6 Lessons Learned During my 30-Day Blogging Challenge

30 Day Blogging Challenge July 2013

I first read about the concept of the 30-Day Challenge a few months ago while watching this TED Talk by Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team. Matt has been trying (and blogging about) his regular 30-day challenges since 2009 — and the concept really intrigued me.

As such, last month, I decided to launch my challenge on July 1st — 30 days of daily blogging. This post is actually my 30th blog post of the month, and I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results.  In addition to garnering almost 3,000 visits and more than 4,000 pageviews of my blog, I’ve also managed to pick up almost 800 fans of a Facebook page I launched to share my blog posts. But, aside from the traffic, I learned some valuable lessons along the way:

1) Once Habits are Ingrained, It’s Hard to Break Them.

For the first few days of my challenge, I really had to remind myself to sit down and write my daily posts.  After the first week, however, the habit had set in — and an internal feeling of “guilt” would reside in my gut until I wrote my post. My habit was tested over several work travel trips, and even a trip to Las Vegas with my wife (yes, I even returned back to the hotel room late one night to draft a post, which I barely got posted before the midnight deadline).

2) Consistency is Key.

Let’s face it, I didn’t hit a home run with every blog post I wrote.  But, overall, I’m proud of the body of work I created.  I used to be a long-distance runner, and one thing I learned is that consistency is more important than going out and running a personal best every time.  The difference between a good blogger and a great blogger is consistency — putting up posts every day (or several times per day) and keeping the content flowing.

3) Blogging is Therapeutic.

I’ve never had a journal or a diary. I’ve certainly posted my share of tweets (over 13,000 strong here on my Twitter account), but it’s not the same as writing full-length blog posts. While I hoped to help my readers by sharing things that have worked for me — productivity tips, technology reviews, etc. — putting these tips and tricks in writing were a daily reminder that I needed to follow the advice that I was giving to other people.  Sometimes it’s easier to say than do — but putting it in writing helped keep me on track.

4) Some People Like to Debate Anything.

I’ve worked for my share of political campaigns over the years, so I know all about online trolls and hostile commenters.  But I’m amazed by how worked up some people get in disagreeing me about topics like time management and productivity. My post on entrepreneurs working from an office instead of the home garnered the most controversy, followed by my post on lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Detroit’s bankruptcy.  In truth, I love controversial posts, because it means greater readership.

5) LinkedIn and Google + are Underrated Traffic Sources.

Facebook and Twitter grab all the headlines, but LinkedIn and Google+ are awesome, too.  Most people simply don’t know how to use them.  Read this post at my company’s blog about how to turn LinkedIn into a traffic engine for your site.  Follow Guy Kawasaki to learn how to kick ass on Google+.

6) I Can’t Wait to Try my Next 30-Day Challenge

First, I’m going to continue my daily blogging — and have plans to actually increase my posts to more than one time per day (on most days, at least). Second, I’m already looking for future 30-day challenges to tackle.  I have some personal and spiritual challenges I’m planning to do — but I’m always open to suggestions! How about you?  Have you tried a 30-day challenge?  Does it sound like something you’d do?  Please let us know in the comments! Here is the video of Matt Cutt’s TED Talk on the 30-Day Challenge:

Sometimes You Just Gotta Break the (Productivity) Rules

break the rulesI admit it. I broke the rules today.

Granted, they’re my own rules, but they are the rules, after all.

After a wonderful, restful weekend with my family, I woke up this morning — Monday morning — an hour before my alarm, lying in my bed, worrying about my day.

The to-do list I had written Friday was scrolling through my brain. I could hear the phone dialing in my head as I obsessed about the seven calls I had to make today.

So, instead of lying there any longer, I got up, fired up my laptop … and broke the rules.

Remember my rule about having a morning ritual? I broke it.

Or my rule about no email until 10 am? I broke that one, too.

In fact, by the time 9 am rolled around, I had done all my scheduled emails for the day, and knocked off about three priority to-do items.

Now, as I sit here and wrote thispst at 5:30 p.m., I can tell you it was worth it.

You see, as I lay in bed this morning, I could sense that my day was about to control me, instead of me controlling my day. I wasn’t about to let that happen, so I got up and punched my day right in the jaw.

In the interest of full disclosure, I had created my own mess.

I had some heavy travel days during the end of last week and allowed my email I box to gather more than 200 emails, and had put off a number of Important calls.

That cluttered inbox and to-do list led to a cluttered mind, and so (temporarily) broke my rules to take back control of my day and week.

I’m back on track, have an Inbox Zero, and I’ve front-loaded my week so that my daily priorities will get less and less as the week goes on.

Sometimes you just gotta break the rules.

As long as you get back to your program as soon as you’re back on track.

3 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn from Uber

Uber

I travel to Washington, DC quite frequently and, during my recent visits, I’ve had the pleasure of using Uber to get around town — instead of the antiquated taxi cab system.

To say that Uber has made my business trips more productive and less stressful is an understatement. Timely pickups (instead of having to wait or hunt for cabs), as well as rides in nice, new air conditioned vehicles, are just some of the benefits of Uber.

If you’re not familiar with the Uber system, here is how it works …

  • I’m getting ready to leave my hotel, so I open up the Uber smartphone app and select my location.

  • Upon doing so, Uber then pings nearby drivers of my impending need for a ride via a specialized app that all Uber drivers have in their car.

  • The nearest available driver (first come/first serve) then responds that he or she will be there to pick me up.

  • My app then informs me that a driver is 3 minutes (as an example) from my location, and provides me the name of the driver, the type of vehicle and the driver’s Uber rating (based on a five-star scale).

  • If I don’t like the driver’s rating or vehicle type, I can reject him or her, and request another driver.

  • The car picks me up. It’s usually a newer car, air conditioned, with a bottle of water waiting for me in the back seat.

  • After the ride is over, I thank the driver and … no cash!  The transaction (including tip) takes place via my smartphone app, where I have entered my credit card info (or via Google Wallet).

  • I rate the driver on the five-star scale.

I should note that, while I’ve only used the “black sedan” option, Uber now offers a lower-cost taxi option in some cities.  One driver told me that the taxis are existing local cabs that can opt-in to be Uber drivers — but each taxi must meet Uber’s standards (clean car, new car, etc.)

It’s a great model and a great service.  Here are three lessons entrepreneurs can learn from the Uber business model:

1) In a down economy, customers will still pay a premium for quality service.

Last week, one Uber driver informed me that there were 4,000 Uber users in the D.C. metro area alone.  There’s a reason these thousands of people are paying a premium (yes, Uber costs more than a normal taxi) in a down economy.

It’s the service.

A frequent business traveler like me can have his or her day ruined by time spent hunting or waiting for a taxi. Or riding in a taxi in the summer heat with a driver who refuses to turn on the air conditioning. Or a driver who is rude and drives recklessly. Or, as was the case on a recent trip, a driver who refused to pull over even has his car’s transmission was stalling.

Thanks to the five-star rating system, each Uber driver I’ve had bends over backwards to be polite, help me with my bags, and provide great service.  They keep their cars clean, turn the air conditioning up, and have reading materials and bottled water waiting for me in the backseat.

2) Disruption wins.

Uber has completely upended the antiquated, unionized, sorry taxicab system in Washington, D.C. They’ve been so successful, in fact, that the taxi union tried to have its allies on the city council shut down Uber a few years ago.  It didn’t work, as Uber’s throngs of happy customers responded by flooding the inboxes of the city council politicians.

From the smartphone app, to the “freelance” drivers, to the rating system, and to the cash-less payment system — Uber has shown that creative ideas that fill a customer need can revolutionize something as simple as citywide transit.

Can your business do the same?

3) Don’t be afraid of customer feedback. Welcome it.

There are still businesses who are so terrified of customer feedback that they refuse to even put up a Facebook page. The fear of even one negative public comment puts them into paralysis.

Uber, on the other hand, is a business that thrives on customer feedback. That customer feedback helps the integrity of the system, and also creates a brand loyalty among customers that results in that customer base angrily emailing the city council to keep its hands off their favorite car service.

There certainly are a lot of lessons entrepreneurs can learn from this disruptive business.  In fact, there’s a lot we can learn from the individual drivers, many of whom are entrepreneurs themselves who own their own fleet of cars.

Have you tried Uber? What was your experience?  Can you think of any additional lessons we can learn from this disruptive business model?

4 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Detroit’s Bankruptcy

Detroit

Detroit’s bankruptcy is a sad chapter in the city’s storied history, and a warning sign for government entities across America.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs should also use it as a “teachable moment” for how to avoid the same problems with their companies that Detroit’s politicians failed to do with their city.

Here are four such lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Detroit:

1) Just because things are great today, doesn’t mean they’ll be good tomorrow.

As noted reporter John Stossel recently posted on Facebook:

“In 1950, when I was three-years-old, Detroit was the richest city in America. Now it’s the biggest U.S. city ever to declare bankruptcy.”

Cities such as Detroit, and states across the country, were flush when the economy was good — but they spent their money, didn’t plan ahead and now are in some pretty deep fiscal holes.

The streets of American entrepreneurship are littered with companies and startups who did the same thing — experienced success fast, grew too quickly, hit rough times, and hit the skids.

2) Don’t spend money on ‘swag’.

As “Shark Tank” billionaire and uber-investor Mark Cuban advises start-ups:

“A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts.”

As Cuban says, such spending is “a sure sign of failure” and shows that you “have no idea how to spend your money.”

Detroit has learned about extraneous spending on such extraneous “swag” the hard way.  To wit: In the midst of the Motor City’s bankruptcy, city officials have approved $285 billion in taxpayer funds to build a new … hockey stadium.  The stadium may look nice, it may make people feel good, but it’s a waste of money.

As the aforementioned John Stossel also points out, Detroit spent $60 million on a New Public Safety Headquarters (and, yet, still has one of the highest murder rates in the country, with an average wait time for police of 58 minutes).

Neither the hockey stadium nor the public safety headquarters was needed, and they aren’t helping Detroit’s bottom line — they’re putting the city in a deeper hole.

3) If you’re in too deep, call in some help.

Detroit’s politicians have been able to dig the city out of it’s deep fiscal hole which, to be sure, was created by decades of mismanagement.  Now, the experts (the governor and appointed emergency manager) have taken control and are working to set things straight.

Now, hopefully, your business never gets in a hole as deep as Detroit’s, but we all face challenges that sometimes are beyond our expertise to fit. Seeking outside help — whether from friends, colleagues or even paid consultants — isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re serious about fixing the problem.

In Detroit’s case, this help had to be forced on the city. Don’t let that happen to you. Get help early and stem the tide of the problem.

4) Cut costs, cut costs, cut costs.

Okay, this last one may seem obvious — and is probably covered by some of the other points on this list.  But it’s still vital.  Detroit has spent its way into the current crisis — promising too much money to its employees, and spending recklessly, while its tax base fled the city.  The city has also learned (although the politicians probably won’t admit it) that raising taxes can make the problem worse.

Your business should learn from this example.  Your tax base (i.e., your clients) won’t always be around and, besides, you can’t just snap your fingers to raise more income like a city can raise taxes.

Cut your overhead. Go lean. Don’t hire too fast. Work from home (or co-share an office).

Do whatever you can to keep those costs low.

It’s questionable whether politicians in Detroit, and across the country, will learn anything from the Motor City’s downfall — but you’re smarter than they are, and I know you will apply these simple lessons to your small business.

FEEDBACK FRIDAY: What are your biggest productivity challenges?

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Here at CurtMercadante.com, we like to share our thoughts, tips and tricks for helping you be more productive at work and home.  In recent weeks, we’ve dealt with the topics of overcoming email and conference call overload, we’ve shared some of our productivity app recommendations, and we’ve even tried to share some motivational stories to help you meet your productivity challenges.

Today, we want to hear from you.  What’s your biggest productivity challenge? What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given that has helped you to be more productive?  What apps do you use?

Please take a few short minutes to take our brief survey below.  By leaving your email address, you’ll also receive updates from us on a weekly basis.  We will never share your email address, nor will we publish it with the results of this survey.