Brain Food

Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business



Life as a business owner in our modern world is not easy. Often, we’re expected to be jacks of all trades, doing a myriad of jobs, each of which is time-consuming.

Before you can even think about spending some time creating innovative new products and services, or even selling those products and services, you have to first grind through a schedule packed full of other stuff: there’s staff to be managed, bills to be paid, budgets to review, contracts with suppliers to go through, and the list goes on and on.

It’s no surprise that so many struggle! In fact, in this book we are recommending this month, the author’s own attempts to manage his business led him to a complete burnout; he simply didn’t have any time or energy left to succeed.

That’s when he decided to do things a bit differently: he outsourced some of his work to Virtual Assistants (VAs).

VAs are staff who do work for you, but who are not in the same location as you. They can take on a huge range of tasks, from accounting to office management, thus allowing business owners and leaders to concentrate on the work that they’re best at and that matters most. By hiring VAs, they can enjoy what is known as virtual freedom.

There are two main reasons why VAs present such a great opportunity:

First, the internet allows constant communication across thousands of miles between you and your VA. No matter how far apart you are, you can work as if you’re in the same room.

Second, there’s a huge pool of available talent. There are millions of people currently working as self-employed consultants and freelancers – all of them are potentially available for part-time, full-time or even project-based work.

So, if you’re struggling to keep afloat in a sea of tasks, virtual freedom may be your life raft. Check out more on the topic by Reading: Virtual Freedom – by Chris Ducker

Think that you are actually ready to get a Virtual Assistant? Get in touch via 

What’s in it for me? Prepare yourself for an inevitable future…



In the future, will you be married to a handsome android? Will we travel in flying cars?

The future is now. Computer technology and the internet are already fundamentally changing how we think and the ways we work, consume and relate to each other.

The forces and ideas that inspired these changes are not going to go away but only get stronger. In the book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future  by Kevin Kelly, Kelly describes that much of what will happen in the next 30 years is inevitable, driven by technological trends that are already in motion. He provides an optimistic road map for the future, showing how the coming changes in our lives — from virtual reality in the home, to an on-demand economy, to artificial intelligence embedded in everything we manufacture — can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces. Kelly describes these deep trends flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning and demonstrates how they overlap and are co-dependent on one another. These larger forces will completely revolutionise the way we buy, work, learn, and communicate with each other.

What you could learn from it:

  • We are used to industry commentators, and media especially, viewing technological developments through a negative and skeptical lens. We have to remind ourselves that often we are actually in control of our destiny and therefore have the opportunity to affect positive change and create the future we want to see and experience.
  • We have entered protopia, a ‘state of becoming, rather than a destination’. In this state we are continually seeing small, incremental improvements to our daily lives, rather than large jumps in technological progress. This is apparent in everything from regular app updates and the availability of new and improved hardware. We don’t recognise this on a daily basis, but can look back year on year and see huge improvements in the technologies we use.
  • Humans shouldn’t fear robots taking jobs; robots will perform tasks we can’t do, don’t want to do, and didn’t even know could be done, freeing us to discover new jobs for ourselves, and new tasks that expand who we are.
  • We should think of the world in terms of ‘flow’; information is becoming more fluid, following through our lives in real-time. This has been apparent in music, books and movies, and will increasingly spread to areas such as games, newspapers, and education

Read the Book on Blinkist – The app for curious minds!

Nail it then Scale it: How to Avoid Startup Death & Navigate as you Innovate



Essentially, if entrepreneurs didn’t really believe in their ideas, they would never have the courage to risk their effort, reputation, and money by taking action.

But precisely because entrepreneurs believe so deeply in their idea, they jump into action by investing in creating a business, building a product, and then spending the money to try and sell it. What they almost always overlook is one deadly fact: that their belief is only a guess at what customers want that needs to be quickly and iteratively tested in the market before doing all those other “good” things.

In their Book Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation Nathan Furr and Paul Ashlstrom outline the process of creating innovative products that solve problems, targeting and communicating with the right markets and refining your strategy before scaling your business. It’s a guide to perfecting your business plan and expanding your company, in the correct order:

  1. Nail the pain. Great businesses begin with a customer problem that has a big and monetisable pain point. Avoid the three big mistakes, of guessing but not testing the pain (on real customers), selecting a low customer pain (solution is only nice to have), or selecting a narrow customer pain (small number of customers willing or able to pay).
  2. Nail the solution. Neither breakthrough technology nor maximum features will assure that “if we build it, they will come.” In fact, NISI recommends starting with the minimum focused set of features and technology that will drive a customer purchase. Success demands testing the solution early and quickly in the market, then iterating to get it right.
  3. Nail the go-to-market strategy. In parallel with nailing the solution, you need an in-depth understanding of your target customer’s buying process, the job they are trying to get done, the market infrastructure, and a stable of serious pilot customers. Do real tests with real pricing to see if customers will pay you, without being pushed.
  4. Nail the business model. Leverage your customer conversations to predict and validate your business model. For example, when you think about distribution channels, revenue streams, or the relationship with the customer, ask customers what they expect. Don’t forget a viable financial model of costs, margins, customer acquisition, and break-even.
  5. Scale it. Don’t attempt to scale it until you have a proven repeatable business model that predictably generates revenue. Only then is it time to focus on the get-big-fast strategy, and the transformation of three key areas from startup to a managed growth company. These areas include market, process, and team transitions.

The book is for:

  • Entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to start a business
  • Business owners fed up with traditional economic models!

Read/Listen to 15 minutes of all the ‘good parts’ on Blinkist – the App for curious minds.


3 Kinds of ‘Deep Work’ that will Make you Stop Rushing and Start Perfecting



Have you ever sipped a Macallan M whisky? If you have then you’ve certainly done well for yourself; a bottle of this spirit will set you back around $3,500. Most of us might think that paying that much for a bottle of hooch is a bit ridiculous, but there is a reason it costs so much. It took Bob Dalgarno, the master whisky maker behind the M, more than two years to craft, and it contains a blend of the world’s finest whiskies—some which date back to 1940. All this time spent on making the drink ensured that it was of the highest possible quality. Taking the time to craft a product as perfect as Macallan M isn’t exactly in vogue in the modern world!

Slowness makes perfect

Sometimes the benefits of going it slow are too obvious to ignore. For example, Steve Jobs’s passion for crafting beautiful, well-designed, and perfectly functioning products led to some of the most innovative and successful artifacts of all time. The Apple II, the groundbreaking home computer released in 1977, is a wonderful case in point. According to Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, the Apple founder went through over 2,000 shades of beige when looking for the perfect color for the machine, and he spent days agonising over how round the corners of the case should be. Although this slow, deliberative approach upset a lot of Apple managers, they did help ensure that the computer was a huge success: between 1977 and 1980 it made over $118 billion in sales.

As beneficial as spending time on something is, it isn’t easy to carve out the necessary time. Often, that time-poor feeling has little to do with an actual paucity of hours in the day. It’s actually distractions that rob you of the time you could be using for focused work. Consider this: according to author John Freeman, the average worker is distracted over 11 times an hour, mostly by email. This means that even if we wanted to spend an age perfecting something, we simply wouldn’t have enough bandwidth. But maybe wider isn’t the answer, anyway. You can free up the time you need by going deeper.

But maybe wider isn’t the answer, anyway. You can free up the time you need by going deeper.

Getting to know Deep Work

Cal Newport’s. book Deep Work. offers suggestions on how we can all cut through the noise and the constant requests for our attention to better devote large chunks of our days to focused, important work. In these periods we switch off our emails and social media, ensure that we can’t be distracted by others, and focus on one important task. If we follow Newport’s advice and create these pockets of focused work, then we can stop rushing things and start perfecting them. There are three ways to practice Deep Work, so you can find one that works for you.

The 3 kinds of Deep Work

1. The monastic approach. Take yourself away from the world and focus exclusively on your endeavor. Mark Twain used this approach when writing; he used his own little shed where he’d shut out the world and devote all his focus to his work.

2.  The bimodal approach. Rather than spending your whole day in seclusion, divide your day in two. One period can be spent with your email and social media turned off in deep work, the other working as normal.

3. The rhythmic approach. This is the best for those who don’t have that much time available. Here you block off shorter, 90 minute periods for focused work. Although this doesn’t seem like much, you’ll be amazed by how much great work you’ll get done.

Remember that on the way to making magic, speed isn’t always the most important thing. It can be more rewarding (and more lucrative) to settle down, get focused, and take the time to create something perfect.

If you’re ready to start perfecting your work and want to deeper –  we recommend reading: ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport. Get it on Blinkist – The app for the smart & the curious amongst us.

Make Your Customers Your Salespeople



Imagine this situation:

You need a new car, but you can’t decide which model to buy. You read page upon page of marketing literature; you do a few test drives. Still, you’re unsure. Then your best friend tells you how great her car is and, just like that, your mind is made up: you want the same car she has.

Never underestimate word of mouth

A personal recommendation will always trump other forms of marketing, and companies can use this fact to their advantage.

Customer testimonials are a great way to get started since would-be customers will react to these as they would to any other personal recommendation.

Start by asking your customers a few carefully formulated questions to ensure you get usable answers.

For example, asking, “How much has your business grown after you started using our service?” will provide plenty of good statistics, whereas, “How has your company benefitted from our product?” will prompt positive stories.

Before you know it, your current customers will begin helping you attract many more.

Find out more on how to market your products, including why you should write customers handwritten notes, in The Revenue Growth Habit by Alex Goldfayn.

Alex Goldfayn is a marketing consultant, business coach and public speaker. By using his strategies, Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, Logitech and Virgin Mobile have increased their revenue by an average of 15 percent.


His book outlines how you too can learn ‘the simple art of growing your business by 15% in 15 minutes a day’.

Nowadays, if you don’t provide exceptional service then you can kiss business longevity goodbye.



Think back to a time when you were at a coffee shop or restaurant and the service just rubbed you the wrong way. One offhand remark or a lone sign of disinterest meant the difference between you deciding to come back and you running far, far away. Now, recall a time when a business gave you an experience so positive that it made you feel at home. Perhaps it came from an employee who taught you something new about a product, or one who rang you up with a smile so genuine you could hear it over the phone.

In Legendary Service, Ken Blanchard, Kathy Cuff and Vicki Halse explain that these kinds of scenarios make or break a business in today’s society. We’ve come to expect top-notch service in everything.

For business owners, delivering on that great of an expectation has become a universal indicator of integrity. Make your service good, and you have a solid chance of getting people to walk back through your door time and time again. Providing outstanding service takes dedication on multiple levels, but the foundation is always the same: the relationships you build.

To create an environment that’s conducive to legendary service, nurture relationships every chance you get! Let’s look at two groups of people you’ll want to build relationships with as a manager.

The internal customers: These are your employees – the first touchpoint between customers and your business. If they’re motivated, they’ll spread the enthusiasm to your customers every chance they get. If they’d rather stay at home under the covers than show up for the job, then not only do they have some ‘splainin’ to do, but they’ll need to work with you in repairing the relationship that was obviously damaged somewhere along the way.

The external customers: These are your clients. You’ll want to give them service so consistent and so exceptional that they’ll feel bound to your business. Don’t give them an inkling of a reason to stop coming back!

Using the ICARE Model to build relationships

Building lasting, positive relationships can be easier said than done. But that’s where the ICARE model comes in. Use it as a guide in your customer service training to ensure you’re striving for the right goals.

I is for Ideal Service This means making service so important at your company that all customers’ needs and wants are met, every single day. Ideal service makes each customer feel special. If someone remembers your relaxed demeanor or your helpful suggestion for the rest of the week, then you’ve succeeded.

C is for Culture of Service This is like branding for your customer service. It has two components: vision and value. A vision might be a statement such as, “We want customers to feel at ease with us.” Values might be things like trust, quality or continuous improvement. Overall, you’ll want to be sure your Culture of Service is defined and that everyone in your company understands it.

A is for Attentiveness If you’re attentive, it means you’re collecting information about your customer’s needs and preferences. This is the most valuable information you can have!

R is for Responsiveness This is how you make your customers feel. Responsiveness is a surefire way to make a big impact, so take this chance to win people over. A responsive employee might make a customer say, “I felt cared for, like she was on my side.”

E is for Empowerment of Employees If you’re hoping to have great service without encouraging the empowerment of your employees, you might as well lay out a roadmap to mediocrity. Be sure to take care of employees with rewards, quality customer service training, and positive encouragement. That way, you’ll know they have power and initiative to deliver their best possible work.

We can all benefit from learning more about great service. Read up on more tips from Ken Blanchard, Kathy Cuff and Vicki Halse in Legendary Service, or get the critical points from the summary on Blinkist. You’ll learn:

– Why you should know if your customer prefers pretzels or popcorn;

– How to empower employees to be accountable for customer service; and

– How a waving bear made a grandmother’s day.


Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time



What’s the first thing a nurse does when faced with multiple patients, each with a host of ailments, all needing immediate attention?

That nurse would triage those patients – that is, prioritize them into three categories: those who are likely to live, regardless of care; those who are unlikely to live, regardless of care; and those for whom prompt care may have a positive impact. This simple method allows them to direct resources where they’ll do most good.

But triaging also has another application.

Triage your work for a more manageable day

If you’re getting bogged down by an ever-increasing load of to-dos, emails and meetings, try triaging them.

Which ones must you do? You might decide that onboarding Joe is your number one priority.

Which hurt your productivity? Perhaps this means dropping your 4:00 p.m. meeting.

Which can you drop or delegate? Maybe someone in HR would be better at delivering your upcoming presentation.

With this triage mentality, you’ll be able to take care of the most pressing matters and maintain your productivity.

For more on time and work management – including why micromanaging hurts business – read our blinks to Doing the Right Things Right, by Laura Stack.

Happy Birthday to René Descartes



A happy would-be 421st birthday to René Descartes!

It’s a ripe old age for a man you’ve undoubtedly heard of, but what was so special about him?

Je ponse, donc je suis

Or, in the English-speaking world, I think, therefore I am. Sound familiar?

The French phrase originally comes from Descartes’s philosophical text Discourse on the Method, but is also referred to in his later works. But what was Descartes talking about?

To give you a Minute-friendly gist of his argument, it went something like this:

How do we know what really exists? Surely from our senses. But our senses can be deceived (our dreams, for instance, can feel alarmingly real), rendering them unable to prove what exists. So our mind must be the only thing that is real, since, regardless of what our senses tell us, we can always think about what we sense and then challenge it. The fact that we’re thinking beings is certain. Thus: we think, therefore we are.

Descartes’s notion gained such traction that it became a cornerstone of Western philosophy. And I think, therefore I am is still referred to today, 380 years after he first published the thought.

For more on René Descartes, including how he argued for the existence of God, read our blinks to his Meditations on First Philosophy.

Why, in Business, People Trump Strategy



You probably know that, to execute a strategy successfully, a company needs the right people. But, for some companies, the entire strategy is people.

For instance, in 1966, Dick Cooley took over as the CEO of the bank Wells Fargo. At the time, a major change loomed on the horizon: the deregulation of the banking industry. Cooley knew he couldn’t possibly predict the major changes and turbulence that this would create. So how on earth could he ensure success?

With the right people, a business can weather any storm

Cooley’s solution was people. He reasoned that, by finding the best and brightest minds, his company would find a way to prevail, no matter what curveballs it faced.

The result?

The company prospered in the new business environment and Warren Buffett subsequently called Wells Fargo’s executives “The best management team in business.”

But Cooley was not alone in his views. Focusing on finding great people is an obsession at many successful companies. Such companies tend to hire good people immediately upon finding them, even if no position is vacant. The reasoning is that people with the right character and drive can always be trained and educated to do anything successfully, whereas people without these attributes will never change, no matter how much training they get.

Discover other secrets of great companies – including what hedgehogs have to do with success – in the blinks for Good to Great, by Jim Collins

The Systems That Are Almost Unbreakable



What happens when you drop a wine glass on a hard floor? Obviously, it shatters. Glass is fragile – when put under stress, it breaks.

The concept of fragility is easy to understand, but what about its antithesis? What do you call something that gets stronger under stress?

Antifragile systems need a bit of pressure

Although most things will eventually break if you apply enough pressure, there are a few systems that actually benefit from stress. Periods of strain actually cause them to grow more powerful.

Muscles are a great example. When you lift weights or go jogging, you’re placing your body under stress. But your muscles don’t break. In fact, it’s exactly this stress that causes them to grow stronger.

However, a word of warning: even though antifragile systems love a bit of rough and tumble, you shouldn’t push them too far. Making them stronger is a gradual process. For example, a rookie gymnast may tear a muscle if she immediately attempts the most difficult moves.

Another example of an antifragile system is the economy. Recessions actually force companies to improve their operations, thereby strengthening the economy in the long run.

For more on the power of antifragility – including how you can build antifragile systems yourself – read our blinks to Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.