. Your business is about making someone's life better.

You might be thinking to yourself “well, my business is all about posting funny cat stories” or “I make handmade soaps” or “I sew linen bread bags” and “how can that really be ‘life changing'?”

But the truth is, what you're doing is making lives better. It may be only in a small way… you're not curing cancer or funding life-saving surgeries… but those cat stories might give a laugh. Maybe your funny puppy pictures give someone the smile they desperately needed to keep going in a hard situation (ask me how I know…)

Your homemade soap could help a mother whose child has horrible eczema, or a family that can't use anything else due to allergies. Maybe your linen bread bag makes baking healthier sourdough bread a joy – so somebody actually does that rather than giving in and buying another loaf of nutrient-lacking store-bought bread…

What you do makes an impact on somebody's life, and you should never doubt that. That's what you need to focus on when you're building your business – especially when you're creating content and creating your products (regardless if they're physical or digital products).

Obviously keeping your eye on the business side of things is important, but always hold your visitor, subscriber, and customer in your mind. Is this content helpful to them? Is your product going to help them get something they want in life (be it personal transformation or something as simple as a cleaner house…)? When you focus on helping real people, your business will thrive.

Successful Internet Marketer

What About Passive Income?

One of the great promises of digital marketing is “passive income” – also known as money while you sleep! It's not going to happen overnight, but it is one of the most important goals you can have in your online business. Passive income has three major benefits:

  • It creates financial security for you
  • It frees you up to test, optimize, and scale
  • It frees you up to focus on delivering amazing value to your audience and customers

Again, passive income is the big dream – usually it's mentioned alongside pictures of tropical beaches and expensive homes. But we're thinking about it realistically here. It's a good goal, and there are big reasons to build a business that creates passive income.

I want you to realize, however, that there's some work involved in getting that started. If you want sales to come in while you sleep, you've got to be willing to do the work that builds a foundation for those kinds of sales.

Having said that, there are many different ways you can create passive income. Here are a few:

  • Create your own products (like books, classes, membership programs, coaching programs, physical products etc.)
  • Share affiliate products (these could be software, information products, or could be physical products like cameras, strollers, etc.)
  • Place display ads on your website so you generate ad income
  • Build a big mailing list and sell marketing slots
  • Create a successful podcast or video channel and sell sponsorship slots

All of those start with building a solid website and taking steps to turn visitors into subscribers and buyers. Doing that is a key in mastering digital marketing.

Relationship Marketing

A relationship is key in creating an online business. In the past people built what were called “thin sites,” or “Adsense sites,” or “affiliate sites.” Not everyone built that kind of website (and not all experts taught these thin sites), but a lot of them were put up and all had great promises of fast cash with no relationship. It was like you'd be taking money from a machine – not interacting with real people.

Today the only consumer is much savvier. They often want to know the person behind the website – or they want to trust the brand. In the past, humanity relied on great hero stories. Today's generations are jaded and skeptical, but there's still a deep longing for heroes, wise sages, daring adventurers, etc. Brands often fill those voids with messages and stories that consumers can relate to. Brands are trusted (and sometimes mistrusted or positioned as an “enemy”).

Commentary on humanity aside, that means that you as an individual, or the brand you're creating for your business, are important and a key to creating something that's going to sell – and it will sell because people trust you and believe your product.

They think you (or your brand) are trustworthy.

Think about asking someone to marry you. You probably wouldn't ask for their hand in marriage on a first date. The other person would think you're seriously weird! You'd spend some time getting to know them and enjoying being around them. You might not think of it this way, but you'd be building up their trust in you – enough to trust you when you asked for their hand in marriage.

A product purchase isn't quite the same as getting married – but people often have a hard time parting with their money, or even their time. They want to feel good about what they'll be getting in return. Building a trusting relationship helps make sure that when it comes time to share your products, your visitors and subscribers feel good about you.

How do you build a strong relationship with your subscribers?

Basics of Profitable Online Business

Content is STILL King

When I first got started many, many years ago, thin sites were the “big thing” – but there were a few voices that kept shouting that wasn't right… that what was right was content.

Content is King

Ken Evoy

Fortunately, I felt like the “content is king” message sounded right, and that's what I followed. Though I had a lot of stops, starts, and even some failed tests with “thin” sites, I kept building my little niche site into an authority site. “Authority site” is a trendy way of saying “a site focused on a particular topic that's filled with high-quality content people trust and refer to.”

Today content is still king. It's true that the Internet is a lot more crowded, but I firmly believe that gives you an advantage. People are hungry for inspiration and they're hungry for real connection. As an entrepreneur you can make that connection because you are small and approachable. You are a real person providing great content.

High-quality content on whatever the topic may be – how to prepare for a new baby, how to transition your pet to a raw food diet, how to start a bicycle courier business, how to become a food truck chef, how to overcome your skin sensitivities, or source quality makeup, or choose the best camera… – the list is endless…

…high-quality content on your topic is the first step to building trust and relationship.

##This relationship often starts with an article, video, or podcast.## Your audience finds you through a search engine or link. They read, watch, or listen to your excellent content and decide they appreciated it. They may want more from you, so they visit your website or listen to or watch more. This is a great way to introduce yourself to people.

Sometimes it stops there – you may choose to make money through display ads, so you never get subscribers.

But usually you want to get people to subscribe to your mailing list. This is a natural extension of the relationship-building you've been doing. Now you can send great email content – a daily tip (my favorite) or a weekly newsletter. Maybe you can offer some subscriber-only content. Your emails build relationship and trust with your audience.

Your email list also lets you share products and promotions directly with subscribers who are eager to hear from you Here's an important note: you should be willing to share your products (and affiliate offers, if you do that) with your audience. If you never share or ask people to look at and buy your products, you'll create a list of people who only want free information, but don't want to buy.

While you do want to change as many lives as possible, and give great information away, you also need to earn a living. This is a balance that takes skill to develop, but it's not complicated. Just remember to provide great content – in your free posts, articles, videos, and podcasts… and in your amazing products and offers ūüôā

Funnels are Essential

Like the concept of “passive income,” the concept of “sales funnels” are, well, trendy in the Internet marketing world. Everyone wants the ultimate funnel that converts and brings in passive income.

As I noted when we talked about passive income above, it takes work to create that income stream. It takes work to create a funnel. It's not something magic you just drop into your business and see it work (sometimes it can seem that way, because a funnel helps you take multiple products and organize then market them in a way that makes a lot of sense to your audience, so sales start happening).

But even though funnels are not “magic,” I feel they're a crucial step for every business owner. Most of us can make a small income online, but a funnel is the key to scaling your income to where it makes a difference for yourself and your family.

A well-executed funnel also helps your customers. As I hinted, sometimes customers are just overwhelmed by everything that you offer. When you have a clean, well-organized funnel, they can see the “next step” they need to take or the next product they need to use to get what they want.

People are often excited when they buy, too – they like something that compliments their purchase. Think about a great store clerk who helps you find the perfect outfit. She or he suggests that a particular belt would look great with it. You're excited and agree – so you buy the belt too! Or maybe your plumber tells you that you need X part to fix your sink – but he's happy to install it for you for $100 more. You don't want water flooding your house, so you're happy to pay him to install it ūüėČ

A funnel helps you get your products or offers in front of the right people at the right time. It maximizes your income – and often maximizes your customer's satisfaction with their purchase, too ūüôā

Staying Productive in the Trenches

Thus far we've covered core components of a good online business – I hope I've clarified some misconceptions and given you a good idea of what you need. But there's one more thing you need to think about…

…getting it all done. You have to stay productive if your business is going to succeed.

It's easy to spend hours doing nothing but reading emails from other marketers. That's fine for a hobby, but it won't work for your business. You need tried-and-true methods to maximize your productivity – so you can maximize your profit… and your free time ūüėČ

Here are some steps that have been crucial for me:

  • Setting clear, actionable goals
  • Blueprinting out my goals so I can break them down step-by-step
  • Doing the ONE thing that will move my business ahead today
  • Reviewing and adjusting to make sure I hit my goals
  • Developing a working task management system
  • Scheduling my day so I have focused periods of work time
  • Getting up early!

There are many strategies for getting more out of the hours of your day – I encourage you to explore and find the ones that work for you…

…then focus on changing lives, building your business, and keep scaling your income and your success!

Basics of Profitable Digital Marketing

Coming Out of a Slump

I was in a slump – a big one – for a couple of months. A slump happens for many different reasons. I've learned some preventative measures, but in this article I really want to cover what to do when you've gotten into a slump. How do you get out?

I can happily say that I've been in the clear – out of the slump – for several weeks. I'm still not completely up to speed (for instance, this is the first post I've written for this blog in ages), but I'm ramping up my productivity and I feel good about what I'm doing.

Let Go if You Need To

I stopped being dedicated to work on my websites because we were in the process of house-hunting. It's a very, very emotional process. We bid on one house and lost the bid. Then we went through an agonizing month of looking at many houses and not finding “the one.” Finally, we found our house and wow, that was a roller coaster of making an offer, getting it accepted, closing on the house, moving in, and finally settling. Did I mention that I found out I was pregnant during all of that? We had a lot going on.

I realized that I just couldn't do a lot of the work I'd have liked to do during that time. I really wanted to, had even tried to take steps to make sure I'd get some work done, but in the end I needed to just let go. There were other priorities in life: getting moved, getting through the first trimester of pregnancy, getting the family settled. It's OK if you sometimes have to focus on one area of life.

Getting Back to Work Sooner

Letting go is good – but staying stagnant is not. People have a tendency let go and keep on puttering around, never getting back to work. “Work” is whatever project that needs doing. Once I got done with the immediate needs of moving in (setting up the kitchen, for instance), I realized that I just needed to get back to work. Sitting around and feeling depressed about the enormous amount of work in front of me was doing me no good.

It doesn't do you any good, either. Once your time of crisis focus has passed, it's time to get yourself back to work on the projects that mean the most to you! Pick something that really needs to be done, and something that will really make a difference. Don't choose busywork. Don't choose your email backlog! An income-producing project is the ideal.

Toss the To-Do's and Pick What's Important

If you're like me, you're probably staring at a “to-do list” that's a mile long. I realized that my list was only depressing me. I put everything that wasn't “urgent” away to examine later (I picked about 3 weeks out from the date I was at). Then I created a few categories that were very important in my life. I ended up with:

  • Home – getting the house organized from the move
  • School – getting all the materials and lesson plans for our upcoming home school eyar ready
  • Business – Income-producing projects
  • Work – Mundane “maintenance” tasks for work (checking stats, website tweaks, email, etc.)

For me, placing the most important task for the first three categories on my daily agenda really helped. The fourth category, “Work” was good for when my energy levels were low (after working on the more important “Home”, “School”, and “Business” categories).

Every day I determined which of my tasks was most important. I planned to work on that first. Then I worked on the other important things, and finally, mundane tasks.

I tried to work on “Business” or “School” tasks first, because they took the most energy, creativity, and focus. “Home” cleaning and organization is easier ūüôā

Set Goals and Prevent Future Burn-Out

I think it's important just to get back to a baseline of getting some important work done for a week or so. Then you can really re-evaluate your goals for yourself, your home life, and your business. Examine your strategy and work on tweaking it if needed.

Be willing to set goals and truly take steps to work towards them. Also be willing to re-evaluate every couple of weeks. You may grow bored of writing articles every day, for instance. It may be time to focus on creating an audio or video product, or on writing a book. It's important to finish projects, but changing your schedule of activities from time-to-time can help prevent burnout.

Sometimes you'll need to just grind through a project. Maybe you want to write an email campaign sequence for your autoresponder. This can make you a lot of money if you get it up and running. It's something you could choose to do over a period of time (an email a day, for instance) — or you could just focus on writing the whole campaign over the course of one 20-hour workweek.

Vary how you organize your projects.

Do your most important project first. Save the mundane things (and email!) for when your energy levels are low later in the day. If you work on something important for a few hours and find your energy lagging, stop for the day. You'll get a lot more done tomorrow, when you're fresh.

And take a break now and then. Take the weekends off ūüôā Take a whole week off from time to time. You'll be more energetic and creative when you return to your projects.

What's caused your slumps? How did you overcome?

Photo by Kasia and Mike

How to Ditch Regret and Finally Start Taking Action

Everyone tells you to do something different. You're on a dozen different marketing lists, read a few different forums, and you have a few books floating around the house. Wait, don't tell me — you also have that big-ticket internet business course you bought. With so much information your biggest tendency is just to shut down… not do anything at all.

Think about that for a minute, though. If you sit down today and do nothing but say “there's too much to do here,” how will you feel tomorrow? How will you feel next month?

You can make all the excuses you want, but time still passes. The minutes, hours, and days tick away. Soon an afternoon off “to process” things becomes a day, two days, three days, a week, a month… and you're still at the same place that you started from. A load of information, and no business to show for it.

Regrets

I think one of the biggest regrets I have is not pushing myself to do certain things. I regret not pushing myself to work on products last year, even though I bought a course on how to put out quality products with less work. It was a great course, and had structured goals. If I had followed through with those assignments and goals, I've have 10-20 products right now! Instead, I don't. I got one product done over the course of that course!

Guess what? That product hasn't been my rock star. The instructor clearly stated that you weren't going to be buying a new car with every product… but that if you put several quality products out there, you're probably going to get at least one that does well. And you're going to discover a lot about creating and marketing products. Those lessons would have made it much more likely that future products were winners.

I could say this about so many more things! I've been puttering my way through a Facebook course — if I had finished it and implemented action steps within two weeks of getting it, I'd be a lot further than I am now!

I'll bet you can think of at least one strategy, course, etc. that you've failed to do anything with.

No Regrets!

Okay, so now I've made you feel bad thinking about your lost time (maybe years!) — but now I want you to give up the regrets. That's right, let them go! Regret can paralyze you as much as information overload! Don't dwell on what you did in the past. Change what you do today.

So what if you blew it last year? So what if I blew it!

I've created two products and I'm a good part of the way through a third one this year. I'm taking action. It hasn't been as fast as I'd like, but I'm doing it. I've got outlines done for several more products across two niches and I'm dedicated to getting them out there. I'm not looking back on lost time because, well, it's lost. I blew it. But I can still crush it now. I intend to.

Look over what you've got on your plate. Pick one thing to focus on. Pick one course, or one book. Get in there and dig into it. Really work with it. Take action.

Don't let your past failures bog you down. Many men and women have failed and then come back, rising farther than they ever thought they could. I like the thought that our failures are simply seeds for our success (I believe it comes from Napoleon Hill).

And if you try really hard and whatever you do really bites, just keep going. It's just like my instructor said in my product creation course — not every product is going to be a rock star. Not everything you try will pan out. You have to keep trying, keep discovering.

When something works, hit it with all you've got. Then go ahead and learn something else. Make something else work, too. Build an empire of success.

Time to Fly

The time is going to fly no matter what. A month from now your month will still be gone! You can sit around and watch television or read magazines… or you can take something and take action on it.

The time will be gone. Will you look back with regret that you didn't take action? Or will you know that you're well on your way to making your life what you want? How will you take action today?

Pic remixed from Rob Enslin

Nuts and Bolts

This is about you. But to get started I need to share something about me:

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I really wanted to write something inspirational today, but I don't really think that I can. Frankly, I'm having a really horrible day. In case you thought my life was all roses, it's not. Let me tell you, parenting and having a family are much more challenging than running an internet business. And trying to get a business to really take off while dealing with home stuff can be maddening. It's like being ripped in two.

Anyways, so when I'm having a really, really horrible day, I try to get back to the nuts and bolts of things just to get through. I'm really not sure what to do about kid issues right now, so I have to pray and think on that. But business stuff is sometimes easier to address. So I think about what's frustrating me most right now. Here's what's going on in my head:

A. My product isn't done and it should be done so I can move on to the next product
B. I'm not getting regular content up on my sites
C. I'm not writing articles for article marketing
D. The backlinking project STILL hasn't really taken off
E. Email copy isn't done
F. Content refresh on my two bigger sites is stalled

There are a few other things, too, like being behind on emails and not keeping up with social media, but they aren't as big.
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So what do you do when you're facing a situation like I am, where there's a lot of unfinished “stuff” sitting there, really aggravating you? Especially when there's a whole bunch more “stuff” lining up behind that, and family issues aside?

Prioritize

First, think priorities. My family and my home are my big priorities. That's just core. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that while I'm working so hard on launching a business.

If business tasks have to be shuffled over for you to address something in your family life, that's fine. If you can't take as much time on the business because you need to take care of your family and home, that's fine, too. Parenting and being a spouse are huge jobs in and of themselves.

Don't use that as an excuse to do nothing. I don't think I need to explain this. You know if you really need to take that time for family, or if you're just feeling frazzled and wasting your day away surfing the internet. Don't do that. Build your business instead.

Dump Everything Else Over the Horizon

I'm a huge fan on Michael Linenberger's Master Your Now system. He has what's called a “horizon” — this is about 10 days out or so into the future. Here is where things are put that are not urgent/mission critical/very important.

I understand you have some obligations that you'll have to meet. But outline what you really want to get done — and dump everything else over the horizon. Look at it in 10 days time. It will be there.

For instance, I'm in the middle of a redesign of my biggest website. It's going to look really nice when it's done, it will be great for branding, etc. But it's really not super-important. It can wait. The things I listed above are far more important to me right now because they will form a sustainable backbone for my business.

What's the Next Step?

The “next action” methodology comes from David Allen's Getting Things Done. He urges you to think in terms of “next actions.” What's the next thing I have to do to move a project forward?

This is really important when you're building an online business because a lot of what you do is on a large scale — build a website, create a product (or an entire funnel of products), write an email campaign, carry out an article marketing campaign, etc.

But you can't think like that. I've been thinking like that and it's really crushing me… instead of me getting out there and crushing it!

So I need to think, “what's the next action for me to take to get this product online and ready to sell?” The next action is to complete the bonus products… then I need to write the bonuses into the sales letter… then I need to proof the sales copy… then I need to format the sales letter… and so forth. It's a huge project to bring a product online (even with it “finished”!!!!) I get overwhelmed and upset when I think over all I need to do. But finish one bonus up? Tedious, but do-able.

Attack the Next Steps

Now comes a harder choice — do you follow one next step after another until the project is done, ignoring everything else? Or do you work on a few pressing projects, tackling their next steps in rotation?

It's really up to you and I've heard of different people having success doing it different ways.

I've thought about it some, and this is how I'm going to try addressing things:

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I really want to keep regular content on my sites. I have 2 hours every afternoon where my kids are napping/playing quietly/working on their own projects. So during that 2 hours on Monday and Tuesday I will write content for my sites. I hope to do 3 posts for Milk and Mud, 2 for NBBC, 1 for GP, and 1 for GSC. Some of these may be blog entries, some pages. But 7 total articles is not a lot for me to write over 4 hour's time.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I will attack the next actions for another project, trying as hard as I can to go one thing after the other to knock out projects. Some of these next actions, like for the backlinking project are good to get done because they set the stage to bring in an outsourced worker.

Some things, like article marketing, I already get help with part of (my hubby does proofreading and submits to Ezine Articles).

Saturdays will be dependent on what the family is doing, and Sundays I try and relax, do a little reading, etc.

I'm going to try and use evenings to work on cutting through email and dealing with some social media.
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It's not easy to balance everything, and this is just what I'm going to try. I know that something has to be done, though, because the frustration from business is not helping with anything in life right now. I've found that getting back to basics and really focusing on a plan helps.

Even if you find, after a few days, that your plan isn't working, you now know what doesn't work — and can go back to the drawing board and figure out something that does.

Push Yourself

When I was a kid I'd wake up in the middle of the night and scream.  I wasn't having bad dreams.  I just had particularly horrible growing pains.  I would wake and my legs would hurt so badly.  I remember one really bad night when I got out of bed to try and ease the pain.  I ended up falling asleep, whimpering, in the doorway to my room.

My mom always told me these were growing pains.¬† Maybe I grew really fast at that point.¬† I don't know, but I do know this — even today, growing tends to hurt.

If you want to grow your income, grow as a person, as a business, as a husband, wife, mother, father, friend… you're probably going to have to push yourself.¬† And yeah, it may hurt.

Hey, It's Work

Why does it hurt?  First and foremost, it hurts because you have to work.  That's right my friend, you have got to make some effort.  A lot of people say that the only real way to make money is to work a 9 to 5.  That's not true.

The real truth is, most people can get away with “working” 8 hours a day by doing a little bit of work and a lot of twiddling their thumbs (or checking Facebook and playing mini-games).¬† They're really not having to put a whole lot of effort in.¬† Then they can come home and claim they “have no time” The funny thing is, they say that while they're sitting on the couch watching TV or playing a video game.¬† Funny how “time” is a relative thing.

The real problem is they don't want to put in the sustained, intense effort it takes to change their lives and their income.¬† They don't want to spend their extra hours (long hours) building business systems… even if those systems will replace their full time income in a year or two.¬† They don't want to put forth the initial effort.¬† So they settle for a mediocre job that they really don't like now, in the hopes of what, a cake and a watch 20 years from now?¬† If they're lucky, maybe.¬† Chances are great they'll actually just end up with another mediocre job in a few years.

Push Yourself

In the end, it takes hard work and a lot of effort.  You can make a lot of argument for privilege and how somebody had the right circumstances.  But a lot of people have the right circumstances.  Really, they do.  There are only a few people who will take the reigns of circumstance and run with it.

Get to work.  Push yourself.  Move beyond your comfort level.  If you're comfortable doing it, you're probably not going to get the results you want.

I didn't say it won't be enjoyable.  I get a huge rush at the end of the night when I write my journal post recording what I did that day.  But I'm usually really tired, and know that I'll get up again the next morning and do it all over again.  I still see some places where I need to work harder and be more efficient.

I could go on and on, give you analogy after analogy Рbut in the end, if you want the success, if you want to see your dreams come true, you're going to have to work hard.  Work hard today for what you want tomorrow.  It takes work to get to the top.

What are you waiting for?  Get up and get going.

[box type=”shadow”]I have a comfort zone… and I need to get out of it. I have income goals for the year, and I have a monthly figure I want to be making by the time December rolls around again. 30 years of experience tells me that will come so fast I'll wonder where the year went. I want to be crushing it by Christmas… and that means pushing myself harder than I've ever pushed before. I can do it. Can you?
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Photo by jam343

A To-Do List That Works for You

An important part of time management is keeping track of everything you have to do. ¬†An effective task list is the cornerstone of staying on top of what you need to do — and what you want to do. ¬†I promised I'd cover the task list in my post about cleaning up your email inbox, so here's the real deal:

Most Task Lists Don't Work

You've probably made up task lists before.  You know, they ended up being long, convoluted, and eventually trashed.  You probably had due dates written down that got crossed off over and over again.  Your digital task list (Outlook or some other solution) probably had tasks in the red trying to guilt you into doing them.  And, well, they never got done.

The traditional “to-do list” just doesn't work.

Your Horizon

I had the same problems until I discovered an effective system for reigning in my task list and getting it to work for me.  I'll tell you more about the exact system further down.  First, lets look at your horizon.

Your “horizon” is the imaginary what you'd like to get done soon and what you can wait to do. For most people “over the horizon” is more than 10 days out. The next 10 days are reserved for those things you need to get done now.

This is an important concept, so think about it for a minute.  What do you have on your task list (or bouncing around in your head)?

Write It Down

Take a few minutes and write it down (or pull out that task list). ¬†Now take everything that you want to do, but is not “urgent” and transfer it to a sheet of paper or document labeled “low priority.” ¬†What's left are your medium to high priority to-do's — things you'd like to see accomplished in the next 10 days or less.

The System

The entire system is based upon this picture of your current tasks and those that are “over the horizon.” ¬†You take care of urgent tasks and those which are important to you right now, while regularly reviewing tasks that you've tossed over your horizon.

I'll show you some screenshots and explain how this works on a day-to-day basis.

Here you see my to-do list for today in Toodledo, which is an awesome webapp to keep track of your task list.  You can customize it to work how I'm going to explain, which is great:

 

You see two priority categories: High and and Medium. ¬†And you see “Start Date” ¬†You can actually see “Due Date” on the web interface, but I usually use my iPad and it's filtered in the app (more on this later).

When Does it Start?  How Important?

This system is built on Priority and Start Date.  A task is hidden until its start date arrives, period.  So if I have a project I'm planning to start next week (I do!), it won't show up until the date I've defined.

As you can see, I have things filtered by start date.  Those things that start today are of the most importance.  Things that have already started are of lesser importance, so they're lower on my list.  If I want something to have more priority, I change the start date to today.

Those tasks that are “High Priority” are those I must finish before I go to bed tonight. ¬†“Medium Priority” are those I would like to get to today, but aren't mission-critical.

“Low Priority” tasks are those that are over the horizon — you're not looking at them because you don't intend to get to them in the next few days. ¬†I review my low priority tasks every Monday morning to see if any need to be moved up, discarded, or shuffled off to a future Monday.

You can see those coming up for next Monday morning in this screenshot below.  They're normally hidden and I don't even give them any thought.  I pulled them up via sorting in Outlook for this screenshot:

 

What About Due Dates?

If I have something that MUST be done, putting it in High Priority usually means it gets done. ¬†But if I need to, I will put “DUE 1/19” in front of the task on my list.

Why don't I use due dates?  Due dates are generally counter-productive.  Like I said at the beginning, you usually just end up with a bunch of due dates that have passed and a task list that gets overwhelming. 

Start dates help you to manage both the urgent things that you must get done and keep track of the other things you want to get done.     

Ongoing Projects

I keep my task list actionable, with one next action as my to-do item. ¬†But I often have big projects that I'm working on. ¬†You can see those in this view of my task list (this one from Outlook, which Toodledo syncs to)…. notice the curly brackets {} in several tasks:

Example: {Editorial Calendar} is an ongoing project, so I put that at the end to let me know that's part of that larger project.  I will often have the next several steps of the task in the notes of that to-do item.

A Basic Overview

I love Toodledo and this system because I'm able to handle things. ¬†I generally keep my “High Priority” at 5 items (I never use Toodledo's “Top” category since there is no Outlook equivalent and 3 priorities is enough for me).

I keep “Medium Priority” at 20 items or less… if it's getting to be more than that it's time to move some things in “Low Priority” for the future.

Here's a picture of my iPad app РI also keep Toodledo on my iPhone.  It's great.

I know this is just a quick, basic overview.  My system is built from Michael Linenberger's Master Your Now system.  If you'd like more details, you can get an overview (including how to configure Outlook and Toodledo) in this free quick start guide.  I also highly recommend his full guide Master Your Workday Now!, or if you're an Outlook user, Total Workday Control.

Is your To-Do list working for you?

How to Use a Mind Map to Create Passive Income Strategies

Mind maps are a fantastic tool to use in your online business.  I use them extensively and love them (despite the fact that my husband teases me every time I open one up).

They're really useful for planning out strategies for passive income in your business, planning content, and keeping everything straight in your life.

I'm going to show you how I use them in just about every aspect of planning my business — and more importantly, how I use them to keep myself taking massive action so I see the results of my planning.

Check out the video to see some mind mapping in action ūüôā

As you can see, I have a variety of maps. ¬†You can use any mind mapping application you choose — Freemind is a great open-source solution to use on the computer. ¬†I love iThoughtsHD on my iPad, though, and I use it almost exclusively now.

To recap, here are a few ways it can benefit your business:

Structure a New Niche Site:

Creating an organized structure for a niche site is a good idea. ¬†You can use a mind map to explore logical structure and organize your keywords. ¬†This is fantastic for you — or send the map off to a VA to create the content once you've done the keyword research.

Plan a Marketing Funnel:

Funnels are a great way to monetize your site. ¬†They're especially powerful in the context of an email list. ¬†I'll admit that this has been one of the most perplexing part of developing passive income for me, though. ¬†How do I go from the “front-end” of my website to a more lucrative and continuous “back-end”? ¬†Mind mapping helps you pull together lessons from others to create an outline of your own strategy.

Outline an Article

I'll admit I don't usually outline my content.  I've been writing constantly for the past five years and I can usually get my articles done without one.  But sometimes I encounter an article that's tough to write.  For instance, I want to create a Getting Started page for Milk and Mud, but I've been overwhelmed by what I should put on it and how I should organize it.

I've done a mind map of some things I'd like to cover.  The map makes it easy to reorganize and move things around, too.  You can do this with all of your articles or just with those that are challenging.

Outline Your Product

This is the above step, taken even further.  Do you have a product you want to develop? Here's the perfect place to do it.

Use the mind map to put all of your main topics down in nodes.  Then plan out subtopics for each main topic.  Feel free to re-order and re-organize at will.

This gives you the chance to create your product in parts — you don't even have to do it in order! ¬†Sometimes this is really helpful if you're stumbling over a certain section.

Take Notes

You probably consume tons of information products over the course of a year.  Most of us in the passive income / internet marketing / blogging niches like reading other people's products about our niches!  But what good is a product if you just read it and do nothing?

Use a mind map to create action points for each section or chapter you read. ¬†When you're done with the chapter, go back and start implementing what you've learned — immediately. ¬†Use your map to put the action points into a logical order and keep track of what you've done and the results you've gotten.

If you're taking action on an article you've written online you can usually create a hyperlink right from your mind map node to the article ūüėÄ

Track Your Goals

I use mind mapping to track my goals. ¬†It's similar to taking notes above — you can define each goals and the action steps you want to take related to that goal.

I like iThoughtsHD because you can add dates to the goals, keep track of how far you've progressed, check off those steps that are completed, etc.  I also like all of the icons and color coding.  Many mapping applications have features like these and it's good to explore them.

Do you use mind maps in your business?

Taming the Inbox: How to Manage Your Email

Email is a big thing.  I used to really hate my inbox.  It was always overflowing and it was always overwhelming.  I personally take all the emails from my website, and that can still get overwhelming.  But I've put a system in place now that keeps my inboxes (both personal and business) not only under control, but generally quite empty!

Be Aggressive

You want to be aggressive with your email overall.  I'll get more into being aggressive with email processing shortly, but for now I want to talk about sheer volume.

You probably get a lot of email every day.  Email from family and customers/visitors is probably important, but chances are a lot of the rest of it is newsletters, sales emails, and other promotional stuff.  Some of that you may genuinely want and read (hey, I hope you read the Milkshake when it hits your inbox frothing with creamy internet marketing goodness!).  But most of you it probably don't read.

First, filter. ¬†If you have a marketer that you like to check up on every once in awhile, but you don't want emails in your inbox every day, you can filter it so that person's emails go right into a folder or label and are archived… you never see them. ¬†If you have a product that you get email updates for, but you don't care for the creator's affiliate emails between updates, have them filtered into a folder and check the folder every once in awhile to see if there's an update.

Second, unsubscribe. ¬†If you don't read it and have no reason to check on it, just unsubscribe. ¬†Your marketer will be happy to have you off of their list — you're not going to buy and you cost them money as a lead in their system. ¬†And your inbox doesn't need the clutter. ¬†If you've gone through several emails without reading any of them, unsubscribe.

Handling the Inbox

The process that I use to process my inbox is from Michael Linenberger's Master Your Now system. ¬†It's the only task/email management system that has really worked for me — and it works really well. ¬†You can get a free introduction to it by clicking here for a free ebook.

I'll give you an overview of the system that's working for me now:

First, this system is also task-based.  You need to keep your task list manageable, and there will be another post for that, but do know that this email processing system uses tasks.  There are different options for this, depending on what operating systems you use, but I use both Outlook and Toodledo, which is a free web-based task service that also has robust support for iOS.

Step One:  Limit the time you spend in your inbox.  Pick a few times a day to check.  I tend to check at lunchtime for urgent things, then again at the end of the workday to actually process.

Step Two: Scan through and delete things you're not going to look at. ¬†This is ¬†a great time to click that “unsubscribe” link.

Step Three:  Begin reading your other emails.  I generally go from the top of my inbox down (most recent down to oldest), but if I've ignored it for a few days I may start with the oldest.

Is the email just a newsletter you read and are done with?  Archive it or delete it.  All done!

Is the email something you need to take action on?  This is where your task list comes in handy.

If you can take the action quickly on the email, go ahead and do that.  Generally, you want to do anything that will take 2 minutes or less.

If it will take more than 2 minutes you need to move it to an action item.  The goal is to clean your inbox, so you want to make note of the new task then archive the email.  Outlook and Toodledo both make this easy.  With Outlook you can move drag and drop the email as a new task item.  With Toodledo you can forward the email to Toodledo and it gets added as a task on your list!

Be sure you change the email title to an actionable step. ¬†For instance, if you get in a newsletter that has an action step you want to take, don't leave the task the name of the email. ¬†Change it to an action. ¬†For example, change “The Milkshake” to “Implement This Traffic Generation Tip on Site A.”

What if the email requires a reply? ¬†You can flag it for reply — make a commitment to sit down and reply within 8-24 hours. ¬†If the email requires action and a response, you can make a note of that in the task title. ¬†Then pull up the email from your archive when you've done the task.

[box] In Outlook you can left-click the email and drag it onto the task. This lets you create a task with attachment. When you're done the task, double-click the attachment and it opens the email for you to reply to. You can use attachments with Toodledoo's subscription service, but I haven't tested the feature to see if you can do this with Toodledo.[/box]

Keep repeating the above steps until your inbox is totally clean. ¬†If you've left ¬†emails inside flagged to be replied to, be sure that you actually have a time when you come back and reply to them. ¬†This is my biggest challenge, personally. ¬†I don't have a lot of time, but I try to view my personal emails as building my relationship with my site visitors (most of my personal emails are from visitors to my site)… therefore they build loyalty and my brand. ¬†Take the time to give answers.

All Clean?

OK! ¬†Is your inbox clean? ¬†I hope so! ¬†But if your inbox started with hundreds of messages in it, it might not be so easily cleaned. ¬†This processing system is ideal for once you've gotten things under control… but if it's out of control, here's what you can do:

Go through and determine anything that can simply be archived.  Do that.  As newsletters and things come back in in future days, unsubscribe!

Go through and pull tasks out of every actionable email; archive them (more on handling tasks coming soon).

Sit down and answer 3-5 emails that need to be answered. ¬†Take a break to write an article, eat lunch, go for a walk, or do something else, then come back and answer 3-5 more. ¬†Repeat this a few times (I'd try to get at least 15 replies done today). ¬†Do the same tomorrow until you've gotten all of your “need replies” processed.

This system really works — and it keeps your inbox empty — as long as you actually do it. ¬†You must be consistent with it. ¬†Be agressive with unsubscribes. ¬†I find that I've ended up on a bunch of mailing lists and need to go through a round of unsubscribes every couple of months… I keep only the cream of the crop ūüôā
[box]

A Note About Folders/Labels

I don't think that using folders and labels is really needed anymore. ¬†Most email clients have powerful search capabilities now and it's easy to find what you need (both Outlook and Gmail are superb… even iOS is fair at it). ¬†But if you have special categories or use labels/folders to have some emails automatically filtered, these are good features to use. ¬†Overall, use folders/labels for automated sorting. ¬†Just archive when you sort manually.[/box]

Remember, even if you don't have Outlook, you can use Toodledo for free Рthey're web-based with iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, and Blackberry support.  It's a great service that can help you get your life under control!

Do you have a workflow for processing your inbox?

Photo by khrawlings

How to Organize All Your Digital Life Stuff

Organizing my computer has been a daunting challenge, to say the least. How do you organize the massive amount of digital “stuff” that builds up. I don't know about you, but I end up with tons of ebooks, special reports, etc from signing up for mailing lists and following people on social networks. Then I have all of my documents, stock photos, spreadsheets, etc. There's a lot there!

I do feel like I've developed a decent system of organization, however, and I wanted to share. My system is based strongly on David Allen's Getting Things Done. We'll begin with the top-level view, my personal library grouping.

The File Library Grouping

I work on a Windows 7 computer and run Ubuntu Linux in a virtual machine on my computer. Windows 7 lets me uses library groupings, and I find this feature to be very powerful. Here you can see my custom “Kristen” group:

I put these in a certain order, which you can do by right-clicking on the Library and choosing “Properties” from the menu. Let's explore each one of these folders (directories) and see what's in it. The first folder is my @Inbox. I put the @ sign in front so they will display first in my Windows directory list. This also works in Linux, but not in iOS apps.

Any attachments that come in via email, any ebook/free report downloads I get, any audios, etc. get dumped into the inbox. I have an “Incoming Audio” and an “Incoming Reading” directory to put things that I want to read or listen to in. I pull something out of here from time to time when I need reading material, or when I'm doing a mindless, repetitive task and can listen to teaching while I do it.

My inbox

I process this inbox once a week during my weekly processing and review. If you get tons of stuff coming in you can do it more often. I love this folder because it keeps my desktop clean!

Keeping Track of Project Files

Next you can see my @Projects:

All of these files are for projects that are in progress on one of my websites or for my home. It's a great way for me to have what I need on hand, quickly. It again keeps my desktop from being cluttered.

This is @Homeschooling:

I won't go into detail on this because, well, you probably don't need it. But I wanted to show how I have a specialized folder for something that's really extensive in itself. As you can see, I have it organized logically by subject. I have a lot of .pdf files and things for our schooling, so those go in here where I can actually find them when I need them.

Reference Files

O.K., here's @Reference. Again, this folder and system are pulled strongly from David Allen's Getting Things Done system, and it works well for my computer references.

You can see my alphabetic filing folders. I know they're not evenly distributed… I broke them up into chunks that made sense to me, and so there wouldn't be too much in any one (for instance, I didn't want S and T together since I tend to get a lot of things filed under those letters). Right now I don't have a folder for each letter, but if I get too much going on, I will do that.

Computers make things a little easier since I can do a search to find the files that I want, but sometimes I can't remember exactly what something is called, so I search through directories to find it. This filing system helps me keep things organized, and again, it keeps my desktop clear.

I do have a meal planning directory in here separate from the other folders so I can access it quickly if I need it. I also use a program on the computer/iOS devices to organize my recipes and do my meal planning (I use Cook'n for recipe organization, and Grocery Gadget for my shopping lists.)

Here's @Reference_Business

These are business documents, spreadsheets, ebooks, etc. The organization is the same as for @Reference. There are also folders for “Completed Projects” and “Dead Projects” — I like to keep project files together in case I want to refer to them, and this makes them easily accessible.

My Dropbox

My plan is to actually move all of the above folders out of “My Documents” on my computer and into my Dropbox folder… at least that's what I'm thinking. I haven't fully taken the plunge yet. But some of my folders in Dropbox are a little redundant, and all of my System folders are in Dropbox.

As you can see, I have an @My_Projects folder in Dropbox, and most of the working files for my projects are in here. I will detail my project management system more completely in another post — but Dropbox houses most of it.

The @My_Systems folder is all of the documentation for the procedures I use to run my business and manage my household. If you look on the left-hand side of the image, you can see where I opened the drop-down for @My_Systems. Inside are @Family_Systems and @Milk-and-Mud-LLC_Systems. So one for family stuff and one for work (it takes a lot of systems to keep up with a big, busy family!) I may do another, more detailed post on systems, too.

Also in the Dropbox you can see folders for Formatting, Projects with Kristen, and Projects with Scott. These are all shared folders with my husband, who helps with a lot of the back-end tasks for my websites (yes, he's wonderful, and all mine. Get your own!).

Plain Text, IThoughts, and NotesPlus folders correspond with those apps on my iPad and iPhone. Those are organized in a similar structure to my @My_Projects, but house just the files associated with that app. This works well for me.

[box] If you don't have a Dropbox yet, you need to get one. Dropbox is amazing at syncing anything you put into it across all of your computers, phones, tablets… and on any operating system![/box]

Summing it All Up

My virtual machine also has some files on it — it has all of my stock photos and graphics in a graphics folder. There's also a folder called “Sites” that has various things from all of my websites (product drafts, etc.) that I haven't touched yet and really need to clean up! I will probably incorporate most of those files into my business reference folder.

Otherwise, I've pretty much streamlined everything into the collection of folders in my library and I like it that way. The ultimate streamlining will be when I make the jump to putting my all of my directories into my Dropbox (I estimate it's around about 60g worth of “stuff” — photos and videos are generally not in these directories, so they're not huge). Then I'll reorganize my “Kristen's Files” library to show the folders inside Dropbox in the library listing.

The library makes it very easy for me to quickly drag a file to where it belongs, and now that I have a system, I can process things fairly efficiently. The only thing that really builds up is the “Incoming” audio and reading… I never seem to have enough time to get through all of it!

Hopefully this overview of my system will help you jump into your own organizing.

Do you have a system for keeping your digital content organized? Share your tips below!

28 Ways to Remove Distraction and Get Productive

  1. Close programs you aren't using
  2. Close web browser tabs you aren't using
  3. Paste links into a task note, then close the tab
  4. Save your work in the program, then close the program
  5. Auto-hide your taskbar or dock
  6. Remove icons from your desktop
  7. Ignore your email
  8. Move all paperwork to a central inbox
  9. Move all incoming electronic documents to an “inbox” folder
  10. Process your inboxes to empty once a night or once a week
  11. Create tasks for items in your inboxes or email that need attention
  12. Focus on one task at a time
  13. If you find yourself jumping from task to task, clear your desktop, close tabs, close windows, and focus
  14. Stick with one task until it is done or you have reached the next step
  15. Write down the next step as a task
  16. Make your task steps actionable (so, no “Facebook page” – rather, “Create new image for Facebook page”)
  17. Set a “tough timer” and work for 15 minutes on a rough task – without stopping
  18. Work expands to fill the time you give it. Set a realistic amount of time for a project – and stick to it!
  19. Turn off the ringer on the phone.
  20. Frustrated and unable to focus? Get up, do some simple stretches, and get a glass of water.
  21. Work at home? Set office hours so others know you are working and are not to be disturbed.
  22. Put your young children down for an afternoon nap so you can work. Older children can have a period of quiet work on their own projects.
  23. Turn on motivational music (I tend to favor epic “soundtrack” style when working on something tough)
  24. Go for a minimalist workspace
  25. Put your word processor or text editor in fullscreen mode
  26. Keep a pad of sticky notes – write down anything that comes up while you work on a sticky, put it in your inbox, and get back to work.
  27. Put your smartphone and tablet in a drawer or bag
  28. Remember what it is that you want most and push through the hard stuff so you get there.