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As you move from just being an author to running a business as an author, you will need to find people to work with you and take things off your shoulders.
You're a writer, so you need to offload some of the other tasks, even if you can do it all yourself. I know how hard this outsourcing is, but also how critical it is if you don't want to burn out. Today, I talk to Chris Ducker about the concept of Virtual Freedom.
In the introduction I give an update on my own writing and speaking events, as well as talking about Mark Coker's post on ebooks as annuity and the podcast I have just discovered, On Being with Krista Tippett which I recommend.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Chris Ducker is a serial entrepreneur, virtual staffing expert, blogger, podcaster and author of Virtual Freedom: How to work with virtual staff to buy more time, become more productive and build your dream business.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.
- How Chris got started in business and how he now lives in Cebu running an outsourcing company serving global businesses.
- What is Superhero Syndrome and how do we stop it? All entrepreneurs hit this. It comes down to doing everything yourself to save a few $ and learning new skills rather than hiring the work out. It's the inability to let go so you can focus on what you should be focusing on.
- What is a Virtual Assistant anyway? A time saver and can be a life saver. You have to stop the burnout that will eventually happen if you keep doing everything yourself. A VA can help you run your business in different ways. It's not about finding a ‘me-clone,' or a replicant of yourself. You have to break things down into roles and outsource those, and using multiple people is often better than one.
- If you break your work down into the various tasks, you can then find people to take those off your hands. This can be things from sorting out your file formatting and social media, to triaging your email. The ‘super-VA' doesn't exist. You need to hire per role. This can be just one-off tasks using PeoplePerHour or other sites like this, or get a VA or contractors for ongoing work.
The Freedom Exercise. Warning: this may be life-changing!
- List the things you don't like doing but you have to do them because the business demands it. Then a list of the things you can't do. Then a list you feel you shouldn't be doing as the person running your business. You have to be very honest with yourself. You might LIKE or BE GOOD at some of these tasks, but should you be doing them? Should you time be better spent doing something important for the core business? [I've been going through this and it's really important to do as you move through your career as an author.]
- Cost vs investment. It's only when you start to break under the strain that you start to appreciate the need to SPEND in order to have time back. There are different levels of VA – and there is a range of costs that will fluctuate over time – but you can be looking at $US15 – $80 per hour depending on the tasks. Chris talks about the different VAs he has and where they are situated. He also mentions Speechpad for transcription of interviews, which can be brilliant for podcast notes or for researching interviews for a non-fiction book.
- What do people get wrong when they hire a VA? They don't pay people what they are truly worth. And people don't spend enough time training their VAs when they start. If you spend the time systematizing your own work and then handing it over slowly, even doing things like documents and videos to show how things are done, then your VA will be able to deliver the work as you want it done.
- Chris has a great podcast, the New Business Podcast and he also has a podcast with Pat Flynn, 1 day Business Breakthrough. As Chris works with a lot of businesses, he talks about how many small businesses are hesitant to share their content for free. But content marketing is here to stay, so get off the fence and start sharing. The other big mistake people make is NOT growing an email list! [I've been harping on about this years now! Check out my recent post on how I've been growing my own list.]
- On global business and how Chris and I are both excited about the possibilities that are coming and the growth outside the US.
- Chris also talks about what he learned from writing his book and the challenges of working with a traditional publisher and how he had to do all the marketing for his book himself.
You can find Virtual Freedom on Amazon here. You can find Chris at ChrisDucker.com.
Transcript of Interview with Chris Ducker
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I'm here with Chris Ducker. Hi Chris.
Chris: Hello, how are you?
Joanna: I'm good. It's lovely to have another Brit on the show. Just a little introduction.
Chris is a serial entrepreneur, a virtual staffing expert, blogger, podcaster, and author of “Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business,” which is a hell of an SEO title.
Chris: Well actually, as we're on the subject, the book, the original title of the book was…let me get this right. It went from “The Freedom Factor,” that was the original title, I thought that's great, but the publishers didn't agree with that one. And then it went to “Virtual Inc.” or “Virtual Incorporated” at one point, and then we settled on the whole Virtual Freedom thing after god knows how many emails.
Joanna: It's a great title. I bought it for sure. But first up before we get down to the book:
Tell us a bit more about your background and what your business looks like today, and where in the world you are as well these days.
Chris: I'm in the Philippines, I've been based here for 14 years. I live in a place called Cebu, which is the fastest growing economic hub of the country, it's about an hour south of Manila, which is the capital of the country.
To go back, I'm just a sales and marketing guy honestly speaking, and I don't try and have any delusions of grandeur on that.
I was in the publishing business in the U.K. for a long, long time, came over here and did some consulting work, I took a job with an infomercial business over here, which did a lot of work with people over in the United States, which ended up to another opportunity over there. And that was the last job I ever had.
I was working for a very, very nice guy away from work in the infomercial game, but once he put the work hat on, he was just the biggest micro manager nightmare in the world to deal with.
I was on a plane coming back from Miami, which is where he is based, I'd been there for a month. And I'm supposed to be the international sales and marketing director at the company, but I'm doing scriptwriting, I'm doing voiceovers, I'm doing casting sessions and all this stuff, and I just had enough.
I was on my way coming back, and 37,000 odd feet I wrote my resignation letter and hit the send button when I landed in Hong Kong for my connecting flight, and that was that. Henceforth my entrepreneurial career began.
Joanna: Tell us what your business is now.
Chris: I'm engulfed in the outsourcing business, that's what I do. I have just now over 300 employees working for me here. We have an international call center where we work with very large corporations all around the world, majority of which are American, but pretty much all around the world.
We have Virtual Staff Finder, which is what a lot of people know me for online, which is the VA or Virtual Assistant match-making service, and then we have a co-working space called Location63, which actually is in the process of being converted right now into more call center space for the call center. I'm shutting it down and moving it across a little bit and pivoting a little bit with it. They're the three businesses.
But the majority of the time that I have now in terms of work, I'm focusing on creating content, marketing that content, putting together presentations for key notes that I do, and doing crazy stuff like writing books and blogging and podcasting and all that stuff. And that's the stuff that I really enjoy doing. That for me is where the real energy comes from.
Joanna: I think that is what I love, it's like you have this really big business with 300 employees. My aim was never to have an employee, which is kind of completely opposite. But yet we do the same things in terms of marketing. It's the same thing to market a book as it is to market a massive business.
Joanna: Which is brilliant, is actually brilliant. So, let's talk about the book, because it's a fantastic book. I recommend it to everybody, regardless of getting into the VA stuff, which we will.
The first thing you talk about is superhero syndrome. As soon as I read that, I was like, “Oh, I've so got that.”
Can you explain what is superhero syndrome, and how do we stop it?
Chris: Superhero syndrome is what the majority of entrepreneurs are suffering with, or at least do suffer with at some point in their entrepreneurial pursuit.
It really comes down to doing everything yourself, and believing that no one else can do it better than you. Superhero syndrome is when if you can learn how do so something yourself, you will do that to save a couple of bucks, instead of paying somebody that knows how to do it right out the gate.
I often joke that superhero syndrome is also when the word recharge only actually applies to your mobile phone, because you're on the go and working so much and doing all this stuff.
But honestly speaking, it's the inability to let go of even just very simple tasks to other people so that you can focus on the stuff you really should be focusing on as a business owner, a one-man band entrepreneur, a blogger, a writer. You name it.
Joanna: That's great. I should point out that although I never wanted another employee, I have 13 contractors who I work with.
Chris: There you go.
Joanna: So I put that in, I'm not an absolute nightmare. But your book actually did help me move into working with a VA.
Let's just first explain in case people don't know, you know, what is a VA and what is it not?
Chris: Wow, there's a can of worms that's just been bursted open right there.
The term VA has changed a lot, and we have our illustrious 4-Hour Workweek leader, Tim Ferriss, to thank for bringing the term virtual assistant into the fray for the average Joe, small business owner kind of thing.
But outsourcing is nothing new, it's been around for decades, decades. People have been outsourcing IT setups, right the way down to HR, accounting, you name it. And so it's nothing new.
For us modern day entrepreneurs, particularly people that are doing business online, a VA is not only a timesaver, but they can literally be a lifesaver as well. Because like a lot of other entrepreneurs out there, I was working those 60-70-hour weeks, only 6 years ago I was doing that.
I burned out, I hit a brick wall 180 miles an hour, and something had to change. And so we started really delegating like crazy all the different roles. Not tasks, roles. I was wearing so many hats, that it was obvious why I broke down when we started really looking at it.
A VA helps you ultimately run, support, and grow your business in a number of different ways. And there's a lot of different virtual staff options that are out there.
Joanna: And I think probably what I meant by that, and what I learned very quickly was this:
I thought I was going to find a virtual me, like a double, and that one person would fulfill that role.
But that's a fundamental mistake, isn't it?
Chris: It certainly is. Here's the beautiful thing about it. There is only one Joanna, there's only one Chris, and for you guys watching or listening, there's only one of you as well.
You cannot replicate yourself, it's not possible to do it. You can replicate the way that you do certain things and handle certain tasks or processes, but ultimately you're not gonna be able to replace yourself. It is just not possible. But you can get very, very smart with the things that you do, start delegating.
There are certain what I would class as low level tasks that a lot of online entrepreneurs, regardless of what niche they're in or niche, I can say niche now because I'm with another Brit.
Regardless what industry or space you're in, all of these things, the circa time up each day, they're the things that are actually stunting our growth. So, things like online research or data entry or updating your CRM, or, for the love of god, trying to become a graphic designer in Photoshop, to design your logo on the cheap.
Social media, that's a huge one, managing email, all these things, we allow ourselves to get bogged down with what I call these busy tasks or these low level tasks. 99.9% of the time there's somebody else out there that can not only handle those tasks, but handle them just as good, if not even better than you.
Joanna: My audience are particularly authors, and authors of fiction as well as non-fiction, and many people won't have a budget necessarily for this type of role. Authors will have potentially a budget for an editor, and a book cover designer, and those are the two non-negotiable aspects of a book.
What are some of the other things an author could use a VA for? You mentioned email there which I still struggle with, I haven't moved that yet.
Chris: I'm curious to know, how many emails each day do you get?
Joanna: Too many.
Chris: Give me a number.
Joanna: Two hundred.
Chris: Okay, so you average around about the same as me. How many hours does that suck up out of your day each day to manage?
Joanna: It's about two hours a day at the moment.
Chris: I burst through mine in less than 45 minutes. And that's the reason why, is because I've got systems in place and a person in place to manage that for me day to day.
I don't say this to gloat, but what I'm saying is that if I can do it, you can do it, anybody else can do it. And that's just one particular task.
Joanna: Yeah. Whenever I answer an email that comes up a lot, I forward it to my VA and say, note that down, that's the type of response that type of email gets. So, I'm getting there.
So, this brings up the issue how much time. People should be saying to themselves, what am I spending my time on?
If you have a client and you ask how do we optimize your life, is the first question, “What do you spend your time on?”
Chris: I do handle a certain amount of coaching clients, I still love coaching one-on-one, I'll never stop doing it, but I can only really work with two or three people a month now.
The first thing that I do when I start with a new client is I get them to sit down and do the 3 Lists to Freedom exercise, which I mention right at the beginning of the book, and it pops up quite regularly throughout the course of that almost 300 pages over and over again.
The reason is that it's absolutely detrimental to not do that particular exercise. It was the exercise that I did, and it didn't have the cool, sexy name when I was doing it back in late 2009. But it's what I did when I took my little sabbatical between Christmas and New Year 2009 with my wife and we went away for a few days locally here in Cebu, and we stayed at the resort, and actually I can show you right now, that was where the Virtual CEO goal came out of place. This piece of paper right here is still on my desk.
Joanna: Lovely. Still on your desk?
Chris: Still on my desk, and along with a piece of coral that we picked up when we were walking along the beach that morning. So, it just goes to show you it's real.
This 3 Lists to Freedom exercise, it's like a virtual brain dump. And what you do is you get a piece of paper and you draw a couple of lines down and creating three columns, and this is life-changing. It changed my life, and it's changed thousands of others as well.
Column number one, a list of all the things you don't like doing day to day. The stuff you hate doing, plain simple. But you have to do them because your business demands them of you.
The second column is a list of all the things that you can't do. Now this is where superhero syndrome starts creeping in a little bit because we believe we can do everything, right? But if you think deep down, we can't and we certainly do struggle with certain things as well on a pretty regular basis. So you got to be true to yourself and write those down in the second list.
And then the third list is by far the most important. This is a list of all the things that you feel you shouldn't be doing as the person running your business. Whether you be an author or whatever, it doesn't matter. What are the things you should not be doing day-to-day?
This is a tough one because I often joke and say, “You need a glass of wine to do this one,” because it's reality kicks in. You might like doing some of these tasks, you might actually be really good at doing some of these tasks, but the question again, you gotta put your big boy pants on and say, “Should I be doing them? Is my time not better spent doing something better, something more high level, something more important to my core business?”
That's the exercise I get everybody to do right out the gate with me.
Joanna: That's really great. Once you have that kind of list, then as we said, you don't need one person to pick up everything else. Like as I said, I have 13 different people now, and that you might have one who's a transcriptionist, somebody else who does the emails, somebody else who does formatting, that kind of thing.
Chris: Right. You're doing it right, you're doing it right…
Joanna: I did it wrong at first. Your book helped me.
Chris: Yeah, right. No, you're doing it right. You see, that's what I call hiring for the role, and not for the task. I talk about the super VA, and how, you know, one person would be perfect.
If we could have one person do all of our editing, all our video work, all of our podcast, all our blogging, all of our social media, all of our SEO, all of our web development, all our graphic design and so on and so on and so on and so on, but they don't exist. They don't exist.
You wouldn't hire a plumber to install your electrical components in your house, would you? So you don't mix and match those roles.
By hiring for the role and not for the task, you become very, very smart at delegating.
You can start at first with some of the job posting sites like oDesk or Elance or whatever.
I need a logo done. Boom. I need some transcription work done. Boom. I need a video edited. Boom. I need a book cover design. Boom.
There are one-off tasks that you can delegate off to people, but obviously if you're doing these things on a very regular basis, it's not a bad idea like you have, to have people that are contracted and work with you over and over and over again.
Joanna: I know people are going, “I can't afford this.” That's what everyone is saying right now.
How do you answer that question?
Chris: Honestly, my reply to that is always you can't afford not to. I'm a big believer in that.
As people wanting to build and grow our businesses, even if funds are minimal, you must invest those funds in the right way. After time, money is our second most valuable commodity, and we've got to make sure that we protect it and invest it wisely.
If it's the difference between you hitting a writing deadline for example, and getting your book to your publisher or getting it up on Kindle around the launch time that you said it was going to be, so you've got 5,000 people ready and waiting to buy it on your email list.
If the difference is between hiring somebody to finalize the book cover design and getting it out on time, or messing around in Photoshop, trying to be a graphic designer yourself to save a few bucks. And then being late to the party and upsetting people and keeping people waiting, that's not good business. That's not good business.
And I have found, and I hope your followers and your listeners and viewers don't get upset with me now, but I have found that the creative types out there like writers, people that do music and video and all this sort of stuff, designers, these people are sometimes very reluctant to have someone else do something that's a little close to them, because they've got that creative juice in their DNA.
But you've gotta put your business hat on from time to time, and if there's a deadline in place, you cannot miss it. I've never missed a publishing deadline in my life, ever, and I never will. And if that means I've got to hire somebody and spend, you know, $100 for a cover to be designed, then that's what's gonna happen.
Joanna: Your book did that to me, and really kicked my ass, and was like, what are you doing? You call yourself a businesswoman.
Chris: I think I probably did at some point.
Joanna: Yeah, you probably did. But can we go further? In terms of cost, can you give any indication?
There are different levels of VA.
How much would people be spending per hour on say someone to do transcription versus someone to handle email? Is there a range you can give people so they know?
Chris: There's always a range, but the range fluctuates obviously, and someone might be looking or listening in to this conversation a year from now and these rates could be completely off. So there's a disclaimer for that.
For simple transcription work, you can probably look at paying anything between $5 to $15 an hour, depending on their experience, whether they're a native English speaker, whether they're not, that kind of thing.
Things like transcription for example, I use speechpad.com, which is a fantastic transcription service. It's super cheap, is like three bucks…what's it work out? It's a dollar a minute. It's a dollar a minute or $2 a minute or something like that.
If you've got a 45-minute conversation like this that you want to have transcribed and then edited in for a book, it's like 40 bucks. It's 40 bucks. And this 45-minute conversation is gonna end up being around 6,000 to 7,000 words.
How long would it take you to sit and write 7,000 words? A lot more than $40 worth of time, that's for sure. So, that's a little indication right there.
But things like managing email and that sort of stuff, this is the type of thing that you got to be very careful letting go of to the wrong person for obvious reasons? I would say something close and quite personal and quite important from an integral standpoint with your business, such as email, that's probably better off outsourced to somebody who's on your team as either a part-time, full-time position, or just a pure blown full-time member of staff.
I have my VAs here in the Philippines, I also have one VA up in Maidenhead, in the U.K., and another one over in San Diego in the United States. And those two, so the non-Filipino VAs, they handle anything written word for me. They do transcriptions and they do podcast show notes for me. They might edit something.
I did a presentation today for an online summit which I recorded, the audio, and I then sent that over to San Diego for my VA over there to transcribe for me because I want to be able to sit there.
Once she's transcribed it, she'll actually go through and edit it for me as well, and that will become a free e-book that I'm going to be giving away to build my mailing list.
So these are all little things you can do with VAs to really maximize your output from a content perspective and not spin your wheels over and over again.
Joanna: You've given a good tip there for people writing non-fiction books. I had this question the other day; I want to write a book on this but I'm not an expert, and you go and interview people and get them transcribed and pay like you say, 40 bucks, whatever, per thing. You've got the basis for a great book, which is fantastic.
I wanted to also just ask you before we move on, one more question on the VAs.
What do people get wrong when they do the whole VA thing?
Chris: Well, what is it with you and cans of worms today? What's going on?
Joanna: Like two top things that people get wrong, apart from to wanting one person.
Chris: Okay. I would say the first mistake people make is that they don't pay people what they're truly worth. There's this stigma, and we've probably got Tim Ferriss and a few other people to thank for this as well.
There's this stigma out there that you can get a virtual assistant for $2 an hour in the Philippines or India or somewhere like that. That doesn't happen. It might have happened seven-eight years ago, but it doesn't happen anymore right now.
My staff would laugh at me if I said I was going to give you $2.50 an hour or something. They'd be like, “What? Are you high, boss? What's going on? Right? It's not gonna happen.”
So, the first mistake is honestly not paying people truly what they're worth. That's the first thing. Just because it's virtual and at an arm's length doesn't mean that that should be a discounted service, not in my eyes anyway.
And the second thing, and this is a really big one, is that people don't spend enough time training their VAs when they start with them.
If they've got the skillset, even if they've got the relevant experience, even if they've got the mindset and the right communication skills to get the job done for you, they've never done it for you before. So you need to show them how you want something done.
Very simple things like how you want a blog post laid out. Why you're using subtitles here and here, why is the last sentence of every blog post in bold? Well, it's a call to action. Okay, now I know why, boss. Thank you very much.
You have to work with them and train them properly from the outset so they truly understand why you want things done, not just how to do them.
Joanna: Yeah. I've learned that too. The more you can do that, then they get to know it, then they're done. They can do it forever once you've trained someone in your work.
In my experience with my brilliant VA and my other contractors it doesn't take long. If you hire someone and like you say, pay them what they're worth, you hire someone smart, they will pick this up so quickly.
And then you'll ask, “Why didn't I do this years ago?”
Chris: Yeah, and be kicking yourself. You'll literally be kicking yourself.
It literally took me burning out, I'm talking like hospital time, antidepressants for almost a month, the whole kit and caboodle. It took that for me to realize that I was being a complete moron in the way I was running my business. And luckily nothing horrible, horrible happened to me in the process.
And as a caveat to that, I now work just four days a week, Monday to Thursday, I have a three-day weekend, which my family adores me for. And I only actually end up working about five or six hours a day, Monday to Thursday as well.
And it's got to the point now where if something lands on my desk or in my inbox, the first thing I say to myself, is can someone else do this?
I've gone from full-blown micromanaging nightmare, to master delegator. And I wouldn't have it any other way now.
Joanna: Yeah. And we should say that this is often a process for people over time. It's not gonna happen just like that unless you hit the wall like you did. For me it's been over 18 months now of slowly moving things off my plate. So, that's fantastic for sharing.
I wanted to ask you, you have a great podcast on your site. You've also just started a new podcast with Pat Flynn, the “1-Day Business Breakthrough,” and you actually had one of…someone in our community, Shelley Hitz, who's in the author community on your show, one of the first people on your show.
Chris: She was one of the first five, I believe. We opened with five shows, and yeah, she was in…I think she was in number…
Joanna: She was in number five.
Chris: Before it even went live, we recorded 10 shows, and we're recording a couple a week now for the next sort of month or month-and-a-half or so.
We've got a good springboard. Just in case one of us has to travel for a speaking engagement or something like that, we've got a little bit of a buffer in place there.
Joanna: Well I was going to ask you, you also do this as a live conference and everything. You see the same problems over and over again.
Apart from outsourcing, what are two of the biggest challenges that might be applicable to my audience of authors?
Chris: I think a lot of people struggle with the idea of putting their work out there for free. And I think probably writers can really qualify for this.
If I'm going to write, I might as well write and put in a book and make some money, kind of thing. I don't know if your community is like super money hungry or if they're a little bit more passion-based, I don't know, but…yeah, okay.
I've really seen this development in the last couple of years because content marketing is so huge now that people have really jumped on that bandwagon. This is no longer a buzzword, this is real business.
When Coca-Cola, one of the biggest, most profitable businesses on the planet put sugar in bottles with liquid, and they make ridiculous amounts of money from it, it's madness. But you know, when they actually release videos on YouTube saying this is our content marketing strategy for the world to watch and learn, you know you have to stand up and pay attention. And people have been doing that.
But there's this conflict inside of I believe every content creator and marketer; where's that line between developing a fan base, and providing value, and doing it all for free obviously, to getting people to buy my stuff, whatever that stuff is?
That's one of the struggles I've seen, and I think a lot of people are reluctant to either give stuff away for free, or on the flipside of that coin, start charging for anything.
And I would say if you're on the fence for anything like that, genuinely, jump off the fence. And you know, honestly because the worst that can happen is there's a free piece of content out there that someone's going to pick up and enjoy and share.
Or, the other side of the fence, the worst thing can happen is someone's going to buy one of your books. I think that's one of the things that a lot of people are struggling with.
Another thing is…and we see this over and over and over again, not only on the podcast, but also in the live event as well, people are not spending time growing their mailing lists. It's 2015, why don't you have an opt-in form on your website?
Why is that not there? Are you mad? I see it every single time we do it, if we get 20-30-40-50 people, I'll tell you if we had a hundred people in the room, the percentage would be roughly the same every single time. There's just something about putting an opt-in form on a website and saying, give me your email address, that a lot of people are uncomfortable about.
But the fact of the matter is, if you're doing business online, the success of that business, the health of that business is directly, directly attached to your email list.
I'm not talking about the size of the list, because you can make great money with just a hundred or even a thousand people on your list. But just the way that you build it and the way that you grow those relationships with your community.
Joanna: That's fantastic advice. I've been harping on about this for years and I still see it like you do.
A couple more questions. You are a fellow Brit obviously, you live in the Philippines, you've got a very international business.
What pisses me off about the publishing business is how it's so divided into territories, and most of the stuff online is out of America. And my real passion is to educate people into the fact that there's this global market for books now. You know, mine have sold in 64 countries, we can publish globally.
As you're an author as well, I know you're through traditional, but you also do a lot of self-publishing with your content.
What do you think is the future of global business and selling to people in the Philippines, in Asia, in Africa? What do you see as the growth outside America?
Chris: Well, it's everywhere. There's no doubt, I think people are jumping on the bandwagon now, I've seen it myself, I can tell by the way that when I'm speaking in Australia, I can see that people get the whole info products idea now, where three years ago they didn't want to give it a time of day.
When I'm in the U.K., and we're quite conservative in the U.K., and I'm gonna keep myself to myself and all that sort of stuff. But I know see in the U.K. that people are coming out of their shells more, they are getting a little bit more vocal, they are putting themselves up online and building brands and all this sort of type of stuff.
I think overall globally we're in a really, really good position from a publishing industry perspective. I went traditional with “Virtual Freedom,” and the only reason I did that was because it was just a goal, and I'm very goal-oriented. My goal was to have a traditionally-published book with a publishing house in the United States and I achieved it.
Will my next book be traditional? I don't think so. Just the way that things are developing, I can't see that happening.
Because I didn't have as much control on that process that I really wanted, and the book could have been out a year earlier if I would have self-published it. I would have been writing a second bloody book by now if I would have done it, and ultimately I would have made a lot more money.
I'll tell you something right now for a fact, I sold every single copy of that book that's been sold. We're up to 30,000 copies already, I've sold the large majority of that myself through my sheer out and out hard work and hustle.
It's tough to get true support from your publisher nowadays from a marketing perspective. They did great on every other aspect of the relationship.
But now, overall I think we're in a great position. I think that you're going to get a lot of people that are going to be flooding that self-publishing market with a lot of tripe, and that might have a negative effect on it, but what it will also do is it will separate the really good writers from, you know, the trippy chaff writers that honestly are just sort of maybe just out to make a quick buck or build a quick brand. But I'm excited about it.
How do you feel about it? I'm curious.
Joanna: Very excited, really excited, super excited. I see the growth of sales outside America grow every month. I'm getting paid from Brazil now and Mexico. This wasn't happening before.
Chris: My blog readership has gone from two years ago being about 68% U.S. based, to now just 52% U.S. based. And I know these numbers because I just checked them at the end of December.
I've seen a lot more people from the U.K., from Australia, from basically all over Europe now tuning in on my blog and subscribing and, you know, the whole kit and caboodle. You're absolutely right, things are moving.
We're always a little slow on the uptake outside of the U.S. with a lot of this stuff. I was back in the U.K. in April last year, I did a talk at the Google Campus there, and I was amazed with the quality of entrepreneurs there, like they blew me away. So, there's a really good scene developing in the U.K. right now, I'm pumped about that.
Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. And then just on the book, you did a whole podcast about your experience, and I'll link to that in the show notes.
Chris: This is just recently, right?
Joanna: Yeah. Yeah.
Joanna: Like you just mentioned, you didn't have much control, which as a guy with your own business, it must have been a nightmare.
Was there anything else that you specifically learned from with the whole book process?
Chris: There was a lot, there was a lot I learned. When I went into it, I honestly thought that I could kind of chop it up, the book itself, and just sort of write 60 1,000-word blog posts and then just slam it all together.
It didn't quite work out that way. So that was the first thing I learned. Writing a book is nothing like writing a blog, fiction, non-fiction, whatever.
The other thing was that I discovered this pretty quickly actually, because I have this whole system where I was gonna go to a café for a couple of hours once a week and sort of hit and really go hardcore on the laptop. I'd get there and there was no writer's block. There was no block, there was nothing. I'd sit there and be like, “Oh my god, I've got no idea what I'm doing here.”
So the other realization was, when it's time to write, write. If you don't feel good about it, then don't force yourself into it.
What I did, because I was on deadline with my publisher in the U.S., I basically cleared my schedule for three months. Except for really important business calls or meetings or something like that, everything was left clear.
And except for sort of managing my email and updating my blog once a week, the rest of the time was just wide open for whenever that creative spurt came my way.
There would be some days where I would sit down and I'd think, “Oh, that's a good idea,” and I'd sit down and I'd write out 600 words and I'd be done. But then there would be other days where I would write 3,000 or 4,000 because I was just in a zone.
So, that was the other thing, is really just don't force yourself into it. When it's time to write, it's time to write.
And lastly, marketing. Oh my gosh. I thought the hard work was writing the damn thing and then the manuscript was accepted, I got me check, and then the real work began.
Marketing was a whole different ball game, and we had a full plan in place and a great team and we executed it well, and we did well.
We were going for the New York Times, I'd be lying if I said we weren't. We fell a few thousand copies short in that launch week, but you know what, we still sold a whole bunch of books and they were continuing to sell every day. And you know every day I'd get a message or an email or a tweet or something from somebody who's picked up the book, Amazon review, whatever, it makes it all worthwhile.
Joanna: It's a really good book. I highly recommend it to people.
Where can people find you and the book and your business online?
Chris: Everything I do is over at chrisducker.com. I'm a big Twitter fan, I spend a little bit of time each day on Twitter, so @ChrisDucker there. If they want the book, obviously just go to Amazon and type in “Virtual Freedom.” Here, I'll give you a flash. Can I give you a flash?
Joanna: Yeah, flash it.
Chris: Shameless plug. Paperback, audio CDs, just in case you're back in 2009. So, the publisher did this.
Joanna: Did you record that? Did you record it yourself?
Chris: No, I did not actually, I outsourced. I outsourced it. But when it turned up I was like, “Oh my god, there's CDs.”
Joanna: I don't even have a drive anymore in my computer. I couldn't play it.
Chris: I know. It's kinda crazy, but they got the rights sold and it was what it was. But at the time when they really wanted to launch it, my publishers are like, “We wanna launch it by this date,” and I was like, “You're mad, there's just no way I can record it by then. I'm out keynoting here, there, and everywhere.” Last year, I was on a big, big push for the book last year.
So we ended up getting this guy called Gildart Jackson. He's a fellow Brit, and his TV credits include bad guy in “Charmed.” I've never met the guy, but he did a half decent job in reading it in.
Joanna: Well, that's super. Right. Well thanks so much for your time, Chris, it was…been great to talk to you.
Chris: Yeah, I had a blast, it was good fun.
Derek Murphy says
absolutely! I resisted this for so long, but recently got an assistant, then two more, then five more. It’s crazy right now but I’m able to do so much more. It doesn’t make sense unless you have a lot of books, or other online income. On the other hand, you can get an editor, ghost writer, cover designer to work 40 hours a week for $400, which could save you a lot of money; or research and contact reviewers, or manage your social media platforms, or write blog content or guest post articles, or design an author website (I just hired 3 web guys, we can do about 30 websites a month if we wanted.) I would say, for most authors, hiring a couple assistants for the first 3 months to make a strong author platform is a great investment and cheaper than paying for each service separately.
Joanna Penn says
You have scaled this way more than me, Derek! I also think you’re very good on the global approach with the peripatetic lifestyle!
C.E. Martin says
One part of this interview really bothered me: that authors can’t afford NOT to get a virtual assistant. That is completely incorrect and reeks of a con.
Consider a sports analogy. If you’re just starting out learning to play tennis, do you need a super expensive, space age racquet? Nope. You won’t see any real difference until you’ve figured out how to play.
If you’re just starting as an author, you don’t NEED an assistant. Assistants are for when you’ve reached a level of success that you CAN afford them, freeing you up to spend time on earning still more.
That’s the problem with so many so-called author services. They convince authors they NEED the service/product etc.. There’s no syndrome in doing it all yourself if you can’t afford to pay someone else. All businesses grow, both in numbers of customers and in staff, equipment, etc. Amazon didn’t appear one morning as it is now. It started small and through shrewd tactics and great customer service grew to the multi-national, megacorp it is now.
My fellow authors, there’s no shame in starting small. Be smart and grow when you can, not when you want.
Joanna Penn says
Hi CE, I think you need to substitute “virtual assistant” for “any kind of paid help,” because I think that authors at the very beginning stages often need more help than they think e.g. paying a content editor, a proofreader and a professional cover designer all result in a quality product – all are “virtual assistants” or paid help. I agree that you don’t need an assistant for email or marketing or any of the other things that you might do later – but at any point as a professional indie author, paying other professionals can help you focus on your writing.
For me, finding an assistant is something I know I need, but that is a bit of a daunting task. Your post helps make it more accessible!
Katarina West says
This sounds wonderful, Joanna. Never knew that such help even existed. Thanks for sharing it!
You’ll feel really hesitant when you open up to the thought of getting VAs. I can never blame some of my clients when it comes to that. But as what Chris said, we can be lifesavers too. To make a better system, it needs to be broken down into smaller modules, this is where VAs come in. We do the little things while you complete the big parts, or it can be different in some situations but it’s usually like this.
Joanna Penn says
I love having a VA and I find myself giving more and more to Alexandra over time 🙂
Anthony Young says
I knew of VAs some time ago but reading about them in Tim Ferriss’s book sent me to Google to find out more. Naturally, Joanna has got it covered! Great podcast with Chris Ducker and I will be sure to get his book. I do need to outsource certain tasks, and having a VA will be a force multiplier! Thanks, Joanna.