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My journey to connect with purpose and passion.

Desktop Image Giveaway: Tofino Bay

It's that time of year again! Time to give away some images!

I've put together a downloadable Zip file with 5 versions of the above image designed to fit your monitor.

Click on this link to download the file to your computer, double click to unzip it, and then select the image that is best for your computer.

Here's a little tutorial on how to change your desktop image: for Windows 10 users and for Mac users

Wishing everyone all the best!

Momentum Marketing

I’ve spent the past year helping creators, artists and entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. In some cases, these ventures were their sole source of income and livelihood. In others, it was a side business.

Over that time, I have helped my clients to take charge of their marketing and to keep their business growth efforts rolling. I am calling my approach Momentum Marketing.

One of the most critical factors to a business is velocity: how often you sell a product or service. In marketing, I believe an equally critical factor — and one of the least recognized—is momentum: how often you are launching and learning from your marketing efforts.

To achieve and maintain momentum, I chose to build my program around sprints. Each sprint is a two-week period focused on a single idea or initiative. We launch a new activity, then regroup to see what the results tell us about our audience.

Of course, there is a lot to learn. We need to educate everyone on the team about the strategies, platforms and technologies involved. Traditionally, we would turn to books and courses to teach what is needed. But this is time spent with no real marketing getting done—no momentum.

Instead, we can use the context of each sprint to educate the team on the technologies and approaches we are looking to leverage. This allows everyone to grow and learn together, because contrary to what many consultants and books espouse, every business is different, and the best lessons are learned hands-on by the teams doing the work.

The end result is Momentum Marketing.

I don’t believe in rules, but I have settled on four philosophies that guide Momentum Marketing.

  1. Almost Good Enough is Good Enough
    One of my dear friends planned her way out of a successful business. There is a point at which you just have to leap and learn by doing. There is no such thing as clarity with a new venture or business. (I’ll speak more on this below.) If it is almost good enough, you should be testing it in the marketplace.
     
  2. Always Be Doing
    Once you have momentum, it is a beautiful thing. It is motivating and it feeds on itself, making marketing a joyful activity. But once lost, it can feel like trying to turn a battleship in a bathtub. This is why short sprints are so essential: they force us to focus on launching or delivering marketing efforts as frequently as possible.
     
  3. Measure and Learn
    Momentum is only helpful if we can measure what is working. In a world where so much is measurable, it’s important to stop and ask yourself what measurement will reveal whether a tactic is working or not.
    If you are doing a giveaway to gain newsletter subscribers, then you might want to know how many people sign up, broken down by source. If it turns out, for example, that your signup rate for people coming from a Facebook ad is especially low, you can begin to ask questions such as: do these visitors need more context to understand the giveaway, or what they’re signing up for? 
    I’m going to spend a lot more time covering each of these, but for now, be sure you measure your prospects’ key behaviours.
     
  4. Build and Refine Your Customer Journey
    Every business or venture requires relationships. These are not created overnight. There is no single promotion that will bring someone from “never heard of you” straight to “word-of-mouth advocate who buys everything you create”. Relationships take time and effort to build. And the steps that a prospect goes through are called the customer journey. Rather than spend many weeks trying to design this flow ahead of time (see points 1 and 2), we are going to build and refine our customer journey as we go, using what we learn.

The first challenge in Momentum Marketing is simply: where to start? We can pick something at random as our first sprint, but this will most likely not result in great insights or motivation for the team.

In time, the customer journey will become the living, breathing marketing strategy and philosophy that guides us. But in the early days, while it’s still taking shape, we start by focusing on the most common business growth activities.

Select a Business Growth Starting Point

As a starting point, I turn to some of the most common things we do to grow our business:

Gather

This is about increasing our reach. This typically includes efforts to grow our newsletter, increase the number of followers in social, improve our visibility within a community or group, and so on. It’s quite common to focus on this area initially if this is a new business that hasn’t yet managed to build a following or subscribers.

Feed

Too often, we move to selling our product or service too quickly. We become that annoying guy at the party that only wants to try and sell everyone life insurance. Quite simply, feeding our audience is about providing value. It can be a newsletter of awesome tips, funny social media videos, how-to guides, PDFs on solving common problems, or anything else your audience will find useful, inspiring, or just plain fun. This is a great place to start if you have a newsletter or social media presence but aren’t sure how to make this work for your business.

Incent

You have your product or service fully defined. The website is built. Your newsletter is active. But everything is stuck. Short of offering massive discounts, you’re unsure how to convert the reach you have into sales. This is when we start to look at incenting behaviour. But here’s the key thing to keep in mind: this is rarely about driving sales. Chances are, you’ve already tried that. This is about beginning to understand the key steps a customer goes through before they make a sale — what a customer or prospect does that tells you they’re more engaged with you than the rest. That’s the behaviour we want to reward and encourage.

Deliver

If your side business is already up and running, and you just want to figure out how to grow it, then this area of the wheel may be worth considering. There are almost always things we can do to improve our service or product delivery. Sometimes this is really low-hanging fruit. Past customers are generally far more likely to buy from us again, but they may not be thinking about what we offer. Little touches, like adding a small personal note to a shipment or into an invoice, can reap massive benefits.

These four business growth activities are not the be-all and end-all of marketing. They are simply a starting point to identify the activity for the first sprint. They allow us to select one of these quadrants—and then attack it hard.

Beware of the Desire for Clarity

I want to end with the single greatest challenge I see new startups or side businesses face: the yearning for clarity. It’s understandable, because the early days of any venture are a time of confusion.

But it’s a trap.

Everyone wants to sell you clarity through planning, because they realize how tantalizing it is for so many people starting out. But they are simply selling smoke and mirrors. Launching a new business or growing a small startup is always murky.

You can spend months, even years, fretting over strategic plans and market research—or you can start doing, testing what is possible now with your offering and your audience.

I’m not opposed to research, but I have seen more artists and entrepreneurs needlessly diverted from their dreams, convinced they must define things such as their Ideal Customer Avatar, while they miss real opportunities to test their ideas in the market.

The key to marketing is to learn by doing. Momentum Marketing is one way to start learning what works for your business. It provides a framework that can help your team, whether that is one person or three, to become masterful at reaching, serving and growing your audience.

There is too much to cover in one post. I will be sharing more of this framework and the successes achieved in the weeks to come.

Want access to early articles and videos on key aspects of Momentum Marketing? Join my newsletter and also receive a free copy of my book, Creators 2.0.

Sean HowardComment
Fighting David duChemin in Roma
 Arrival in Trastevere, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno.”

Arrival in Trastevere, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno.”

I have one goal for my travel photography: to become more comfortable and talented at taking portraits of strangers. I’m not talking about the furtive and secretive theft of unsuspecting moments that has become the trend of modern “street photography.”

I prefer to approach and ask to take a portrait. This requires me to be open and show respect and vulnerability. And I’ve been amazed at how many people will agree to having their portrait taken after we’ve spoken for a bit.

I’ve managed to do this a few times now. Let’s be clear, I still suck at it. I stand in the centre of an active square watching hundreds of interesting people strut by before I work up the nerve to approach someone.

But something happens when I see them smile at the reason why I stopped them — their attitude, their beautiful eyes, their amazing outfit. My heart lifts and I feel good about these portraits no matter how they turn out.

Only there would be no portraits of strangers in Rome.


 Hotel Room, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

Hotel Room, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

I was in Rome for a week-long mentorship program with David duChemin and Cynthia Haynes. This was my second time and it was very different from the week I spent with them in Venice.

The structure was the same. We have a week to pull together twelve images that share an intentional set of constraints or theme. This forces me to stop just trying to shoot that next “hot, likeable image.” This is about connected images that create something larger — a single body of work.

It is a cathartic and challenging experience that has changed my work, my understanding of my craft and opened my eyes to exploring my inner artist.

Every day is a combination of exploration, journaling and taking “sketch images” that test different directions for our body of work.

On the second day, I handed my phone to David so he could review some of my early sketch images. They were all of the sky with tiny spires or rooftops, everything foreshortened by the extreme upward angle of the camera. I don’t know how I could come up with something that was further from taking a picture of a person.

 One of my sketch images. Unprocessed.

One of my sketch images. Unprocessed.

David wasn’t impressed. That’s what I love about David. He’s different for every attendee, but with me, he doesn’t pull any punches.

I push and fight. It’s who I am. I’m also very sensitive to someone placating me or not saying what they really think or feel.

David pushed for something more challenging. He wanted to know why there were no people in the photos. Please note: not everyone has to have people in their photos, but he had hit the proverbial nail on the head regarding my work.

I wouldn’t admit this, though! So I fought back hard.

“I don’t speak the language!”

Please, earlier that day I had approached and spoken with two very beautiful and interesting Italians. Neither of whom did I ask to take their photo.

“I’m not interested in people.”

This is bullshit so deep that I needed hip waders. People are the SINGLE unifying feature of my work.

“I’m not connecting to Rome. I prefer Venice.”

Aside from the fact that I sounded like a spoiled brat here, it was a deflection. Sure, Rome was harder for me to connect to as a place, but the people… the people were some of the most beautiful and approachable souls I have ever met.

David just nodded at each of my arguments, but I could see the twinkle in his eye. He wasn’t buying a bit of it. And he was right. Which pissed me off and made me fight harder for my photos of buildings.

 Tram, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

Tram, Roma. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

That night I went walking. Thoughts flow easier when I am in motion and alone in a strange place.

I quickly recognized three key truths for my current experience:

  • I was having trouble approaching Italians to ask to take their photo. Fine.
  • The grit and colours of Rome were calling out to me. I didn’t want to take pictures of building tops. I wanted to capture the motion and graffiti. I wanted to see the scenes of life.
  • And finally, I was having trouble connecting with Rome. It was magical and wonderful, but very different from how I experienced Venice.

It hit me pretty quickly: a self-portrait series. I can’t think of a more challenging topic as I hate being in photos of any kind. And it would allow me to capture the grit of the city and also explore this sense of not belonging.

I remember laughing out loud and startling a dude pissing on a tree. The Italians piss everywhere, by the way. I couldn’t believe I was about to embark on a self-portrait series as I had spent my entire career avoiding photos of myself at all costs.

 Altare della Patria, Rome. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

Altare della Patria, Rome. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

 Bus Stop, Rome. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

Bus Stop, Rome. From my self-portrait series, “Roma per uno”.

I’d love to know what you think of this series as it’s a big departure for me.

You can see the rest of the series here: Roma per uno

David, you asked what I would like to do next. I have an answer now. I want to go back to taking portraits of strangers, regardless of language. Perhaps I will manage it in Venice next year?

Sean HowardComment
Overcoming My Addiction to Productivity Hacks.

This story was originally published in my newsletter. You can join and get a free copy of my book here.

At this point, it feels like I’ve tried every productivity hack on the planet.

Most gave me a small boost in focus and a few even improved my perceived productivity for short periods. But at the end of the day, I had to recognize that my fixation on productivity tools was mostly just an insidious form of procrastination.

I spent hours re-prioritizing my tasks or installing a new piece of software. Hours that I could have been spending on my art and craft.

And then I stumbled across the most powerful idea ever: deleting tasks.

You heard me right. Every few weeks I go through my To Do lists and look for something that’s been on there for weeks or months with no movement. And I delete it.

So this week, I want to promote the idea of decluttering our To Do lists!

It feels good to write tasks down on a list — what a lot of people call “capturing” tasks. Once it’s captured, a task doesn’t need to clutter up our brain anymore. We can tell that part of our brain to relax and stop worrying. We will get to it later.

And this works, for a while. But if you are like me, over time you will find that there are a number of tasks on your list that aren’t getting done. And every time I skip over a “big life task”, I take a hit to my self-esteem. Why is it still there? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I make it a priority?

The more tasks I have stagnating on my lists, the more stressed and burned out I feel. Collect too many of these and it can feel like life is running off the rails.

Deleting a task is about easing the stress of worrying about why it isn’t getting done.

The obvious objection is, “But Sean, this is a key task for the future I want to create. I can’t delete it. It has to get done!”

But what if it doesn’t?

Delete it or do it. That’s the rule.

I like to rewrite my tasks every few days. If I have a key task related to my future and I find myself copying it down to a list again and again and again, ad nauseam, then I really need to reevaluate this “dream” of mine.

So I will delete the task and write a new one: “Rethink this idea of X. What do I really want?”

What if not doing this particular task is the right thing? What if this task shouldn’t actually be on my list in the first place?

By deleting these stagnating tasks, I’ve been able to eliminate a lot of the expectation-driven bullshit from my life. It’s allowed me to take back the energy and motivation I need to work on new tasks that are truly important to my future and craft.

Do you have items stagnating on your To Do lists? What would it feel like to delete them?

Sean HowardComment
The Hard Truth About Grit and Determination
 Photo credit:  William Stitt

Photo credit: William Stitt

Selection bias in action.

I want to talk about Grit and Determination. The gold label of self-help preaching.

Grit and Determination do NOT guarantee success. They are a predicate for success only. This means they are required, for sure, but alone they are not enough.

The Internet drowns us in inspirational messages that glorify the tireless pursuit: Crush it, fight for what you love, do the work, show up.

But here’s what they don’t tell us: that the tireless pursuit leads as often to failure as it does success.

We look at the most driven and successful at something and we assume their drive is the number one factor for their success. And many successful artists (and business people) would agree.

By only looking at what a few “successful” people did, we are entering the realm of selection bias.

Selection bias is a common type of error where the decision about who to include in a study can throw findings into doubt.

But a few understand that there were hundreds of people just as skilled and driven as they were who didn’t get the breaks they did.

These voices are easy to miss in a world where we are told over and over to just stick with it, to push harder and to knuckle down and persevere. Which is not a bad thing, in and of itself.

After all, Grit and Determination are the prerequisites for success at something. They create the conditions. Without them, success is impossible. But alone, they are not enough. A catalyst is still needed.

And in almost every case I’ve ever read, that catalyst is not talent, skill or even financial backing. It almost always comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

Or to put it differently, it’s about doing the work and showing up for the months, years or decades that it takes for opportunity to strike and the catalyst to light the fire.

I hate to type these words, but the catalyst for realizing our dreams is luck.

It is what happens when we continue to work at something year after year with no return, forever honing our skills. For some people, being in the right place at the right time happens quickly. For others, it takes years, or even a lifetime. For some it happens after they have left this world. For some it just never happens.

I realize this idea could take the wind out of our sails. But I see it as a powerful way to focus our creative efforts.

Our creative life is not a sprint.

It is a life-long marathon.

So if you are doubled over and gasping for breath at the side of the race, doubting whether you can continue, remember that your break is as likely to be ten steps away as it is a mile.

So catch your breath and get back to creating. And just be sure the journey is something you love doing.

Sean HowardComment