The 44 Tools I Use to Run a 7+ Figure Business

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This post was inspired by Noah Kagan’s post HERE on the tools that he uses to run his business.

I thought it would be cool to put together a list of all the tools that WE use in our business (the software/digital ones, at least).

So here they are, in no particular order:

Documentation and Storage

  • Google Docs/Drive: We use Google Docs as a team not only to collaborate on files, but to organize and systemize the processes in our company. Each procedure document has a code and a number, and each is linked to in a master spreadsheet that everyone has access to. The permissions for each procedure can be controlled as needed.
  • Egnyte: Our main file storage system for other documents that are not in Google Drive.
  • Dropbox: Another way to share files, videos, meeting recordings, etc.
  • Evernote: I use Evernote to take notes, save important bits of information, and pass those on. It’s not used team-wide but I often find myself sharing my Evernotes.

 

Shopping Cart

  • Infusionsoft: We made the transition to Infusionsoft this year, and while there’s definitely a learning curve, it’s been worth it.
  • 1ShoppingCart: Before Infusionsoft, we used 1ShoppingCart, which is definitely a solid choice.

 

Membership Sites

  • Xenforo: The membership site of my Next Level Group Mastermind is hosted in Xenforo, which is a great forum software that allows for any number of customizations, which we are constantly updating to create a better user experience.
  • Memberium: When we were looking for a way to host the Ask Method Masterclass course, we looked into a number of different options. We decided to go with Memberium because it was the best fit with the course that we were trying to design, and allowed us to integrate with our existing software.

 

Email

  • Maropost: We made the transition to Maropost because it allows us more tagging and segmentation options than Aweber.
  • Aweber: Our alternative email provider, a solid choice, especially if you’re just starting out.

 

Meetings/Webinars

  • GoTo Webinar/GoTo Meeting: This is what we use almost exclusively for webinars and internal company meetings of more than 3 people.
  • Zoom.us: Our “backup” meeting software if Go to Meeting is glitchy, it’s free and easy to use.
  • Skype: Used for client calls or internal meetings of 3 people or less.

 

Project Management

  • Trello: A cool way to organize and assign tasks, using cards, boards, and a Scrum integration to keep track of team productivity.
  • SLACK: This is team communication central, with channels for every aspect of the business. Slack is where all the action happens.
  • Teamwork: Our other project management software, used for our automated team member onboarding process, as well as larger projects.

 

Landing Pages

  • ClickFunnels: Landing page templates, opt-in funnels and more
  • Leadpages: Alternative to ClickFunnels, mostly used for webinar sign-up pages.
  • Ask Method Software: The software that’s custom-designed to implement Ask Method quizzes and surveys, like the Deep Dive Survey and Micro-Commitment Bucket Survey.

 

Planning and Outlining

  • LucidChart: Create flowcharts, processes, and mindmaps
  • iMindMap: I used this to create my Ask Method Blueprint, among other things. One of the best mindmap softwares available (for Mac).

 

Testing and Tracking

 

Freelancers

  • Fiverr: Need something done fast and cheap? Fiverr is the place to go.
  • Upwork: Where we go to find freelancers for specific jobs
  • Craigslist: Believe it or not, I’ve found some of my BEST team members on Craigslist. Here’s how I do it.
  • Rev.com: We use Rev to get calls and events transcribed. Fast 24 hour turnaround.

 

Video Stuff

  • Vimeo: What we use to host the Ask Method Masterclass training videos. Reasonable fees for a pro account
  • Wistia: More expensive, but offers a lot more tracking options.
  • Snagit: Easy way to grab screenshots and play around with them.
  • Camtasia: Screen recording software
  • Screenflow: With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your entire monitor while also capturing your video camera, iOS device, microphone and your computer audio
  • Final Cut Pro: Video editing software
  • MySpeed (by Enounce): Lets you speed up videos to 2X or 3X so that you can watch them faster. (You can also slow them down)

 

My Personal Apps:

  • Flux: Cool app that automatically changes your screen color based on time of day (when it’s dark, the light is yellower).
  • Inner Balance: Helps me control and regulate my breathing rate and reduce stress
  • Boomerang for Gmail: Lets you schedule emails for later, set reminders to follow up, and more. Helps me keep my Gmail efficient.
  • Google Calendar: Nothing happens in Ryan’s world if it’s not in the calendar. I have separate calendars for client meetings, team meetings, family time, etc. so I always know what’s going on, and team members can edit and update as needed without seeing the whole thing.
  • Voice Memo App: Quick way to give myself reminders and jot things down on the go.
  • Call recorder for Skype: Since many of my client calls and team meetings are on Skype, I need a reliable call recorder.
  • Voice to Text Chrome Extension: This nifty little tool isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s a great way to get transcripts of calls on the spot.

 

Now, we use everything on this list, which means that it gets a personal recommendation from me.

That said, some of the links here are affiliate links. If you prefer that I don’t get paid, just type the website into the URL bar.

Now I’m curious…

What tools do you use that didn’t make this list? Anything that we absolutely need to know about? From this list, which tools do YOU prefer

Leave your recommendations in the comments below.

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How to Choose Your Business Model

7 Profitable Business Models…and How to Decide Which One is Right for You

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Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried my hand at several different business models. Most of them have been successful, but there have been some struggles and failures along the way. And from these successes and failures, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’d like to share with you. I hope these lessons help you focus your thinking on what the best business models are for you.

The great thing about all of these business models is that you can choose virtually any market, and use the Ask Method with ANY of these business models successfully. More about how to do that in just a moment.

All of these models WORK. They’re all proven models, with many many examples of success stories for each and every one. The key here is to choose the models that fit with you and your business: your strengths, your personality, and your team.

If you’re adding a new division to your current business, wondering if the model you’re in right now is the best one for you, or looking to escape your day job and come up with a plan, then reading this will help you weigh the pros and cons of each model.

Because not every every business model is one that you should pursue. Just because you could launch a continuity program or an agency…doesn’t mean that you should.

Before you try a new business model, consider your personality type, what your strengths are, and what you naturally enjoy. If you’ve taken the KOLBE assessment or the StrengthsFinder test, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what these are. Use them to guide your decision-making process.

So without further ado, let’s get into the different business models right now.

Business Model #1: Creating Information Products

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Why Choose this Model?

The profit margins: Creating and selling information products, online courses, ebooks, and other education/information products have very high profit margins.

You create something once, and if it’s a digital product then you have no need to stock inventory, and you can deliver it automatically to any volume of people at once.

While a physical product that you sell for $100 but costs you $15 leaves $85 in your pocket, an online information product that you sell for the same price will leave $100 in your pocket.

Creating a digital information product is a low-cost way to get something started, and very easy to scale up from there.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. Not everyone enjoys the creative process. If you choose this model, you should really enjoy what goes into creating a product.

2. When you’re thinking about your market, be sure that you choose evergreen topics as much as possible, so that you don’t have to update your product as frequently. For example, the orchid market vs. something like Google Adwords, where the rules are constantly changing.

3. Be sure that the support for your product is either a separate product, or priced accordingly in the program, otherwise you’ll enter the “black hole of customer service” with endless time-consuming emails.

Business Model #2: Promoting Affiliate Offers

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Why Choose this Model?

Promoting products as an affiliate means that you don’t have to actually create the products that you promote…all you have to do is focus on selling.

Sounds easy, right?

The crucial thing with this business model is choosing the right markets to find the right products that are proven to sell.

Being an affiliate allows you to leverage the credibility and the authority of the product owners by association (if you choose right).

For example, we partner with JV affiliates to promote our flagship product, the Ask Method Masterclass.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. While it’s convenient not to have to worry about creating products, it’s actually VERY difficult to build a business without at least one core product. Ideally, a combination of your own products as well as affiliates’ will give you the best of both worlds.

2. As an affiliate, you don’t control the payment timing, which means that you can often find yourself in the money chasing business.

Look for things like a 7 day fast pay of 75% with 25% paid after refund period, which is a good indication that you can expect reliable payments. But you still need to trust whoever’s paying you. I know this from experience after being burned a few times, which is why we ALWAYS pay on time.

3. When choosing affiliate offers, you always want to make them relevant to WHY people follow you in the first place. For example, we did a promotion with Jonathan Mizel, who teaches how to get traffic using rented email lists.

 

This strategy is ideal for people who want to run a Deep Dive Survey but have no list…so we set up a trial campaign using Jonathan’s method and ran a Deep Dive Survey, and then showed the case study during the promotion.

This ended up being one of our most successful promotions to date, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that the offer was a great fit, and directly relevant to what I teach.

Business Model #3: Selling Software

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Why Choose this Model?

Software is great because it’s got a huge potential for recurring revenue. Once people start using a certain software they tend to stay with it, because it’s a lot of work to switch everything over, which gives you a high stick rate.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. My first software business was a WordPress plugin for Survey Funnels. With WordPress, you have multiple versions, plugin conflicts, and you have to constantly update to keep up with changes to WordPress.

2. While it’s relatively easy to build something like a WordPress plugin, if you want steady revenue coming from your software you should fully control the environment and development so that you can adapt and make changes as needed.

3. There are always going to be customer service issues with software. If you’re working with someone else, then those customer service issues are outside your control.

 

As I develop a new software to implement the Ask Method, I understand more and more how important it is to have full control over the process and the environment.

Business Model #4: Launching a Continuity Program

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Why Choose this Model?

A continuity program gives you predictable, recurring revenue. It’s a very reliable form of income, and allows you to plan and manage your business expenses based on that. Unlike a launch, which gives you a fast influx of cash, with continuity programs you can anticipate growth and decline, and plan accordingly.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. Continuity programs aren’t right for every market. For “enthusiast” markets, like gardening, or my own Next Level Group Mastermind for business owners, it’s a great fit, assuming that you have…

2. Never ending content creation. With a membership program, you should constantly be adding resources and content, so that your members are always getting something new, and additional value, for the same price.

3. People are naturally less willing to sign up for open-ended continuity. While that might work for some markets, for others you may be better off with a fixed-term program, such as a 6 or 12 month membership…or positioning the open-ended continuity as a “VIP” option.

Business Model #5: Hosting Paid Live Events

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Why Choose this Model?

There’s nothing like a live event. The atmosphere, the vibe, whatever you want to call it is totally different from anything online. A live event lets you deliver transformation, and it also gives you the perfect opportunity to upsell people into a longer commitment to working with you, whether it’s coaching or a higher-level mastermind.

Live events are also GREAT for capturing testimonials, because people are there, you already have the video crew, and the energy from the event means that people will say great things about you.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. Putting on live events is not as easy as it looks. It’s actually pretty time consuming, especially if you want to deliver a premium experience. Plan for the fact that planning live events is a lot of work

2. When you put a lot of thought into the experience that people are getting at the event, it shows. The first few events I did, we just went with the hotel menu, nothing special. And we got NO compliments on the food. But when we sat down with the executive chef and hand-picked every menu element ourselves, everyone commented.

The gifts that you give at the event will mean a lot to people, so choose wisely. The goal at a live event is to make people feel special and to deliver lots of value not just with the content of the event, but with the overall experience.

3. While it can be tempting to want to change venues and cities and keep things exciting, you want to stick to the same location as much as possible. This way, you already know the staff, you have more leverage to get what you want, and you have a relationship with the managers and vendors, rather than starting from scratch every time.

Business Model #6: Private Consulting (With or Without Revenue Share)

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Why Choose this Model?

When you do coaching or consulting, people are paying a premium for your time and expertise. Working with someone one-on-one is the best way to get them results. And happy clients mean more referrals and testimonials.

Not only is consulting a great way to build your reputation before launching something else, it’s also the perfect opportunity for rev share/royalty deals.

When I started as a consultant, walking people through how to build Survey Funnels, every deal I made included a revenue share, so that they knew that I had skin in the game, and wanted to make their funnel a home run.

And if you know the Ask Method, you can do the same thing.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. Protect your time. When I take on a new client, it’s with a monthly retainer and an agreement setting the boundaries of our relationship.

2. Here are the rules for working with me: all discussions are by phone (not email), and 48 hours before our call you should be sending me a one-page document with what we’re talking about so that I can review, be prepared, and make the most of that time. Not only does this make me a more effective coach, it also helps the client nail down their priorities and get more done.

3. When setting up royalty agreements, define the boundaries clearly: for specific funnel(s) only. Also be sure to use an automatic payment system like Stripe or Clickbank to get paid.

Business Model #7: Done for You Agency Services

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Why Choose this Model?

This is what people want! Come on, who doesn’t want a done for you service? It’s super easy to sell, and there’s a ton of demand right now for DFY (done for you) agency services.

3 Lessons Learned:

1. Get deposits in advance to build a pipeline of people who have already committed to work with you.

2. Know how long it will take you to complete each project. Put a team in place that you can rely on, led by someone who can manage all aspects of the project.

3. Agency services, depending on what they are, tend to have a higher cost than information publishing or consulting. While that means you can charge a higher premium, it also means doing a careful cost-benefit analysis to see if this is the best model for you.

 

When I made the decision to stop offering agency services, despite a huge demand, I shifted my focus to becoming a world class education business instead, teaching people to execute the Ask Method through the Ask Method Masterclass.

Now it’s your turn to sound off: what business model(s) do you use? Which ones work best for you, which ones didn’t work, and why?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

All my best,

Ryan :-)

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How to Choose Your Market: Part 1 of 3

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Want to know if your business idea has “legs”, before you spend a bunch of time & money on it?

You’re about to discover the same process we’ve use to evaluate each market, project, and product line we consider launching.

The reason why we’ve successfully entered 23 different markets, generating over $100 million in online revenue and over 52,000 subscribers per day across those markets – is because we have our market selection process almost down to a science.

I call it my “Green Light Project Checklist.”

It’s what I’ve used over the past 10 years to successfully enter and profit in 23 different markets (most of which are NOT in the “how to make money” space).

The one time I entered a market and FAILED?

…Was when I got a little over-confident and did NOT use the formula I’m about to share with you.

So if you’re thinking of starting a new business…

Or if you’re already up and running with your business, are you:

  • Breaking into a new market…
  • Pursuing a new project…
  • Or launching a new product…

What I’m about to share with you can save you a TON of time (and money).

Now the reason I think this is useful for everyone evaluating an opportunity, because there’s a risk as an entrepreneur:

 

There’s an opportunity cost in pursuing something that doesn’t have legs.

 

This methodology I’m going to walk you through is quantitative. Its a numbers based approach to evaluate opportunities objectively.

This will become a very important tool in your arsenal as an entrepreneur.

Now, whenever I pursue a project there are 3 phases I go through:

Phase 1 – Project/Market Analysis: Here we’re looking at the big picture and whether the project is worth pursuing (we’ll be covering this part today).

Phase 2 – Demand Analysis: The question we’re trying to answer here is “are there indications that the market wants what I’m planning on offering?”

And then…

Phase 3 – Economics Analysis: Here we’ll be evaluating if we can actually build a profitable business in the market.

I’ll be walking you step by step through each phase in the next couple of days.

For now, I want you to watch the overview and then we’ll dive right in to Phase I…

Green Light Project Checklist Overview

 

For today, we’ll be covering the first part of Phase 1 – Market/Project Analysis…

Which is about the 5 must-haves I look for in a market.

Those are specific that’s going to give me a signal of whether I should move forward or not.

If the market meets all 5 of these must haves, then the signal is “green” I move forward to the next step…

if I get only 4 then it’s “yellow” and I tread carefully…

And if I get 1-3 then its “red”, a no go. I kill the project right then & there.

I’ll be going into details on the video.

But before we dive right in, it’s super important for you to immediately take action on the info you’ll be learning as we’ll be moving fast.

As you’re going through the video today, I want you to download and open this document and start plugging in your numbers:

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This is going to be your go to document throughout the training.

(Credit goes to Next Level Group Mastermind member Adam Maywald for providing this excellent resource!)

And one more thing before we get started…

Make sure you have a market in mind to evaluate as we’re going through this training.

And don’t worry if you have more than one, you can go through the process again.

But for the sake of simplicity, lets just pick one and run with it.

And If you have any questions I encourage you to head to the group and post about it.

Let’s dive in:

Phase 1.1 – The 5 “Market Must-Haves”

 

Now that we have ran the market through the “5 Must-Haves”, it’s time to assess the competitive landscape.

What we want to do here is make sure there’s competition in the market.

Sounds counter-intuitive?

Competition here is your friend.

(No, I haven’t gone mad).

The reason I say that is because you want some sort of validation that there’s money to be made in this market.

If there’s no one spending money to acquire customers in your market, chances are there’s no money to be made…

Unless you’ve achieved some sort of new breakthrough and came up with a disruptive new product.

Let’s dive right in:

Phase 1.2 – Assessing the competitive landscape

 

So how has it been going so far?

Its a straightforward process but a somewhat time consuming (definitely worth it!).

If you have any questions or need help…

Go ahead and post it in the group

Today we’ll be going over the last part of Phase 1, evaluating your market.

After we’ve ran the market through the “5 Must-Haves” and assessed the competitive landscape (and its a green or yellow light )…

We want to find out:

1. How much traffic is available in the market (I look at 5 main traffic sources)

And then…

2. The scale potential and how big can this get as an opportunity (this is going to be personal to whatever your goals are).

 

Make sure to carve out about 2 hours for this exercise…

This is where we get into crunching some numbers.

With that said, let’s dive in:

Phase 1.3 – Availability of traffic sources & scale potential

 

Ok, so far we’ve covered:

Phase 1.1 – The 5 Market “Must-Haves”
Phase 1.2 – Assessing the competitive landscape
Phase 1.3 – Availability of traffic sources & scale potential

Stay tuned for Phase 2, (coming soon) where we’ll walk through exactly how to assess your market’s DEMAND.

And now that you know more about the market you want to enter? Here’s how to actually launch your business, the same way I’ve launched 23 businesses (and counting)

It’s called the “Ask Method”, and I lay out every detail of the process, step-by-step, in my #1 LA Times Bestselling book, “Ask.”

For a limited time I’m giving away FREE copies of the book (just pay shipping). To claim your free copy (limit one per customer), just click on the link below:

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment below if you have any questions!

Peace out,

Ryan :-)

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Webinar Best Practices: Mistakes I Made and Secrets I Learned

11 Mistakes I Made and 4 Secrets I Learned by Doing 53 Webinars Last Year…

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I do a lot of webinars. Whether it’s JV promotions, internal promotions, teaching webinars, or people promoting my stuff, there’s something about the webinar format that’s extremely powerful.

This article will give you my best practices and tools and lessons that I’ve learned from doing 53 webinars in the last year.

But first, if you’re not already doing webinars, let me tell you, you’re missing out:

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Can you spot the 6 things I’m doing in this graphic to spike webinar attendance?

6 Great Reasons You Should be Doing Webinars

1. Build a relationship with your audience

A live webinar is the perfect medium to interact with your audience. Through chat, answering questions, and sharing your story, it’s a great way to reach a large audience while still keeping a personal feel.

2. Deliver content and value

When you do a webinar, your audience is eagerly waiting for what you have to teach them…and it’s up to you to deliver that value. While that might sound challenging, if you know your stuff and your presentation is solid, you shouldn’t have to worry about running out of things to say. Just the opposite–you’ll be hard pressed to pack everything you want to teach into a 90 minute presentation.

3. Answer objections live

This is a huge advantage to the webinar format over, say, a sales letter or a video, because people are bringing their questions and objections to you in real time. The way you handle those objections proves to the audience that you are the real deal.

4. Get in front of new tribes

When you do a partner webinar, you get a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to other people’s tribes. Choose the right partners that are a fit for what you do, and these can be very profitable events for you.

5. The next best thing to live sales

While the best way to sell is live in person, a webinar is the next best thing.

6. Hone your message first

Practice makes perfect. Do enough webinars, and you can hone your sales message to perfection before you invest time and money into doing a sales letter or VSL.

 

Webinars give you plenty of rehearsal time to get your messaging just right.

So you want to do a webinar…congratulations! Now it’s time to start thinking about…

What the Heck am I Going to Say?

Most successful webinars follow a similar structure:

1. Introduction and engagement:

Before you get started, be sure to do a “check-in” and have your audience type something in the chat box to get some engagement going.

2. Build credibility:

Introduce yourself and share WHY you are the best person to present this information. Establish your credentials and then segue into…

3. Tell a story:

Let people know WHY this information is so important. Stories are a powerful tool, use them!

4. Provide value and demonstrate expertise with useful but incomplete content:

Basically, cover as much as you can in the time you have, but make it clear that for anyone who wants to go deeper, there’s more to this. Which you’ll cover in…

5. The Pitch (Optional):

Not every webinar has a pitch. Many do. This is your chance to sell your product, and if you’ve hit a home run with your webinar content, this part should be pretty easy.

6. Q&A:

Your chance to answer any objections that may come up, or clarify information from the webinar content itself. We’ll usually run a “Deep Dive Survey” on the thank you page after someone registers, asking them what their biggest challenge or problem with XYZ is. Then we’ll know exactly which questions need to be addressed during the webinar.

 

That’s the basic structure. But beyond the basic structure, I’ve found that it’s the little things that make a big difference. Here’s what I personally do in all of my webinars to boost sales:

1. Clickable Links:

Make every link easy to type and clickable from the webinar chat

2. Links on Slides:

Put the URL on every slide during the close

3. Ask for Clicks:

ASK people to click on that link to let you know it’s working

4. Invisible Close:

Use the Invisible Close, which I learned from Lisa Sasevich.

 

What Is the Invisible Close?

Basically, you say, “Listen, here’s what I want to do. We’ve only had a short time together, and you might be wondering, is this for you or not? Don’t try to decide today if it’s right for you. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to check it out risk free. Go through all the materials, look it over, and if it’s for you, keep it.

If it’s not for you for any reason at all just send a one-line email to my customer service director and we’ll offer you a full refund.”

That defers the decision and makes it into more of a trial, and increases your conversions from each webinar.

Okay, so you’ve got your presentation ready to go. What about the logistics?

Rules of the Road and Best Practices

With that in mind, with help from members of my Next Level Mastermind Community, here are some tips and best practices for running webinars:

Webinar Checklist

Getting Butts in the Seats

You’ve got a killer presentation, you’ve worked out all the technical kinks, so how do you make sure people show up for the webinar itself?

Well, first of all make sure that the speaker and the webinar topic are a good fit for your audience.

And if the topic is a good fit, then you want to design an email campaign to position the webinar and get people excited. We do this using pre-launch content, usually video or audio, explaining WHY this webinar is so relevant to why your audience found you in the first place and your core offer.

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For example, we did a promotion with Jonathan Mizel, who teaches how to get traffic using rented email lists.

This strategy is ideal for people who want to run a Deep Dive Survey but have no list…

So we set up a trial campaign using Jonathan’s method and ran a Deep Dive, then created video pre-launch content around that concept.

We revealed the exact process on the webinar…and it was a home run. People loved it.

Going the extra mile to customize your email promo back to your core offer means that, instead of just blasting the standard swipes to your list, people see something that’s customized, that we’ve put a lot of effort into, and they know we’ll be delivering immense value at the webinar as well.

So, we send the pre-launch content the week before the webinar, then spend 3-4 days promoting the webinar itself and getting people to sign up.

On the day of the webinar we do 3 reminder blasts, one in the morning, one a few hours before, and one right before the webinar.

jason-henderson-01And we also use a tip from Big Jason Henderson where we send out a text message to their phone shortly before/after the webinar starts (people sign up for this on the webinar registration page).

Often, we’ll also send out an FAQ email during the replay period that covers the main questions and objections that people might have, and overcomes those objections.

The Big Takeaway

The first time I did a webinar for my Survey Funnel Formula course, it didn’t go as well as I planned. It ran overtime, I rambled and got distracted, and I had a hard time keeping people engaged.

So then I did it another 30 times…and now it’s clean, tight, and compelling.

Doing a webinar 10, 20, 30, even 50 times gives you a chance to tweak it and improve your presentation each time based on the feedback you get.

There’s just no shortcut for getting your reps in.

Just like a play, a ballet, or any other performance, a great webinar takes practice to get right. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempts are less-than-impressive…if you keep doing it…you’ll get better.

What’s your #1 tip for doing webinars? Share your wisdom in the comments below…I’d love to hear from you!

Peace out,

Ryan :-)

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How to Build an A-Player Team From Your Very First Hire

How to Build an A-Player Team From Your Very First Hire

When we first started out, like most solopreneurs, it was just me and my wife, in our living room, with a $450 laptop.

Every evening, we’d put on a movie or find a TV show to watch and sit for hours stuffing envelopes, packing up DVDs, hand-writing shipping labels and getting all of our products ready to ship.

Then one of us would take these 4-5 postal crates full of stuff and wait in line, in front of some very annoyed customers, to ship everything out.

Sound familiar?

I still remember those early days of the business when it was just the two of us, building everything from scratch. And we managed to go from $0 to $25,000 per month all on our own.

Until 2011, when we realized that we needed help. It was time to hire our first full-time team member.

Since then we have grown to 18 full-time team members. And while scaling up my team, I learned a lot about how to find and hire A-players.

To build a sustainable business, you need a team.

Not only is it impossible, once you get to a certain level, to do everything yourself, but you really don’t want to. Ideally, you want to get to a point where you can be as minimally involved as possible, and the business will run itself because of the team you’ve put in place.

But if you’re just getting started, that first hire can seem pretty daunting.

Who to Hire First…and Why

Now what’s interesting is most people tend to think that their first hire should be a tech person, maybe a graphic designer, perhaps a copywriter. But for me, the first person I hired was an A-list assistant.

For most of us, there are a multitude of administrative tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t fall into just one category. Things like scheduling appointments, uploading things to WordPress, transcribing or reviewing audio files, etc. And all of these small tasks can add up over time. You shouldn’t be doing them.

When I hired my first assistant, it transformed my business, because overnight I was able to remove myself from all of those time-consuming administrative tasks, which enabled me to focus on my zone of genius.

Why Hire?

In fact, one of my biggest regrets is that I waited so long to hire an assistant, because my business could have grown so much faster if I had.

Now, as your business grows, you will obviously need to hire many different roles, but for many people, the most effective first hire is an A-list assistant.

Where to find these “A-Players”

Believe it or not, there are A-Players hiding in surprising places. I found my assistant Kimberly on Craigslist. And while it’s true that you’ll get all sorts of people who are struggling to find a job, who will apply for almost any position under the sun even if they’re not qualified…you CAN find amazing people, IF you know how to properly screen and find the A-players.

If you’re hiring for a more specialized role, a good place to start is asking for recommendations. There are posts all the time in my Next Level Group Mastermind from people asking for recommendations for a graphic designer, tech wizard, copywriter, and more. If you can get recommendations, go for them. But just because someone comes recommended doesn’t mean you should neglect a solid hiring process, what I like to call…

The Hurdle-a-thon Process

I am so grateful to have a team of A-players who are committed to the business and what we’re building. And that didn’t happen by accident.

Every team member I hire has to pass what I call the “Hurdle-a-thon.”

I first learned about this strategy from Noah Kagan (of Appsumo fame) and Neville Medhora. Since then, after some adaptations and much trial and error, it’s evolved into the process below:

There are three main elements to this process:

  1. The Typing Test
  2. The Multi-step Assignment
  3. The Deadline Test

I’d like to break down each of these elements in detail so that you can apply them to your own hiring process.

Hurdle #1: The Typing Test

The Hurdle: Go to a specific website that calculates online typing speed and take the typing speed test found there. I give them a link and the instructions are simple: paste the URL for your typing speed results in the space below.

The Why: This seemingly simple assignment allows me to have an objective measurement of ability for all of the applicants. I’m also testing how well someone can follow directions, since I ask them to post a LINK to their results. If someone posts “79 WPM,” I know they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter. I’m specifically asking for someone to type in the URL with the screenshot of their results from this specific test.

Now assuming they have passed that first hurdle and they’ve actually done it correctly, I will review the results. If their typing speed is slow, generally that’s a leading indicator that their work pace is also slow. If someone types 40 words a minute, it tells me that they might not be able to keep up with the pace at which our company moves.

But what I’m most interested in is the combination of someone’s score and the number of mistakes they’ve made. I know that if someone types 65 WPM with 4 mistakes, they took the test ONCE. But if someone has 90 WPM and no mistakes, I know they took the test 5 or 6 or 7 times, to give me their absolute best result. And that’s the kind of person I’m looking for. I am looking for someone who never settles for anything less than the best, that has high expectations of themselves.

Now, these 3 things tell me a lot about a potential candidate, just from one simple test. And once I’ve narrowed down the field with the typing test, along comes the next hurdle:

Hurdle #2: The Multi-Step Assignment

The Hurdle: This hurdle has multiple steps:

1. Download a video from a link.
2. Upload the video to YouTube
3. Create a new WordPress post on any blog
4. Title the post “Ryan Video”
5. Write a 100 word blog post summarizing the video
6. Insert the YouTube Video into the post
7. Copy the URL and paste it in the space below in the application.

The Why: I want to know if someone can do the type of work that I’m doing. Can they follow directions exactly? That shows me that they’re less likely to make sloppy mistakes (“Ryan Video” not “Ryan’s Video”). Can they interpret what I’m saying, summarize it, and then write a blog post? That shows me the level of their thinking and writing ability.

Many of the people that I’m targeting will have never done this kind of task before, so I’m also checking their ability to think on their feet and do the research needed to figure something out on their own.

And once they’ve passed this hurdle successfully, I turn the screws and add some extra pressure with…

Hurdle #3: The Deadline Fax Test

The Hurdle: Hand-write a response to a given question and fax it within 24 hours.

Here’s the question: “I’m looking for someone who’s hopefully going to be on my team for the next 5-10 years. What is it going to take for you to want to be in that kind of position?”

The Why: There are four main reasons I use this hurdle:

1. It lets me see how well someone works under pressure with a tight deadline, and how they might cope with pressure and deadlines in my business.

2. I specifically ask for a fax because it’s not something most people do every day, and not everyone has access to a fax machine. I want to see if they can they solve logistical problems under tight deadlines. Since our business exists mainly in the digital world, I want to see how well they can deal with the physical world outside the computer screen as well, whether it means running to Kinko’s or finding a friend with a fax machine.

3. You can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting. That’s why I ask for a handwritten response, so that I can do an analysis and learn more about them.

4. The question itself will give me a lot of insight to the kind of salary and job expectations the person has. If what they’re expecting is completely unaligned with what I can offer, I’ll also know that right up front.

The “Hurdle-A-Thon” Process

Yes, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. And that’s a good thing. Because you don’t really want to interview 100 candidates for a position. By the time you get to a face-to-face or a phone interview, you want to have the field narrowed down to 2-3 top candidates. Believe me, it’s worth it.

And once you start using this process, or some version of it, when you hire team members, you’ll know that the people that you do interview are the top 5% that really want to work with you (otherwise they wouldn’t have passed the hurdles!)

I’d love to hear from you about where you are in the process. If you have a team, what’s the most challenging part about hiring new team members? Do you use a “hurdle-a-thon? What’s the biggest lesson from this post that you’d like to implement? And if you don’t have a team yet, what’s your biggest takeaway for when you do decide to hire? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Peace out,

Ryan :-)

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