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Ignore Everybody (Book Summary)

Ignore Everybody (book cover)This is my quick book summary of Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity (by Hugh MacLeod). The book is available on Amazon.

Summary notes below. All emphasis mine.


Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which is why so few people execute them. So few people can handle it.

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.

Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

3. Put the hours in. If somebody in your industry is more successful than you, it’s probably because he works harder at it than you do.

4. Good ideas have lonely childhoods.

5. If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

6. You are responsible for your own experience.

7. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

8. Keep your day job.

The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often.

It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty.

The young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines… who dreams of one day not having her life divided so harshly. Well, over time the “harshly” bit might go away, but not the “divided.” This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended. And nobody is immune. Not the struggling waiter, nor the movie star. As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster.

9. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

10. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.

11. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.

Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would seriously surprise me.

A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind. Which is why there are so many second-rate art directors with state-of-the-art Macintosh computers.

Successful people, artists and non-artists alike, are very good at spotting pillars. They’re very good at doing without them. Even more important, once they’ve spotted a pillar, they’re very good at quickly getting rid of it. Good pillar management is one of the most valuable talents you can have on the planet.

Keep asking the question, “Is this a pillar?” about every aspect of our business, our craft, our reason for being alive, and go from there. The more we ask, the better we get at spotting pillars, the more quickly the pillars vanish.

12. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.

13. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.

You’re better off doing something on the assumption that you will not be rewarded for it, that it will not receive the recognition it deserves, that it will not be worth the time and effort invested in it. The obvious advantage to this angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then it’s an added bonus.

The second, more subtle and profound advantage is that by scuppering all hope of worldly and social betterment from the creative act, you are finally left with only one question to answer: Do you make this damn thing exist or not?

14. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa.

Never sell something you love. Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.

15. Dying young is overrated.

Every kid underestimates his competition, and overestimates his chances. Every kid is a sucker for the idea that there’s a way to make it without having to do the actual hard work.

The bars of West Hollywood, London, and New York are awash with people throwing their lives away in the desperate hope of finding a shortcut, any shortcut. Meanwhile the competition is at home, working their asses off.

16. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.

It is this red line that demarcates your sovereignty; that defines your own private creative domain. What crap you are willing to take, and what crap you’re not. What you are willing to relinquish control over, and what you aren’t. What price you are willing to pay, and what price you aren’t.

Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.

When I see somebody “suffering for their art,” it’s usually a case of their not knowing where that red line is.

17. The world is changing.

If you want to be able to afford groceries in five years, I’d recommend listening closely to the (people who push change) and avoiding the (people who resist change).

In order to navigate the New Realities you have to be creative – not just within your particular profession, but in everything. Your way of looking at the world will need to become ever more fertile and original.

The old ways are dead. And you need people around you who concur. That means hanging out more with the creative people, the freaks, the real visionaries.

They’re easy enough to find if you make the effort, if you’ve got something worthwhile to offer in return.

Avoid the folk who play it safe. They can’t help you anymore. Their stability model no longer offers that much stability. They are extinct; they are extinction.

18. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t. The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.

Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that it’s primal.

We think we’re “Providing a superior integrated logistic system” or “Helping America to really taste Freshness.” In fact we’re just pissed off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly mammoth.

19. Avoid the Water cooler Gang.

20. Sing in your own voice.

The really good artists, the really successful entrepreneurs, figure out how to circumvent their limitations, figure out how to turn their strengths into weaknesses.

Had Bob Dylan been more of a technical virtuoso, he might not have felt the need to give his song lyrics such power and resonance.

21. The choice of media is irrelevant.

My cartooning MO was and still is to just have a normal life, be a regular Joe, with a terrific hobby on the side. It’s not exactly rocket science. This attitude seemed fairly alien to the Art Majors I met. Their chosen art form seemed more like a religion to them. It was serious. It was important. It was a big part of their identity, and it almost seemed to them that humanity’s very existence totally depended on their being able to pursue their dream as a handsomely rewarded profession.

22. Selling out is harder than it looks.

Diluting your product to make it more “commercial” will just make people like it less.

23. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

24. Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time.

It’s not about whether Tom Clancy sells truckloads of books or a Nobel Prize winner sells diddly-squat. Those are just ciphers, external distractions. To me, it’s about what you are going to do with the short time you have left on this earth. Different criteria altogether. Frankly, how a person nurtures and develops his or her own “creative sovereignty,” with or without the help of the world at large, is in my opinion a much more interesting subject.

25. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually.

Find a way of working that makes it dead easy to take full advantage of your inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time, nor do they last long.

Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something.

Why? If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough.

26. You have to find your own shtick.

Jackson Pollock discovering splatter paint. Or Robert Ryman discovering all-white canvases. Andy Warhol discovering silk-screen. Hunter S. Thompson discovering gonzo journalism. Duchamp discovering the found object. Jasper Johns discovering the American flag. Hemingway discovering brevity. James Joyce discovering stream-of-consciousness prose.

Somehow while playing around with something new, suddenly they found they were able to put their entire selves into it.

27. Write from the heart.

28. The best way to get approval is not to need it.

29. Power is never given. Power is taken.

The minute you become ready is the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about “becoming.” Suddenly it’s about “doing.”

You didn’t go in there, asking the editor to give you power. You went in there and politely informed the editor that you already have the power. That’s what being “ready” means. That’s what “taking power” means. Not needing anything from another person in order to be the best in the world.

30. Whatever choice you make, the Devil gets his due eventually.

31. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.

32. Remain frugal.

Part of being creative is learning how to protect your freedom. That includes freedom from avarice.

33. Allow your work to age with you. You become older faster than you think. Be ready for it when it happens.

34. Being Poor Sucks. The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there.

35. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.

James Gold-Smith once quipped, “When a man marries his mistress, he immediately creates a vacancy.” What’s true in philanderers is also true in life.

“Before, this man had a job and a hobby. Now suddenly, he’s just got the job, but no hobby anymore. But a man needs both, you see. And now what does this man, who’s always had a hobby, do with his time?” My friend held up his glass. “Answer: Drink.”

36. Savor obscurity while it lasts. Once you “make it,” your work is never the same.

If they were still “eating dog food” after a few decades, I doubt if they’d be waxing so lyrically. But as long as you can progress from it eventually, it’s a time to be savored. A time when your work is still new to you, a time when the world doesn’t need to be fed.

37. Start blogging.

38. Meaning scales


Read other reviews and notes on the book’s Amazon page.

Start Small, Stay Small (Book Summary)

Start Small Stay Small (book cover)This is my quick book summary of Start Small, Stay Small: a Developer’s Guide to Launching A Startup (by Rob Walling and Mike Taber). The book is available on Amazon.

Summary notes below. All emphasis mine.


What to Make

Make sure people want what you’re building before you build it.

Project/Product confusion:

  • A project is a software application that you build as a fun side project. The end result is a neat little application that likely isn’t of use to many people.
  • A product is a project that people will pay money for.

The single most important factor to a product’s success is not the founders, not the marketing effort, and certainly not the product. It’s whether there’s a group of people willing to pay for it.

The genius of niches is they are too small for large competitors, allowing a nimble entrepreneur the breathing room to focus on an under-served audience.

Choose a niche market and focus so tightly that your product becomes the best in class, members of that niche will have no choice but to use your product.

Building something no one wants is the most common source of failure for entrepreneurs.

The best niches are under the radar, and you have to get out and do something before you will find them.

As a self-funded startup you want a market that is already looking for your product, even if it doesn’t exist. This is because creating demand is very, very expensive while filling existing demand is, by comparison, cheap.

A vertical market as a single industry or hobby. Examples of vertical markets include pool cleaners, dry cleaners, web designers, wine collectors and punk rock enthusiasts.

Order of importance:

  1. Market
  2. Marketing
  3. Aesthetic
  4. Functionality
  • The product with a sizable market and low competition wins even with bad marketing, a bad aesthetic, and poor functionality.
  • In the same market, the product with better marketing wins.
  • In the same market with equal marketing, the product with the better design aesthetic wins.
  • Functionality, code quality, and documentation are all a distant fourth.

No book, blog or conference could ever teach you more about your customers than you learn from watching them use your software.

Time Management

Anytime you’re on your computer ask yourself “Is this activity getting me closer to my launch date?”

At this very moment am I making progress towards crossing off a to-do, or am I relaxing and re-energizing? If I’m doing neither, evaluate the situation and change it.

Information consumption is only good when it produces something.

When reading blogs or books or listening to podcasts or audio books, take action notes.

Define a long-term goal (e.g. launch your product), look at the next set of tasks that will get you one step closer to that goal, work, and re-evaluate in a week.

The faster you fail and learn from your mistakes, the faster you will improve.

Using a tool like SlimTimer, track every minute you spend working on your product, broken down into development, support and marketing. This allows you to monetize your time.

Outsourcing

Before I start any task I ask myself: “Could one of my contractors possibly do this?”

One of the biggest adjustments is accepting that time is your most precious commodity.

“Dollarize”: showing your prospect how your price is less expensive than your competition due to the amount of money they will save in the long run.

If you value your time at $100/hour, outsourcing work to a $6/hour virtual assistant is a no-brainer. Putting a value on your time is a foundational step in becoming an entrepreneur, and it’s one many entrepreneurs never take.

Skipping this step can result in late nights performing menial tasks you should be outsourcing.

Where To Get Business Ideas

  • Entrepreneur.com
    Business idea search engine. Specifically: Category: Online Businesses
  • AHBBO
    Over 400 home business ideas. More of a generator of niche ideas than product ideas.
  • Request For Startups
    Startup ideas YCombinator would like to fund.
  • Brad Ideas
    Crazy ideas from Brad Templeton (gets the mind thinking)
  • Springwise
    Covers innovations in products and business models. Think about applying the innovations they mention to a niche from your list.
  • TrendWatching
    A high-level look at emerging consumer trends.
  • Cool Business Ideas
    Another list of business ideas that are already being implemented by someone.

Traffic / Conversion Numbers

  • If your price point is in the consumer range of $1 – $50 and your product is priced appropriately for your market, your conversion rate should be between 1% and 4%.
  • If you’re priced between $50 and $1,000 or offer recurring pricing and your product is priced appropriately for your market, you’ll most likely convert between 0.5% and 2%.

If your website receives 1,000 visitors per month and you have a 1% sales conversion rate you are selling 10 copies of your product each month.

To increase sales by 1 copy each month (10%) you will need to do one of the following:

  • Generate 100 more visitors to your website
  • Increase your conversion rate by 0.1%

Which do you think is more difficult? Answer: the first.

Although common wisdom is to focus on traffic, the best internet marketers realize that increasing conversion rates for existing website visitors can yield a better return on investment.

You shouldn’t plan to sell to a customer on their first visit.

Your number one goal, even beyond selling your product, is turning browsers into prospects.

A prospect is someone who has expressed at least a small amount of interest in your product by giving their email.

For someone to provide you with their email address you must:

  1. Establish Trust – you aren’t going to spam them or sell their email address
  2. Establish Relevance – your product is relevant to their need and that anything you send them will be relevant
  3. Establish a Reward – offer something in exchange for their email

Knowing Your Customer

Imagine how your ideal customer feels when they arrive at your website:

  • What do they want to find there?
  • What will your product provide for them that they absolutely cannot live without?
  • What is best way to convey this message to them?
  • What will they respond to?
  • What elements naturally draw them in? Audio? Video? Images?
  • What is going to make them click a link?
  • How should you introduce your product to your customer? What should your copy say on the first page they see?
  • What is going to convince them to provide you with their email address?
  • What is going to convince them to purchase your product?

To help understand what motivates your ideal customer, think about the following questions:

  • What keeps your customers awake at night?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What are they angry about?
  • What are their top three daily frustrations?
  • What do they desire most?
  • Is there a built-in bias to the way they make decisions? (example: engineers are exceptionally analytical)
  • Do they have their own jargon?
  • Who else has tried to sell them something similar? How have they failed or succeeded?

What Goes On The Site

No one reads. Text is a terrible selling tool; audio, video and images are always better.

The vast majority of downloadable products and SaaS applications will perform well with five core pages:

  1. Home
  2. Tour
  3. Testimonials
  4. Contact Us
  5. Pricing & Purchase

The #1 goal of your home page is to convince your visitors to click a link.
That’s all you have to do to convince them not to leave: click a single link.

Half of all home page visitors leave without clicking a single link.

The solution? A simple home page with very few options, and large, clickable buttons.

If you choose to have an image for your home page, choose one that shows the result of your product.

Your hook is your four-second sales pitch and it should be the headline of your home page. These are 5-7 word summaries of your product.

It’s the single sentence that grabs the reader in and makes her know she’s in the right place. Examples of hooks:

  • DotNetInvoice: “Save Time. Get Paid Faster.”
  • FogBugz: “Bring Your Project into Focus”
  • Basecamp: “The Better Way to Get Projects Done”
  • Bidsketch: “Simple Proposal Software Made for Designers”
  • iPod’s hook was “One Thousand Songs in Your Pocket”

TOUR page: include medium-sized screen shots of the major screens filled with data, along with a one-minute screencast (video demo) of each page.

TESTIMONIALS: can also be titled “Buzz” or “Who uses [Your AppName]?” and it’s one of the most important pages on your site. Do not launch without testimonials.

Monitor mentions of your product using Google Alerts and add choice quotes and backlinks to this page. This not only adds to your list of buzz, but shows people that you will link to them if they write about your product.

CONTACT: Always provide a toll-free number. Provide both a contact form in the browser and a separate email address.

PRICING: put this as the link on the far right of your top navigation and add subtle highlighting.

  • If at all possible, include an Upsell.
  • If you don’t offer a free trial, then at least offer a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee.

EBOOK / REPORT:

Make a PDF report from 5-15 pages. The key is finding a topic that your audience will not only be interested in, but will be ravenous for.

Once you have the title, you can create this work yourself or hire a writer to handle the leg work.

Offering a free, five-day email course can be an exceptional draw.

  1. Create your report and offer it as a PDF download for one-month. Note the number of sign-ups you receive.
  2. Next, break the report up into a five-day email course and offer it for one month. Compare results and go with what works.

OUTGOING EMAIL:

  • Run Spam Assassin on outgoing emails to ensure they won’t get caught in spam filters.
  • Providing ongoing content every 2-4 weeks is the best way to build a relationship.
  • Autoresponder series: a 2-4 week gap between each email.
  • Share relevant links with a small amount of commentary. These are the best kinds of posts – easy to write but containing a lot of value for your audience. Most audiences (software developers and web designers excluded) are out of touch with current events in their industry so it’s dead simple to provide relevant content with a few minutes of time every few weeks.
  • Another great source of content is questions from customers or prospects. Answer the question in your email to solidify your place as an expert in this niche.
  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the best days to send emails. Between 7 AM and 10:30 AM

Core strategies like building an audience, search engine optimization and participating in niche communities have far more impact on your bottom line than most of the new media tools you read about.

Marketing

Don’t think you’re building a global brand here – you’re not Coca-Cola or Johnson & Johnson. The minute those users leave your site you are out of their minds forever.

Most products you launch should have their own blog, if for nothing else than to draw search engine traffic.

While the worldwide podcasting and video blog watching audiences are small compared to blogs and infinitesimal compares to mailing lists, the engagement achieved from talking to your listeners is unprecedented. Blogs and mailing lists can’t touch it.

The bond you are able to build with an audio or video audience is unachievable with the written word. There’s absolutely no comparison.

For video blogging, I recommend the book Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business (amazon link)

Google provides a Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

SEO is only two components: on-page factors and incoming links.

Google alerts is one of the most under-used tools in online marketing. Create an alert for all variations of your product names.

For articles, 500-700 words is best. You need 500 to be over the minimum length requirements. [Note from Nick: this should probably be updated to 2,000+ words to stay competitive these days in SEO]

Delegating, Outsourcing, and Automating

Nearly anything I try to automate is easier to outsource first, and then automate down the line once the volume warrants it.

Out of 30 tasks you might be able to outsource 6 or 8 of them tomorrow if you spend 2-3 hours today writing up the processes. Compare that with automation, which can take a week or more to get each task off your plate since it takes a lot of code to automate a task.

As a startup, one of your advantages is that you move very quickly. You can roll out new features much quicker than your competition. And being able to manually process some parts of a task can often reduce your development time by 50-80% which allows you to get the feature out the door and in front of customers.

If customers decide to use it, then you can automate it. If not, you can throw what little time you spent on it away. You develop the minimum required functionality to make the bare bones feature work; nothing more. You scaffold the rest with a human being; your VA (Virtual Assistant).

Selling Your Startup

Startups are much better bought than sold.

Even if you never plan to sell your startup, you should be collecting and reviewing the data that will ultimately allow you to facilitate an easy sale.

The eBay of website and software sales is Flippa

Here are key metrics you should track:

  • Traffic Stats (Google Analytics)
  • Revenue and Expenses –
  • Hours Spent: Using a tool like SlimTimer, track every minute you spend working on your product, broken down into development, support and marketing. This allows you to monetize your time during month-end

Success story from author:

  • Bought CMS Themer for a small sum (less than 2x monthly profit).
  • The site paid itself off in net profit in 4 months.
  • Owned it a total of 9 profitable months and sold it for a substantial gain.
  • The reason the site had literally hundreds of interested parties when  listed was due to one reason: he had outsourced the hard part, and had tracked time meticulously (showed effective earnings of $100/hour working on CMS Themer).
  • He was selling a business, and a well-paying one, rather than a job like the previous owner.

Read other reviews and notes on the book’s Amazon page.