Paul Jarvis

designer, author, teacher, software creator and podcaster.

Photos courtesy of Paul Jarvis.

Yes, he really does wear all hats listed above.

Paul Jarvis’s About page describes him as “the hardest working creative you’ll ever meet”, and I’m inclined to believe so.

Over the past 18 years, the prolific entrepreneur has worked up an incredible portfolio of writing, products and courses. He’s written 4 books, built several software companies and has taught over 10,000 students to kick ass at the intersection of creativity and commerce. He also hosts two podcasts, the Sunday Dispatches and Invisible Office Hours.

I catch up with Paul to ask about how he divides his time as a freelance entrepreneur, his thoughts on connection in business, and the value of not having to monetize everything.

Oh, and I highly encourage signing up for his newsletter. I’ve learned so much by diving into its archive this weekend. 

A special thanks to Hover, our domain management provider, for their partnership and extended generosity in making The Modern Block possible. Use code “modernblock” at checkout to save 10% on your first domain purchase.

You’re always dabbling in many different things at once. Can you tell us what some of your current projects are, and perhaps some of the challenges you’re facing in all your work? Currently my work life is divided into three areas:

1 — My new book, Company of One. The book is about challenging the idea that growth is always good. I decided to go the traditional route, so I’ve a publisher who’ll be putting it out late 2018. I still have to finish writing it though, which is taking up a lot of my time.

2 — My software company, Fixtail. We’re currently in a closed beta, and the software connects ecommerce sales to subscribers in MailChimp. So if someone buys something from you, that information (the amount, the product or subscription and a ton of other info) all get saved to your profile in MailChimp. That way the list owner can segment and automation more intelligently to their list.

3 — My courses. The bulk of my income comes from teaching courses and I launch them twice per year, per course. Currently I’m completely redoing Creative Class, but I also sell Grow Your Audience and Chimp Essentials.

The main challenge is, that’s a lot of work for one dude. I’m pretty good at being efficient, but still, my business is just me, and I wear a lot of hats. So juggling can be stressful if I try to get too much done too quickly. 

That certainly is a lot of work (and pressure) for one person to handle. What’s helping you manage? Not adding a fourth item to that list. Three is my max. I have to be pretty vigilant about saying no to anything or everything that comes up, even interesting or good opportunities.

As for a daily routine, do you work around a particular schedule, do you dial in on certain tasks based on priority, or otherwise? Indeed, I try to schedule all live communication to 1-2 days per week, since I have a lot of interviews, calls, live online events, etc. If I clump them all together, then that’s my focus for those days and I don’t feel bad about not doing other work. And then the rest of the week can be heads-down, work-mode.

Daily though, I don’t really have a schedule. I wake up early (around 5) without an alarm, have a coffee, water my garden, then typically write for 2-3 hours. After that I either waste time on social media, go for a hike, or do misc work-related tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration, like emails or figuring out problems on Slack with my business partners.

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“I have to be pretty vigilant about saying no to anything or everything that comes up, even interesting or good opportunities.

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I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts on connection, as I’m also running a one man business. I spend most of my days keeping to myself to work (and loving it), but sometimes I find it to be little challenging to connect with others (as I also see importance in being a part of a working, creative community). How important is this to you? Could you perhaps share some thoughts? Although I’m a huge introvert and generally don’t like to be around people, there’s still a need for connection: both personally for sanity and because business runs on connections. I do things like schedule “virtual coffee dates” with folks I think are doing rad work, just to talk. I also have a weekly mastermind video call. I also work with a lot of freelancers: like programmers, writers, editors, animators, videographers, etc. So there’s a lot of connection there too. So although I work for myself, I don’t work by myself.

I think you have the find the right balance. Since interacting with people is draining for me, I try to schedule it all on the same day of the week so I can just focus on that and not bother with other work. Then, for the rest of the week, I have the energy and focus I need to create.

You have to work at connections too. You can’t just wish you connected more with others but not actually put yourself out there and join groups, communities, or even just talk to folks one-on-one.

I really enjoyed your article on the whale photo. Ultimately, what are you hoping for people to take away from reading this one? The first thing is to notice when we aren’t paying attention or being present. That’s a huge one, and something I struggle with (obviously) too. The second thing is that we don’t have to live our lives in our social media feeds. We can just live our lives, and they’re no worse for it. 

Paul’s whale photo. Some context here.

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“We don’t have to live our lives in our social media feeds. We can just live our lives, and they’re no worse for it.

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You wrote about your tattoos once. Out of curiosity, what’s your favorite tattoo of yours? Why is it so? My wife asks me all the time what my favourite tattoo is, I never have a good answer. I really like all of them, even the shittiest ones (that I drew myself). Some are sentimental and personal, and some are just fun art. I don’t have a lot of photos of my tattoos, but here’s one of 2 wolves on my leg:

The story there is that I used to live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, on the west coast of Canada. Very rugged, very wild, lots of animals. Some redneck decided to shoot 2 wolves, just because they were on his property, and put their bodies in a dumpster. Totally disgraceful and awful. We ended up alerting the media and arranging for a ceremony to be held to give the wolves some respect that they deserved. I got the tattoo after to remember that sometimes humans are unthinking assholes—and it’s not my job to judge them, it’s my job to never become like that.

That’s actually a great tattoo story. Animal rights and veganism are life areas you seem to be very passionate about. Out of curiosity, have you ever had or have any plans on possibly pursuing these areas through your work? So my first best-selling book was a vegan cookbook. I quickly realized I didn’t want to mix business with those passions though, so I killed it off. I love having certain things in my life just be things I enjoy. I don’t have to monetize everything. When I was a musician and the band I was in started to make quick and large progress, I ended up hating playing music because it involved so much business. It did teach me a lot about bootstrapping and marketing though.

But still, I’d rather just support animal rights charities and be vegan than talk about them or make products around them. That could change, but I doubt it will.

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“I love having certain things in my life just be things I enjoy. I don’t have to monetize everything.

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You’re always experimenting with different ideas and defining your own rules in business (from sending out emails to your newsletter on Sundays because it’s apparently “the worst day of the week” to do so, to taking the occasional break from commerce talk to write about finding a vegan car.) Is anything ever too risky to experiment with, or do you play around with every idea you have to see where they end up? So, I admit that I’m pretty lucky to be at a place where I can experiment, totally fail, and not be ruined because of it. Recently, I relaunched one of my podcasts with a totally weird monetization idea and it flopped (we spent $2,000 and made less than $500). I make a good living on my core products, courses, which allows me to play with everything else. I try to deliver the best possible experience (being a designer) paired with the most value I can give another person, and then play with everything else: from delivery method to pricing structure. That way I’m still giving someone exactly what they want, but they may get it in a format or way they aren’t expecting. I get bored easily, so it keeps things interesting for me as well.

Why do you think the monetization idea for your podcast relaunch flopped? What was the takeaway there? So, people don’t think they pay for podcasts. They assume they’re free because they don’t have to pay to listen to them. Obviously, that’s not true because most shows have sponsors and sponsors pay good money to show up in people’s ears, but the end user doesn’t see that as a cost.

We figured we’d skirt ads in our show and just ask our audience directly for money. But that’s not how folks see podcasts. So even though we have thousands of listeners an episode, almost none of them wanted to pledge even a small amount to support the show. I don’t really blame them in hindsight either, our flawed logic figured it was a good idea, haha. We’ll probably go back to sponsors next season.

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