We’re big on systems and processes at Unemployable. Naturally, that’s the topic of the first lesson in the free Profit Pillars course that members gain access to when they join the tribe at no charge.
Early in my career, I had great marketing systems, but bad management processes. Some people have it the other way around. Either way, it’s not ideal.
I’ve known Chris Brogan for close to a decade now, and his enthusiasm for doing new business projects is irrepressible and contagious. The difference between then and now is simple … Chris has implemented systems that work for him and his businesses.
Ten years ago? Not so much.
Chris is quite candid when admitting he used to be a mess at sticking with projects to completion. As much as I’ve always liked him, I used to say to myself, “This guy isn’t going to make it.”
We both laugh about that now. So, I figured … who better to kick off a new year and the first interview of the new season of Unemployable than Mr. Brogan?
Chris and I discuss:
- How to get the right stuff done
- Why an egg timer will become your best friend
- How 20 minutes can change your business and life
- The simple power behind his 3/5/1K system
- Why you should strive for a recurring revenue model
The Show Notes
Chris Brogan on Simple Systems for a Better Business and Lifestyle
Chris Brogan: I'm Chris Brogan. I run a company called Owner Media Group. We come up with plans, projects, and courses to help you build the kind of business that you want to build. I am ridiculously unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our free Profit Pillars course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Mr. Brogan, Happy New Year. How are you, sir?
Chris Brogan: Same to you, Father Clark. I am cheery. I'm glad that when the snow falls and my Camaro can't actually move an inch in the driveway that my business is the ultimate unemployable kind of business. And I'm thrilled to talk to you about those kinds of things, because those are my people. Those are people I love to talk to, the people who are trying to figure out how to sit in their Batman pajamas at their house.
Brian Clark: And you've got your Batman car, although I still don't understand the wisdom of having a Camaro in Boston in the winter.
Chris Brogan: Yeah, this is the last year I'm going to have it. I've had it for five plus years and I've been threatening to get a new car every winter. Every time the snow falls, I remember that I can't use it anymore. And my kids are bigger. My daughter's 13, she is just about six-feet tall, and my son is going to be 10 in a couple of days.
Brian Clark: How old’s your daughter did you say?
Chris Brogan: 13.
Brian Clark: Yeah, my daughter's 13, she's 5’ 9” and still growing. It's crazy.
Chris Brogan: It's nuts.
Brian Clark: We’ve got to quit feeding these kids.
Chris Brogan: The Camaro's not going to cut it anymore, so I've got to find something a little more family-minded, but still it has a little bit of cajones. So, I'm working on it.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I don't know if you remember, I used to have that Audi S8, and I moved to Colorado and I'm like, “This is worthless.” And now I drive this jeep that just — I run into things with it and I don't care. It's just awesome.
Chris Brogan: Nice.
How Have You Evolved in the Last 10 Years?
Brian Clark: All right. We're going to talk about systems today. It's a topic we've explored before on Unemployable. Can't stress the importance enough. But I really like exploring this with you, because we've been friends for a long time, a decade. God, that's crazy, I know.
I remember when we first met. If you'll forgive me for saying, you were a mess, my man. You just hopped around, you started things, you stopped things. You had the enthusiasm of the cutest puppy in the world, but you had no process. How did that change?
Chris Brogan: Yeah. I was thinking about it, because when you say to someone “You were a mess,” your reaction should be somewhat negative. And I was just like a happy dog shooting at everything. “I'll try this, let's try that, let's try this.” What's really great is that I basically prototyped my way in and out of hundreds of concepts while other people were like, “Oh, I don't know, should I do this?” I had already done a dozen things by the time they got that sentence out of their head.
So, what's good about that was that I learned thousands of ways how not to make a light bulb, like Edison said. Babe Ruth said something about every strike out is one step closer to the next home run. I'm totally down with that mindset, and I think you have to try smarter stuff. You can't just keep doing the same failure over and over again. That's not going to work out.
But along the way, I just came through lots of different iterations. I've had a lot of the same visions for the whole 10 years that you've known me, but it's just been me trying to come up with language that other people will get the way I seem to get it. I'm evidently a space alien from another planet, and so I've got to word things differently.
But now that I'm getting a little closer… In the last year or so, I did this really weird thing. Ryan Levesque's book Ask talks about this, but this isn't exactly why I did it. I did a survey and I said, “What really is your problem?” The reason I did this is because I launched a course that someone said they really wanted. And when I say “someone,” about 30 people had said, “How come you haven't launched this course?” So I did and 30 people bought it.
I was like, “Oh, that maybe was a bad idea,” because then I had to make a whole eight-week course for 30 people, which is a horrible return on investment, FYI, if you're doing math at home. In the process I did a little survey to say, “No, no, no, what do you really want? Because clearly, that wasn't what you wanted.”
A lot of people, 48+% of people, almost 49% of people said, “We need more systems. We need more tools to help us focus. We need more process.” And I was like, “Holy crap. I'm working on this stuff all the time because of how crazy and weird I am.” So I started designing process and things like that.
One of the things I did was I took a jumble of stuff that Rob Hatch and I had worked through before in his Work Like You're on Vacation program and some other stuff that I'd been doing to modify it. And I figured out this way that you could make your days a lot more aimed towards your big goals, because a lot of us work through our days and get to the end of them and realize we haven't done half of anything that is really worth anything. We worked really hard, but we didn't really accomplish a whole lot. And I thought, “There's got to be some really practical way I could teach people how to do that differently.”
That's sort of where I am now with stuff. I made this project called The 20 Minute Plan, and then we did this thing called 20 Minute Plan Jumpstart, which was a four-week way to explain it to people. And all of a sudden — kapow! I'm a lot more productive, all my other friends are more productive.
In general, Brian, one of the other things that has changed over the last 10 years is that everything I've been making has a really clear payload. Whereas I used to sell sort of like, “Do this thing, and gee whiz, life's going to be great.” Now I'm like, “I made a course called Online Course Maker. When you're done, guess what you have? An online course. I’ve got one called Earn More Customers. When you're done, guess what you have? More customers.”
What I've been doing is trying to come up with much more practical, much more obvious action stacks and giving people stuff that they can do something with. My goal is that these people who are unemployable, one of the things they complain about a lot, is that if they're still at their day job or they're at their grind, they're still saying, “Man, I just can't find the time to pick up this next business.” And I go, “Oh, I can help you, because I know there are three hours in your day if you devote something to it. And that if you work on that those three hours, and if you give just a certain 5%, I think we can thrive in it.”
So, I said a lot of words, but that's the evolution of Chris Brogan. It's so funny when people show up at my door and say, “I signed up, because I can't wait to hear more about blogging.” And I go, “Maybe you should talk to Darren.” That’s about where I go with that.
Brian Clark: There are a couple of things that jump out about that. One is that if you're out there beating your head against the wall, trying to think of this clever, innovative course to teach, and you just realize that after 10 years, Chris Brogan is right down there to the nuts and bolts. I mean, that's what most people need, and yet, we're always trying to over-complexify, which is not a word, but I like it.
How to Get the Right Stuff Done
Brian Clark: I am a big critic of what I call “foolish productivity.” The business people who all day, I mean, they're just running around from this to that to the other. They're busy, but they're not doing anything.
I am the opposite. I will say no to just about everything, but I will get that most important thing of the day done to move the ball forward. Little step each day, little step each day.
How do we get the right stuff done?
Chris Brogan: Well, there are a couple of components to make this work for you. And I would say that one of them is, I think a lot of people don't really understand even what they qualify as “the right stuff,” because they haven't really put together some sort of a path or an idea of a path of where do they want to head. It is a really crazy experience to me that when I ask people what's your mission or whatever, they shrug and go, “I don't know.”
That’s a nonstarter for me. If you're not really sure where you're going, it's kind of like blaming the GPS for not working, but you never set a destination into it. You could get in the car, you could drive around, you're going to see the map move around, but you're not going to get anywhere. You just have to pick some path and head towards it. “Oh, but what if it's the wrong path?” Great, then get off and get onto a new path. It's all fine. You're going to live.
So, the first thing with productivity — productivity is a dangerous thing. I'm friends with some of these people that do this kind of stuff. Mike Vardy, the Productivityist comes right straight to mind. And there are a few others, Eric Fisher and a couple other kids that are doing really cool stuff.
But a lot of times when I talked to a lot of them (not necessarily Vardy), they're immediately telling me which tool would be a good tool or they’re immediately telling me which way to sort of stack the poop. And I always tell people, “Maybe you don't even have to stack the poop. Maybe you're not even supposed to be in the poop business. Maybe you could go over here and just do this other thing instead.”
So, the very first start of figuring out how to get productive is: where exactly are you trying to aim? What's your goal?
Maybe you don't have much of a clue of a goal, but maybe it's “I want to make an extra two grand a month.” If that was your goal, I would say, “Great, who do you serve?” That's my next question out of my mouth. And if someone says, “I don’t know” – “Who do you like to work with?” “I don't know.” Answer that question. Start there. It's a tangible simple goal.
If you don't know that, I ask them the next question, “What are you good at?” “Well, I don't know. I read a lot, so I'm really good at catching people's mistakes. I'm a pretty good copy editor.” “Excellent. Who needs copy editing that would actually pay you for it?” Not authors. Authors don't pay for copy editing unless they have to. So, now what do we do?
Then I worked through that system. Then when we're done with all of those kind of really grindy, poignant, like poke you in the nostril, kind of questions and answers, usually it drops down to, “Okay, well, I want to make an extra two grand a month. I know that I can help with copy editing, but if I stretch myself a little more, I could probably help people package their online course. I know a lot of people are looking to make an online course, but just don't have the wherewithal to get it all together. And I know that people are willing to pay between 5 and 200,000 bucks.” Danny Iny sells some online course project that ultimately is in the hundreds of thousands, but it'll get you millions.
So, if you know that's the marketplace, you know that's what they're willing to pay and you think, “Hmm, I know a way that I could help these people build an online course and charge five grand a pop,” and that's a good number for you, then I would set up my systems so that you're going to market that, you're going to put up the product and all that. And I would just make every day have a bite towards that so that you're going to be able to launch it as soon as possible, and start testing out the process.
That’s the thing too. If you do all of those steps and you launch it and no one comes, after you do a little bit of troubleshooting, or if you find out that no one really wants that thing that you're trying to sell, then offer something else. You're not done. Little kids don't start a lemonade stand and then that's what they have to do until they're 100. So, why would you think about it any differently?
How to Move to Products from Client Work
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. Let's get a little more granular here, because a lot of people listening to this are freelancers or they’re consultants. They’re basically working with clients. And the next step for them is a non-client business model, whether that be a product, some kind of online service, whatever the case may be.
If someone came to you and they said, “Chris, I have a successful design business or whatever the case may be, but it's wearing me down. I'm tired of ungrateful clients, blah, blah, blah. How do I take this next step? How do I begin?”
Chris Brogan: Well, once you get past clients, when you start thinking, “How do I work in a world without clients?” Basically, businesses without clients are more or less picks and shovels kind of businesses. They’re products, not services. So, you have to start thinking, “How do I get people to roll their own?”
And that's when you start thinking about things like courses. That's when you start thinking about things like books, except books don't sell you a lot of money. They're sort of like a great business card.
What About Self-Published Ebooks?
Brian Clark: What do you think about the self-published ebook? You self-published, you've traditionally published. I know one made you more money than the other.
Chris Brogan: Yeah, I've done both. Trust Agents, which was a New York Times bestseller, Julien Smith and I probably made directly from the book about 30 grand, but over a million or so each in speaking and consulting. So, I mean, you can't knock that.
The other side of it, when I self-publish, I keep 70 – 80% of the money. And also, I have a lot more direction in how I make it work. There's a big payoff to both sides of that and there's a big drawback to both sides of it.
Usually, where authors go a little awry is that they keep thinking on either side of that equation — that once they've written the book, they've done the work. The book is the easiest part, strangely enough. It's the marketing that's really hard. There are people out there killing with marketing.
Brian Clark: That’s true of everything.
Chris Brogan: Yeah, well, no question. But authors have this dumb feeling that they finish the book and that the publisher's going to fix it for them and put it out. And other authors think, “I'm going to put this on Amazon where billions of items are bought a day and mine will be bought by the billion.” And that's never, ever, ever going to work.
Brian Clark: I see that mindset across the board. It's the “Build it and they'll come.” I mean, even with free content. You can give it away, but…
How Does the 3/5/1K System Apply to an Entrepreneur Creating Their First Product?
Brian Clark: So, back to the original scenario. You have what you call the 3/5/1K system. How would you apply that to the person trying to transition from the client world to perhaps their first product?
Chris Brogan: I'd set a target of “I'm going to build a product.” And then I would say that the very first step I'm going to do is I need to think of what the product's going to be. Everyone freezes right there – “I don't know what I want to do.’
The 3/5/1K, the three part of it is three hours broken into nine 20 minute slots. You just take a grid or you take a spreadsheet and you make nine 20 minute slots. You get a real-life egg timer, a real-life, physical, makes a noise egg timer, and you set it for 20 minutes when you're doing this process. And you only have to find 20 minutes at a spot to do this work.
People say, “Oh, I'm really busy, I can’t find…” If you can’t find 20 minutes, then your life is a crap show and your problem isn't anything I can teach you, because you're going to have to fix some baseline stuff first.
In those 20 minutes, use one or two of those slots to do some brainstorming of what product you're going to make. Just open up Evernote, write a list. You start thinking of course ideas, of how to launch your own corporate retreat for fly fishing. The corporate retreat guide for Idaho, blah, blah, blah. And you just start thinking of all the different ways that you could get someone who is going to want to buy this thing.
Then you have to go through that list and say, “Is this something I know how to teach?” Because if no, then that's probably not going to be a great thing. “Is this something that I think people would pay for? If so, what's the market? Can I get a lot of people to pay a little bit? Can I get a few people to pay a lot? How am I going to get that done?” Then start working on it that way.
This 3/5/1K is basically: give me three hours a day, work on 5% of improving just one target at a time. Think about a thousand true fans like Kevin Kelly's really old blog post, the 1,000 True Fans. Find, “Who are the right 1,000 people I need to satisfy, to please?” Because when we make stuff that we try to sell to everyone, we fail. When we make stuff that's just universally appealing, no one buys it. And so, we need to think, “How do I find exactly the people I want?”
I had a really interesting email back and forth with this woman who's in this 20 Minute Plan Jumpstart of mine. She said, “I'm having this trouble, because I'm really working to sell this course to people on how to get kids to go outdoors more and be out in the wilderness.” And I asked her the weirdest question. I said, “Does anyone want that course? Because my kids don't. My kids would be so glad to be stuck to the glass all day long. Neither one of them will ever sign up for it. And if I, as a parent, I sign them up for it, they're not going to do anything with it.”
She came back two days later and said, “You were totally right, no one wants that. I asked everybody that was on my list and zero people thought it was interesting.” And then she came up with a new course idea by asking them five really basic questions.
That's what you're doing with those three hours. With three hours, you're working on real basic specifics.
Here's the way to know if it's any good or not: is there some payload by the end of the 20 minutes? Obviously, making a list, you're going to see the list when you're done. If I'm going to make five phone calls to see if I can get people to get in my course and be my guests, my experts or whatever, then did I make five calls? Yes or no? These other five little checkboxes, yes or no?
You're looking for: what's something I could do tangibly in 20 or 40 minutes? And what's something I can actually have a measurable result by the time I'm done? And then how can I keep stacking these up towards one set goal until I nail that goal?
It's amazing how fast things can be accomplished when you start using this process, instead of doing what we all do, which is, “I've got to get to that a little later on.” And “later on” means pretty much never.
Brian Clark: Exactly. Interesting. When we did our course installment on processes, some of the feedback is almost, “This is too simple,” and the response is, “Are you doing it?”
Chris Brogan: 100% of the time, Brian.
The minute I hear, “That's too simple or that sounds pretty basic,” I always say, “Are you doing it?” And the answer is always “No.” And I always say, “Are you happy with your results?” The answer's always “No.” And I say, “Do you not see the correlation here? Do I have to draw with lines and pens and say you are not doing this thing and you are not successful?”
This is also, by the way, a false logic, because obviously maybe that thing isn't, “Are you eating marshmallows every day? No. Are you successful? No. Well, then, if you ate marshmallows every day…”
Brian Clark: Exactly. There is both correlation and causation here.
Chris Brogan: That's true. What I do, Brian, with the whole process and making it three hours, the whole process of making it measurable, you get to measure. You get to decide, “Did I or didn't I do this thing?” And if you did, then you decide whether or not you thought it was useful.
Tell Us About Your Monthly Membership Program
Brian Clark: Let's shift gears just a bit, because of course, if we all start somewhere, no one starts at the $100 a month membership program, which in many ways is the solopreneur or very small business dream model. You do that with your Owner Insider. Of course, it's the old 10-year overnight success thing. People look at where you're at, they don't realize how you got there.
Again, you are so good humored about it, but I mess with you all the time. And Lord knows, I've grown over the last decade in my ways and I needed to. But, you paid your dues, man. I mean, you did a lot of work to get to the point.
But it's (as we were talking about before we got on live) just like that ideal model. How is that Owner Insider program going? It's a blast, right? But it's an amazing business model.
Chris Brogan: I backed into it in a couple of ways. It's so weird how I got here.
So, a year-ish ago, Rob Hatch and I said – Rob is the president of the company I run. Rob and I said, “Look, let's try Jeff Walker's Launch,” because my friend Joel Comm said, “You should do Jeff Walker's Product Launch Formula.” And I said, “Dude, everyone does it and they do it really poorly.” And he said, “Yeah, well, lots of people do everything poorly. That doesn't mean you have to do it poorly.”
I guess I'd never thought about it in my head. I equated Jeff Walker's Product Launch Formula with something cheesy, because a lot of people who had access to my email were sending me really crappy copy/paste jobs of the baselines of what Walker teaches.
Brian Clark: Just to interject here, I've never done a Jeff Walker launch, although I remember buying it in 2005, the first iteration, just to see if I was missing anything. And that was the best thousand bucks I ever spent, because I realized I wasn't missing anything. All of our launches are modified on the same principles. So, no one ever says Copyblogger just did a Product Launch Formula launch. No, because you own it.
Chris Brogan: Exactly. And that's exactly what we did. So, I didn't spend 1,000 bucks. I bought his book, which I thought, “This is crazy.”
Brian Clark: A lot of it is actually in there.
Chris Brogan: For like an $11 book. By the way, I always tell people this, especially people listening who probably have or haven't considered it, I think his course is worth it. I still think it's worth it. I think that some of us, like you and I get there a little faster, and I think other people who are really struggling could really benefit from the course.
So, we did this launch thing. We started doing it in early 2015 and had immediate and ultimate success. Because before then, we were just always pushing our courses and just, “Hey, come get it, come get it, come get it. It's always there. You can get it whenever you want it.”
We launched with this sort of open and closed kind of mindset. But then with the idea that every time we close it, we'll try to make it better. And every time we make it better, we’ll up the price a little bit, but the next group of people who get it are going to love it. And the people who already bought it are going to get everything that we did for free, so they're pretty happy too. Because they were like, “Wow, Brogan launched this course, and then he gave us the upgrades right away. This is great.”
Everyone was happy. And I was like, “Oh, this is great.” So I would do a launch, we'd make, I don't know, 70, 80, 150,000. One of our launches that I talked about on Authority stage, Rainmaker event was like almost 300,000 bucks. And I was like, “This is great.”
But the problem is when you make that kind of money, it's sort of rollercoaster money. And then you'll suddenly be going, “Oh God, we're going to go broke in a month or two if we don't do this.”
I read John Warrillow’s book The Automatic Customer. I know you've read it and it's a great book. John's last book I liked it, but I didn't love it, and there was nothing for me to do with it. With this one, he sent it to me and he goes, “You're going to love this book.” And I was thinking, “I don't know, maybe.” And I read it and I was like, “Oh crap, I need to do this.”
What we did was instead of just having all our courses and our plans and everything that we offer at these different price points, we decided to really clean up everything. And we said, “There are basically three total price points. You could buy a course or something outright, that's fine, you can pay for it and it's yours. Or we've got a $20 plan called Unlimited where you can get all of our webinars,” which we charge 20 bucks a webinar because the webinars are not your typical 45 minutes of fluff, five minutes of pitch. Ours are all payload.
So, for 20 bucks, you get a pretty actionable — our Start Podcasting one for 20 bucks, it blows away a lot of the $1000 podcasting products out there, in so far as you can launch one by the time you're done, which we actually launched using the Rainmaker product. For 20 bucks, you get that.
Then for 100 bucks a month, you get Insider, which has all of our courses and our plans included in it for that 100 bucks a month. And it's like Netflix, once you stop paying, you don't get access to any of it anymore. But you can eat all of it if you want for the $100 a month. And that, of course, saves you money. Plus there's a little private Q&A every month. And there's also a private Slack group where you can ask questions back and forth amongst the group and all that.
I mean, my real ultimate goal is a nice even thousand, like the Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans. But even though we had to go through a few months of a bit of a financial dip, it's just recurring, flat revenue. And you know what an ad is going to get you and you know what asking people for something's going to get you. It's just much more predictable revenue, and it's just really changed anything.
For the people who are unemployable and trying to think, “How do I get to that spot?” This is Nirvana. I would say get The Automatic Customer and I would say apply it to this 20 Minute Plan thing I've come up with, with the 3/5/1K. It's a roadmap anyone can follow.
Brian Clark: Yes, absolutely. It is the holy grail. And if you are unfortunate enough to speak with people who want to give you money or acquire your company, they insist on recurring business models now, it's almost gotten silly. But everyone wants Netflix, everyone wants whatever that pays that annuity, because it is so predictable. I mean, I am not a finance guy, but the projections that these guys can bank against a steady low churn, recurring revenue model is just ridiculous.
Chris Brogan: Yeah, and I know we're not on Further right now or anything like that, but I can tell you that one thing I've learned in the last little while is that humans, we have a few things we crave, and one of them is stability. We try to make stability everywhere we go. So, if we're in a chaotic situation, we just try to like, “Okay, what's home, what's down, what's gravity, etc.?”
One thing to really think about with regards to that is that when somebody is trying to acquire your company, they want stability. So, they look at recurring revenue as stability. Now, it's a little trickier when they want it for their reasons, but when it comes to you and your reasons, it's going to be a scenario where you want to think about it, because it does feel a little pleasant to have a nice straight line.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. What's next for Chris Brogan? What's your thing for 2016?
Chris Brogan: Really, what I've decided is I have declared 2016 the year of personal leadership and I'm just doing my damnedest to show people how to be an owner in their own life as well as their business. We've got a whole bunch of themes laid out for the whole rest of the year to help people just move their business and themselves through it.
We look at it very holistically. We never work on just a person, because it's not like we’re life coaches. But we do work on your business with the mindset of your life in mind. Because the other weird thing people do, I mean, I was really, really successful in 2010 as a professional speaker, but it burned out everything else and it caused a real dent in my family. And I had to do a lot of changes to make my life better after that, even though it was the most revenue I'd ever made. So, we work a lot more with work-life alignment now.
In 2016, it's really just getting people through this 20 Minute Plan. It's getting them into the other kinds of courses that we think are going to help, either if they want to build online courses or whatever.
I'm just staying as close to my Owners as possible. I'm quizzing them, surveying, I'm nudging them. Every Monday morning, I send out a nudge email saying, “Where are you stuck? What can I do?” And I'm just staying pretty active in my inbox with the people that I serve.
I got that from you, Brian, because you and I were on a stage I think at PubCon. Remember that really kind of horrible interviewer where she asked a question and you…
Brian Clark: She thought I was Darren Rowse.
Chris Brogan: Yeah, that was the first problem. So, you stole the question away from her and you basically asked the question, I think, of like, “With all the opportunities in front of you, how do you decide what to do?” And you said exactly this, “I do whatever's going to serve the people that I'm serving right now, and that's how I make my decisions.”
That really pushed right into my soul. And that's what I've done ever since.
Brian Clark: Well, I am glad to be of service to you, my friend. It is excellent to catch up. And even better, that we got to make content out of it.
Chris Brogan: I know. How fun is that, Brian? 10 years and crawling along here. We're going to get there.
Brian Clark: All right, Everyone, thanks for tuning in. Thank you, Mr. Brogan, for your wisdom and your time. We will be back soon with more. Until then, keep going.