Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

The perils of being an entrepreneur

Monday, May 15th, 2017 | Business & Marketing, Life

Starting your own business it tough. Every day you run into problems that seem insurmountable. If I had £1 for every time, I had run into something that made me want to scream “ah, we’re fucked, this entire project is fucked” I would have a very viable business.

At every turn, you discover that you have to constantly raise your game and execute at a higher level. It’s like repeatedly being punched in the gut and told to get up and try harder.

Good audio is hard

Take my video courses, for example. I don’t shoot with cheap stuff. I have a full-frame SLR camera and a Rode shotgun microphone that mounts on the top.

But Udemy rejected my videos. They said there was too much echo on the video. By this point, I had already filmed an entire course. I should have used single-piece flow, as The Lean Startup advocates. But, in my defence, I did this originally, and only came up with the idea of also selling on Udemy later.

Nevertheless, I set about recording the video with a lav mic instead. This too failed. To get the focus correct, I need to monitor it on my laptop. But this sends the laptop fan into overdrive, noise that the lav mic picks up.

Funnels gone wrong

How hard is it sell on the internet? First, try giving your stuff away, and see how hard that is.

The answer is really hard. In March, I launched registration for Worfolk Anxiety’s 30-Day Challenge. A month of free coaching: who could say no? A lot of people, apparently. Initial acquisition costs were £10 per person. People would click the ad, read the entire long-form sales letter about what we were offering, and then leave.

This cost eventually came way down, to the point where it was averaging less than £1 for the entire campaign. I tweaked the copy, and the targeting and we saw better results.

Rejected ads

The problems with the funnel only arrived after I had already faced down one disaster. Having designed the ads, set the targeting and built the landing pages I proudly hit submit on the Facebook ads to turn them on.

And Facebook said “no”.

They don’t allow adverts to do with mental health. The reason is that Facebook knows way too much about you. But they don’t want to admit they have way more data on you than the NSA. So they don’t let advertisers mention it.

All of my beautiful copy using personal and friendly language had to be scraped and replaced by cold and impersonal statements. No wonder my acquisition costs were so high.

I could go elsewhere for the ads, of course. In fact, I tried. I went to Pinterest. But a bug in their software meant that you couldn’t create an audience in the UK.

Failed payments

There was one light at the end of the tunnel: someone went through my sales funnel, clicking on a newsletter ad, signing up, completing the double opt-in, hitting the tripwire page and deciding to take advantage of the hefty discount on my book that I offer new subscribers.

And then the payment failed.

Not just failed but failed silently. None of my error reporting picked anything up. Stripe didn’t pick anything up. The session recordings did not pick anything up.

I had lost my first sale on the project, and I didn’t even know why. I tried it with my own credit card, and it worked fine.

That was a crushing day. Luckily, someone else bought it the next day, and the feeling of making your first sale on any project is ecstasy. It’s amazing.

Sailing the sea of troubles

I picked out a few examples of the “oh shit” moments I’ve had over the past few months. But there have been loads more.

Phoney copyright claims against my YouTube videos, holding them hostage. 40% of people not clicking the double opt-in email. Heroku outages. Facebook custom audiences being filled with incorrect data. Bloggers never answering your emails. Apple refusing to give you a sandbox account to test Apple Pay.

Every day you run into things that stop you in your tracks.

But then you find a way a past them. Or a compromise. Or change strategy. Or just pick yourself up, shrug it off, and find a different way to move forward.

This process has to make you more resilient. It teaches you that all is not lost.

I’ve found a new monger!

Friday, April 28th, 2017 | Life

As everyone knows, there are four primary types of monger. A fishmonger, a rumour monger, an ironmonger and a warmonger.

I turned out to be a popular phone-in on Alan Partridge’s radio show.

We’re asking, what is the worst monger? Iron, fish… rumour… or war?

But, last week, my world was turned on its head. There is a fifth kind of monger! A “costermonger”. Here is the description from Wikipedia:

Costermonger, coster, or costard is a street seller of fruit and vegetables, in London and other British towns. Costermongers were ubiquitous in mid-Victorian England, and some are still found in markets. As usual with street-sellers, they would use a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention. The costermonger’s cart might be stationary at a market stall, or mobile (horse-drawn or wheelbarrow).

What an age to be alive.

Udemy courses

Friday, February 17th, 2017 | Life

I have been binge-learning on Udemy. If you have not heard of it, Udemy is an online education platform where people can buy and sell courses. They offer a range of features such as text, slides, quizzes and exercises. In practice, though, everyone just uses video lessons.

The pricing is a bit of a joke as well. You regularly see courses marked at £100-200. However, you never pay that. It is like the sofa store with a never-ending sale. My three most recent courses cost me £10, £15 and £15. At this point, you would be a sucker to pay more: if the sale ever did end you could just wait for the next one to start.

Here are the ones I have enjoyed:

Graphic Design Masterclass

This teaches the basics of graphic design using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. I was hoping that there were some core concepts that by learning I could greatly improve my graphic design skills. However, I knew almost all of it. There is no big secret: it is just being able to apply it that makes a great designer.

Nevertheless, the course was fun and it was useful to have a refresher on all of those principles.

The Complete Video Production Bootcamp

This teaches you everything you need to know about producing high-quality videos. It is delivered by a set of three instructors. As film-makers, their video lessons are excellent, of course. They cover setting up shots, lighting, sound, editing and distribution.

Modern React with Redux

I have used React before, but my Redux knowledge was limited. This was a great course to get me up-to-speed. The instructor, Stephen Grider, takes the time to explain everything he is doing. This can be a little slow at times but does ensure you come away with a solid understanding. I have just started his course Webpack 2.

The top floor

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017 | Life, Photos

We moved into our apartment three years ago. We are on the fourth floor, but the building goes much higher. For years, we talked about going up to the top floor and seeing what the view was like. But we never did. I am not sure why. It felt silly to schedule it in, but we never felt like a spontaneous trip.

Until now.

Turns out that the view up there was not that exciting. It looks a lot like the view from our balcony, but with a slightly better overview of the car park. Probably not worth the three-year wait… You can at least see the town hall in the way we used to be able to become MPEC built more of their offices.

Funerals

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 | Family & Parenting, Life, Thoughts

I have been meaning to write about funerals for a while. Looking back, I think there has been quite a lot of emotional resistance, so I will probably keep this post brief.

I was only six when both my grandfathers passed away, and not much older when my uncle died. Therefore, when my grandma passed away in August, it was the first funeral I had been to as an adult and the first one where I really knew what was going on.

In a way, I was actually curious to see how I would cope with the whole affair. For years I had known that eventually, someone would die, and had no idea how it would affect me. It turns out that I coped just fine. There was no emotional breakdown, nor much in the way of tears. Nor was it a surprise, though: when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I knew we were on the clock.

Mostly, I felt bitter at the world for my own selfish reasons. Venla, who arrived two months later, would have been her first great-grandchild. I felt I had failed her in some way.

It has been a while since I have been truly nervous before giving a speech. Even my wedding was fine. But delivering the eulogy was a tough one. I always joked at my public speaking club “humour improves any speech: but I have not had a chance to try it out in a eulogy yet”. Well, now I have had that chance, and I can confirm it is a good idea. If anything, humour is even more important at occasions that are bound to include an element of sadness.

The truth is, I already had a few ideas for what I was going to say, should I be called upon to give a eulogy. Because that is what happens when you have an anxious mind that never switches off: you think about all the horrible things that could happen to everyone you love, and what you would do if it happened.

That all sounds very gloomy, and that is not the message I want to convey. Actually, funerals are fun. They are enjoyable, in a macabre way. Not because it is a celebration of life, which it is, but because it is a time when an entirely family comes together.

Over the past year, I have witnessed match and dispatch of the hatch-match-dispatch triangle. These events are important. They bring families together, using social rules and customs that other events have not been able to achieve. You get to see people you do not normally see, and bond over an emotional event, forming stronger ties between those that remain.

Funerals are always going to be bittersweet by nature. But they provide more than closure. More than a celebration of someone’s life. They are part of the social glue that help hold families together.

2016 in pictures

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 | Life, Photos

James’s leaving do, before he departs for South Kora.

The first scan of Baby Worfolk.

The 20-week scan of Elina Junior.

Me dying after completing the Leeds Half Marathon.

Our honeymoon in Iceland.

Group trip to Anglesey.

My grandma passing away.

The arrival of Baby Worfolk.

Venla gets a name and starts to grow. Here she is with a very tired daddy.

The expanded family together for the first time.

2016 in review

Sunday, January 1st, 2017 | Life

Things started strong in January. I finished reading all the books while Finland junior team won the ice hockey world championship. We had fish month and the Humanist Action Group organised a food drive for local homeless shelters. James said goodbye to us and hello to South Korea.

In February we launched the print edition of the Leeds Restaurant Guide while Denver bested Carolina in Super Bowl 50. We rocked out at Sunday Assembly and I took the middle class plunge and bought a stand mixer.

We had a family get-together for Mother’s Day in March. I went fishing for the first time and was cruely cheated in the Sky bake-off. I received my Advanced Communicator Silver award from Toastmasters, but failed to win the Yorkshire final for the first time ever. We had Nordic month and went duck racing.

After three months if waiting, we finally announced that Elina was pregnant: on April Fool’s Day. The wait almost killed me but was completely worth it. A great way to start April. I completed my first 20k run and my novel was published.

May started off cold. It was mostly less than 10 degrees. Except for the day of the Leeds Half Marathon, when it went up to 25. At least it was warm enough to barbeque. Elina had her 20-week scan and I launched a new version of my website. Democracy won in Wales, where the Loony Party achived a record 0.6% of the Welsh Assembly vote, and was defeated when the government announced it was not interested in respecting the will of the people. Ukraine triumphed in Eurovision and Leciester were crowned the unlikely champions of the Premier League. Finland went into the world ice hockey final unbeaten, only to cruelly lose 1-0 to Canada.

We had our honeymoon in June, flying to Iceland in style, relaxing in the Blue Lagoon and taking in the sights of Gullfuss, Geysir, Snæfellsnes, whales and of course the Icelandic Phallological Museum. I came home sun burnt. It was a sad month for politics: Brexit happened and Jo Cox was murdered. West Yorkshire Humanists held their AGM, announcing a big increase in membership, and we once again rocked out at Sunday Assembly Leeds. I released the Word Search PHP library and completed the Leeds 10k, going sub-60 for the first time with a result of 59:59. England crashed out of Euro 2016 in a miserable fashion.

I had finally managed to lose some weight by the time July came around. We packed out bags and headed to Anglesey for our annual group trip. Michelle flew in from China to attend. More music was made at Sunday Assembly. It was picnic month: both the Finnish picnic and the Humanist picnic took place.

In August Team GB crushed it at the Rio Olympics, finishing second in the medals table. Tradgy stuck as my grandma passed away just two months before her fist great grandchild was due to arrive. We celebrated Leeds Pride and launched Rena Men. I helped Sky Sports go live with their new Premier League clips system.

It was still warm enough to eat outside in September. I finally cracked the secrets to making a good pizza and we had sauce month. Anxiety Leeds held a picnic. Yarndale look place and Jeremy Coryn won a second Labour leadership election.

October was dominated by the arrival of Baby Worfolk, who later turned out to be called Venla. We drank champagne and smoked chocolate cigars. Venla spent the month laying around and looking cute. The Leeds Restaurant Guide was made available on iBooks as was my novel, Summer on the Horizon. Elina and I celebrated our first anniversary and Team Europe was bested in the Ryder Cup. At the end of the month, I turned 30 and the Victoria Gate shopping centre opened.

The big news in November was Donald Trump being elected US president. I felt this rather overshadows the launch of Worfolk Anxiety Management and my new book, Technical Anxiety. I smashed it in the Abbey Dash, setting a new 10k personal best of 56:45 – a full 10 minutes faster than my previous Dash (though that one was a personal worst). Finnish Christmas Carols were sung.

In December we celebrated my sister’s birthday and I launched the Worfolk Anxiety Podcast. Venla met her other grandma for the first time, and we took a family trip to Tropical World. I said goodbye to long-time client Sky Sports. West Yorkshire Humanists held their Winter Social and Holiday Food Drive for local homeless shelters. My mum turned 60. I went sub-28 in Parkrun for the first time while my dad completed his 100th.

Sky leaving do

Thursday, December 29th, 2016 | Life

I have been working with Sky Sports as a client for a few years now. However, at the end of December, I decided it was time to move on to pastures new and said goodbye. It has been a great place to be a part of, and we have done some cool stuff with technology. I hope they can continue a level of independence even if the Murdock takeover goes through.

They were good enough to throw me a rather large leaving party.

Sure, some labelled it as a “Christmas party” instead, and pointed out that I also had a leaving do earlier in the week at the Lamb & Flag. But those in the inner circle knew what was really going on. It was held at the New Dock Hall, which is opposite the Royal Armouries.

The food was pretty poor. Some kind of vegetable soup served independently of any bread, followed by a sad roast chicken dinner. The generic chocolate dessert made up for it a little, but the nazi waiters refused to let us keep the desserts of the two people who had not been able to make it, despite the fact that Sky had already paid for those meals.

The drinks prices were also a joke. £7 to pre-order a jug of orange juice. Orange juice! Or, you could have a bottle of cider, for which I was charged over £5. Not recommended as a venue.

Luckily, these events are defined by the company you keep, and not the quality of the food and drink, so all was well. I would like to thank everyone who made the effort to attend my leaving do, especially the people who had no idea who I was.

2017: My year of marketing

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016 | Life

In my book Technical Anxiety I write about the important of life-long learning. Continued education and self-improvement is an essential part of keeping the mind healthy. Well, let it not be said that I do not practice what I preach. I am declaring 2017 my year of learning about marketing.

Why marketing? Because it is a skill I really lack, and could really use.

Take the Leeds Restaurant Guide for example. Sales have been underwhelming. Why is that? It could be because the quality of the book is poor. I do not accept that. It took us 18 months to put together, we went round over 250 restaurants, painstakingly reviewing them, and everyone has a high-quality photo taken by me.

Assuming it is a good product then, the next likely explanation is that the marketing of the book has been poor. This is probably true. It was not that I did not try. I set up a lovely website. I ran Facebook ads. I made certificates for every four and five-star restaurant in Leeds and hand delivered them. A few of them went up in windows. I contacted prominent Leeds foodie bloggers. I sent copies out for review.

Despite al of this, it did not end up as a Yorkshire Evening Post best seller (I assume they have a list, to compete with the New York Times).

You could also argue that maybe I just made a product nobody wanted. This could also be true. Maybe people are happy with the quality of the reviews on Trip Advisor (for reference, here is why you should not be). But in this case, too, the problem is marketing. After all, product design is one of the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place, promotion).

So this year I am throwing myself into learning about marketing. I said 2017 to give the post a punchier title, but I have already begun. Luckily, marketers, being in the business of marketing, make it easy for you to find them and offer some great content, often for free. My reading list is stacked high once again and I have enrolled on a course too.

I might blog more about different things I am reading, but for now, here is a list of cool stuff to check out:

Scientific Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins. This is the bible of internet marketing. All of the big marketers talk about it. But here is the craziest thing: it was written in 1923! Nearly 100 years later, the rules Hopkins laid down for marketing are still incredibly applicable today. Technology may change but human psychology does not.

The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza. Sean is the best teacher I have found so far. He is a lovely guy (also a big foodie, which is perhaps why I like him), gives loads of stuff away for free, and answers all of his emails personally. He as a website, PsychoTactics, and a podcast, Three Month Vacation. The best way to get a feeling of how popular he is is to read these reviews of rival marketing school Zero to Launch.

Podcasts: I am really enjoying Digital Marketer which gives you some great advice on Facebook advertising, and Self Made Man by Mike Dillard.

Finnish Christmas Carols 2016

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 | Life

Finnish Christmas Carols are held in Leeds every year, on the last Saturday in November. Lutheranism is the main brand of Christianity in Finland so appropriately, it is held in St. Luke’s Lutheran church in Headingley. The same venue as the Finnish [language] Saturday school takes place.

This is the first year that we took Venla (obviously). Did she enjoy it? Who knows, because she slept through the entire thing.

finnish-christmas-carols-2016

Despite the fact that she was sleeping for most of it, she did dance along to the children’s song. I was not going to let her miss that, unconscious or not.

There is always a bring-and-share supper after the service. We brought cake. This year it featured a lot of people looking at our baby and saying things like “that is a nice baby”. Or, commonly, “that is a very calm baby you have there.” Because, like all babies, she is remarkably calm when other people are around, saving all the crying up for when she gets home.

Unfortunately, I was from singing along for the same reason as last year: my Finnish is not good enough, nor is my knowledge of English carols.