Google can help users get to you when you can provide the answer to their questions and show the system that you’re an authority on the topic. This is where Paul Kortman helps clients dispel myths and rumors around SEO. He explains how links are equally important to leverage your content. He reveals how diving deep into the market you are writing about can help you find what is missing for people so that they will become interested in you.
Harness The Power Of SEO To Leverage Your Content with Paul Kortman
I want to start this show with a question. Have you ever purchased an online course training program, sales program, or marketing program but never finished it? Never quite received the value you thought you would but wish you had? I want to help you get that course completed by helping you find your perfect accountability partnership. I have built the equivalent of Match.com for entrepreneurs to help you do that. Besides finding the match, the Results Breakthrough Network walks you through your session and coaches both you and your partner to get the most out of your weekly meetings. As an audience to Your First Thousand Clients, I want to invite you to try it free, and see if it’s a fit for you. It’s time to get accountable folks, that time is now.
I met an interesting guy who loaded up his family of six into a motorhome and sold the house. He took off to explore the country and live the nomadic life while building a seven-figure business. If you’ve ever fantasized about hitting the road in search of freedom, then you’re going to love this episode. Paul Kortman, welcome to the show.
Hi, Mitch. Thanks for having me.
My pleasure. Where are you today?
We are in a quaint little town called San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. We’re up in the mountains. This is known as the Land of Eternal Spring. It’s winter and we are in Mexico. Think palm trees but think mountains. Don’t think ocean, beach front, sweaty, humid, that thing. It’s really dry here right now. It’s high desert and it gets to about 75 degrees during the day and 40 degrees to 32 degrees at night. Coming from Michigan, where I originally was from, not having snow in winter is nice.
Aren’t you afraid of the Banditos though?
We have to go there. Mexico is extremely dangerous. I don’t want any of you to come here because it will raise up prices and drive up all kinds of craziness for me. I would prefer you to say, “Mexico is extremely dangerous. Don’t take your kids here, you’ll die.” At least that’s what people told us when we decided to come into Mexico two years ago. I tell you what, it is glorious. It is so awesome. Prices are fantastic. There’s so much to enjoy. I have had more trouble with police than I have with banditos, and a story for another day but I body checked a police officer. Let’s just say that they respect families, and if you’re not out drinking at night, you’re safe, and don’t do drugs. That’s the other thing.
You have an incredible business and I’m very interested in hearing about it, but like we do here with every guest is we want to know where you started. We want to know where all of this began for you. We want you to share with us the hard-won lessons that brought you to where you are today. Go back to the beginning, and tell us how you got here.
Originally, I was a nineteen-year old nerd, and I happened to be working for a marketing and advertising agency in Grand Rapids Michigan. They had a web development team and they had their print team. I spoke up a little too loud and told the web development team that they were doing search engine optimization wrong. The reason why I did that is because I’m self-taught in everything. I do my own reading, my own research, and I try to figure out and educate myself on how to do things. They were selling $70,000 to $80,000 websites that were “SEO optimized”. When I spoke up and said, “You’re doing it wrong,” they said, “Why don’t you take one of these on?”As they say the rest is history.
Four years later, I ended up quitting after hiring a person to replace myself in IT, and then hiring four staff members as I built-out a digital marketing department within that agency. I realized that I could do this on my own. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I went to my boss and said, “There’s a co-working spot opening up where I live.” It’s an hour commute to work. I was putting in 60 hours a week plus a ten hour commute every week, an hour each way, and I was like, “Let me take those ten hours. One or two days a week, I’ll still leave home the same time, work from a co-working space and be more efficient. I’ll get an extra two hours’ worth of work every week.” They said, “Absolutely not.” That was one of those things where I had the best job ever. I did work hard for it, but I got paid really well, and I loved what I was working for.
I had always wanted to run my own business. I was purposely setting things up to be able to do it, and then when that happened, I turned to my wife and said, “Now’s the time.” The iron was hot, and so I started a couple of clients on my own. I turned in my two weeks’ notice, and serendipity hit. The boss couldn’t find somebody to replace me with my skill sets, and so they hired me back on as an independent contractor, as a vendor for that agency for four or five of the projects that I was managing. I was managing about fourteen at the time, so they hired me back on as a business to do that. Instantly, I got paid significantly more.
My first month of invoices was worth $40,000. When we talk origin stories, I have to choke a little bit and say, “Follow my path. This is why I have a course on how you can make $40,000 your first month out.” Not so much. It’s serendipity, it’s striking when the iron is hot, knowing when things are going. It’s that business intuition of, “I need to make a move here, and it’s a risky move. I’m either going to fail miserably or wildly successful.” That’s what happened is wildly successful right out of the gate. I’ve had my missteps since then and had months where I’ve only build $2,000 for a couple of months. There’s fun stories, but when we just talk origins stories, if you believe in luck, if you are more up and good with karma, serendipity, universal law, it was about timing.
I had built up a good name for myself in the business or in the market because I was building a department within an agency. I didn’t have to worry about my paycheck, but I was trying to acquire more business and more sales. People really knew me for what it was that I was offering in digital marketing. When I stepped out on my own, suddenly everybody wanted to work with Paul, at least I think so. With that agency comes all the agency overhead. It was $150 an hour to work with Paul. When he stepped out on his own, it was only $50 an hour. I had hired two people by the time I was 30 days into running a business because I knew the cash was coming in and the work had to get done.
I’m a very big universal law guy and I don’t believe in serendipity. I believe in the fact that in my mind, you set an intention that was so strong, that the universe stood by your side, lets you do it, and then eventually helped you do it. In my world, that’s how I see what you did.
It was one of those things that I can trace the steps looking backwards. Hindsight is 20/20.To a certain degree, I knew a little bit of what I was doing, but I didn’t know how well it would work.
It’s expected. You’re in a place where you’re in totally uncharted territory. For every story like yours, there’s ten more where a person walks away from a company and has no clients and can’t find work for a year. It was a great moment in time, and it gave you your start. In my world, I think it was meant to be and I’m certainly glad that you shared the story with us. As you started bringing on people and as you started accumulating experience running a company, can you explain how that was different? I want my audience to hear what it’s like as you go through the process of setting up an organization, and how different is that from working at a company.
It’s extremely different. On one hand, I had already known a lot of the aspects of business because of how my bosses let me run my department that essentially, I was in charge of all the billing, I was in charge of client communications and client negotiations. I was an intrapreneur before I was an entrepreneur. That allowed me to understand the ropes, understand hiring, and understand business management, but I had no stress. Yes, there’s stress. Everybody has stress at work, but I didn’t have the, “Am I going to eat tomorrow?”stress that business owners have. While it’s not part of my origin story, years later when things dried up, and when I had a pipeline that no longer existed. Suddenly that’s when everything started collapsing. That’s when I got my schooling in running a business and how to be successful.
What did you do?
I had gone from my $40,000 billing and then I was down to $2,000 because a couple of clients left. I had to let go of staff. I couldn’t pay myself, not to mention my staff. It was this huge shrink of the business. What it was is my client pipeline, my new business pipeline had dried up because I had left the market. The geographic market, I’d physically left. We live in an RV now, but when my family and I first left, I had said, “I don’t know half of my clients, I’ve not met half of my clients. We have staff members all around the country. Why don’t we take off and lower our cost of living, so I don’t have to grow the business more and take more money out of it for myself? I can pay more people. I can manage the business without having to work 60 hours a week.” That was the option that we had chosen.
It was instant that it happened, but I didn’t see the sign until six months later. The instant that had changed was all of my clients, while I didn’t know them, they still came through referrals and I was still doing the networking and in-person speaking engagements. That was bringing in the client pipeline for our business. I didn’t put two and two together. I’m a super smart guy that can’t see in front of my nose. I’m overseas, and suddenly, I have no proposals going out. I have no pipeline and I’m like, “That’s interesting.”I kept doing what I was doing in just normal client churn. I had to start letting go of people and we really shrank. I ended up going back to Michigan and said, “Let me reinvigorate what worked before.” Because if something works, and then you change, and it stops working, change it back so that you can get that going again.
I took about six months to a year to figure out, “I can get some money, we can rebuild the business.” I hired more people again. We got back going, but then it was like, “How can I prevent this from happening again?” There was my education moment of, “I don’t have new business coming in because my only pipeline was in-person conversations.” Even though I was talking with referral people, I didn’t realize that when I’d stand up and talk somewhere that the people in the audience necessarily weren’t my future clients. They were the people who said to their friend, “You need Paul. You have to go talk to Paul. Paul Kortman knows what he’s talking about in SEO. You need to go talk to him and his business.” That was the second-tier referral, as what I refer to that as. When I got that reengaged, that was fine, but that wasn’t going to grow my business.
What you started to do was act like you were an employee again. You said, “Somebody else will take care of that because they just keep showing up.”All of a sudden, it stops and you go, “I think I need to go figure this out,” and obviously you did. The lesson is never stop promoting. Even if you’re in the desert in Mexico, you still must be doing all the things you can to promote your business.
Does anybody wonder why I’m doing guest podcasting at all? This is essentially me standing up in front of an audience in Grand Rapids Michigan saying, “I know what I’m talking about SEO, and I can help your business grow.” Only I get to do it over the airwaves and help significantly more people. I love giving away information for free, and the secret sauce, because it comes back to you. If I tell you exactly how to do it, that’s great, like following a recipe for baking a cake. You can do it and you can get close, but if you want that perfect cake, you got to go to the excellent baker and get it done from them. That’s why I love talking SEO because I can dispel myths and rumors, and help people understand. At same time, I can talk about our business and how we’ve systematized it and made it so that it’s much more efficient.
We have an audience who run all kinds of businesses, who have all kinds of websites, whether their WordPress or otherwise, and SEO is always an issue. They want to hear how the expert fixes SEO problems. Where do you start when you begin the process of trying to understand someone’s SEO situation, and what are your steps to correcting it?
There’s a break fix that you’re implying, and then I’m going to say, “Let’s take a look at the landscape first. What is it that Google wants?” I say Google in place of search engines, but we all know that the majority of us use Google. 65% of searches happen on Google, so they’re the gorilla in the room when we’re talking search engine optimization. What does Google want? They want to answer their users’ queries. They want to help their users get to the answer faster. If you can provide the answer and show Google that you’re an authority on the topic or the answer, then they’re going to display your answer and they’re going to help users get to you.
If you take a step back and look at it that way and say, “Without gaming the processor or anything, I need to understand that I need to provide the right answers to my target audience or a target audience who’s using Google, and make sure that Google understands that I’m an authority in the space.” We talk about all kinds of different things. There’s 200 factors in the algorithm, at least 200 that we know of, and you’re not going to get them all right. Even if you do, they’re not even going to all make that significant of a difference. When I back things up and go back to a little bit to my origin story, we used to do anything and everything. When a client would come to us, “I got an SEO problem. Can you help me fix it?” “Sure.” “I’ve got a problem with my website. Can you help me fix it?” “Sure.”
That was how we built our agency. I’ve come to find out that especially in SEO, so many of the things that I’ve done didn’t move the needle. That is where I say to a lot of my co-SEO people, “You’re doing all these technical SEO audits, you’re doing all these on page SEO efforts, are you actually moving the needle for your clients? Are you creating more business, getting them more leads and generating more sales?” Or is it just, “I can show to you that for my search, you show up on number one.” If it’s not benefiting the bottom line, it’s not helping.
What we’ve done is we found out that there is one thing that consistently works for everyone. I can talk about boiling those 200 factors into three buckets real quick. Technical SEO on page, making sure that your code, your content is index-able, that Google can read it. The second bucket is content, making sure that you talk about the phrases that people are searching, that you’re answering the questions that people are searching. The third one is that you have people talking about you, that are linking to you, that are putting citations out there, sharing you on social media.
Those last two, you might think, “It’s 30% or 33% or it’s a third.” That’s not true. Not all buckets are created equal, especially in this case. The majority of SEOs, the majority of search engine optimization work, focuses on that first bucket. Technical, on page, making sure your codes’ right, making sure you have canonical URLs, getting WordPress and Yoast set up correctly. That’s fine, but that’s only 10%. If you weigh these buckets of what’s going to move the needle and make your position increase within Google.
I am a blogger and I have a lot of content going up regularly on my website, and I have a writer who works with me. We brainstorm the name of the post that we want to create, and we take a few minutes to think about who we’re trying to reach. We’d go to the Google AdWord keyword finder, and we start looking for keywords that match the target audience that we’re trying to reach. We write down those keywords and create a list of them, and then we start to create posts around those keywords. What we have been able to see is that Google does respond fairly rapidly once we are posting regularly with those keywords. Do you find that to be true, and is that something that you feel is good practice?
100% that is good practice, and it is ideal to make that happen, but it’s missing out on one of the really key factors. Are you familiar with the Pareto Principle, the 80/20rule? You may have heard something about content marketing. I forget who it was who said this, but they applied the 80/20 rule to content marketing. I said, “If you spend four hours researching, writing, editing, producing your content, that’s 20% of your effort. You now need to spend sixteen hours marketing that article.”My challenge back to you is, you have a great system there. You research, you come up with keywords, you write great content. What are you doing to market it? Dumping it into social media, sharing it when it publishes, and maybe writing an email, that took you one hour? You’re not leveraging that content to the degree that you could.
Share with us how to leverage the content beyond the auto posting on social media.
We actually go a step backwards first. One of the things in those buckets that’s most important is links. Links in content are equally important. You have to have stellar content that either does one of two things. One, it answers users’ questions, so that comes from where you’re looking at the query to, “What are people searching?”Let me answer those questions with a blog post, and that’ll rank or that will do better, or I’ll get more Google traffic from them. But what are users, bloggers, and website owners linking to? That’s a different question. It’s not as easy to solve and it’s not as easy to answer, but there are ways to go about that.
What you do is you find out what are people linking to and is there an article out there or a topic that people that are trying to find references, trying to find resources on but they can’t? They’re linking to articles that are subpar. You may have heard of Elon Musk. He’s got this Hyperloop thing over in California. You may have heard of it, fast Train. But what you hear is mostly coming out of the news. You’ll hear an article when Elon Musk says this or when he says that. Who wrote the full book on the Hyperloop? What is the Hyperloop? How does it really work? We went out, we searched, and we found there isn’t an article that does that.
There isn’t this the de facto authoritative article that has all of that detail and information. For our client, we went out and wrote that article, and then we sent e-mails to the people who are linking to all these other articles that are trying to solve the answer of what is the Hyperloop. They have little bits and parts of it. Not that they’re wrong, they just don’t have the whole picture and it’s not a scientifically sourced article or whatever. We go out and we find those people that are linking to those articles, and we say, “We wrote a better article over here. Would you change your link? Would you post a new blog post talking about our article so that your audience can benefit from it?”
That’s where the sixteen hours comes in. What you start to do is you do a deep dive into the market you’re writing about, find out what’s missing, provide the content, and then go out there and find people who are interested in writing about that content to link back to your article.
If you can get people to link back to your article, that improves your domain authority, domain rank, all boats rise with the tide. You can write an article that answers a question that somebody types in Google that’s specific about your product, service, or industry, and then you can write a generic article that is well thought out, say like the Hyperloop article. It’s super in-depth in detail and you can get people to link to that. That’s going to help the Hyperloop article rank, but it’s also going to help your other article rank because it’s now on a domain that has more authority because of all the links coming into that domain.
We’re talking about back links. With back links, we have run into problems in the past with companies that go out there and promote themselves as being able to create oceans of back links to your content, who are then banned by Google and put a black mark on your site and your content. What are the rules about back links that would avoid any issues with being accused of doing it for the wrong purpose?
It’s all about natural. It’s all about, “Does it fit? Does it make sense?” The secret sauce for us is finding people that have linked to similar articles in the past, and asked them to change their link. “That article is subpar, it’s old, update you’re link to this.” A lot of people will do that. That is totally kosher as far as Google is concerned. This is normal above bar. We’re not paying for links, we’re not doing anything shady. The worst that we can be accused of is sending spam emails because we don’t know these people, and we’re sending them a cold e-mail. It’s like sales. We’re sending a cold email. It’s targeted to them; it has details about them.
We are focused on them, but the term ‘spam’ means any unwanted e-mail, and it’s like, “No, you’re not on our list. I’m not going to broadcast content to you every month or every week. I’m just asking a favor, I’m just talking to you about this article. I’m making a cold sales pitch.” That’s the worst that we can be accused of. In reality, when it comes down to it, if you talk to any SEO worth his or her wait, they’re going to say, “You need to ask your Chamber of Commerce for a link. You need to ask your friend, aunt, uncle, brother. You need to talk to anybody you know that have memberships at and get links from these websites.” It’s like, “Yes, you need to do that, but if you’re asking for those links, why can’t you ask for those links from people you don’t know?” That’s what we do.
What we’ve learned so far is that there some technical tricks that you could do that don’t have a lot of an effect on results, on moving the needle as you say. The next big thing would be the content itself, and make sure that it’s well-written and it is properly attuned with the right keywords. The third part, which I think is the part that I would call the secret sauce and the hard work, is to literally go out there and find people who have linked to similar articles in the past and ask them to change their links back to your content and get them to promote you. Do I have that right as a summary?
I had somebody ask me, “How do you ask that question? In that that third part when you’re marketing that content, when you’re putting it out there and saying, “Can you please link to me?” How do you ask that? Because it seems really selfish and hard to do.” There are two main things you need to remember. One, you have to create incredible content, and I can’t state that enough. When you’re going to ask for a link to an article, you can’t ask for a link to a sales pitch. It doesn’t make sense. People are going to be like, “It’s sales-y.” If you write an article that says, “That’s why you should use my service,” and it’s like “No, I’m not going to link to that, that’s so lame.” If you write an article that’s helpful, that gives away all the information, that makes it super digestible, we don’t read, we scan, but actually engage the audience, have some humor, put some videos in there.
We’re talking incredible content. It makes the ask so much easier, because it’s like, “Check out this article. Let me know what you think about it. If you like it, would you be willing to change your link?” We have an example. We didn’t outreach for an article that we wrote. I don’t get to read all of our articles but when a problem happens, then I go and I read it. It was The Thirteen Things You Must Do When Visiting New York City. You don’t have to be in New York City, you don’t have to actually visit New York City to know that the Statue of Liberty is something you should at least see when you’re in New York City. The guy that we did an outreach to, he responded back, “Nice one, John. I would never have thought of going to the Statue of Liberty if I were visiting New York City. That article is so incredible.”
It was dripping with sarcasm, and we realized we bombed on that article. There’s so many articles about The Thirteen Things You Must in New York City. We bombed, and the fact that the Statue of Liberty was on there, it goes to show of how badly we did at that. We do a much better job now. That was a year ago when we wrote that, but it’s still my best example of failing at this. You want to make sure that nobody can come back to you and say, “That’s a terrible article,” or, “That’s not news,” or, “That’s boring.” You want to make sure that this has incredible content that’s really good stuff, and then it makes the ask that much easier.
That was the first thing is make sure it’s incredible content. The second thing is you have to make it valuable to their audience, not just the content, but you need to say, “Your audience is going to benefit if you link to this article because X, Y, and Z. We want to get the word out about this article or about this information to your audience. We think it would be beneficial or valuable to your audience for this reason.” That makes the ask so much easier instead of, “Would you please do this for me because I need a link.” It becomes more along the lines of, “I wrote this great article. Read it. I think you’ll love it. I think it will also be beneficial to your audience. if you agree, change your link or add link.”
I’m understanding a lot better what this process involves because now we go back to step one, where we originally decided to write an article. Instead of just writing an article that we are interested in with our keywords, what we’re doing is we’re going out there and finding people who already have an interest that we can identify that are aligned with ours, and then write that article tailored to the needs of the people you’re looking to get links from. I love that, and that’s so powerful.
Let me go with McDonald’s. Their secret sauce on their Big Mac is just Thousand Island. The best part about secret sauce is that when you’re explained it, you get it, and you’re like, “How did I not see that before?” That’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s like, “I wrote this great article, and it’s no longer ‘if you build it they will come’. I wrote this great article but now how do I get people to see it.” “You have to do the outreach, you have to market it.”“Yes, totally agree with that.”
I appreciate you sharing that with my audience. It will definitely help me going forward with my own writers, so I definitely appreciate that. I know you have a website, but I don’t know the URL, would you mind telling me what that is?
That’s Connex Digital Marketing, so it’s ConnexDigitalMarketing.com.
I would assume from what we’ve been talking about that you write these articles for your clients, and then you do all of the back links and searches to make sure that they can get the traffic that would normally come from a well-written article with the links that we’ve been discussing?
We do the whole process, soup to nuts as it were, hands off as much as possible. We do the research and suggest target article. If our client approves, we write the article, and they get to add it. We have unlimited revisions because we want to make sure not only is it a great article, but our client absolutely loves it, and then we do all the outreach. We send between 50,000 and 100,00 emails a month. We definitely do the hard work. That is where the hard work is involved is getting those e-mails tailored, getting them right, and getting the responses.
From what I understand, you have your own podcast as well. Is that right?
It’s called the Agency Connexion Podcast. It’s unique and different in the fact that it’s five to ten minutes every day, seven days a week. It’s about agencies. I grew up in the agency world thinking that there was only one way to run an agency. I thought when I stepped out and started my own agency, I’m going to do it different. Now that I’m smarter and eight years older, I realize that there are hundreds of ways of running an agency, from billing, to staff management, to parties, to clients, and client acquisition. There are all kinds of different ways, and so I wanted to get that message out there. We do it in short little snippets every day, so that even if you have a short commute or you squeeze us between Mitch’s podcast, that’s fine. We’re trying to get that message out there that here’s the 300 different ways of running an agency.
To my audience, if you run an agency, it sounds like this is probably essential listening for you as well. I have a couple of questions for you, and these are my favorite questions of all. This one, I believe, helps me better understand exactly who I’ve been talking to for the last half hour, and it’s about the way you see yourself in relationship to people in the past, in the future even. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with?
I have to say Barack Obama. I’m still infatuated. I know not everybody agrees with his politics, but I’m still infatuated with how he broke so many glass ceilings, that he was able to make so many things happen. I’d love to talk to him about being a dad. I’d love to talk to him about business, about law, about politics. I’d love to talk to him about he and Michelle, and how they stuck it through all the hard times. I’d also love to talk to him about, “Now what? You’re the first African-American President, and your legacy is holding true. What now?” Those are the fun questions that I’d love to have with the former President Barack Obama.
I’m sure that would be such an interesting conversation, and one that I think could even make news if it were recorded. Imagine having him on your show, wouldn’t that be great? Having Barack Obama on your podcast. The next question is what I call the grand finale question, and that’s the ‘change the world’ question. Think deep, think hard, go back into your soul and ask yourself this question while I ask you this question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I have a core fundamental belief that is summarized in a label that we wear, that we are a location independent family. That core fundamental belief is that the American script, it’s actually the Western script but we call it the American script, that you have to buy a house, get a mortgage, settle down, get a couple of cars, have a dog, have some kids, the kids need to be stable, that you need to have a physical, stable location for kids to grow and not be crazy, that they need to go to school. Combined with the fact that you have to punch the clock and go into the office every day. All of that is a myth.
My desire and how I want to change the world is I want to impact kids like I’m impacting my kids by impacting their parents and saying, “You have the freedom to live where you want to, to move when you want to, and to enjoy your lifestyle not just keeping up with the Joneses and doing it the way you should or ought to do it.” We run a podcast and have a whole another program there. I don’t make a dime over there, I’m actually pouring more money into it, but this is what you’re asking about is passion to change the world. Kids who grow up outside of their home culture have a better world view and a better understanding and will be better citizens of the world and better voting citizens of whatever country they’re in, and not be so caught up with a navel gazing situation as they get older.
I agree with you because we chatted about motorhomes. The audience may know that for many years I’ve owned motorhomes and I totally love what you say. Here’s the thing that you said that’s going to be scary to the people. Some people will be excited by the idea of being location independent and other people will get scared. I’ve seen that fear in others as well, so I know what it means to pick up and move and live in other places, and work and live in a mobile environment, in a nomadic way as I introduced you.
There’s incredible joy in not just the freedom, but in the ability to immerse yourself in the unknown every single day. I love that you’re doing that, and I love that you’re teaching others how to do that too. I want to thank you for being a guest on YourFirstThousandClients.com. For the audience, get in touch with Paul. He has some brilliance there to share. Thank you again, Paul. I enjoyed the conversation.
Thank you. Happy to be here.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Results Breakthrough Network
- Paul Kortman
- Agency Connexion Podcast
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