A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
2013 was a time of contraction. It was a time to uproot, tear down, gather stones, give up, throw away, and be silent. I was going to take a step back and reflect.
In January I quit going to all of the meetups I was a part of, quit BNI, and quit Rainmakers. I started consolidating my websites and on January 1, 2013 I publicly announced I was closing my web design and IT business and came up with 10 new business ideas. Despite all of those ideas, I decided I would not start any new businesses in 2013. Instead I devoted my time to helping two other organizations (1,2) start new businesses while working full-time doing IT work (1,2). This was very hard for me to do and it had some unfortunate side effects that I wasn’t expecting:
- Identity – I started operating as “Erich Stauffer” instead of as “Watershawl” and I went through an identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I threw away all of my business cards, but never bought any new ones for “Erich Stauffer”. When people asked me for my business card, I told them I didn’t have one and most of the time they just sort of shrugged and looked away. I consolidated all of my web content down into one site and began to steadily make improvements. Eventually I paid a Kentucky graphic designer to help me design something more professional.
- Longing – I really missed the lifestyle I had in 2012. When I look back at my Dropbox Camera Upload folder and see how much time I spent with my family and all the different experiences I had outside of a normal work environment, I really missed it. When I say I had a good time, it was probably the best year of my life. I went to conferences, hung out at coffee shops, met a ton of new people, and did a lot of great work. It was fun. I truly liked my life. That said, 2013 turned out okay and I got happier.
- Confidence – I lost a lot of confidence by not having my own “business” identity. Even though I was still officially in business as “Erich Stauffer” it didn’t feel that way. And when the majority of my income was coming from one client, my full-time employer, it was hard to say that I was anything other than an “IT guy”. When I would introduce myself to people at meetings and social events, I would struggle with what to say. My struggle with identity was overflowing into my impressions of myself.
- Branding – I didn’t realize the value of the Watershawl brand that I ‘threw away’. Everything I had been building up as Watershawl/Telablue for the last 5 Years (since October of 2007) was thrown out. While I continued to operate as “Erich Stauffer”, the person responsible for doing the work most of that time, there was a loss of something greater than myself. There was also a loss of professionalism that I didn’t expect – from both sides. I acted different and clients treated me different. SEE Stop Freelancing.
In January, my church started a series called “asah shamah” which means “we will do, then we will understand”. The pastor said that this would be a year of bounty. I wrote a blog post called How to Work a Life of Purpose in February, the month I started working full-time. Since then I’ve made more money than I’ve ever made in my life. God has truly blessed me, but I wasn’t thankful. I had achieved what I had started seeking back in 2009, but I wasn’t happy. So I started practicing an attitude of gratitude. I started thanking God for what I had. I started appreciating my children more. I started enjoying the weather more. I started to be more happy.
Diet and Physical Health
In 2012 despite exercising and watching calories I reached a high of 275 pounds. Despite Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body coming out in February of 2011 and in August of 2012, my friend, Jason, starting the slow-carb diet, it wasn’t until April of 2013 that I started eating differently. The moment I began this diet I began losing weight and since then I have lost over 40 pounds with little to no exercise. I began to go on long walks and one day after walking in an old pair of dress shoes, I hurt my right knee. I threw the shoes away, but it still took me several months to fully recover. My next door neighbor had a garage sale and I bought a used bike for $30 that I began riding around town and to parks.
My Newest Daughter
In May, my newest daughter was born. She is our fifth child, the third girl. She weighed 8lbs 9ozs. She was our biggest baby by weight and she’s been the tallest baby as she’s grown (she’s in the 97th percentile for height for her age). Around four months she started a 6-month trait which is to smile at you to see if you’ll smile back. That’s fun. In October she started to blow ‘pop’ kisses, whose sound surprised her at first, but she quickly learned to enjoy and deploy to other’s pleasure. In November she started to be able to sit up on her own and just started to act like she might want me to hold her. I December her first word was “dada.”
Education and Learning
In June I took a “man-cation” to Chicago and Wisconsin. During this trip I discovered the usefulness of podcasts. I have had an iPhone for over five years, but never listened to one podcast. The moment I realized it was just like the radio, but without ads – and it was only about the topics I cared about – I was hooked. I started listening to podcasts on web analytics, business consulting, and ecommerce. I would listen to them on the way to work and on the way home. I started learning Ruby on Rails and joined Treehouse. This was one way I extracted value from my long commute (~50 minutes one-way) to Indianapolis everyday. I listened the equivalent of 15 credit hours of college.
Jobs as Biggest Clients
When I worked at First Merchants Bank from 2008 to 2011 I started thinking of my primary employer as my biggest customer. This was a mindset change for me that I struggled to continue thinking in 2013 even after having two of my biggest clients hire me full time. This was partly because my mindset was shifting back to that of an employee from being an entrepreneur. I was losing confidence daily, which affected my ability to sell, and my lack of brand made it hard to self-identify and market myself. I decided that something needed to change before I completely lost my confidence so I decided to start looking for a different job. In August of 2013 I was offered a job doing IT work at Worksmart, where my boss encouraged me to continue working on my entrepreneurial pursuits. He believed that my IT/web consultant work helped me to be a more valuable employee because the skills I was developing were useful in my day job. This began boosting my confidence and I started to begin thinking of myself as an entrepreneur again.
The Perfect Day
In August we launched SkinnyCoconutOil.com and when our “community development” guy began working on our About page, he asked a series of questions to help write the staff bios. One of the questions was, “Describe your ‘perfect’ day?” This is what I wrote on September 5, 2013:
Wake up naturally around 8 AM. Eat breakfast with my family, and then head off to a coffee shop to write. I’d take a walk on the Monon, catch lunch with a friend, and then head home for an afternoon nap. Just before dinner I’d work in my woodshop until dinner. Afterwards I’d go check on the garden and play board games with the kids before grabbing a glass of wine and having a fireside chat with my wife before bed.
On August 31, 2013 we had our first sale online, 5 days after launch, and on October 5 I got a shout out from Andrew Youderian and got my first paycheck on the same day. It was a good day.
A Happier Life
In September I was listening to a Smart Passive Income podcast with Noah Kagan where Noah said, “A big realization I’ve had lately is that when people are unhappy, it’s because they’re not doing what they really want or they’re distracting themselves with other activities. And honestly, I think I’m at the happiest point in my life now in this moment, and that’s really because I’m talking with you and I was very nervous and I was excited to talk to you and share this with your listeners. And I’m working on something like this How to Make Your First Dollar, I love it. I love seeing people get their businesses that they want. The relationships with people I have, it’s exactly what I want, it’s with the people I want. I’ve cut out the people I don’t want and it’s really put me in a happier life.” And that’s what I started to do.
Killing the Cash Cow
Guy Kawasaki and Richard Bliss often talk about Clayton Christensen’s original idea of “Killing the Cash Cow”, which involves stopping the most profitable part of your business in order to support and grow a less profitable part that has more future potential. It’s long-term thinking versus short-term thinking and it’s very scary to a lot of managers. On paper, it doesn’t always make sense, but take just one of the most often cited examples: if Apple hadn’t devoted energy to the Macintosh, they’d still be selling AppleIIs and they’d be out of business.
On October 15, 2013, exactly 6 years since I incorporated Watershawl, Inc., I told my biggest client that I wanted to help them replace me. Why? I wasn’t providing them the value they needed at the time and in order to put the client’s needs above my own I proposed switching vendors so that I wasn’t the one holding their company back. The other side of the coin is that I was spending more time building something that would provide more income and working for that client was actually hindering me from my higher future earning potential. I killed the cash cow.
The Han Institute
In January I started meeting with one of my clients about an idea she had to start a chain of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinics around the United States. This idea became the basis of The Han Institute, an organization comprised of a clinic, a research institute, and educational materials centered around utilizing TCM in Western medicine. On October 29 I attended the Indiana-Zhejiang Trade Seminar to network with Indiana and Zhejiang government officials and businesses.
Act Like Men Conference
The Philippines Super Typhoon Haiyan landed on November 8, 2013, the same day the Act Like Men Conference started in Indianapolis. I waited too long to sign up for a ticket and it sold out. However, I was able to volunteer as an usher and was still able to attend. On November 1 I had hired my first VA (virtual assistant), who happened to live in the Philippines. She emailed to say that a typhoon was coming and she might not be able to get to the work that day. We told her not to worry about it, to stay safe, and that we’d be praying for her. She ended up okay, but 10,000 of her countrymen did not. On that Saturday, Lacrae played a concert, which I got to attend with my friend, Jason.
Looking Forward to 2014
In 2013 I started out wanting to start an e-commerce company, learn Ruby on Rails, and do less IT consulting as a service. My goals in 2013 were to move towards a location-independent income, to future-protect my career by learning more programming, to continually seek ways to add value and help people, to spend more time with friends and family, and to attend conferences/events as a form of community. I learned that “conservation” was one of my core values. It’s the reason I value trees, productivity, recycling, and electric cars. Overall, 2014 was about fine-tuning my attitude about work.
On Christmas of 2013, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty came out in theaters. To me, the movie was about breaking out of the life you’re in now and turning your life into an adventure. That spirit is the same struggle I’ve been in for the last 3 years and is similar to the vision I have for Outure. In 2014 I’d like to keep working on developing Seektivity (my activities/events web app), Outure (my outdoor adventure ecommerce company), and Content Motors/Content Market Fit/AB Insights (a SEO/Content Marketing/Web Analytics company). I’d also like to attend more conferences, run the Glory Trail, and continue to help my existing clients.
This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. – Ecclesiastes 5:18-20