Craig Ballantyne on Building Your Online Business

Once again, I refer back to Craig Ballantyne for his brilliant advice on moving your business forward. This is a long video, so I’ll try to outline some pieces of it so you can pick and choose in your watching.

Craig uses personal anecdotes and politically incorrect suggestions to encourage you to push past your limitations. He discusses the importance of planning ahead and being focused (minutes 3:00 through about 10:00).

The next piece is on determining who exactly your customer is and meeting his or her needs (minutes 10:00 through about 17:30). Following is time management advice and how to differentiate yourself  (17:30 to 25:30). From here, we get more into details. Sales copy, building a high value offer, getting affiliates, etc. From here, you can watch it when you have time, or not. The important part for anyone in business is that first twenty-five minutes. And there you have it. Let me know what you think.

Journal Entry #4 – The Journey Home

August 23, 2011

After  a long, frustrating night through which I came to regret nearly every decision I’ve made over the last five days, the Lord decided to add a dash of beauty to a canvas previously awash in stress and irritation. Last night, upon arrival in Riga, Latvia after a four-hour bus ride, I found out during check-in that skipping one connecting flight to go directly to the next is, let’s say, frowned upon by airBaltic (my regional airline). Being in Klaipeda (on the coast) for a writing retreat, I had decided it would be easier to go directly to Riga and pick up my flight there rather than go back to Vilnius for the earlier leg of that flight. I saved $10 and stayed an extra half-day.

So now in Riga, I was told that, while connecting flights normally can’t be skipped, for some reason I was fine and would be able to continue on to Stockholm. So I waited the three and a half hours for my flight, then prepared to board. When I handed over my boarding pass, the girl at the gate informed me that since I hadn’t used the connecting flight, I wouldn’t be able to fly. Of course, there were no other flights going to Stockholm (or any other means of getting there) that night. With the help of family back home, and a few hours and a several hundred euros later, things worked out, but not before hours of thinking, “Dear God, what have I gotten myself into?”

In one of my favorite songs from the old youth group days, there is a line that goes, “Though my sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes with the morning.” Taken from the Psalms, it came home to heart this morning as we touched down in Stockholm, , gliding through rays of light as the rising sun spilled across Sweden’s hills and forests. As if to make a final resounding statement of His glory, hours later as we passed over Greenland, the captain announced that we should look out the windows. Normally the cloud cover is too thick to see anything, but today of all days, the sky was clear. Through the open window, one could see icebergs that had broken off from land, and further, glaciers winding up onto shore; every swirl of ice, every contour of rock a testament to the majesty of the Creator. How can one missed flight compare to the One who with a word breathed continents into being? Who with a thought molded hills and valleys, raised forests, and scooped out the sea beds? Who with a touch of His finger shaped every living being, each unique, each more complex than science can fully explain? Who formed the heart of man, with all its meditations, sorrows, anxious thoughts, and joyful memories?

As I lay on airport seats in Riga, trying to steal a little sleep between the stress of the evening’s events and my early morning flight, all that had been stirring in my heart for the last few days came together. In those moments of loneliness I realized that as much as I love travel, I need the relationships in my life even more. They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Isolated from the outside world, it hit home again just how often I take for granted the people in my life. I’m grateful for the reminder.

Imperialism in the Corporate World

I’m taking an ancient history class this semester, with a focus on empires and imperialism. Friday, we began a discussion on what makes an empire and the meaning of imperialism. While not a conclusive list to what is inherently part of an empire, we noted the following selection. First is a monopoly of force. An empire, by definition, is expansionist in nature. In order to extend, previously established entities within the targeted region of expansion must be compelled to allow that expansion. In most cases, if not always, compelling someone else to allow you to have some control over them when they had governed themselves previously requires some means of force, whether military or otherwise.

This leads into the second aspect of “empire”: when any politico-cultural unit attempts to take control of another unit, that first unit inherently, whether intentionally or unintentionally, imposes its values on the other. This explains why it is that in most cases force must be used to compel one to allow another control. Consider a master-slave relationship. For any human being who has had his or her liberty removed, he or she will naturally be resistant to the establishment of another’s control. Why? Because their ability to choose how they live has been over-run. Someone else dictates their lifestyle; this eventually affects their attitude, mindset, and worldview, and they adapt to their new lifestyle, even if it is not the one they would choose.

Finally, there is an imbalance of relationship between the two societies involved. For example, in most of Rome’s conquests, the idea of Rome installing political control over another kingdom was sold as being mutually beneficial. The conquered political leader was a “friend” of Rome; the Latin gives us the term “client”, implying that “We are making your life better by establishing our cultural norms as yours.” However, despite multiple forms of relationship between Rome and her subject states (from the conquered “allies” of Italy to the “independent dependency” of Egypt before 30 B.C.), any state who resisted Rome’s leverage (on Roman terms) faced the likelihood of severe reprisals. Therefore in reality, the supposed “friends” of Rome were really her conquests for her own economic and political benefits.

During this discussion, I started thinking about imperialism in today’s context. While it may be a negative term that our modern, democratic society tries to avoid, let’s step back and define it. According to Meriam-Webster, imperialism is:

The policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence.

The term is best represented by the British Empire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also stands as a point of controversy in American history; even, it may be argued, continuing up to American involvement in the Middle East today. But I want to look at it in terms of business. When we think of business, we tend to think of the “corporate world”. That carries a certain set of connotations with it. It is the epitome of a competitive culture: competing against one another to climb the “corporate ladder”, competing against other businesses for market share, and competing between departments for any number of reasons. In my mind, this constant “dog-eat-dog” world fits within the confines of our definition of imperialism: “the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence.” Is this a healthy system? Or is there a better way of doing it? I’d love to hear your feedback on this! Do you see a connection between imperialism and the contemporary corporate culture; and if so, is there anything wrong with that?

Journal Entry #3 – After Camp Reflections

August 19, 2011

Wow. I really did mean to write much more consistently during the camp than I did. But instead, literally every minute was spent either working or investing in relationships with others. The few minutes I had in between were spent sleeping (like, five hours a night). But the investment was so worth it. While the content taught wasn’t particularly new, I did come away with a lot of value. For one, while the project we did was something I had done before, and thus was not particularly difficult, it resulted in some great ideas that I may find to be worth investing in. If I can find one or two business ideas from the camp that actually take off, and can get on board with those ideas as a consultant, that would provide great experience for my consulting firm idea. More on that later.

But of course the best thing coming out of this camp is the relationships I built. From housemates to business partners, hours-long conversations resulted in ties not easily broken by time or distance. Many of these people I will never see again. But I know that if one day I am traveling in places like Brazil, the UK, Bulgaria, Serbia, or Tajikistan, I will have a friendly face to greet me. And the vice versa is also true. A big theme of this camp was (as I’ve talked about before here) adding value to others. I don’t need to measure the investment value before knowing that I would gladly go out of my way to do whatever I could for many of these people. So once again the greatest lesson of business is affirmed: be intentional in investing in relationships. It will always pay off and is always the best investment you can make. There’s your tip of the week, now go live it out.

Journal Entry #2 – Introduction to the Camp

August 11, 2011

“I am here because…” And with that statement, the Blacksmith Entrepreneurship and Liberty camp began. We sat around our dinner tables, each introducing ourselves. Each individual, with all of his or her hopes, dreams, and fears, began to open a door to their souls; revealing just a little piece of what makes them tick. Not very far, but it all begins by cracking the door, right? And with some, I have seen that door open a little further.

I met the first part of the group of students here this morning, as we gathered to head to a local museum in Vilnius. After a brief lunch, we picked up our bags at the hostel and headed for the bus. And yes, four hours allows some doors to open pretty wide.

Stepping back twenty-four hours, I finally ran into the issue I was concerned about.  I knew I had to rush in Amsterdam because I only had fifty minutes to get to my next flight. If I missed that flight (due to delay), I would miss my connection to airBaltic (regional airline). I did make that connection. However, in Riga, I fell asleep at the gate and missed my flight to Vilnius. I had to head into town to buy a bus ticket. It was something of a mess, yet has been worth it. After several hours of conversation, I am very appreciative of the opportunity to be here.

Journal Entry #1 – En Route to Lithuania

August 10, 2011

We drifted higher and higher through strata of amazing landscape. This takeoff has by far produced the most beautiful scenery. Angling away from land, one’s gaze travels for miles across flat terrain and into the North Sea. The Netherlands are, of course, very flat and covered by waterways. Blocks of fields surround residential dwellings.

We broke through the cloud cover. I was slightly disappointed as I hoped to be able to maintain a visual on the terrain, but my attitude received a quick readjustment. Slipping through the cloud cover, a whole new universe opened up. Never has an expanse of clouds looked so like another world; a landscape of valleys and hills, of ridges and ravines. Forgive me for leaving the cloud types and  names back in eighth grade, but the variety between thick and thin created the illusion of a wintered Narnia with the occasional window to another universe of waterways below. In this context, “breathtaking” works quite well.

I am currently making my way to Stockholm, Sweden, where I will pick up an airBaltic flight to Vilnius. It has been about fifteen hours or so since boarding my first flight; in other words, I am running on almost zero sleep, as I only slept four hours the night before. But than, this is travel! Despite the harrowing dash through Amsterdam’s airport (a fifty-five minute layover to cross the airport and get through security), the traditional lack of sleep, and the ear splitting descent into Amsterdam that killed my hearing, I am reminded of why I love travel. And looking out my window, I am reminded of the majesty of God expressed through His astonishingly beautiful creation.

Looking Back

After what feels like an eternity of being away, I am finally back on the ground in the States, getting ready to head back to school. Reflecting back, this trip offered a wide variety of experiences, from long nights spent talking to amazing people to long nights spent sitting in airports stressing over issues with my itinerary. It was full of lessons, affirmations, realizations, and ideas. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share many of those with you. At first, be expecting posted journal entries from various points throughout my trip, followed by expanded posts on my notes from lectures at camp. Finally, be on the lookout for some special subscriber-only content to come out end of September (if you haven’t subscribed yet, now’s the time!).

But to come back to the topic at hand, my time in Vilnius, Lithuania began with a visit to a local museum with a group of students who had arrived early. Lithuania is a country only newly out of the grasp of foreign domination. Under Soviet control for half a century, the Lithuanian people are a somber people who have built their identity around basketball and vodka. Discontent with their current political situation, they cling tightly to their cultural heritage, seeking to preserve a small piece of an identity ravaged by Russian occupation.

After heading out to Trakai (resort town outside Vilnius), we broke up into “house-groups” to claim our cabins. The first thing one would’ve noticed about the group of students gathered literally from all over the world was that, despite vast cultural differences, everyone intermingled well. By the end of the first day, relationships that would grow exponentially had already been firmly grounded.

That night at dinner everyone introduced themselves, than we received our first assignment: to submit some of our best business ideas. Of these, several would be chosen as the baseline for our projects. These projects essentially consisted of breaking up into teams around these core business ideas, in order to develop a business plan to present to the camp leaders on Sunday. While I had done similar exercises before, this affirmed for me my experience and education in this area, and served as the basis for some new business ideas.

Other than the projects, a main part of the camp was the lecturing. This consisted of about three hours a day of instruction, and one hour of Q and A. While the information wasn’t particularly new to me, it served the same purpose as the project: it confirmed the direction I was heading and further motivated me to build on some under-developed business ideas.

By far the most important thing that came out of this camp is the relationships I had the opportunity to build. Literally every moment outside of sleeping (which was not a common feature of the camp!) and working was spent talking with others, from business ideas to just getting to know one another. Despite our differences, many of us built friendships that won’t easily fade with time. Once again, from day one through my last night laying on airport seats waiting for a morning flight, I was reminded of the vitality of investing in those relationships and of the value they provide. Without relationships, not only is our ability to succeed in business greatly hampered, but our ability to be fulfilled in everyday life is almost nil.