Operation: Brain Dump

Operation: Brain Dump

A few days ago I mentioned the struggle I had with my central air conditioning system, which had broken during a heat wave. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I learned enough to do some simple diagnostic work, then tried a quick fix. It didn’t work, but I had learned enough to know that proceeding further would likely be similar in repair cost by a professional, so I was at peace with the decision. Throughout the entire ordeal, I was fully aware that I was on unfamiliar ground and did not beat myself up over not mastering the Art of Air Conditioning Repair.

It later occurred to me that knowing and accepting I was a novice helped keep me stress-free during what otherwise would have been a frustrating experience. By comparison, I had been feeling SUPER STRESSED about my continuing efforts to achieve creative freedom through learning how to design and sell my work. And that’s when I realized that this time, I was a novice but didn’t fully accept it. My goal is conceptually simple, and in my mind I had come to imagine my growth path as “becoming a simple country designer, working and living free of the corporate stresses of big business.” And yet, for the past three weeks I’ve been feeling exceptionally perturbed at my lack of progress. It also seemed like I had a million things to do, and even though I knew I could start anywhere and make progress, I still felt a looming sense of hopelessness.

I am a Novice at Making my Own Way

In other words, I was a novice at this. As clear as my end vision was, I had fallen into the trap of assuming that I knew what I was doing. And indeed, I do know what needs to happen. However, unlike a master, I have no framework of understanding that I can use to anchor my studies. I’m vaguely aware that they exist, but I haven’t systemized them or even tried to create helpful structure to make the task easier.

That is not to say I’m completely ignorant of what I need to do. I have what I think is a solid basis of understanding about business and business practices. I also have an evolving plan, which I’ve been writing about at least once a month for the past few years. What I don’t have is a…well, I wasn’t sure what was missing. All I knew was that I felt constantly demoralized by the sheer number of things that I had to do, and I was painfully aware of how many dependencies existed between each task. It’s like a big tangled lump of many colored strings of yarn; I know if I can unravel it perhaps there’s a beautiful sweater waiting on the other side, but in the meantime I can’t really see it because the mess is so overwhelmingly difficult to unravel.

Itemizing Chaos

Having recognized that (1) I needed to wake up and accept my novice status as a business entrepreneur and (2) I could now turn on my structured learning process, I decided to spend Friday morning doing a brain dump. A brain dump is (as I define it, at least) the writing-out of everything on my mind regarding a particular subject. Once everything is out of my brain and in the open, I can then go through what I wrote and find the patterns.

So I picked a topic: “Stuff that I should be doing (to succeed)”, and started writing. I expected at least a couple dozen things, but I was surprised at just how many topics were on my mind…no wonder I felt so conflicted. Below is a table of everything. Click EXPAND ALL in the table header to see the entire list.

BRAND 01-000 Brand – The positive values and associations that my work embodies, creating an ideal that I and others gladly and proudly identify with.
BRAND 01-010 Fly the distinct Dave Seah Mission Flag
BRAND 01-010 Elevate the brand as a shareable core value
BRAND 01-010 Be a bright spot on the Internet
BRAND 01-020 Develop and share iconic artifacts
BRAND 01-020 Be shareable
BRAND 01-020 Write ebooks and books
BRAND 01-020 Share the knowledge and and experience freely
BRAND 01-030 Enable the tribe to converse and play
BRAND 01-030 Sponsor movements
BRAND 01-990 Link the products and the activities to the Brand
TRIBE 02-000 Tribe Relations – The people that are like me, and who I am like. What I do (as embodied by the “brand”) resonates with this group because it reflects shared values and ambitions.
TRIBE 02-010 Maintain website content quality
TRIBE 02-010 Post regular, useful content
TRIBE 02-010 Content Collections for Website
TRIBE 02-030 Develop product ideas from reader requests
TRIBE 02-030 Create product variants from reader requests
TRIBE 02-030 Mention reader projects and share news
TRIBE 02-040 Join with like-minded bloggers and artists
TRIBE 02-040 Collaborate with like-minded people
TRIBE 02-000 Support the brand mission
PRESENCE 03-000 Points of Presence – There are places where I can be “seen” and evaluated by current and prospective tribal members who respond to what I’m making.
PRESENCE 03-010 Main Website
PRESENCE 03-020 Facebook Page
PRESENCE 03-030 Twitter
PRESENCE 03-040 Google Plus
PRESENCE 03-050 LinkedIn
PRESENCE 03-060 Amazon.com
PRESENCE 03-100 Affiliate Marketing Program
PRESENCE 04-000 Getting the Word Out – In addition to being where I can be seen, I also have to actively put the word out and monitor reactions. This gives me insight into what I’m doing right or could be doing better.
PRESENCE 04-010 Incoming Links and Mentions
PRESENCE 04-010 Press mentions
PRESENCE 04-010 Internet-based mentions
PRESENCE 04-020 Sponsorship and Affiliations
PRESENCE 04-030 Search Engine Optimization
PRESENCE 04-030 Press placement
PRESENCE 04-030 Directory Listing
PRODUCT 10-000 Product Development – The foundation of my model for revenue generation is to have things to sell that support the brand and the tribe. New products should lead the way by expanding our capabilities or making existing ones more awesome.
PRODUCT 10-000 Speculative Research
PRODUCT 10-100 New Free Downloads
PRODUCT 10-200 New Digital Products for Sale
PRODUCT 10-300 New Paper Products for Sale
PRODUCT 10-400 New Non-Paper Physical Products for Sale
PRODUCT 10-500 Books
PRODUCT 10-600 Software
PRODUCT 10-700 Workshops
PRODUCT 11-000 Product Updates – Keeping old product up-to-date and useful is different from making new products. It’s not as exciting, but it needs to be done to maintain a resilient foundation for long-term revenue generation.
PRODUCT 11-100 Free Downloads
PRODUCT 11-100 Compact Calendar Mid Year
PRODUCT 11-100 Academic Calendar Mid Year
PRODUCT 11-200 Digital Products
PRODUCT 11-200 Year Almanacs Mid Year
PRODUCT 11-300 Paper Products
PRODUCT 11-300 Non-Paper Physical Products
PRODUCT 12-000 Product Package Prep – To sell a product, it needs supporting writing and media. Product packaging needs to keep costs as low as possible while meeting the physical requirements of warehousing, shipping, and handling. This factors into unit cost and ultimately pricing.
PRODUCT 12-100 Product Lines and Bundles
PRODUCT 12-100 Product model number
PRODUCT 12-100 Product UPC / SKU
PRODUCT 12-100 Product minimum suggested retail price
PRODUCT 12-100 Product minimum selling price
PRODUCT 12-100 Product ordering information
PRODUCT 12-100 Package dimensions and weight
PRODUCT 12-100 Product shipping costs US, EU, Asia, Australia
PRODUCT 12-200 Product functional description
PRODUCT 12-200 Product feature description
PRODUCT 12-200 Product use cases
PRODUCT 12-200 Product color commentary and description
PRODUCT 12-200 Product market and industry keywords
PRODUCT 12-200 Product materials
PRODUCT 12-200 Product notable materials
PRODUCT 12-200 Product requirements for use
PRODUCT 12-200 Product warnings and disclaimers
PRODUCT 12-200 Product slogan
PRODUCT 12-300 Product photography, Plain
PRODUCT 12-300 Product photography, Lifestyle
PRODUCT 12-300 Product photography, Feature details
MKTING 20-000 Marketing Activities – Looking forward, understanding the existing market/tribe provides the necessary intelligence data for making and testing strategic decisions that hopefully yield great reward.
MKTING 20-100 Researching broad keyword categories
MKTING 20-100 Website analytics review
MKTING 20-100 Identifying markets and competitors
MKTING 20-100 Identifying compelling product mixes
MKTING 20-100 Collect price data in the marketplace
MKTING 20-200 Sending product samples to reviewers
MKTING 20-200 Running surveys and analyzing responses
MKTING 20-200 Talking to existing users of products
MKTING 20-200 Collecting testimonials
MKTING 20-300 Writing newsletter content
MKTING 20-300 Creating customer lists
MKTING 20-400 Purchasing advertising based on keywords
MKTING 20-410 Creating opportunities to buy through points of presence
MKTING 20-500 Establish retail price point of products
MKTING 20-500 Establish target markets and strategy
SALES 30-000 Direct Sales and Support – Being prepared to sell my products, and making it as easy and convenient as possible for a variety of customer types.
SALES 30-000 Monitoring sales by market and product sku
SALES 30-100 Writing product descriptions for store
SALES 30-100 Writing use cases for store blog
SALES 30-200 Wholesale orders
SALES 30-200 Contacting retail outlets
SALES 30-300 Affiliate programs
PARTNER 31-000 Revenue Generating Partnerships – At times, there will be opportunities to make cool stuff with other companies and individuals.
PARTNER 31-100 Advertising on website
PARTNER 31-200 Advertising on forms
PARTNER 31-300 Affiliate programs for products I like
PARTNER 31-400 Licensed Works
CONSULT 40-000 Consulting Services – I still do some work for hire; while my goal is to reduce this to zero, it is still a major source of revenue so it is on my mind.
CONSULT 40-100 Project-based Work
CONSULT 40-200 Retainer-based Work
MAKING 50-000 Manufacturing – Finding quality companies that can mass-produce my physical goods in a timely and affordable manner. The best ones help me realize new products by educating me about what is possible.
MAKING 50-100 Maintaining supplier relations
MAKING 50-100 Identifying new suppliers
MAKING 50-100 Ordering samples of new materials
MAKING 50-200 Evaluating competitor materials
MAKING 50-300 Cost budgeting to make
MAKING 50-400 Specification of Order Run
MAKING 50-400 Specification of Order Packaging
MAKING 50-400 Order and Order Quality Control
MAKING 50-400 Order Acceptance and Ship to Warehouse
INVENTORY 60-000 Inventory and Fulfillment – The goal is to create the simplest way to store product inventory and send it to customers without my direct involvement. This requires a lot of system definition and organization.
INVENTORY 60-100 designing the product SKU and inventory SKU
INVENTORY 60-100 UPC and SKU mapping
INVENTORY 60-100 product sku
INVENTORY 60-100 multi-unit product sku
INVENTORY 60-100 color variant skus
INVENTORY 60-100 model number to sku mapping
INVENTORY 60-100 digital only sku
INVENTORY 60-100 digital + physical packages
INVENTORY 60-100 multi-pack sku
INVENTORY 60-100 buying and managing product UPCs
INVENTORY 60-200 monitoring warehouse supply and sales rates
INVENTORY 60-200 arranging for resupply when stock is low
INVENTORY 60-200 coordinating with printer on packaging and labeling
INVENTORY 60-200 shipable packaging design
INVENTORY 60-300 shipping skus to inventory warehouses
INVENTORY 66-000 Special Fulfillment – Some product inventory I may maintain at home.
INVENTORY 66-100 Handling returns or product inquiries
INVENTORY 66-200 Managing non-FBA and non-Shipwire special inventory
SHOP-AMZ 70-000 Amazon Operations – Managing an Amazon-based store plus fulfillment operation is a job in itself due to its custom administration interface.
SHOP-AMZ 70-100 Adding new product listing
SHOP-AMZ 70-200 Supplying new product to FBA
SHOP-AMZ 70-300 Monitoring sales
SHOP-AMZ 70-300 Monitoring customer feedback
SHOP-AMZ 70-300 Monitoring customer inquiries
SHOP-SSS 71-000 Shopify Operations – To handle international shipping, save money, and present a more brand-centric online store, Shopify is part of the new system to augment Amazon sales.
SHOP-SSS 71-000 Managing online store according to brand
SHOP-SSS 71-000 Writing return policy
SHOP-SSS 71-000 Writing customer satisfaction policy
SHOP-SSS 71-100 Adding new product listing
SHOP-SSS 71-300 Monitoring sales
SHOP-SSS 71-300 Monitoring customer feedback
SHOP-SSS 71-300 Handling email inquiries
SHOP-SSS 71-300 Handling phone inquiries
SHOP-SSS 71-300 Monitoring order fulfillment
SHOP-SSS 72-000 Shipwire Operations – Inventory and fulfillment management for Shopify and Specials are handled by Shipwire’s global warehouses.
SHOP-SSS 72-200 Supply new product to warehouse
SHOP-SSS 72-200 Coordinating with Customer Care for Inventory Breaks
SHOP-SSS 72-300 Handling returns
SHOP-SSS 72-000 Automated Email: Writing Boilerplate
SHOP-SSS 72-000 Shipping Labels: Making sure it has my company name on it
EXEC 90-000 Company Direction – Key decision-making about what to focus on when and for how long, to achieve my overall revenue goals as quickly as possible while adhering to my values.
EXEC 90-100 Strategic Focus and Planning
EXEC 90-100 Periodic Review of Strategic Goals and Progress
EXEC 90-100 Provide executive support
EXEC 90-100 Maintain accounting of available resources
EXEC 90-100 money
EXEC 90-100 people
EXEC 90-100 Reward Accountability
EXEC 90-200 Lead short-term goal completion
EXEC 90-300 Acculate medium-term goal into strategic sets
EXEC 90-400 Watch for trends in revenue and market opportunities
EXEC 90-500 Maintain sight of the Brand and the Mission
ACCT 92-000 Accounting – The collection and distillation of information about all revenue-generating activities, so I can see how financially solid I am. Winning or losing?
ACCT 92-100 PayPal
ACCT 92-100 Gumroad
ACCT 92-100 Business Checking
ACCT 92-100 Business Savings
ACCT 92-100 Business Credit Card
ACCT 92-100 Stripe
ACCT 92-100 Amazon transactions
ACCT 92-100 Shopify Transactions
ACCT 92-100 Shipwire Transactions
ACCT 92-100 Draw to Personal Accounts
ACCT 92-200 Expense Reporting
ACCT 92-300 Tax Planning and Payment
ADMIN 93-000 Office Operations – Maintaining the office space in my house, along with the services, equipment, and software that I use to make product.
ADMIN 93-100 Software Licenses
ADMIN 93-100 Computer Hardware
ADMIN 93-100 Computer Maintenance
ADMIN 93-100 Project Management Software
ADMIN 93-100 Internet Connectivity and Services
ADMIN 93-100 Office Telecommunications
ADMIN 93-100 Office Physical Mailbox
ADMIN 93-100 Professional expenses
ADMIN 93-200 Office furniture and equipment
ADMIN 93-200 Office cleaning

Organizing Chaos into Focus Buckets

I can see why I was feeling so crappy; I was trying to do all of that at once, one tiny thread at a time. Each task thread is tangled up with other task threads, and is a distraction.

The table above is actually the cleaned-up version of my brain dump, with each thought grouped into an appropriate category with a clear responsibility, as if I was writing a resource for defining job positions at Dave Seah Enterprises.

Every one of those 180+ line items produces a benefit for the operation. I made-up a bunch of accounting codes to go with them, so I could define a job position as a list of result-producing activities. The main benefit to me, as a solo operator, is that I can reduce the scope of my thinking to that of a particular role. For example, if I am designing new product, I’m not even going to think anymore about the packaging design or inventory; I’ll handle that when I’m done with design. Before, I would allow myself to think about upcoming tasks related to the work at hand, like having to make a new logo or write the copy to go with it, while I was designing. That meant I was distracted, which made the design work go slower. If I started to consider packaging or inventory control strategies, I would have to “switch heads” and drop out of designer mode. This is not very efficient when you are actually trying to get something done that requires any kind of continuous concentration.

Now that I have a map of all my tasks identified and grouped into “buckets of thinking”, I am feeling much better. I’m not 100% certain that this is a false sense of security, but I think this map will remind me to not try to think of everything at the same time. Instead, I can think about one bucket at a time, and remind myself that it’s OK to take the time now to do the job well. Then, I can move to the next bucket that needs addressing. As a result, I think I will have a more realistic sense of how fast I can work; before, I felt like I was always too slow, possibly because I was aware of the giant ball of tasks that I had assigned myself without thinking about how to divide them up.

This week, I’ll see how effectively I can use this list to give myself both focus and peace of mind as I chug along toward the goal of creative independence.