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Drew: Hey, everybody. This is Drew Sanocki of the Nerd Marketing Podcast. Today I want to talk about the five things I learned while I was traveling and working. It’s kind of funny that the number one question I get is not about, like, “What was the coolest thing you saw?” or “Where were the nicest people?” or “Where was the best food?” The number one question I get from entrepreneurs is, number one, “Did you work?” and number two, “How did you work?”
To answer those questions, I put this podcast together. Yes, I did work, in short. I have a couple of different businesses I’m involved in. The primary one I’d like to talk about here is growthengines.io. That is an agency catering to direct-to-consumer brands and to private equity funds that often buy or sell those brands. That business today is bigger than when I left. I think a big reason is because I embraced these five things I’m going to talk about today.
Without further ado, the number one observation that I have after six months abroad or seven months abroad is that, really, the 80/20 rule reigns supreme. I know I beat that dead horse all the time on this podcast, but you don’t fully understand it, you’re not forced to comprehend it until you are on some remote island in the Caribbean, and there’s no WiFi, except for the one hour when you’re going through the airport on the way in and on the way out. I mean, talk about a constraint.
What that forced me to do is, you can’t be online all the time. What you really need to do is think through what are the most important things you need to do that week, such that when you hit a WiFi connection or can get cell phone coverage, then you can log back on and accomplish those things.
So, what didn’t I do during those times? I mean, really, the 80% of my work that doesn’t give me any results, and those were things like this podcast, for one. Actually, the podcast gives me results, but I dropped it. I stopped doing the podcast. Bookkeeping. Tinkering on my blog. I mean, how much time do I spend, do you spend, messing around, moving fonts on your blog or configuring colors or something, just so it looks nice? Really, there was no time for that at all. So, drop that.
Coffees and calls. These two things are a huge time suck, especially when you’re in a city like I am, where there are a lot of people, and everybody wants to meet, and “Hey, Drew, you want to grab coffee?” or “You want to hop on a call here?” If you add that time up, those are hours every week I would spend at coffees or on phone calls. So, I really could not do those at all. Those got dropped. Calls to my mother, for example, also got dropped. I mean, completely unessential, right? I mean, I don’t need to call my mom. So, I would go months without calling her. No, I didn’t, but reduced amount of time calling my mother.
You’ll block out so much non-essential stuff. The business still grew, as long as I was accomplishing the most important things, those 20% that drive 80% of the results. I’d say, as an action step for you, maybe put yourself mentally on that Caribbean island for four days a week. Then on the fifth day, block off time to do all your important tasks. Like, can you get through a week next week without doing anything Monday through Thursday and then getting everything accomplished on Friday? How liberating would that be if your business still cranked along with you operating at that pace? You’d have freed up four other days a week to do some high-leverage stuff. So, that’s the number one takeaway: the 80/20 rule reigns supreme.
Number two is, you’ve got to be able to delegate to just great, reliable, competent people. I could not do 80/20 without a team. That’s something I kind of laugh about. The productivity experts I listen to: Ari Meisel, and Tim Ferriss, and guys like that, they all talk about the 80/20, but it’s one of those, like, easier said than done. If you actually knew the 20% of your activity that drove 80% of the results, of course, you’d focus on them; but, a lot of times you don’t. Right?
Another thing they don’t mention is, it’s hard to do without a team. How do you only do the 20% and delegate the 80% if you’re surrounded by idiots, and that other 80% never gets done? In my case, two people really enabled me to travel and do this trip. The number one’s my business partner, Michael Epstein. He really runs the day-to-day at Growth Engines, and his strengths make up for my weaknesses. I know myself well enough to know I am an entrepreneur at heart. I like big ideas. I like changing the subject. I like thinking a lot about different things. I have weaknesses in attention to detail and follow-through. I mean, witness my podcast schedule for the last year.
Well, Epstein’s the opposite. You ask him to do something with you, and he’s going to see that thing through. He’s just so meticulous. He’s going to make sure that every week, day in, day out, the business operates. So, he was a big reason I was able to do my trip, in that the day-to-day operations, the things that needed to get done through the week, got done, because Epstein was project-managing them. That was probably my top person.
My second person would be my assistant, Audrey. I don’t know. I’m just going to say, the joy of being in line in an airport: your kids are screaming and you’re trying to plan, two or three hops away, hotels and flights. I think maybe I was in Berlin, and the next week I knew I was going to be in Florence, and just being able to pull up Slack on my phone and say, “Hey, find me a kids’ tour of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence … I shut my phone off, go on the flight, and I land, and Audrey’s gotten back to me already with the top kids’ tours in Florence and, “Would you like me to set them up?”
That was so empowering, because when you’re traveling with a family, your focus has to be on the kids and on the family. The last thing you want to be doing is going through a million websites to try to find the perfect tour, or hotel, or really, anything. Audrey has been my second brain, from copywriting to scheduling to travel arrangements, and I couldn’t recommend her more.
She works with a service called Worldwide101, which I swear by. I love Worldwide101. There’s a million different kinds of assistants you can get out there; but, what I liked about Worldwide101 is that they hire really competent people, and they’re kind of up-to-speed from the get-go. So, my action step for you would be, if you’re making over $100,000 a year, you should have an assistant yesterday. I mean, that’s probably the number one recommendation I can make to you. They’re not that expensive. Really, just the time you create by offloading most of your nonessential tasks to an assistant will more than make up for the money you spend. I like Worldwide101. Highly recommend it.
My third work observation from six months abroad is that systems and automation allow you to scale. Well, you say, “Of course, they do.” It’s sort of like an alternative to delegation. If you’ve got a lot of stuff to do, you can either delegate it to a business partner, or an assistant, or something like that, or systemize it so you never have to do it again.
There’s just so many ways to systemize things. I like starting with Zapier or IFTTT for my business and just everyday going through what I need to do on my calendar, in my email and seeing what I can systematize. By the end of six months, a lot was on autopilot.
I love one service here that I want to talk about, SaneBox. SaneBox really helps you organize your inbox. I think I heard about it from someone on this podcast. I love it, and I just created a very simple system. SaneBox allows you to delegate access to an assistant; so, my assistant, Audrey is in my inbox. Then, as you process your emails each day, you can tell SaneBox whether it’s an important email or not. If you tell SaneBox that, “Hey, these emails are not important,” SaneBox learns enough so that the next time you get that similar email from that contact, it will go into a different folder, be treated differently.
Over time, I focused on triaging. I focused on really just responding to and processing the most important emails. Everything I deemed not important went to another inbox, another box in my Gmail. Audrey was in that box and she was processing them. Those were things like podcast invites, or partnership proposals, or “Hey, let’s get on the phone and talk about something.” Those all went to Audrey.
Audrey then had canned responses that she would use to replay to these people. These are things I developed with her, or would just dictate into a voicemail, and things like, “Hey, Drew’s on a six-month trip. He’s not taking appointments for this month,” or “He’s going to be online on this day when he’s in Berlin. Let’s schedule some calls back-to-back.” She would follow up with all those requests. If they involved appointments for me, she knew to put them on my calendar and stack them back-to-back. Calls are a great example. I like them stacked back-to-back in 15-minute increments. She also had my travel calendar, so she knew when I would be online.
That’s just one example of the way you can really go through one of your big processes that’s taking a lot of time … in my case, processing email … and work with an assistant and a tool … in my case, SaneBox … to kind of build a better system. By the end of the trip, I want to say that 1% of my emails, maybe, was floating up to me. I mean, I would check email every day and I’d get two or three emails that I really needed to pay attention to … They were from clients or from businesses I’m looking at … and nothing else. Again, to extend the mother joke, my mom knew she had to go through Audrey to get ahold of me.
But systems and automation, build them where you can. Again, action item next week: maybe take SaneBox for a spin. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Okay. The third thing I learned on this trip about being productive while I’m traveling is that you should really embrace slow work. This is something I started getting into before I left. I read this book Deep Work by Cal Newport. Highly recommend it. He makes the argument that, in order to truly build something, to do something significant, you need structured, dedicated alone time, like hours on end, these blocks … what he calls “deep work” … where you can go into deep work and do some serious thinking and some serious work.
I started experimenting with that before I left. Really, the trip fit in so nicely with that, especially countries like Italy, where slow is like a way of life, for better or worse. I mean, the Italians … It’s about slow food. It’s about two-hour lunches, and enjoying the conversation, and enjoying every last taste on the table.
I remember driving through Italy on the highway. I was really tired, so I pulled off the road to just a rest area that had, like, a café. I’m used to: you go into the ones off the New Jersey Turnpike, and they’re kind of disgusting, and there’s, like, a Starbucks. You’re just in and out of there. You go into the one in Italy, and there’s, like, a full café bar with waiters behind the bar, and everybody … all these other drivers … are there. They drink their espresso in the café bar at the counter, and everybody’s just BS’ing, like they know each other. I was like, “Man, this is kind of … it’s nice.”
I could see how life would get frustrating there. It surely would get frustrating, if you lived there, because you want things to go fast at times; but, there’s something about slow work, slow life, a very deliberate approach to living that was, I think, a great productivity hack. Why is it a great productivity hack? That’s because, if you’re working slow, if you’re working deliberately if you’re spending the time, you’re not just racing to punch off things on your checklist. For every to-do item you have, you take the time to think about: number one, “Do I really need to be focusing on this right now?” If the answer is “Yes,” “Is there any possible way I can create a system or a process to prevent me from having to deal with that again?” That was big for me.
I found in New York when I get an inbox full of emails, I was just trying to gun through it as fast as I could. Like, “How fast can I clear out this inbox?” I would get faster and faster, but it doesn’t solve the long-term problem that you have: more email. It was really when you took the time to look at each email that’s coming in and saying, “What’s this really about? Does this person request a meeting, or is this for more information? Is this something I could solve by putting it on the website or by training Audrey to do it?” That’s what I mean by “slow work,” just really taking the time to process everything and think through: Do you really need to do it? If so, what’s a better way to do it? Embracing slow work early in the trip really allowed me to, I think, scale up my time by the end of the trip.
The fifth and final lesson I have from six months abroad was that, if your basic needs are taken care of, if you can feed yourself and live, I think it would behove you to swing a little bit more for the fences. In many ways, I have been in this mode in my life where I’m trying to do high-percentage things: swing for singles and doubles, because I’m now married. I have two kids. I can’t take the risks I took when I was single. I’m not, for example, going to work for weeks, and even months, without a paycheck. I’m not there with my family. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to take on that kind of risk.
Once you get to the point where your basic needs are taken care of … in my case, I’ve got enough income coming in from various projects I’m involved with … I think swinging for the fences, going for a double, or a triple, or even a home run, starts to get back in play. In my case, I look at all the business growth I had over the past six or seven months, and it really came down to about five phone calls.
Think about that. I was away for seven months, and probably an hour-and-a-half worth of phone calls led to my business almost doubling during that time. You can’t always identify those phone calls. But, talk about small hinges that swing big doors. In each of these cases, I went for something big. I went for a bigger project, or a bigger engagement, or a bigger acquisition, or whatever it was. In all those cases, or in most of those cases, it worked out. So, one of the things I’m trying to do more deliberately now is, really, take that step back and focus on a couple of bigger swings.
That’s going to tie into the businesses I’m looking to buy this year, which I’ve got another podcast coming up on. I’m currently in San Diego, because I’m looking at a business, and it’s a big one by anyone’s standards, a nine-figure business. We’ll see where that goes; but, certainly, that’s an example of a bigger swing.
Just to recap, in this episode I wanted to talk about five different observations I had from six months on the road, from working there and growing my business while I was traveling. I hope you can listen to those and apply some of them to your own business going forward. Hey. I mentioned SaneBox. I mentioned Worldwide101. I actually have 12 different tools I think really enabled me to work while I was away.
These are online tools and apps. I put them all in a checklist that you can download in the show notes here. Go to nerdmarketing.com/34. You’ll see the one. I’ve got a downloadable list of my top tools that enabled me to travel and work at the same time. Hope you appreciate them and talk to you next time.
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