My notes from Forefront 2017

Two and a half weeks ago I attended Ramit Sethi’s second annual Forefront conference in Chicago.

For those who don’t know, Ramit Sethi is the owner of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, a website that started out as a personal finance blog and has since become, in my opinion, the single best resource in the world for learning how to make more money.  I’ve already written about Zero to Launch, his course on starting a new online business.  Suffice to say I wouldn’t be where I am today, working for myself with flexible hours and traveling as much as I want, if it wasn’t for Ramit.

Forefront is an annual weekend-long event that he started holding last year.  I wanted to go to it, but I would have had to cut my year-long backpacking trip short, and I was having too much fun in Colombia.  ‘Nuff said.

I don’t have the time or energy right now to write a comprehensive review of Forefront, and in any case it’s too early to gauge all the effects it has had on me, my business, and my life.  Suffice to say that it was excellent and easily worth the cost, I learned a ton and met a bunch of cool people, and I’ll almost certainly be going again next year.

I did take a bunch of notes over the weekend, so in lieu of a review, here’s a writeup of my main takeaways from the event.

Gretchen Rubin and Personality Types

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies and The Happiness Project, was the first guest speaker who spoke at the conference.  To be honest, I had heard of her before and didn’t think she sounded like someone I’d be interested, but what she said about personality types actually matched pretty well with what I’ve seen, wasn’t at all new-agey the way I had been imagining, and most importantly, can be put to practical use.

There are four “tendencies” regarding how well people follow goals and expectations.  Knowing which tendency you fall into can help you formulate better habits and stay disciplined.  As a coach, understanding this will help me to improve program compliance with my clients.

Obligers are good at meeting outer expectations but not inner expectations.  They’re the most common tendency.  This is the classic person who is good at getting things done when someone is holding them accountable, but won’t usually stay disciplined on their own.  Possible exceptions if they imagine holding themselves accountable to their future self.  In my experience, they tend to respond well to coaching, but need frequent contact with the coach.

Questioners can meet both internal and external expectations, but only if they have a good reason for it.  They question everything and generally need to be convinced that something is a good idea.  A dead giveway that someone is a questioner is that they frequently call things arbitrary.  I’m a questioner, and this is the second most common tendency.  In fitness, these people will usually gravitate towards evidence-based fitness, which you may have noticed my own writing veering towards lately.

Upholders are good at meeting their own standards but not good at meeting expectations imposed by others.  They can be aloof and not always the best team players, but are generally quite disciplined.  They tend to do best with a coach who gives them a program and leave them to hold themselves accountable.

Rebels don’t meet inner or outer expectations easily.  Trying to hold them accountable can backfire hard.  They tend to respond best to identity-based approaches- “becoming a fitness buff” rather than “working out,” for instance.  Alternatively, some choose strict environments like joining the military to force themselves to stay disciplined.

The four tendencies are separate from other personality aspects.  They don’t seem to correlate with things like the big 5 personality traits, intelligence, or anything else.

Shawn Anchor and Happiness

Sean Anchor was the other big guest speaker.  He’s a happiness expert, author of The Happiness Advantage, and CEO of Goodthink.

Happiness exercises.  Shawn recommends five exercises called 3 gratitudes, the doubler, the fun fifteen, meditation (you’ve probably heard of that one), and conscious acts of kindness.  Pick one or two to do every day.  You can find more about them on his website, Goodthink.

Shawn is a charming guy.  He’s one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen.  He has an amazing energy to him, and he’s also really, really funny.  He’s particularly good at doing those one-two punchline jokes where there’s one punchline, a pause, and then a second punchline after the laughter has died down.  Really worth watching just to see how he speaks.

The 10-5 rule.  You can dramatically improve happiness within an organization by training people- even just a fraction of them- to smile and say hi to people.  The 10-5 rule is that you smile at people who come within 10 feet of you and say hi if they come within 5 feet.  Used to great effect in hotels and hospitals.

Happiness exercises can reduce chronic pain.  Incidentally, I recall reading a study that showed the converse is also true- taking over the counter painkillers can reduce emotional pain.  Physical and emotional pain seem to use a lot of the same neural pathways.

Social support makes all challenges seem easier.  It alters your perception of difficulty, even when that social support can’t directly help you, as when climbing a hill.  Another reason to build your network and have a solid group of friends.

Show appreciation.  Write a 2-minute message of appreciation to a friend every day for 5 days.

Online Business

Most of this is stuff I learned from watching Ramit do some teardowns on stage, but some of it also came from discussions with Marc Aarons, the head coach for Ramit’s Accelerator program, and Primoz Bozic, the former head coach.

You can only blend products and coaching/consulting for so long.  Usually 12-18 months.  After a while, it just becomes too much work doing both, particularly with all the launches you have to do.  Notably, I retired my fat loss course a few months ago; after learning this, I’m in no hurry to build a new one.

Focus on a small number of high-price products.  Don’t get bogged down adding too many products, particularly ones that have to be sold manually, rather than on an automated launch cycle.

Think hard about the price per week of a coaching program.  $500 for 5 weeks is a lot of work and won’t scale well, although it can be alright to begin with.  Note that Ramit was saying this to someone whose business was B2B- teaching marketing to therapists I believe.  I think pricing can go a bit lower for B2Cs like me.  My one on one coaching is currently $300 a month, but it will definitely go up next year.

If you really want to do something, put it in your calendar.  Protect the time to make sure it gets done.

Make sure you’re having fun.  Otherwise, you won’t stick with it  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you psych yourself out.

Top performers plan for things they know will happen, before they actually happen.

Your first launch will usually have an above average conversion rate.  That’s because you have a lot of pent-up demand.  Don’t be fooled; conversion rates will likely be lower down the road.

You need to add new products over time.  You also need to evolve with your market, but at the same time, realize human nature doesn’t change.

Talk to people who buy.  Learn about them, what made them buy, and what appeals to them.

Talk to non-buyers too.  But don’t believe everything they say.  A lot of times their excuses for not buying are bullshit.

If people complain about price, either you need to hit their pain point better, or move on to other audiences.

Target people who have the money to buy.  It’s easier to sell to people who can easily afford your services.

The best response to price complaints is often to move upmarket, not to lower your price.

Think beyond incremental growth.  Think about what you can do to 10x your business- this usually means a change in strategy.

You need to have conviction and a unique point of view.  Don’t be afraid to say what common industry beliefs and practices you think are bullshit.

Motivation and needing someone to kick your ass is a beginner mindset.  More advanced people think about strategies, and maybe accountability, but aren’t as worried about motivation.

People make two big mistakes- giving up too early, or not giving up as fast as they should.

To get mentors: Correspond with people online.  Ask their advice on a very specific problem, then show that you took it quickly and decisively, and got results.  Meet them in person when you can.  Ask to hire them as a coach for a while- you’ll usually need to spend money on them before they’ll mentor you for free.

Your greatest growth is ahead of you.

Don’t be afraid to lose loyal readers who don’t buy.  

You will get hate mail as you move up the value chain.  That’s a good sign- it means you’re pissing off the freetards and people who won’t invest in themselves.

A mailing list of 1500 people probably has 500real readers.  Of those, 200 are probably dedicated enough to be potential buyers.

An ultimate guide is not defined by its length.  Yes it has to be long, but what makes it an ultimate guide is being the single best resource available on the subject it covers.  Don’t obsess over an ideal length.

Be transparent.  Share small slices of your life with your audience.

Networking and Public Relations

Each attendee got to pick one of four tracks to follow.  I picked the Million Dollar Networking track, which included two one-hour seminars that mostly focused on media relations.  These notes mostly come from those seminars, conducted by Selena Soo, and Paula and Terri of Lights, Camera Expert.  Some of it also comes from networking exercises we did on the first evening.

Don’t use the word “just” when describing what you do.  It makes it sound like anyone can do your job.

If you want to help someone, offer to do something specific for them.  Don’t invite them to call you if they need anything, as thats disingenuous and too vague.

Use Help a Reporter Out to find media leads.  This doesn’t usually get you high-level publicity, but it’s a good way to start getting quoted in media outlets.

Pitch reporters.  Don’t wait for them to come to you.  Don’t ask if you can pitch them, just pitch them.

Your brand can be better or worse than your business.  Fame is not money.  Media appearances drive credibility more so than direct conversions.

Lead with one thing.  Don’t overcomplicate it- present yourself as an expert in one specific thing.

Don’t say no to media appearances if you’re not famous.  They won’t call again.

Do a first impression audit.  Have someone you don’t know tell you their first impression of your online presence.

Write content for reporters.  They are lazy, and will use it.

Good pitches are specific.  Bad pitches are overly general and make the other person figure out what you could be good for.

A good pitch has a hook, a twist, and a takeaway.  It answers the questions of why this, why you, and why now.

Capitalize on short-term media fads.  i.e. Pokemon Go.

Know what a reporter’s audience cares about.  When reporters need someone, they’re always in a hurry and will often take whoever can give them a good pitch and makes it easy on them.

Find producer’s emails.  Use LinkedIn, call the company, ask someone else who was featured there, look at press releases, or find the address formula based on someone else’s email.  Or guess it.

Know your influencers.  The people you should network with are those who are connected to your goals, and who excite you.

Influencer categories.  From hardest to easiest to reach: famous experts, media, other people with a lot of reach, mentors, well-connected colleagues, superconectors, superfans.

Find out what you can offer an influencer.  Research, ask, or guess.

Networking for introverts.  Become curious about other people.  Move away from talking about raw facts and start talking about passions.

Come from a place of humility.  Express admiration without putting people on a pedestal.

Reach out to influencers before and after events you see them at.

Other Notes

IWT customers are an amazing group of people.  I found this out even before Forefront- only about a hundred of my readers come from IWT, but they’re some of my best readers.

Surround yourself with ambitious, driven people.  Forefront would be worth it just for this, even if I hadn’t learned anything.

You can rewrite your personal story.  Your self-concept can change.  You can change.  For instance, I’m an introvert.  Technically I always will be an introvert, but I’ve rewritten the story that that means I always have to be shy.  I’ve also reprogrammed my belief that I’m ugly, out of shape, and unfashionable.

Enjoy yourself.  Successful people work hard, but everything shouldn’t be a grind.