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The Four Hour Body and You Like many of your Tim Ferriss fans out there, I've been very keen to try the Four Hour Body lifestyle change. I'm overweight by quite a few pounds, so I made a New Year's resolution to shed some pounds....

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Improvements and Fixes to WP E-CommerceImprovements and Fixes to WP E-Commerce Like many of you, I am a user of the WP E-Commerce plug-in for Wordpress as well as a Gold Cart upgrade customer. While WP E-Commerce has many excellent features and does wonders for the Wordpress-based...

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Credit cards: a lifeline for cash Hi all. It certainly has been a while since I've last posted. That's because in many ways the 4HWW concept has been shot given the urgency of making ends meet and scrambling to get whatever dollars are...

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Version 0.2 of Show User Level Content Plugin Now Available Making an update to the Show User Level Content Plugin ... finally on version 0.2 This version should allow multiple hide statements in the same post. This is a test of that functionality. The first...

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More on Banking... A while back I posted about business banking accounts, and asked the community what their thoughts were on the best ones for FHWW'ers. I never really did get a good response, but the post is out there,...

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Craig’s List: Flakes, Scammers, and Ho’s

Category : muse, outsourcing

The Decay of a Social Network

Has anyone else had this experience? I am in the midst of remodeling my basement (I’ll have a few posts on that subject, so sorry to bore you all if you don’t care). In the process, I had to get rid of a washer/dryer combo that was not going to fit the new space. More importantly, I just wanted some new equipment. Anyways, I didn’t just want to put the washer/dryer out on the street or give it to charity, since perhaps someone would want a great washer/dryer set for just $100 as well as an old tub for the same amount. I was pretty much willing to part with it for whatever I could get, as long as they would haul it out themselves.

So, I decided to post my washer/dryer item up on the local Craig’s List. I figured if someone in the area would want it, this would be the quickest and easiest way to find out.

Lo and behold, 2 days later I get my first response:

Hi do you still have them thanks when good time to stop by

Disregarding the bad grammar, I replied:

Yes, I still have the washer and dryer (separate units). Are you interested in purchasing them?

He responded fairly quickly:

I want them can you hold them for me thanks – I have Blood donation tuesday and my dad gets home around 6pm what area are you at thanks can you give me number can get in touch [phone number]

Ok, so I understand now that he’s a student or some such. No problem. So, I email him my phone number and await his call. Didn’t get it that evening. Or the following day. Or the day after that. So, I email him asking what the status is. No response. So, I decide to give him a call on the number. I finally get a hold of him, and he says he’s still interested, and he’ll come that weekend. I wait for him that weekend. He never shows up. I call again, this time, no answer. I give up and chalk it up to a flake. Hopefully I’ll get another bite.

Sure enough, just a few days later, I get the following inquiry from someone new:

Is it still available?
I respond:
Yes! But it needs to get out of here this weekend. Can you come and pick it up?
Get a response back fairly quickly:
My husband is in XXX tomorrow dropping my step-daughter at college. We actually are renovating a farmhouse in YYY but I thought possibly he could load in his car & drive back…I’ll need to have him coordinate with you. Is there a # you can be reached at?
So, I respond with my phone # and coordinate a pick up later that weekend. The weekend comes and goes, no pickup, no call. So, I email asking what happened. Here’s the response:
My husband wasn’t able to be in touch–our loss…
Oh well. I guess another flake. Maybe I just hit a bad batch, and I’ll get a real buyer soon. In just a few days, I get this inquiry:
Is the tub still avaliable? i am getting ready to buy a house and a clawfoot tub is a must for me. thank you.
My response:
Yes, but it must go tomorrow! Can you come by tomorrow to pick it up? It’s on the third floor and needs to be taken down (carefully!). It’s quite heavy and I can’t help to carry it down, but I’m sure you can (perhaps along with a small crew and a dolly). Let me know if you can come and get it!
As you can see, I’m getting quite wary already of the Craigslist responders and wondering if these people are for real. I get my reassurance via email:
what time would be good for me to come and get it? im free after 5?
I’m sure the person didn’t mean that to be a question, so I responded that after 5 is fine and come pick it up ASAP. The time comes and goes. Nothing happens. No email, no phone call. I email asking what happened. No response. Geez. Flakes: 3, Me: 0.
At this point, I’ve all but given up. Just as I go to find a charity to donate the appliances to, I get this email:
Hello, Is this still available?  I own an antique and refinishing shop in XXXX and am putting a vintage style kitchen and bathroom on the upper level.  thanks so much for your response.
Ok, so now I’m thinking this has a chance. A real professional. Someone who has a need. Someone who knows better than to yank my chain and waste my time. So, I respond:
Yes it is, but you’ll need to haul it from our third floor. It’s quite heavy – do you have folks who can get it and bring it?
Yes, I do, my husband has a truck as well.  How much are you asking again? and could you send me the link or ad # I am so sorry I have responded to about 15 ads today for clawfoots and am trying to keep them straight..
Hmm, now I am starting to see what might be going on here. I respond with the right information, a time, and my number. Should I be surprised? The buyer never shows up. Doesn’t call, doesn’t email. I’m just stuck waiting for her at the allotted time. I send out a very frustrated email asking what happened. And here’s what I get back:
Hello Again,  I was able to find one with a kitchen sink also, so I won’t be coming by.   Thanks again

Flakes: 4, Me: 0. Ok, I’ve had it. I donate it to a local good will and get $300+ as a tax write-off. I guess I win.

Here’s what gets me about this whole thing. I understand that there are lots of choices on Craig’s List and maybe my appliances and tub weren’t the best, but it seems that the ratio of flakes to real buyers is quite high. NONE of the buyers bothered to let me know that they were either not interested or found another option after they set up a specific date and time to come by and pick it up. They had absolutely no consideration for my time. I thought this might be just my bad luck, but apparently, after doing a search on “Craigslist flake” on Google, this is so common, it even has its own Urban Dictionary definition!

It seems that it is the exception that someone is able to find a buyer on Craig’s list rather than the rule. Geez, if there ever was a decay of the value of a social network, here it is.

Craig’s List: Good for Nothing

Digging into Craig’s List deeper, I found that Craig’s list provided very little tangible value to anyone. I saw blog posts and forum comments about people who couldn’t even give away items on Craig’s list. Even more worrisome is the trend that people are using Craig’s List for scams and criminal activity. Craig’s List provides a great anonymous front for the very sort of criminal element you don’t want near the items you have for sale.

Indeed, that very anonymous front might result in probably the only community that gets value from Craig’s List: Pimps and Hos. In the personal’s section called “Casual Encounters“, you will find a deluge of advertisements for thinly-veiled offers of adult services of all sorts. There must be a lot of buyers, because there’s a heck of a lot of sellers. If many legit sellers of goods, like myself, are having such a hard time getting real people to buy goods, and if scammers are pushing out the good sellers in droves, then it must be that the Pimp-n-Ho audience is what Craigs List caters to the most.

But even in this area, Craig’s List is a danger zone. Police the world over now know that Craig’s List is an open market for sex trade, and both buyers and sellers are targeted in Craig’s List oriented raids and stings. Over time, even the Pimp-n-Ho audience is bound to leave Craig’s List when the pressure is too much to bear.

Where does that leave Craig’s List? With no value whatsoever. When a good social network that provides a real value proposition is left to decay without any quality enforcement, it rapidly becomes an abandoned, crime-ridden, and flake-prevalent destination. Just like many of our good urban cities — when the real value generators leave the community, all that’s left is decay.

Am I wrong?

Is it just me? Am I bitter because I had a quadruple-flake experience and over-generalizing? Has anyone had any luck (recently!) with Craig’s List? Have you been burned? Have you had the same experience? Please tell me I’m not alone or off my rocker!

You Can Do it Faster, Better, and Cheaper… so why do it at all?

Category : outsourcing, productivity, time management

Like many of you, I struggle to get things done on time that I really need to get done. I get bogged down in the grunt work when I should be focusing on the bigger picture items. You know the drill, focus on the important but not urgent, but all the while the urgent things eat up your time. If you did a Time Audit, you’d find that much of the time is being taken up by short-term activities that can easily be reduced, eliminated, or outsourced. Yet they stay on your to-do list anyways.

Why is that? I believe it’s because of the psychology of delegation. Anyone who has been doing something for a while believes that they can do a task faster, better, and less expensively than a third party. And in many ways this is absolutely correct. I have found, through my own experience, that I can perform better in at least two out of the three criteria (faster, better, cheaper) than anyone else I can get to do the task. But that is NOT the point!

Contunue Reading

eLancers: Stop being so defensive!

Category : outsourcing

I’ve gotten a number of harassing email messages and comments on this blog responding to my “eLance Sucks” post. My experiences are my experiences. I don’t have a bone to pick with eLance, but in my case, I simply am dissatisfied with the eLance experience and the way that eLance has treated me, a potential buyer.

Rude, obnoxious, and not appropriate comments on this blog are not appreciated if they can’t positively contribute to the discourse of trying to help folks make their 4HWW goals come true. If you are an eLancer and think my tiny little blog is impacting your business, then do the right thing and contact the eLance support department and have them reverse their ludicrous policies towards buyers.

eLance, if you are listening: if you want me back as a customer, turn on my account. I posted 5 jobs on your site. I got 2 responses. Both were incredibly under qualified. I found those job reqs on another site. But, now I can’t even return to your site because those 5 original job posts count against me. This is an insane policy.

Now, think before you respond. I am a real customer. These are real experiences. These are experiences shared by others. If you think I’m just a whiny person, then guess what, there are hundreds, maybe thousands more, like me. Think we are picky? Try looking for a job these days — the economy is tight. These aren’t the boom years anymore. Try listening to your customers and just maybe you’ll weather the storm.

Outsourcing Collections and Accounts Receivable?

Category : outsourcing

One of the main themes espoused in the The 4-Hour Workweek is the idea that you should outsource all tasks that you can and automate all the rest, leaving your time mostly focused on strategy, business-growth, and handling escalated tasks that exceed the capabilities of the outsourcers. All this sounds great, and Tim Ferriss makes lots of recommendations in his book on outsourcing a wide range of activities. However, one of the things he doesn’t mention much about is the activity of collecting money from customers.

If you’re doing things right with a muse (or even bigger) business, collections should not even be an issue. You’re probably already charging upfront for your products,using credit cards, or check prior to receipt of goods, and so you shouldn’t even have an accounts receivable problem. This is another argument behind the point that the 4HWW ideas and lifestyle is primarily suited to product-based businesses that sell products up to $500 (items that can easily be charged to a credit card). I presented other arguments to back up the point that the 4HWW lifestyle and outsourcing concepts are not really appropriate for service-based businesses at all, or product-based businesses that have long sales cycles, expensive price-points, in-person delivery or sales, or proposal generation. Basically, the 4HWW ideas are really meant for payment-upfront, product-based businesses that require no in-person sales, delivery, or proposal generation and where the decision-making cycle is very short. This really leaves a lot of businesses outside of the 4HWW ideal.

For those in the services industries or in businesses where it is impossible to receive full payment for goods prior to delivery, then the ugly problem of collecting accounts receivables rears its ugly head. Collections takes time. Generating invoices. Collecting checks. Following up with delinquent accounts. Finance charges / service fees. Working with large company’s accounts payable systems and procurement people. None of this is fun nor conducive to the 4HWW goals. If you can’t change your business to bring it in line with the sweet spot defined above, then what can you do? Outsource the whole collections and accounts receivable mess.

I have not yet done any research in this area, but I can imagine that there must be a place where you can send your monthly or weekly or even daily accounts receivables to some outsourced firm who goes through all the trouble of making sure the payments are received. I would imagine they’d take a percentage cut of the collections to do so, however, but save you the headache of managing such a time-suck of an activity. For large-ticket items ($50k an above maybe), this might be a good idea. But for those in the not-so-sweet spot of 4HWW (products over $5,000), but not quite $50k, this might prove to be problematic.

Does anyone have any experience with this type of accounts receivables outsourcing and have any advice? Do you think I have it wrong with regards to the 4HWW sweet spot and characterization of the 4HWW ideals as primarily focused on cash-upfront (point-of-sale) products that are bought (not sold!) between $50 and $500?

Traveling this week!

Category : outsourcing

As a quick update, I’m traveling out of the country this week. Let me say that I’m still working longer than I would like, but getting a bit more used to outsourcing and stripping out the parts that don’t add value to my time.

I have a few things to update on as well as help people make some more starts towards the ideas in the FHWW book. Also, I have a few site upgrades to get through, so you might see a flurry of activity from me soon!

What a difference a day… and clarity… makes!

Category : outsourcing

Yesterday I complained about the results received when I posted my first, somewhat vague post on outsourcing websites. I determined that I needed to split my one post into three separate posts, each made more specific. I uploaded those posts, and wow… what a difference it made.

I received six bids on GetaFreelancer.com for one of the posts, selected one provider (for just $55!) and I’ve already started to see results. Yes, that fast.

For my second post, I received 2 responses on eLance.com and 3 on GetaFreelancer.com. I already have my eye on one respondent (from the US, no less at $25/hr), and I’ll probably settle on her shortly. The bids on GetaFreelancer.com were a bit lower, but we’ll have to see about quality.

On a final note, I received three bids on Guru.com (yes, they finally posted my original request) for my original, vague request, but the prices are much higher than I received on the other two sites. Perhaps that’s because of the vagueness of my post, but perhaps that has something to do with the sort of respondents on Guru.com as well. I’ll have to find out when I post my next request online.

So far, this is working out well. I’ll let you know about quality of the workers soon!

Moral of the story: breaking down large projects (or even seemingly small projects) into smaller projects and defining them in great detail leads to more qualified responses at more favorable prices, with hopefully better results. Perhaps this should be called micro-sourcing?

A lesson in clarity…

Category : outsourcing

So, yesterday I posted my outsourcing / VA job requirements on eLance, Guru.com, and GetaFreelancer.com. How did it go?

Results: Zero responses on eLance and 5 ill-suited responses on GetaFreelancer.com. Before I delve into each one of the above, I would like to complain about Guru.com. I was unable to make even one submission. For whatever reason, my submission is in limbo, not having been posted. I will try again, and then give up with Guru.com if I can’t make it work.

Are these poor results the fault of the responders or a black mark on the reputation of the outsourcing web sites? Heck no. The fault lies squarely with me. I simply did not word the job specification clearly enough or post it in the right places to solicit the sort of responses I was looking for.

So, I’m following the good advice of my new friend M @ The Four Hour Trial Blog and using his advice to see if I can solicit much better responses simply by being clearer about what I want.

For example, it’s too vague to say you need “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)” or “Blog Marketing”. Specifically say what you want posted where, in what quantities, and in what time frame, with what particular measurable result, and your results should be much better. That might mean shrinking the task or splitting it into multiple tasks (as it did in my case), but that also means more qualified respondents as well as a greater likelihood of success.

Also, I was given advice to:

  • Make sure to select escrow service as a way of implying trust in this anonymous Internet environment…
  • Repeat the post in different categories and sections with different titles so as to attract different people who might be keying off the title and section as an indicator of interest. I’m therefore going to post the description in 5-7 different places on eLance and do the same on Getafreelancer.com where it makes sense…
  • Create a separate task for doing some of the parts that are unrelated to the other tasks. Rather than have one outsourcer stretch and do two jobs in a mediocre way, the advice is to have two outsourcers do individual jobs very well. This might mean higher cost, but also better results.

I’m giving the above a try today and I’ll let you know shortly of my (hopefully much better) results!

Beginning the Outsourcing journey

Category : outsourcing

My first New Year’s Resolution was to outsource some of the tasks that were making my current business consume 60+ hours of my time per week.

Now, for me, outsourcing is really hard to do. For one, I believe that I’m the only one that can do some task well, so I tend not to delegate to others. Second, it takes time and effort to find and manage the outsourced contractor. Finally, I’ve had mediocre luck in finding good resources, so I tend to say to myself “well, it’s just better if I do it myself”. WRONG. The only way to get to the 4HWW goal is to buckle up and learn how to outsource well.

In addition to the book, I read a great post at 43 Folders called Enlightened Outsourcing that really helped pull things together. In particular, the lesson learned is: find out which tasks are readily outsourcable and easily defined, define the task WELL, and set the constraints in a narrow fashion so you know for sure whether it’s working or not. I know, obvious advice, but hard to execute well without experience.

The outsource-able task the promotion and marketing of events to get attendees to our events. I decided to focus the first outsourcing task on just the first of these events.

As a first step, I defined my task. I managed to get some feedback from other FHWW bloggers (Thanks a ton, M @ The Four Hour Trial!). I then simultaneously posted this task on eLance, GetaFreelancer.com, and Guru.com. Total cost:$20. It would have cost even less, but I chose to post on eLance as a “Featured” project to increase the odds of getting a good response.

I haven’t yet gotten any responses or feedback as the job has just been posted, but I would like your feedback. Do you have any good examples of well-crafted outsourcing posts that got good results? Any experiences with this sort of outsourcing?

Applicability of the four-hour work week

Category : Getting Started

The more I read the book and think about how to apply it to my own life, the more I wonder about just who this four-hour work week is most appropriate for. For sure, if you have a product company that can operate on semi-auto pilot with subcontractors and outsourcers performing the responsibilities of fulfillment, order management, customer support, and sales/marketing then I can see how the automation possibilities easily lends itself to a shorter work week.

But how about businesses that require in-person delivery specifically by the person they are contracting with? For example, I have a hard time seeing how doctors or dentists can take advantage of four-hour work weeks. Maybe if they were simply office managers that had other doctors working for them, but if you were a doctor’s patient, would you want that outsourced? It certainly seems to be hard to apply the lessons learned in the book to those situations.

Service vs. Product

Basically it seems that the core challenge in applying the four-hour work week is that you have to be in a product business vs. a service business for this to make sense. A service business entails anything that is sold with the unit of work being delivered by a person rather than the unit of value delivered by a product. Furthermore, services have low repeatability. That is, if you deliver the service once and it takes a certain amount of effort, then delivering the service again will take a similar amount of effort.

On the contrary, with a product, the cost to build and develop the product is amortized across all the sales of that product. The cheaper it costs to build the product, the greater the revenue potential in sales. And if the product has no incremental cost once it’s built, then you can sell it literally millions of times without any additional cost (information products are a good example).

Now, this is something that Timothy Ferriss talks about in his book, so there’s no new ground discussed here. But the core is that most people are stuck in service businesses or in a service organization part of a product business. To change the work week requires either completely changing what you do for a living or structuring your work such that you no longer deliver the service, but either supervise others who deliver the service or productize the service offering such that there’s no longer an element of human delivery.

Buying People vs. Buying Brand

Another key issue is that is the value being bought from the company a function of the people who deliver that value (in which case, the cost of delivery is going to scale with the cost of labor), or is it a function of the brand (in which case, cheaper products and services can be offered at a premium given the value of the brand). To successfully become a four-hour work weeker, one needs to transition from becoming the sole delivery of a labor-driven value proposition to a manager of others who deliver the labor-driven value proposition to the sales of products that sell value based on brand, not on labor.

If you’re on the service side trying to live the four hour week, I see this as the fundamental challenge to face: either leaving the service business altogether, or productizing it in such a way that people buy the services at a premium based on your brand, and the labor is then outsourced to others who deliver at low cost.