3 Ideas I’ve Been Thinking About Lately

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing”

-Aristotle

I just looked back through my blog posts and it turns out this is my 7th post. My goal is to complete at least 1 post per week, either giving an update on my progress, sharing interesting lessons I’ve learned, or at a minimum, providing value in one way or another. At this rate I should have 14 total blog posts by the end of this year and 66 blog posts by the end of 2019.

As each posts averages around 1500 words per post, this will put me at 21,000 words by the end of this year and about 100,000 words by the end of 2019. The cool thing about reaching 100,000 words is the average adult book is around 100,000 words. Not to say my blog will be anywhere near the quality of a book, but to say that I  wrote enough words to equal that of a book is a pretty cool goal I never thought I could reach. In addition to this, as I tend to spend about 3 hours minimum per blog post, this will have me at almost 200 hours spent writing out and clarifying my thoughts which, in my eyes, is a great long-term investment in my communication skills.

Even though I am only in my 7th blog post, the past 6 weeks have been such a great learning experience in regards to things ranging from learning to clearly express my thoughts, marketing, figuring out what I want to write about, self-discipline, being a “professional” vs. being authentic, and more. In this post, I wanted to focus on 3 interesting ideas I either learned from other people or just learned in the process so far.

Those 3 ideas are:

  • Finding your smallest viable audience
  • Understanding you don’t know what you don’t know
  • The realization that it is hard going against the grain

Let’s start digging in….

Smallest viable audience

People close to me know I am a huge fanatic of podcasts, I came to the realization the other day that most of my sentences start with the phrase “I was listening to this podcast the other day and learned….” For those who are not familiar, a podcast is essentially just an audio file which is available for download on the internet. I think of them as radio shows that are recorded and available to be listened to anytime.

My favorite podcast is the Tim Ferriss podcast. In this podcast, Tim Ferriss, who became notable after writing The 4-hour Work Week, interviews people who are at the top of their game in whatever their respective field is. Past guests include Tony Robbins, Ray Dalio, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Foxx, Peter Thiel, and many more. If you want to give his podcast a try I recommend starting with #138 starring Naval Ravikant, this podcast was the one that captured my attention and really had a life-changing effect on my life.

One of Tim’s newest podcast has a returning guest, Seth Godin, who is very well know within the world of marketing. Seth is such a clear thinker and does an amazing job of expressing his thoughts in an easy-to-understand way which I think is a result of his years of blogging. Though I haven’t read any of Seth’s books yet, I have listened to all of his podcasts with Tim and have learned a huge amount about marketing. I will definitely be adding his newest book, This is Marketing, to my Amazon Kindle in the near future.

On this podcast, Tim asks Seth a variety of very interesting questions ranging from how to get over the fear of “not feeling qualified to write about a specific topic,” to understanding the psychology behind marketing, to focusing on the what Seth calls the smallest viable audience.

Though all of Seth’s topics are worthy of their own blog post, this last topic stuck out to me as it really seemed contrarian to everything I knew. In short, Seth states marketers need to be very specific about who they are marketing to. The analogy Seth uses is sushi shops in New York City. He states that most sushi places in NYC are interchangeable. Their sushi prices are roughly the same, they cater to people who have similar budgets, and their designs are more or less the same. However, if you owned a sushi shop that could only be open 4 hours a week and charged $400 per meal, you would have eliminated most of the customers who would otherwise go to the cheaper, more interchangeable sushi shops. The only people who would be left would be those who want something that can’t be found at a traditional sushi shop, you would now be at the edge of customers looking for sushi.

The advantage, in Seth’s eyes, to catering to these “edge customers” is the fact that competition is lower and, therefore, it is harder for these customers to find the product or solution they are looking for. In other words, the amount of restaurants catering to these customers is lower and, therefore, each restaurant is less of a commodity.

For me, coming from a background with very little marketing experience, this idea was very counterintuitive. I was always under the impression I should try and cater to as many people as possible. It never occurred to me if I tried to cater to everyone my product would be so generalized it would in the end cater to no one.

With this is mind, I have really been working hard to define who my minimum viable audience is. Once I get an idea of who this audience is, it will help me better understand the types of problems they are trying to solve and hopefully put me in a better position to create content that will help them solve those problems. I found a great post on Quicksprout going over this idea which lead me down a whole other rabbit hole. This brings me to my next topic…

You don’t know what you don’t know (And that’s okay!)

This is a lesson I have learned over and over in my life anytime I try and learn something new. Let me give a recent example. Last year I decided to move to Spain for 1 year to learn the Spanish language. The motivations for this stemmed from being half Colombian yet not having the ability to speak my mother’s native language and thus, never really feeling like I could identify myself as someone of latin descent.

My original plan was to go to school for 3-6 months to build a foundation in speaking. Then, I planned on getting an internship at a Spanish company where I would get the real world speaking experience I needed to get myself conversationally fluent.

Once I started attending Spanish classes I began to realize there were a bunch of other milestones I needed to accomplish as well, some of those included:

  • Learning the accent of a Spaniard: As I first started learning Spanish by being around my family, I had an accent closer to that of someone from South America than someone from Spain. As I was in Spain though, I thought it was only right to speak like the local people, so, in addition to trying to understand the basics of speaking a new language I tried to dedicate time to sounding like someone from Spain too.
  • Speaking with perfect sentence structure: I used to be scared of actually speaking in front of people as my sentence structure wasn’t completely “correct” by native standards. This fear of speaking kept me from being vulnerable and trying to practice my Spanish with people better than me.
  • Developing a vast vocabulary: On top of this I had a limited vocabulary which made my sentences, when I actually did speak, feel really simple and I was self-conscious of this.
  • Being able to leave your ego at the door: As I had been around a decent amount of Spanish as a kid I could pronounce words a little better than a lot of my classmates. This might sound like a good thing but when I tried talking to native speakers they would assume I could speak natively as well and they would start speaking so fast I would get lost and feel too embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they said more simply.

After my 6 months of school I somehow managed to obtain an internship as a salesperson at one of Spain’s largest 5-gallon water bottle delivery companies. My role within the company was to be on their outside sales team, which just meant our team was out on the streets trying to make sales as opposed to an inside sales team who sells by phone or email. In the beginning I shadowed each person on the 10-person sales team to learn the ins and outs of the job.

To give some more background, my level of Spanish was pretty basic once I entered the company. Sure, I could introduce myself and say simple things like “Hi, I’m from the US” but negotiating or convincing someone to buy a product from me was way beyond my level. In the beginning I spent a lot of time just listening. I was trying to understand everything from basic conversations to when the team was giving their sales pitch in Spanish. I’m not going to lie, it was hard at first, in our morning sales meetings the team spoke so fast I could barely pick out the main ideas, their sales pitches mostly went over my head, and when all the guys were together joking around, they spoke so fast and used so much slang they could have been speaking Arabic for all I knew.

However, my boss made it clear that I had 1 month of training with the rest of the team before he was going to send me out on my own and expect me to start meeting sales goals. This pressure forced me to focus on becoming as proficient as I could within the short amount of time available. I started by recording my teammates give their sales pitches. I then transcribed the audio to text. With the help of the sales teams I cut out any “fluff” in the pitch and focused on the most important parts. I then started memorizing the pitch and practicing it over and over in my room. Once I could memorize a decent amount of the pitch, I started recording myself to see how I sounded and looked. I then started practicing with my roommates who were from Spain to get feedback on my pronunciation and flow.

The first time I gave the sales pitch myself I walked in to the store, greeted the store owner, then proceeded to forget the entire sales pitch…thankfully I was with a member from my team who stepped in and took care of everything. This process repeated until the pitch was no longer something I had to think about, it became subconscious. With time I got to the point where I could confidently walk in to a store myself, give a sales pitch, negotiate with the store owner on pricing, and even make sales.

The key takeaway from this story for me was that at the end of the day, things like perfecting my Spanish accent and talking with perfect sentence structure were “nice to haves.” What I needed to focus on in the beginning was being able to communicate a basic message to the person I was speaking to, and, do this enough to the point that I didn’t have to consciously think about what I was saying.

Now, if I abstract the lesson from this story one more level, I come to the conclusion that in learning anything new there are probably a million things you can try and master. The reality though is you can’t “boil the ocean,” in other words, you can’t master everything at once. What do you do then? You focus on The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) which essentially states for many things in life approximately 80% of the output will be the result of 20% of the inputs. In other words, of the 100% of the things you are doing, in my case it included trying to perfect the Spanish accent, trying to talk with perfect sentence structure, etc. only about 20% of those efforts can result in most of your desired results. Therefore, you should focus your time and energy on that 20%.

Its hard going against the grain (i.e. its hard breaking from the norm)

“Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.” Gary Keller, The One Thing

As I recently decided to make financial freedom one of the top priorities in my life, the biggest near-term goals I am trying to accomplish include paying off my high-interest debt and building a 6-12 month emergency fund. Along with these near-term goals are the longer-term goals of reducing my spending to the few things in life that are either necessities or actually bring me happiness. Now, as I have aggressive goals for paying off my debt and building my emergency fund I have basically cut all unnecessary spending, at least for the moment, which includes things like eating out at restaurants, purchasing alcohol, or anything else that is more of a “nice-to-have” vs a necessity.

The interesting part for me was that the reduced spending wasn’t all that difficult from a self-control perspective and, contrary to what I may have initially thought, didn’t have much of an affect on my levels of happiness. What was hard though was constantly having to tell friends and family I couldn’t go out with them to eat, to grab a drink, to go skiing, etc. and then having to defend why I wasn’t spending money. I initially thought I could go out “just once,” or tried to justify spending money as “I really didn’t do it that often.” However, I noticed I kept using those excuses over and over and in the end I was actually spending much more money that I thought I was.

Now, rather than trying to rationalize why I may go out one night but not another, I just typically tell people I’m on a budget lockdown at the moment and really can’t spend money outside of my necessities. I have to admit, I do enjoy going out with my friends and being able to drink, have fun, and spend money when it leads to a good time. I’m just focusing on the delayed gratification for now. The beauty for me is I use the urge to go out with my friends to add more motivation to get to my goals faster and not have to worry about my finances as much.

Are you on the path to achieving big goals in your life? If so, I would love to hear about how you got started and how things are going. If not, what is stopping you? Let me know in the comments below!

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