July 1, 2018
Three Lessons from a Sales Rep
Recently I was talking to a sales rep and as we strolled along I did what I normally do and I made small talk. Usually this means I just ask a bunch of questions because I love hearing people talk. It’s an amazing feeling when that moment occurs in a conversation when the slightly-distancing wall of formality falls and you break through to the actual person.
If there’s one thing I’ve been working hard to learn more it’s this idea of active listening. My definition of active listening is simple: Active listening is hearing plus thinking. That thinking part seems to be fairly consistent in my writing and speaking! Anyway, listening to her talk I began to learn. I learned what she liked and what she didn’t like in her job. I began to realize I had a firsthand opportunity to experience the pain of being a sales rep. Of course, this led to me asking some questions about what tools she used in her job. (Again, I’m doing the listening so she’s happily unaware of what I spend 21 of every 24 hours a day doing!) Here are 3 things I learned from my 30 minute conversation with a sales rep.
Sales requires lots of data entry
Okay, now I am going to imagine many of you rolled your eyes when you read that headline, just as I paused my keystroke as I typed the words. This one seems almost too obvious to mention. And yet, this is an important point to consider because of the many implications held in the reality of this phrase. Data entry. Those two words strike fear in the hearts of sales reps (and pretty much everyone else as well…yes, I’m ignoring the data nerds in the room for a minute). Why does the concept of data entry cause us such angst? I’d suggest there are a few reasons for this deep-seated disgust.
- Data entry is unpleasant because it requires thought about the format of the information entered. Our wildly creative brains struggle with clear constraints and stringent requirements. We love free-form entry, we hate forced and perceived unnecessary restrictions.
- Data entry is unpleasant because it takes so much time to complete. The tedious point-and-click from input box to input box leaves our non-linear brains bored and easily distracted.
- Data entry is unpleasant because many current systems are redundant, complicated, or in some cases completely and totally broken!
When this process takes an unnecessarily long time or when there is a feeling that the purpose is unclear or the tool incomplete there is a greater propensity to underperform the task of data entry. In the end the data suffers, the individual’s success suffers and ultimately the business suffers! Bottom line: Sales must utilize proper data entry!
Sales requires lots of research
As I listened to Kathryn discuss her job details there was a moment of realization which hit her just as much as it did me. At one point we were talking about the information she was gathering to put into her reporting tools and she made the following comment.
“This information is hard to gather and difficult to enter, but the entire business is built on gathering this research. Without my data entry, the company doesn’t know where to build their next product.”
– Kathryn, my sales rep
When she said it out loud I saw the realization spread and she understood at least to a little extent the importance of all that seemingly meaningless data entry. Sales reps do tons of research. Of course, sometimes that research is to help them sell better and sometimes it’s used somewhere else in the business. But every great sales rep understands the importance of doing their homework before a call. They know the more they know the better they can be in building a relationship and hopefully making a sale.
This research also implies another important point. Sales reps spend a disproportionate amount of their time doing research instead of talking to customers and potential customers. In Kathryn’s case the ratio was on the scale of hours to minutes.
Sales requires better tools
Yep, you knew I was ending here. I mean, this is Saelos Sunday after all! As Kathryn and I walked and talked we finally came around to the all-important discussion of software tools. Because I’m a process guy I really got excited at this point. I wanted to hear how she went about her job and more importantly why she did things the way she did them. Several interesting points came out of this particular part of our conversation. I’ve done my best to remember them and write them down for you here:
- Sales reps need software that works. I feel almost stupid for saying that, but the reality is that in many cases the software doesn’t work. Either the software doesn’t work the way it was designed, or far worse, the software doesn’t work the way the sales rep does. This idea of a software tool fitting the business instead of the reverse is surprisingly uncommon. SaaS tools are designed for the masses, but by doing this, the unique aspects of each individual company are lost in a sea of vague generic functions which fit the broadest possible audience…because that is how the SaaS company makes their money!
- Sales reps need software that works well with others. Make no mistake, this is a very different point from the previous point. Working and working well with others are two very distinct features. Software that lives in a silo simply means the sales rep has to do more work themselves and more duplicate work. The practice of duplicate work is the anathema of sales reps the world over. The best software systems are those which interact silently, instantly, and consistently; syncing data across various platforms.
- Sales reps need software that works ahead. This always makes me think back to those times in school when I was really feeling the “groove” and worked ahead in my homework lessons (Don’t give me too much credit, those moments were few and far between!). For software to “work ahead” it needs to be intelligent. Intelligent software follows self-determining processes and pre-defined workflows to move customers and deals successfully through the sales process. Software needs to utilize those computational resources which humans don’t have to do this. By taking advantage of the strengths found in modern technology the best sales reps are able to maximize their time and increase their efficiency.
My important takeaways
I offer this title a bit impishly since I wouldn’t necessarily consider my takeaways to be of utmost importance to you, but in an effort to offer you insight into my thinking and to summarize these lessons I’ll proffer my thoughts for your reflection.
Sales reps are unique and each have different challenges and responsibilities based on their particular job, vertical market, or industry. But in spite of these differences there are some common, shared, requirements which make them able to perform at their peak. Software is involved in almost all of those requirements. Outstanding sales reps need outstanding software. I believe what the open source community forming around Saelos is creating accomplishes lofty goals. We’re intent on solving problems, meeting needs, and fulfilling these requirements. We believe we can do this through cutting-edge sales software.
We seek to make data entry effortless and simple. We organize and return data efficiently and automatically to minimize wasted research time. We write intelligent software which works ahead and takes advantage of modern technology and empowers people to do what they do best…communicate with others.
Interested in the future of Saelos? Want to be a part of this growing community of passionate people? See for yourself why we believe software can save the world.
June 20, 2018
Machine Learning, Human Ignorance
An interesting juxtaposition seems to be forming in our culture and society today. The news is overwhelmed with announcement after announcement about the next great thing that has happened in the world of artificial intelligence. The milestones are being reached in record fashion and the changes are mind-blowing. Meanwhile, we also hear about the growing struggles between individuals, political unrest, and cultural strifes. As a society our attention has shifted inwards on ourselves more than ever before. We focus on the next dopamine drop, endorphin elevation, and adrenaline accelerant. We’ve lost the will and the power to think.
This frightful decline of human intelligence and the obsolescence of thought in an age of rapidly evolving artificial intelligence and the advancements in machine learning invokes thoughtful introspection on our culture.
What should we take away from this precarious situation and what lessons should we learn?
Machines will continue to get smarter, faster
If there’s one fact that’s certain, it is that machines are getting smarter and they are getting smarter faster. One needs only look at the advancements made by some of the world’s largest companies and the announcements made in their artificial intelligence endeavors to see the reality of this. One of the greatest examples which I love to share is in regards to the Google Alpha Go team. Here’s a snippet from a recent press release they shared:
Over the course of millions of AlphaGo vs AlphaGo games, the system progressively learned the game of Go from scratch, accumulating thousands of years of human knowledge during a period of just a few days. AlphaGo Zero also discovered new knowledge, developing unconventional strategies and creative new moves that echoed and surpassed the novel techniques it played in the games against Lee Sedol and Ke Jie.
– Source: Deep Mind (emphasis my own)
But this is only the beginning. In a matter of days this system learned more than all of human knowledge. And it continued to learn; the system created new moves that humans had never played before. While some look at this as just a game, it represents something much greater. The underlying premise that machines can and will learn faster than humans is sustained.
Humans need to consider our unique abilities
Usually a statement like the previous brings fear and panic within people and the result is an irrational attempt to then limit our technological advances. Rather than taking a rational approach we instead focus on how to impede our own progress. We focus not on our strengths but instead on how to retard the strength of our systems. In any other environment we would look at this purposeful slowing of progress as luddite or backwards-thinking.
I suggest we should instead focus on our unique abilities. What are those things we are quite far from imbuing into machines? Feeling, emotion, passion, empathy, or perhaps of even more importance: the ability to determine causality.
Causal reasoning is easy for you because you are human, and you were once a three-year-old, and you had a marvelous three-year-old brain that understood causation better than any animal or computer. … we have to teach the computer how to selectively break the rules of logic. Computers are not good at breaking rules, a skill at which children excel.
– Source: The Book of Why (emphasis my own)
I could elaborate on this point…but as you can tell from my source, I don’t want to steal my thunder for my Friday post! Just know this book is awesome and I’ll share more with you at the end of the week.
Our focus should be on collaborative benefits
I’ve written about this previously, and I expect this will be a frequent topic in the coming months as it’s on the absolute forefront of my mind. This is the future we need to be focused on. This concept of collaborative benefits. How do we improve the future of humanity through an embedded intelligent relationship with computers and artificial intelligence? We are better when we focus on our combined strengths and how we collaborate and share strengths. When we place our human qualities in parallel with the computational powers of computers we can achieve phenomenal results. Here’s a quote from one of my favorite posts on this topic:
Creating computers that can think will be our greatest invention yet—they’ll allow us to outsource our most important and high-impact work. Thinking is what built everything we have, so just imagine the power that will come from building ourselves a super-intelligent thinking extension. And extensions of the people by definition belong to the people—they’re of the people.
– Source: Wait But Why: NeuraLink (emphasis my own)
Again, I have written about this before and will be writing on it in greater depth in the future so I’ll spare you the diatribe here. The key takeaway is simple: a future of combined human and computer intelligence empowers the human race to achieve unparalleled success and significant advancements as a civilization.
Be brave, be smart, be thoughtful
In conclusion I would leave you with a simple three step directive. Rather than being afraid of the unknown and hiding from the future or denying our species the excitement of what could be, revel in the possibilities, explore the future with an intelligent and thoughtful approach. When we do this we will achieve great things. We set a course for the future that advances our world and creates an ever-expanding universe for generations to come.
June 18, 2018
How to be unique in your marketing
In today’s marketing world you’re often told that you should be unique in your branding and in your corporate identity. You’re told your company must be different in order to be successful. You must be unique and special and focused on a niche market previously untapped. And without fail this never ceases to brings to mind a rather paradoxical quote I’ve heard which says:
“You’re unique- just like everyone else.”
I laugh every time I hear the quote because indeed it holds a level of truth. In your branding you do want to be unique, and so does everyone else, including your competitors.
How to Be Unique
The reasons you want to be unique are numerous, you want your company to be easily recognized, remembered and repeated by your potential and past customers. Let’s look at several ways you can be unique in your marketing and branding.
Your Logo Is Important
First you should be unique in your logo. Sure, now days you can go and pick out a logo for a couple bucks and have a brand. But this logo that you picked up at some discount website is not a unique brand symbol. It doesn’t represent what and who you are as a company. Your logo is much more than just a symbol or cute graphic. Your logo is a fantastic visual representation of not only what you are as a company but more importantly, who you are. You want your logo to be unique and memorable, and you want your logo to be timeless. I’m sure we can all think of other logos which have withstood the test of time and still today stand as representations of the company for which they were created. Of course over time things will change and refinements may be made, but some of the most classic logos have stayed relatively the same through generations.
That last one, Nike, is timeless. We can see even over decades these brands have altered very little about their logo (except for the early days for McDonalds). These logos are both classic and contemporary.
Designing your logo can be difficult because there are so many opportunities to go after the latest trend and what might be currently hot in design and marketing. Your logo should be something you thoughtfully consider and carefully craft.
Your Follow-Through Is Important
Secondly, you can be unique in the services and support you offer to your existing customers. Sure, it’s rather easy to be outgoing and friendly to the potential customers because you want their business. But once they are a customer, that’s when you have the opportunity to be unique. Treat them with respect. Be personable. You will stand apart from other companies because of your connection to your customers.
There are some other companies which have made their name and reputation on their customer support. One such company, Rackspace , offers the tagline, “Fanatical Support”. Then they hold themselves accountable by advertising they answer the phone with a real person in under 15 seconds. That is absolutely unique and memorable.
Your Marketing Is Important
You can be unique in your marketing. Marketing is your opportunity to express who you are as a company. It’s your chance to show the world the culture and the community associated with your company. Your marketing should reflect your values and your abilities and provide a unique insight into your company. Your marketing takes time, thought, and practice. Yes, your marketing takes practice. You need to learn what works and what doesn’t. You can speed up this process by learning from others. Determine what resonates with your target market, but more importantly be true to your company and your vision. If there’s a disconnect between the two then there’s an opportunity to evaluate if you have correctly identified your ideal customer. Your marketing is not something to take lightly and certainly not something you ignore.
Your Reputation Is Important
The last area I want to look at today is your reputation. Your reputation is what others think of you. There’s a number of great quotes on reputation but I remember one by Abraham Lincoln which I particularly like.
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Reputation reflects on your character and your reputation is unique to your company just as your character is a unique trait of your business. Unfortunately there are some who would ruin their reputation in an attempt to grow their market share, discourage competition, or otherwise just attempt to ‘get-ahead’ in business. And as the quote says:
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
– Benjamin Franklin
You may be aware of the recent news story regarding Uber and their somewhat questionable recruiting practices and other aggressive efforts to kill their competition, Lyft. That story is a very real, very recent example of this exact principle. I have always admired Uber, they had the “cool factor” in my book and I would share their services with others whether they were interested or not. After this latest revelation I hesitate a bit before being willing to advertise for them. A single marketing campaign can ruin a reputation. And ruin a company. Be sure your reputation is important and a great way for you to be unique.
You can be unique in your business. The world is waiting to see what you offer … and what makes you different. Don’t be afraid to show them.
June 7, 2018
Reading Weekly Wrap-up
Happy Friday everyone! The reading this week ended quite different than I thought it would when I began. I actually love weeks like that. I don’t know if it’s because I dislike routine or if I just like the idea of change. (Ironically enough I hate surprises!) I didn’t foresee when the week began how impactful the week would be. And I don’t mean simply for my reading habit but for the world, specifically the open source world.
In case you missed my Monday post, about the Microsoft GitHub acquisition, I’d recommend going and taking a read, it was quite the story and I saw a lot of interest in the topic. This $7.5 billion transaction caused a lot of questions and concerns in the open source community, mostly due to Microsoft’s storied history. As a result of this semi-controversial start to the week my book selection took a slight different direction.
This week’s theme: “Knowing What Matters”
As with previous weeks I found a common theme though this week I believe it’s a bit less serendipitous and a bit more expected given the announcement made. (Although I would suggest the conclusions I draw are still very interesting and aligned along a particular line of thinking.) Let’s jump right in!
The first book I picked up this week was one that I had sitting on my bookshelf (virtual of course) but I hadn’t started yet. Factfulness, by Hans Rosling had come across my path I believe from a best seller’s list and the impactful, bold cover caught my eye and although I am the first to tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover – the typography lover inside of me was instantly attracted to pick this one up.
But what encouraged me to start reading it this week was due actually in part to the Microsoft headlines which then led me to Bill Gates news which eventually led me to his announcement this week about paying for a copy of this particular book to any graduating student who might be interested.
Now that is a lead-in story right there isn’t it?! Okay so what is it about this book that captured Mr. Gates’ attention to this level? Let’s pick out just a few highlights:
- Things are better than they seem: Hans points out through a series of charts, graphs, and data plots the severity to which our perception of the world is skewed. We have held onto the fatalistic thinking of approximately 50 years ago. And even worse we’ve passed these static misconceptions on to the next generation.
- Measurements matter when in perspective: the author is not suggesting that everything is perfect, nor does he suggest we “look at the world through rose-colored glasses“. Instead the point being made is we can better appreciate the negative and the positive when we put the measurements in the proper perspective.
- The dangers of human instincts: Humans are incredibly smart, highly educated, and yet score worse than chimpanzees (or pure and random guessing) on the various survey questions asked throughout the book. This comes from our overdramatic worldview instead of a fact-based worldview. Our instincts, left unchecked, tend towards drama beyond fact.
Ultimately this book is the author’s attempt to encourage the reader to not be embarrassed by their dramatic tendencies, but rather use data (Hans and team uses a lot of data) to inform a factual viewpoint, control instincts and replace misconceptions. Overall a fantastic read.
Measure What Matters
As you can probably guess I read a lot of books from the NYT Best Seller’s Lists. Measure What Matters, by John Doerr carries a subtitle that intrigued me: “How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs”. Catch the subtle link to the first book in that subtitle? Yep, the Gates Foundation. Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation is referenced heavily in this book.
Now, before anyone feels too bad, I need to say I’m a very very big advocate for removing acronyms from most common vernacular. They tend to make people feel dumb when instead it’s simply an unfamiliar subject matter. Don’t feel bad – you can’t be a SME (subject matter expert…see how annoying that can be?) about everything!
- What is an OKR? This is simply an abbreviated way of saying Objectives and Key Results. See, not that big a deal. What is meant by the term is a type of protocol for companies, teams, and individuals for collaborative goal-setting. Objectives are simply WHAT is to be achieved. They are concrete, meaningful, action-oriented and even inspirational. Objectives are the way to fight against feelings, overly dramatic views, and poor execution. Key Results are the ways objectives can be benchmarked and measured. This is the manner by which we measure HOW we get to the aforementioned objective. Incredibly important to a key result is the ability to be measurable and verifiable.
“It’s not a key result unless it has a number” – Marissa Mayer
- Continuous Performance Management: The second half of the book focuses on the contemporary alternative to annual performance reviews. (Watch out here comes another acronym) CFR’s which stand for conversations, feedback, and recognition are how this idea of continuous performance management is implemented and evaluated.
This book is jammed full of real-life case studies and stories from some of the world’s best known companies. Split into two parts (OKR’s and CRF’s) the true stories illustrate how these two theories are related and when both are functioning deliver a complete system for measuring what matters.
And now we come to the final book for the week. I hesitated to include this book in the list since technically this was a re-read but felt that it absolutely fit into the sub-theme for the week. Hit Refresh, by Satya Nadella caught my eye as particularly timely this week. In case you didn’t know Satya assumed the role of Microsoft CEO in 2014. This book is his thoughts.
I can’t imagine stepping into a behemoth corporation such as Microsoft and hoping to “right the course” or “turn the ship around”. It’s almost an unthinkable monumental challenge but as I read through Satya’s story I found myself becoming convinced if anyone could conquer this challenge, Satya could.
- Learning to Lead: The first few chapters in this book share incredible thoughts on leadership and seeing opportunities. Satya discusses the power of innovation, teamwork, and transformations when led by an empathetic leader.
- Recognizing what’s important: Satya shares what he learned along the road to change and what it required both as a leader and as an established company. The power of a shared mission, a vision that empowered every person and rediscovering the soul of Microsoft.
- Looking at the future: In the final part of the book Satya begins to explore what is required in the years ahead for the changes to Microsoft’s culture to be realized and their mission fulfilled.
Obviously, as you can now see the sub-theme for this particular’s week of reading involved a subtle thread of Microsoft’s influence in the world. From the recent announcement of Microsoft’s latest acquisition to the words written almost presciently by Satya Nadella:
Over the years, I’ve found that openness is the best way to get things done and to ensure all parties feel terrific about the outcome. In a world where innovation is continuous and rapid, no one has time to waste on unnecessary cycles of work and effort. Being straightforward with one another is the best way to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome in the fastest time possible.
– Satya Nadella
But, Microsoft’s journey is only the secondary theme for this week. Were you able to pick up on the primary motif carried throughout this week by these three books? It comes down to a simple concept:
Human emotions, feelings, and their endeavors are heavily influenced by their worldview; and only with proper facts, knowledge, and wisdom can they accomplish those things which matter most.
June 5, 2018
The Power of Passionate People
Stop for a second. I could almost bet money that you read this title and instantly thought about open source communities. Of course it’s entirely possible that inclination towards open source is entirely my own due to my deep and enduring focus on building lasting communities and the power of open source. But I have to believe that within all of us there is a notion that passionate people belong in communities. We naturally associate the outpouring of passionate work with volunteers. But as I asked at the outset of this post — I’d like you to stop and think more about this.
The composition of a passionate person
Let’s start by exploring what the make-up of a passionate person actually looks like. We are I am sure all familiar with the rather standard top three dictionary definitions of passion; but if we look down the list a little further we’ll see other common definitions. One in particular stands out to me:
passion [pash-uh n]: (6) A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. — Dictionary.com
So our standard notion of passion needs to be expanded for our everyday understanding and usage. In practice then a passionate person is one who exhibits strong enthusiasm for something. This is the idea we are taking into consideration today when discussing the composition of a passionate person. Someone who is crazy over accomplishing their mission. A person seen as extravagant and maniacally focused for their impassioned actions.
But there’s something else that’s relevant when discussing the constitution of a person exhibiting extraordinary zeal for a subject. An individual may demonstrate this level of fervor in one area of their life while trudging through the mundane daily rituals of a dozen others. In essence what I am suggesting then is an individual can be both passionate and dispassionate, depending on their environment and any particular facet of their life. There is no overarching global “passionate” status whereby people are measured.
Passion therefore is not contingent solely on the person but also on the particular aspect being evaluated with the person. The responsibility for passionate behavior lies not only with the person but also within the object eliciting the passion. (whew, that was deep!)
Power exists within everyone
Every person contains some element of power within them. This power takes on a variety of forms and is exhibited in a variety of ways depending on circumstances and settings. Power in the sense of energy, strength, mental efficacy, etc… We all have a propensity for exhibiting strength and we seek out ways to showcase or prove our power. As humans we have an instinctive desire to find outlets by which this (and by extension ourselves) can be validated.
Applying these principles
Now if we take these concepts and put them into practice what we find is a rather natural conclusion. When a person is empowered they exhibit greater passion. Their built-in desires have been fulfilled and this causes feelings of excitement and enthusiasm (aka passion). In this way then we can see a virtuous circle begin to form. The more empowerment felt, the greater the excitement.
As you can see from the previous paragraph this lends itself first and foremost to communities. In these circumstances individuals are able to be promoted purely based on a concept of meritocracy. This isn’t of course as easily reconciled in standard business environments. This is due in part to the injection of monetary reward (every job pays a salary) and the instant that some fiat currency is introduced into the equation the predilection is completely shifted off of empowerment and passion. But perhaps this shouldn’t be assumed so quickly.
Starting with why
If you’ve read my blog at all in the past you know I have a borderline obsession with the concept of starting with why (Hat tip to Simon Sinek for introducing me to this concept). Obviously this applies rather easily to community environments where individuals volunteer their time and join a particular “tribe” because they have an enthusiasm for the shared central tenets of the group. But applying these same concepts to a “for-pay” business arrangement it becomes even more interesting.
In this compensated environment “starting with why” begins to rebalance the equation. When a business is able to start by sharing their vision and the reason behind the mission they are undertaking they are able to identify those eager individuals interested in fighting for the same beliefs. In this way, even businesses can begin to build a culture and an organization which forms a tribe instead of merely providing an occupation. And things begin to change.
The best and most incredible companies are those who have discovered this principle. These are bastions of business who are intent on building an empire. A company that is “built to last”. This is by no means an easy task and for every single success story there are hundreds of corporate carcasses strewn by the side. This is such a rare trait we frequently celebrate those who have discovered this holy grail of passionate, empowered workers. We study them in business schools and we analyze their every move. Too often in doing so we take a far to analytical approach and quickly neglect the rather intangible values which have predicated such success in the first place.
But there are enough of these exceptions to the standard to lend credibility to the possibilities. And so we continue to strive. We strive to identify the roots for success, and we strive to implement them in our own businesses. And although this success looks different for each business the common thread of empowered employees lies at the heart of most.
Empowered employees are those imbued with passion for the vision and motivated by the same foundational “why” as the business.
More than monetary gain
I think it is only appropriate to end this post with one last commendation. While the reasoning I have listed above tends to appear at first blush to serve only the needs of the business and encourage financial reward, the truth is much, much greater. Far more than any balance sheet, or revenue bookings, these passionate people build companies which stand against the test of time, providing futures for thousands of others. Creating opportunities for the improvement of life and the enablement for personal success.
What is the true power of passionate people? As the famous Mr. Jobs shared in the now timeless motivational video: These “crazy” ones are the ones who change the world.
June 4, 2018
Microsoft, Github & Changing A Reputation
Today another headline has captured the minds of many in open source as it seems that yet another open source centric company has been acquired by a private one. Only a couple weeks ago we heard the announcement of Adobe acquiring Magento, arguably the biggest open source e-commerce platform. My good friend Dries wrote a great piece on the purchase so I don’t feel it’s necessary to rehash it too much. If you’re interested you should absolutely read his post: My thoughts on Adobe buying Magento for $1.68 billion | Dries Buytaert. And now, this last weekend the big news appears to be the announcement that Microsoft is acquiring GitHub for $7.5 billion.
Woah, but I thought Microsoft was the enemy
Perhaps one of the most talked about part of this news is Microsoft’s previous statements about open source (particularly Linux). I thought long and hard about this as well as considering my own opinions and inclinations towards Microsoft in this regards. I knew of this deep-seated animosity and dislike for Linux and simply assumed this belief continued deep within the Redmond walls — and in spite of any outward overtures of support, and dare I say “love”.
I thought about Satya Nadella and the work he’s been advocating so heavily for at Microsoft since he stepped in as CEO. And I reflected back on the book, Hit Refresh, his autobiography. This caused me to pick it back up and skim through my highlights. This note caught my eye:
“Dogma at Microsoft had long held that the open-source software from Linux was the enemy. We couldn’t afford to cling to that attitude any longer. We had to meet the customers where they were and, more importantly, we needed to ensure that we viewed our opportunity not through a rearview mirror, but with a more future-oriented perspective.” — Satya
I realized I needed to return to this book and dig in a little deeper as I was now more curious than ever to see how this recent acquisition news played a role in Satya’s overarching vision for Microsoft’s future.
I am glad I took the time to do a bit of research on this topic and glad I returned to this book to see those points that I found interesting back when I first read it. As part of this background refresher I also spent a few minutes looking over Microsoft’s historic acquisitions. The list is quite long as you might anticipate. This obviously ended in the most recent news of Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn. And at a price tag of $26 billion dollars I would hope no one has forgotten this transaction yet.
At the time of the LinkedIn purchase, there were questions about the motivations behind this move as well, but again, it’s easy to understand if you consider the approach of Nadella as he looks to the future version of Microsoft:
Satya wrote that he has a “bias” for focusing investments on advancing services such as LinkedIn and Office that help people create and “become more productive rather than software that is simply entertaining — memes for conspicuous consumption.”
Wrapped up in that quote we begin to see a bit of Microsoft’s motivation for this purchase as well. It fits the plan they have strategically set for their future direction. GitHub stands as one of the greatest online destinations for individuals to demonstrate and share their productivity. Following this logic it is easy to see why GitHub holds so much potential value for Microsoft, but what about for GitHub?
GitHub has a long and storied history itself mired in fast success, public stumbles, and the ever-present churning in an attempt to grow revenue. They continued to take larger and larger checks from investors in their search for a path to success. They knew the product direction but they struggled with how to best capitalize on the financial side of things.
For the statistics and numbers junkies reading here’s the financial lowdown on their position. GitHub was valued at approximately $2 billion dollars based on their funding (they’ve raised $350 million historically) and their revenue numbers in 2017 were slightly more than $200M in ARR.
In more recent news (last year) the current CEO, Chris Wanstrath announced his intention to resign. His resignation, unlike his predecessor’s, was not forced by any scandal but instead due to his interest in product development and testing. His announcement and subsequent search for a replacement CEO has lead to fruitless searching and things looking bleak for GitHub’s leadership team.
Clearly this is the story of a company in turmoil. Rumors about possible IPO’s and potential suitors were growing more common by the day. It was evident that for GitHub’s success something had to change.
Open source impact
Of course the reason this particular acquisition has been brought to my attention is due to the open source community. And as I alluded to earlier, the prevailing “anti-Microsoft” opinions of many in the open source world are growing more vocal. But what does this acquisition mean for open source? I think this question is one which would be answered quite differently today than it would have been a few years ago. Again, under Satya’s careful curation we’ve seen a shift in Microsoft’s culture and views towards open source. (This is no small feat!)
But as the press appropriately admonished: Any grand future vision must be met with real and consistent actualities. Microsoft has done just that. I believe a quick look at Microsoft’s current views on open source point to their intentionality:
Microsoft has over 15,000 contributors on GitHub (the greatest of any single company). The company said that over 6,000 employees contribute to open source projects, and have released over 3,000 open source projects. Microsoft’s open source programs office tracks nearly 10,000 open source components, everything from NPM packages to Linux distros used by Microsoft teams. — Source
All of this forces me to think more about what this recent news means for open source and even more personally, for me as a result.
People change, so can businesses
And this is where the learning comes in; the personal challenge to grow and rethink long-held opinions. We all know that people can change. It’s not easy, takes ridiculous amounts of will-power and dedication and ultimately only the test of time will prove the veracity of the change. But in the end, people can change. And if people can change, so can businesses.
Microsoft, under the leadership of Satya, has been focused on rediscovering their soul as a company. They have redefined their mission and outlined steps which help investors and customers to grow the company. As Satya shared:
“In order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul—our unique core. We must all understand and embrace what only Microsoft can contribute to the world and how we can once again change the world. I consider the job before us to be bolder and more ambitious than anything we have ever done. Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.” (emphasis mine)
All of this speaks to the core desire to return to what the soul of the company should truly be and the first step in that journey was admitting the failures and missteps which had befallen them over the years. But businesses can change, they can grow, and they can evolve. Perhaps this acquisition is yet another demonstration of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to rebuild their brand and their reputation. The work they have been doing and the emphasis they have been placing on open source is evident.
As I shared earlier, only in time will we know if this is genuine. Until then the open source community, and the world, will watch with diminishing skepticism as actions attest to intentions. And unless something causes a break in this fragile yet growing trust in a company rediscovering itself — our response should be cautious support.
I’ll leave you with one final quote from Satya’s book.
“Over the years, I’ve found that openness is the best way to get things done and to ensure all parties feel terrific about the outcome. In a world where innovation is continuous and rapid, no one has time to waste on unnecessary cycles of work and effort. Being straightforward with one another is the best way to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome in the fastest time possible.” — Satya Nadella
May 21, 2018
Wow, we have certainly progressed quite a long way in our mobility and mechanism by which we get from point A to point B. What a wide variety of methods and each one seemingly more advanced, and more technologically improved than the last. What a testament to our achievements as a human race and our ability to create and to innovate! But wait...
Recently this past weekend I was standing at my open balcony doors (the weather was truly wonderful) and I was admiring the sunset and the beauty of the river and road below when I was struck by a most interesting thought. I want to try and share it with you, so forgive me if something is lost along the way or I don’t make perfect sense. I hope the thought will be conveyed.
Here’s what I saw as I gazed out into the world. (And yes, I think it’s an unusual occurrence and one I haven’t actually witnessed before.) On the river, were several people in kayaks, a rowing team out for an evening practice run. Joggers on the running path around the park, several cyclists in full gear pedaling along the edge in tight single line formation, a handful of cars waiting to turn at the intersection while a motorcycle sped through the exchange, pedestrians pushing strollers, the MBTA (“T”) Orange line rumbling northbound, while the purple commuter rail clattered past at twice the speed, and a airplane droned overhead as it pulled away from Boston Logan International airport headed for some unknown distant destination.
It sounds crushing, and a little chaotic, but this is not the picture I want to paint for you. Yes, there was certainly a lot going on, but the noise was not unbearable, the scene not one of pandemonium. As a matter of fact everything moved seamlessly and with a sense of elegant precision.
What I really hope you see in this microcosm is something truly phenomenal. Here captured in within my gaze was a snapshot of the evolution of transportation over the past 200 years. Did you catch them all? I’m sure you did as it was quite the overwhelming paragraph. We had everything from walkers, runners, bicyclists, motorcycles, cars, boats, trains, and airplanes.
My immediate first thought was as I’m sure yours might be too — wow, we have certainly progressed quite a long way in our mobility and mechanism by which we get from point A to point B. What a wide variety of methods and each one seemingly more advanced, and more technologically improved than the last. What a testament to our achievements as a human race and our ability to create and to innovate!
But wait, as I said this was my immediate thought. And it was after this thought that the truly interesting idea began to form. We have all these advancements, the ability to travel literally around the world. And we have an incredible opportunity to not only travel from point A to point B but to do so swiftly. And yet, we don’t travel via airplane everywhere. Clearly airplanes are the fastest means of transportation (in the scene I described earlier). But it’s not the most practical. Similarly, we don’t necessarily always jump on a train, or into a car for every jaunt outside. There’s a reason for this. We use the most practical method for the journey.
Each mode of transportation has different benefits and different reasons which make it an acceptable (and still widely used) method for moving from where you are to where you want to be.
Specifically, you’re not going to hop in an airplane to get from your house to the local grocery store (any more than you would get in a car to go through the park). Or to put it a different way, the time it takes to lace up your skates versus the time it takes to just walk from your front door to the mailbox might make the skates equally impractical. It’s not always about speed in the context of the vehicle, but in the context of the situation.
I apologize for this part of the post but this is something I can’t seem to stop myself from doing: applying these ideas to other areas of life. In fact, I think this is partly due to my instinct to focus on core principles.
Marketing software is evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. The space is growing in complexity and advancing in technology all the time. But speed isn’t everything and the latest technological improvements aren’t always the right choice. Instead, just as with our chosen method of transit — we should use the most practical method for the specific journey.
So the next time you’re evaluating a marketing platform, or a marketing tool, make sure you’re considering the journey you’re on and the most practical way in which you should get there.
May 17, 2018
The Marketing Choice Paradox Resolved
I believe the proper understanding and implementation of human psychology in marketing automation Is missing in many businesses today. This leads to inferior results and increased marketing efforts to achieve success. Alright, I'm giving you half the conclusion, you'll still have to read through to the end to get the other half!
I love to read, in fact I read a lot. I’m in the middle of one book right now that I can’t wait to tell you about, but unfortunately you’ll have to wait to hear about that particular book for another day. Instead, I’d like to share with you something that I’ve been thinking about recently. Something I have spent time pondering and something I think all of us, and especially marketers, would find value in considering.
Are you ready? I’m going to need you to hold on today because rather than going down one of the typical paths I follow I want to take this post and step off-topic a bit. I’d like to share with you a thought or two and draw examples from not just one book, but three that I have finished recently. I’m going to attempt to cram ideas and concepts from three seemingly disparate books into a single post. But I believe each of these share common themes and when taken together prove to be very informative and impactful for marketers.
Before I start pulling bits and pieces from these three books and demonstrating how I believe they are related let me tell you the conclusion (isn’t it great when you get the conclusion first?!). I believe the proper understanding and implementation of human psychology in marketing automation is missing in many businesses today. This leads to inferior results and increased marketing efforts to achieve success. Alright, I’m giving you half the conclusion, you’ll still have to read through to the end to get the other half!
I would never be so bold as to suggest my ideas are new, or revolutionary on this topic and many great marketers, psychologists, authors, and scientists have devoted large portions of their careers to this study and the many nuances of this relationship. But, everyone has a unique perspective based on their background and their life experiences, and so with that lens in place I would like to share with you what I believe is commonly overlooked when exploring human psychology not necessarily in marketing alone, but specifically in marketing automation (you had to know that would be my focus!).
The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz
Let’s dive in with the first book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Barry wrote this book several years ago but the truths have only become more pronounced with each passing year. His premise is around the negative effects of choice. As most would already believe and tend to consider to be “law” the idea that more choices is better. It’s an easy mistake for a variety of reasons but my goal is not to share with you the theories of the book, you may find those for yourself. Instead, I’ll share with you quickly two negative side effects from choice that Barry presents.
First, choice produces paralysis rather than liberation, to many choices makes the decision making process harder rather than easier. And Barry backs up this statement with a variety of studies and surveys from notable and trustworthy sources.
Second, if the paralysis is overcome the resulting decision leads to a less satisfied result. Barry suggests that for a variety of reasons even after making a decision, the greater the original choices the more dissatisfied the individual is with their selection. More options simply means it is easier for the imagined alternatives to induce regret which subtracts from the satisfaction of decision making.
Those are some powerful statements, and leave some question about what a proper balance should be between freedom of choice and limited options. Schwartz draws one humorous conclusion which holds truth (because doesn’t every joke contain an element of the truth). He shares the secret of happiness to be low expectations. There are several reasons for this statement but I’ll leave those also to your discovery as you read his book.
Takeaway: More choices causes a great deal of anxiety, depression, discouragement, discontent, and other negative feelings in the decision-maker.
The Book of Human Emotions, Tiffany Watt Smith
Let’s jump immediately into book number two, The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith is a relatively recent publication that I thoroughly enjoyed. I am a big fan of words, I’m constantly attempting to expand my vocabulary and Tiffany had some amazing words in this book. As much as I would love to share some with you, I think I’ll keep all of them to myself (unless you read the book!).
Instead, I’ll share with you why those words were in the book and perhaps that will pique your interest just a little bit more. Tiffany suggests that human emotions are more than physiology. Biologies and cultures influence our cognitive emotions as well. She references Lisa Feldman Barrett who says, words and emotions are dynamic. As humans define or discover new words for emotions a rush of new feelings are sure to follow. This is a fascinating concept and the examples in the book are mind-opening.
But how does this relate to our first book with a paradox of choice. I hope you begin to see the thread that’s forming. Our supposed freedom in choice results in a wide range of negative emotions. Understanding those emotions is the next step in our journey. Our emotional languages tell us not just what we feel but also what we value.
Takeaway: When we name our emotions we do more than just define a word; we imbue them with meaning, weighted with our cultural values and expectations and we use them as a vehicle for our ideals. Our emotions represent a powerful connection between how we think and how we feel.
Drive, Daniel Pink
Our final book we will look at today is Drive, by Daniel Pink. I would imagine that this book may be one you have heard of or even read yourself as it has quickly become a classic that sits on many shelves. Daniel does an incredible job defining how we think about motivation. He goes into great detail defining the many facets of motivation before distilling things down into the three main elements of true motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Daniel is quick to share his conviction that we must resist the temptation to attempt to control people and instead do everything we can do instill in them a deep-sense of autonomy. The concept of the carrot and the stick approach no longer works in the world. Work is more complex, tasks are more difficult, they evolve constantly, and in many cases are more interesting.
People will spend countless hours to gain mastery in a particular skill with no external financial gain, expensive jobs are left for “meaningful” work in other sectors where the “reward” is not strictly monetary. The motivation therefore is driven intrinsic motivators more than external.
Motivation based on purpose comes when people are passionate about a particular subject. That passion increases engagement and this in turn makes them more motivated in accomplishing their goal.
Takeaway: People are motivated by a number of factors but almost unequivocally across the board all motivation is generated more by internal forces rather than external drivers.
Bringing It All Together
Okay, we’ve dug in through a lot in the last three major points and even without reading the books I trust you have gotten a good feel for the concepts found in each (At least if I’ve done a decent job explaining you should have). So what does all this mean and how do these three very different books relate? The astute reader may have already begun to put the pieces together, if so, then I hope to confirm your suspicions.
I believe a common thread can be drawn between them: Motivating factors come from inside each person where their emotions and feelings guide their decision-making. The effects of human psychology are therefore highly relevant not only to marketing but specifically marketing automation.
Marketing automation today is nothing like what it has the potential to be and very few businesses use it effectively. Why? Because most do not take into account the topic of the first book we reviewed. The paradox of choice.
Marketing automation handles the automation of marketing messages to the contacts, all the messages, all the landing pages, and all the interactions, engagements, promotions, offers that each contact receives. Marketing automation handles this through campaigns. These campaigns are formed from segmented groups of users (typically). And this is where we begin to see the relevancy. Improper segmentation results in an overwhelming number of “options” or messages to a contact with some (or many) being completely irrelevant or off-topic and thus do nothing more than introduce paralysis and decision-making angst.
As marketers we should take full advantage of our knowledge of human psychology not merely to increase our success (though that should be a natural outcome) but to be the most effective marketer possible for the good of each contact as well. Now, let’s get even more practical.
Marketing automation gives us the power to intelligently send the appropriate message to our contacts. Rather than sending an overabundance of messages on a wide variety of topics each message should be tailored to craft the perfect experience for each contact…with the right number of decisions.
Ultimately proper messaging through marketing automation avoids the paralysis of choice, encourage positive emotions, and motivates the contact to make decisions based on their intrinsic positive feelings. And all this comes from the proper attribution of the known traits of human psychology applied to the concept of marketing automation. The marketing choice paradox resolved in a most elegant fashion! I hope this post has been a thought-provoking change of pace from my usual topics and I trust you have derived some value from this diversion.
April 24, 2018
Mautic and GDPR
One of the hottest topics circulating the internet these days is the upcoming legislation surrounding GDPR being put into effect on May 25, 2018. Companies of all sizes are closely watching what this legislation means and taking a hard look at their software to see what is affected. Given the hefty fines, this scrutiny and concern is completely understandable. Mautic, as an open source marketing automation platform and community also holds these concerns and possibly to a much higher degree than others. Our community has hundreds of thousands of businesses running Mautic, and our software is powering their marketing automation effort and customer data collection.
As a result, Mautic is of course highly interested in not only understanding, but also complying with any and all new regulations put forth that promote openness and transparency. Interested isn’t really the right word – more like /actively engaged/. We are dedicated to ensuring that our software not only complies but stands out as a model by which others gauge their own level of implementation.
Before I get too far into those details, let me give a very brief refresh on what GDPR means and what it represents.
GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is a new European regulation that enforces the protection and accessibility of personal data for all European citizens. Read more
Four basic user entitlements
- Every individual is allowed to know what data is kept by any business; why that data is kept and for how long it’s stored by the business.
- Every individual has the “Right to Access” their own information and data.
- Every individual has the “Right to Data Portability” of their information (they can request a copy of their data as it’s stored.)
- Every individual has the “Right to be Forgotten”. (Request a business change and permanently delete any stored data)
Now you may be one of the shrewd ones and recognize a specific phrase in the original definition: that’s right the word European. But if you’re reading this from the US, you’re not off the hook just yet. Keep reading.
This new regulation applies to European citizens regardless of where they are located at any time. US companies must abide by these guidelines for any and all customers, contacts, accounts associated with the European Union.
There is one last aspect of the GDPR we need to consider before getting into some specifics. What is personal data? That’s right the GDPR is concerned with the data so obviously we need to understand what that data is. And this is where things get a little bit muddy. Here’s a short list of the most commonly recognized types of information that falls under this regulation.
- Online identifies (IP addresses, mobile device IDs, browser info, MAC addresses, cookies, account IDs, and other forms of system generated user identifiable data)
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Political opinions
- Religious or philosophical beliefs
- Trade union memberships
- Health data
- Sex life or sexual orientation
- Past or spent criminal convictions
- Genetic & biometric data
- Location data
- Pseudonymized data
Whew, what a list! Now that we have a bit of a handle on what the GDPR is about (at least at a high level) and you may be sufficiently uneasy about your current software I want to share how Mautic as a product is already compliant and continues to seek the best and most proactive approach in these new guidelines.
Based on the four principles listed above let’s look at an optimal Mautic configuration that complies with them. There are two options that existed for Mautic and my desire was to set a precedent for our community, our product and the entire marketing automation space. As I dug into this issue I met with more individuals in our community and in business than I could mention. My desire was to get a better understanding of the regulations and their implications myself. And I am excited to share with you the conclusions I’ve come to. And of course I’m always interested in more discussions on the subject and welcome the opportunity to chat with anyone that has questions, ideas or thoughts on this subject. It’s an important one.
Okay, with all that said, let’s dig in. As I mentioned there are 2 paths we can take. The real trouble lies in the uncertainty. I alluded to it earlier when I mentioned the “muddy” aspects of the data. There is a balance that must be struck. Mautic should be proactive and a leader in the implementation of these new guidelines. But time spent on unclear work, or without good direction is wasted and the time of our community developers is far too important to waste.
In order to make the absolutely best use of the developers in our community’s time; and in an effort to make the wisest decision in time and resources I believe the smartest strategy is to take a dual-prong approach. This is exciting because Mautic software can be easily configured for GDPR regulations today with just a few simple steps.
Instant GDPR Compliance
This dual prong approach involves an immediate step and a longer term software feature enhancement. The first step is quick and relatively painless. And with the implementation of a few simple changes to how you currently setup your Mautic instance you’ll be instantly compliant!
Here’s all you will need to do:
- The very first thing is to plan how to convey and accept explicit data collection consent, usually done through a focus element in Mautic, this step is potentially already being done in the case of cookie collection. As such you may only need to modify the language of your existing focus item.
- Configure two new segments within your Mautic software, name these segments, Request to be Forgotten and Data Requested.
- Setup a new form that allows an individual to submit their name/email and select the options they wish to submit (Request for Data, Request to be Forgotten)
- After each form submission associate them with the correct segment and take the necessary steps to either delete the contact from the database or export their record to a CSV.
- Notify the individual of the action taken.
One of the biggest (and simplest) mistakes I hear is people getting caught up in the thinking that this process needs to be instantaneous. While of course each request does need to be handled with expediency, nothing states it needs to be automated. To the best of my understanding, the above 4 step process gives you a GDPR compliant Mautic! Congratulations, you can sleep a little easier.
GDPR Mautic Software Improvements (Future)
Of course being compliant in this manner is only the first of the two-phase strategy. The second involves some modifications and improvements to the Mautic software. And while this is yet to be fully determined I can share a few ideas that have been circulating.
- New configuration section for GDPR.
- Configuration options that add the necessary acknowledgement checkboxes to forms automatically.
- A semi-automated contact deletion process
This is just for starters and only a few thoughts I’ve had as I’ve listened to some of our European community members share their concerns and their ideas. As I stated earlier I would love to speak with you and continue this discussion. Mautic is committed to being a leader in this regard and demonstrating to others how proper GDPR should be handled. We have the knowledge of a global community and the power of a flexible and open source development platform enabling us. Our software can be proactive and our software can demonstrate how others should consider GDPR compliancy. I trust this helps, join our Slack channels to learn more and make your voice heard.
January 27, 2018
The Importance of Process
Moving fast often has many side effects; whether you’re driving fast in a car, skiing down a mountain at high speeds, or falling from the sky with a parachute, all this speed has side effects. Our goal is to minimize the negative side effects while maximizing the positive ones. (If you don’t know what I mean by a positive side effect of moving fast then stop right there. Go figure this out first. The adrenaline rush is second to none.)
But instead of talking about the highs that come from moving fast I want to spend a couple minutes looking at the lows. I want to explore those negative side effects that come up whenever we’re moving fast. And rather than exploring the entire range of ways we can move fast I want to focus on just one area that is becoming more and more common in today’s world and one with which I have personal experience. I want to share a sure fire way to minimize negative side effects caused by moving fast when building a product.
This is important because of the myths and cliche statements we hear commonly shared in the mindset of today’s startups. These phrases are tossed around as common vernacular and lingo that every startup should claim as their ‘mantra’ for existence. But this mindset is dangerous and potentially deadly for longterm success. Here’s a common example that many of you have probably already heard:
“Move fast and break things.” – Facebook
This thinking is a pervasive cancer that if followed without discretion and proper context leads to those dangerous side effects I mentioned earlier.
To be clear, the problem is not in moving fast, nor is the problem in breaking things. The issue is deeper and more subtle. Moving fast is a requirement for success in the startup scene today. It seems with every advance in technology so the pace of a startups rise to success must also grow exponentially. Speed is equated with success and the giants who paved the way seemingly preach this gospel without regard for side effects. But I’ve gone long enough without providing more context for what I am suggesting. If moving fast is not the problem what is?
The problem does not lie in breaking things either. There’s nothing wrong with breaking things as you move fast. It’s naturally an inevitable side effect and I would suggest it is not a negative side effect. But now we’re getting closer to the true issue.
We must learn from what we break and we must move fast in fixing them when they do break. As we move we have to build in proper processes. These processes help to govern our speed and shape our direction. And this is where the fault becomes evident. If a startup or a business moves fast without the proper process than mistakes will snowball and problems will grow into an insurmountable obstacle. And that is why processes are so important. But let’s get specific for a bit and evaluate what those processes look like practically speaking.
1. Get Past Repetition
The first process that needs to be established in your quest to move faster is to get past repetition. This process means when you fail and break things you want to protected yourself from doing it again. You don’t want to fall into the dangerous trap of repeating your past failures. Failing is acceptable and part of the process. Repeatedly making the same mistake or breaking the same thing is not acceptable. This means you need to diligently set up a process to help you guard against this. Now you may be wondering what this looks like. The first and possibly greatest way is listed as another separate process below (Document Failures).
Here are a couple practical ways you can get past repetition.
- Share information within your team. Whether this is done through regular and frequent all-hands meetings or done informally in chat conversations. It is important that everyone knows how the company is doing where you have succeeded (and failed). Knowledge truly is power.
- Train New Team Members. Much in the same way that the first point educates everyone on the team by giving them current information about the status of the team success, newly joined team members need to be brought up to speed on those conversations. Create a powerful and robust database of the company’s history (and I don’t mean the marketing story about how the company has risen through startup struggles to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.). Make this down and dirty. Make this real.
2. Use Positive Reinforcement
The second process you should setup as you move faster in your startup involves the implementation and use of positive reinforcement. This is incredibly important because failures and mistakes can be discouraging. Team morale may falter and if this is not guarded against this will lead to a downward spiral, increased discouragement, and ultimately failure. Positive reinforcement means looking at your failures not as catastrophic and dismal but merely a part of a greater journey. Positive reinforcement encourages failure for the sake of growth.
Now of course I don’t mean go seek out failure so you can grow. That would be crazy! Instead, when failure occurs (and it will) seek out the lesson to be learned, the means by which that breakage can make you stronger for the next time. Encourage your team members by reminding them of the big picture. The best way to rise up from a fall is to turn your eyes towards where you are going.
3. Ask the Right Questions
The next process to build out involves a standard to be created at every point when a failure occurs. Don’t ignore failure, but don’t blindly encourage your team either. Instead, do a proper post mortem on each failure point. Know why you failed and know what you can learn from it. But I didn’t name this particular process Error Reporting. Instead when you break something you need to be able to diagnosis it properly. This means above all else you must ask the right questions after you break something. This can be tricky because who is to determine the right questions?
Asking the right question meanings that you must first have a strong understanding of the objectives. But thankfully, when the above processes have been created (using positive reinforcement and protecting against repetition) then everyone knows what the goal is. And knowing the goal means you can ask the right questions. As you can see these processes are linked. They work together.
4. Redirect Appropriately
When moving fast and breaking things there’s another important process you need to create. Redirect as needed. That’s right, moving along at breakneck speed doesn’t mean doing so blindly or without direction. Only a fool would not take the experiences and failures and learn from them. Learning from them is more than asking the right questions, it’s more than telling the team, and it’s more than staying positive. Learning from mistakes means acting on the knowledge gathered and using that knowledge to redirect or change course.
I’m sure this is more easily understood than the other processes and its different for every startup. But the takeaway is the same regardless. Learn from your mistakes and change your path as a result.
5. Document Failures
Finally, the last process I’ll describe for you is one that has been hinted at repeatedly through a variety of the other processes. As I suggested earlier many of these processes are interlinked and co-dependent. Of course you can establish a few of them without the others. But implementing them all will give you a significant advantage. And it should be said that you may already be doing some of these processes already just with different names or implementations. Ensuring that your startup in one way or another follows these processes will increase your likelihood of success and growth.
So, the final process is documentation. Writing down what happened, when it happened, and most importantly why it happened. By having this level of detail in your documented mistakes you’ll prevent yourself from creating the same ones again (or at least guard against it). It all ties in together.
Write it down, share it, learn from it, encourage one another, redirect as necessary. Follow these processes and you will not just blindly move fast and break things. But you will instead move fast with a purpose and break things as you make them better.
This simple acronym, GUARD, will help setup the right process and allow you to move fast and break things…the right way. With intentionality and proper direction you can accomplish incredible things and truly accelerate your growth. Without these processes and guidelines you’ll fall victim to the same trap as so many other failing businesses who think moving quickly means constantly failing. Build the right processes and watch your productivity explode. Who knows, maybe something you say will be the next ‘mantra’ that everyone is quoting.
January 24, 2017
A recent Simon Sinek talk has been making its way around the internet and if you haven’t watched the video I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to what he has to say. But before you jump on the bandwagon about how much you like or dislike Simon I want you to stop and think – regardless of your feelings about a person or their views consider the value in listening. Not hearing, and certainly not agreeing, but merely listening. Too often I think we form our opinions and then filter what we truly listen to as a result of our own way of thinking. But you don’t have to take my word for it…
Bunny Trail: As a kid I grew up watching (and admittedly liking) Reading Rainbow with Levar Burton. This was a classic tv series that even now I remember bits and pieces from. As I am writing this post I’m reminded of a phrase Levar would say every time before the “book reviews” section of his show. He would always introduce the reviews, provided by other children, with the same line. “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”
Obviously the idea of hearing opposing views and actually listening to them existed long before I ever suggested it. In fact, even one of the greatest philosophers of all time shared something similar. Socrates, the Greek philosopher and one of the founders of the entire concept of Western philosophy said this phrase:
“Wisdom is the ability to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time.” – Socrates
There are many times when we talk about wisdom and knowledge. And sure, we know the difference between the two: knowledge the ability to recall facts and figures; wisdom the practical application of knowledge. But there are almost always areas where identifying and demonstrating wisdom is incredibly difficult. Situational wisdom as it applies to every day living seems quite easy to understand. Basic example – I know how to change a tire. Raise the car by placing a jack under the mount near the flat tire, remove the hub cap, unscrew the lug nuts, pull the tire off the vehicle and replace it with a new one. (Boy, that sure sounds simple but trust me…every single one of those steps has about a million ways in which it could go wrong, terribly terribly wrong).
Those steps I just shared are knowledge. I have the knowledge about how to complete the task. Now when I actually have to change a tire and I realize that unscrewing the lug nuts take a significant amount of torque and the longer the tool I use the easier the job becomes (I’m ignoring the mechanics and their air drills for the moment); I’ve not only taken that knowledge but applied it to a specific instance. I’ve inferred more into the process and I have a deep understanding now not just of the steps but also how to perform them. This is knowledge applied, this is wisdom. I trust we can all see and agree with that. I’d call that situational wisdom, it’s knowledge applied to a specific situation.
The other type of wisdom I think about (and the one where I believe we struggle more to see practical application) I’m going to call abstract wisdom. This is knowledge applied to an abstract concept. In these situations there’s not evidential or tangible product by which we can judge whether or not wisdom exists (knowledge has been applied). These situations are the ones I am referring to when I talk about demonstrating wisdom.
We all laugh about the internet and this world of opposing views where everyone has an opinion. Take this meme for example:
This is all too common of a scene, and no I don’t mean dressing up in pirate gear and running along the beach. But the underlying principle of how we address opposing or conflicting views.
By now I hope you’re starting to see what I’m suggesting. One way we can actively demonstrate our abstract wisdom is through our ability to not just hear but listen to opposing views; to actively hold them in our minds and consider them thoughtfully. Rather than jumping to conclusions based on our opinions or previous experiences (or how we feel about the speaker’s hair) we can demonstrate wisdom through thoughtful consideration of opposing ideas. As you browse the internet, engage with co-workers, or even sit around the table with friends and family keep this thought in your mind. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Process what you’re hearing and form an opinion based on knowledge. When you do this you’re demonstrating wisdom. You’re applying your knowledge to the conversation.
Have ideas on other types of wisdom? I’d love to hear them. I’ve only briefly touched on two forms. Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think, I’m listening. (See what I did there?)
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey
January 17, 2017
Social Media: Personal vs Professional
We all know those people on social media who are incredibly proud of their small business, startup, or work ethic. And of course we know those Facebook friends who share every intimate detail of their day and their life. The question that interests me is which is a better use of social media and which is more appropriate. Even as I type that last sentence I struggle with such a harsh and complete distinction of a right vs wrong use of social media. Let’s look at the pros and cons for these two approaches and then see if we can draw a conclusion about the right approach to a social media strategy.
There are many different types of social users and I still vaguely recall reading a humorous post at some point in the past about the top 10 different social profiles. Although that post was shared with light-hearted joking there was value in the labels. And so even though I am only drawing attention to a couple of those profiles I want to focus on them for the sake of comparing and contrasting them.
The Eternal Professional
This is the person who is forever posting business advice, their tips for success, or re-sharing the latest Simon Sinek video with the cliche comment, ‘this is how we do it at my company”. The eternal professional is constantly seeking new ways to say the same thing. “Here’s my business, you should be interested.” The problem with this approach I believe is the failure to understand their audience. How many people truly want to see what you’re doing in your business on a daily basis. At what point does sharing your business dealings become a cold and impersonal advertisement? The risk of the eternal professional is a lack of interest from their friends and followers. Gradually you’ll lose their attention, they will scroll past your posts faster than you can say, “business brag”. But there has to be some upside to this approach to social media right? I believe there is. Just like the old adage says, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, there is certainly some value in being the loudest proponent for your own startup. You’re actively putting your brand in front of the eyes of your fans. Whether they read your post or quickly continue their phalangeal flicking their eyes and their brain have been imprinted with your business brand. Congratulations you’re becoming a master of subliminal marketing.
The Exasperating Personal
This social sharer is the friend or family member who believes the world is fascinated with their every mundane life detail. No personal problem is too big or too small to be broadcast to the universe. Their posts show you how much they love their coffee, their breakfast, their kids, their wall color, their animals, their…well, you get the idea. Everything is shared. The problem with this is similar to the professional’s problem we looked at first. There comes a point when a little filtering and self-moderation becomes a good thing. Do your friends really need to know about the color of your toenails this week? Do you believe their lives are better as a result of seeing your breakfast burrito? The risk of the exasperating personal is alienation from your followers. When everything is shared, nothing is special. You don’t want to be labeled as the self-interested, self-obsessed social sharer. But there’s a positive here too. Connection and endearment are the two biggest benefits of sharing personal stories. You have the opportunity to connect with people. They see your life details and feel as though they know you and can relate to you. You may bring a smile to a face, share a laugh, or even possibly begin to build a relationship.
As I look at these two personas I realize I’ve oversimplified things to an extent. As I shared previously there are more than two profiles and variations on those as well. But there’s value in a quick introspection of your social persona as it relates specifically to these two types. I too struggle with this dilemma. After writing the above descriptions I believe I fall more solidly in the Eternal Professional category. And I see the pitfalls of that approach. I am also strongly against the overtly personal approach as well. But as any good, self-respecting writer must do, I must draw a conclusion.
There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.
– Simon Sinek
The truth of the matter lies in a familiar and frequently shared topic on my blog: balance. Once again, as with so many other areas of life;
balance is key. Being able to identify your tendencies will allow you to focus your time and attention on improving your balance. In this case don’t be so focused on the professional that you lose touch with your personal side; or contrary to that, don’t be so passionately personal that you neglect to share things of worth or value to others. There is nothing wrong with building a brand, sharing business advice, and growing your followers for your startup; but be moderate. Think of your audience. Write your posts with your followers in mind instead of yourself.
Therein lies the second observation: focus. Focus on your friends and followers instead of yourself. By shifting that focus you will be mindful about what you share and even when you share it. Be relevant, be interesting, be inspiring, and be entertaining.
I know being able to identify my own tendencies is the first step in improving myself and so I expect in the very near future you’ll see a better balance in my posts. I trust this post will help you evaluate and improve your social profile in the future as well. What kind of social sharer are you? Do you think you should change? Find your focus and be more balanced? I look forward to hearing what you think.
January 10, 2017
The Importance of Planning [Practically Speaking]
I wrote previously about the importance of planning and gave 5 simple reasons why planning is critically important. Since I wrote that article I’ve received hundreds of comments on the topic and thousands of views. Clearly this is a topic that people are interested in. As I re-read the article though I discovered something was missing. Practical application. Yes, there is definitely a need for having solid reasons why planning is important, but there’s also a great deal of usefulness found in applying those reasons to everyday life and identifying how that planning can be put into practice. In this short article I’d like to give you a follow-up 5 ways that you can implement planning in your daily routine and through your actions demonstrate why planning is important for success.
Practical Step One: Keep a Journal
Previously I wrote about the importance of writing out goals. I’ll touch on this more in a future point when we look at setting daily goals. In this first practical step though I want to encourage you to begin keeping a journal. There is tremendous value in writing down your thoughts, your ideas, and your feelings. Ooh, did that last one get you? Not everyone like to write down feelings. In fact I understand it can be quite challenging to be honest with yourself and actually make your feelings ‘real’ by putting them in writing. This is a very important process. Journaling is in fact critically important to your planning process. Let me explain. By putting your ideas and thoughts down on paper you are keeping a log of your days and your time. What better way to plan your future than to have a record of your past and present.
Still not understanding? Think about it like this. The next time you start to make a plan and you have a question about the feasibility of your idea, or your timeframe, imagine you’re able to glance back in your journal and see how long something similar took you in the past. You could see your idea as it unfolded, your feelings about the process and a realistic idea of how long it took you to accomplish (or abandon) the idea. In this way your past directly influences your future and advises your planning.
I recently discovered the Best Self Journal. It has some excellent features which allow you to do all of the above and even some things I’ll touch on later in this post. I don’t recommend many products directly but I’ve found this journal to be incredibly helpful. Have you found a journal that works particularly well? I’d love to hear about it!
As this relates to time and a daily routine we can easily move into our second point for daily applications of planning.
Practical Step Two: Maintain Your Calendar
The second step I would recommend when it comes to the importance of planning and what that looks like in a daily routine is maintaining your calendar. The best way to prepare, to plan, is to be organized and intentional with your time. Schedule your days and your meetings. Be specific in what you want to accomplish throughout your day.
I remember once reading that Warren Buffett never scheduled meetings more than 24 hours in advance. He did so because of the very real possibility of schedules changing and things becoming less relevant the farther away they are scheduled. Obviously this is a bit of an extreme on one end of the spectrum but it proves an interesting point which we’ll discuss in in practical step #5 below.
For now I would suggest a more balanced approach. Rather than no schedule (or a one-day schedule) maybe look at a weekly calendar. I’ve personally found that anything longer than that tends to make the meeting and the information shared less relevant. If it’s important then make it happen. Maintaining your calendar and prioritizing your time is critically important in your planning process.
Practical Step Three: Organize Your Email
The third practical step in planning to implement on a daily basis involves that dreaded disaster, the maelstrom of messages. You guessed it – your inbox. Ugh, I have no doubt we all struggle with email organization. I’ve seen innumerable methodologies and processes for achieving what some like to call “inbox zero”. If you’re unfamiliar this is the state where your email inbox holds zero messages. And this state is not achieved because you mass delete them all. No, every email is to be processed, responded to, tagged or tucked into a folder. While this is certainly one method of inbox organization I don’t believe it’s the only one.
My email is one of the central ways I plan and organize my life. I use my email as my brain in many ways. What that means is for me I appreciate having my emails present in one place (the inbox) and easy to scroll through. For me this works well. I can jog my memory about tasks to complete, people to contact or meetings to schedule (see Practical Step #2 above). As a result of this way of using email it’s not helpful for me to have a zero message inbox state. What is far far more important is to have a zero unread message state. That means my emails may continue to live in my inbox, I may flag some as important to make sure they catch my eye later, but I don’t archive them all. Sure, I will archive irrelevant messages, delete the junk ones, but many will continue to live in my inbox. The important thing is they are read. I have reviewed the contents and am aware of each message.
I understand this method might not work for you either. The important thing to consider is not the exact method you use, but rather that you use a method. Keeping an organized email inbox means you are in control of your thinking and your time. You are actively planning how you respond to people and how you manage your time.
I know I’m going long on this point but since email is such a major part of our lives I feel the need to mention one last practical point. Don’t let email control you. By keeping an organized email system you are planning your email time effectively and ultimately planning your life more productively. Don’t spend your days in your email. Keep it organized, plan your approach, and be intentional about it.
Practical Step Four: Set Daily Goals
The fourth point involved in practical daily planning involves setting daily goals. I briefly touched on this earlier when we discussed maintaining a calendar (and even a bit with the journal).
The thing I love about these practical steps is how they are intertwined and connected. Each of these daily, intentional items work together to make your planning better and your success inevitable. They are important.
The journal I mentioned previously gives a great daily layout which includes a spot for daily goals. This is a fantastic way to organize and plan what you would like to accomplish TODAY.
The idea of daily goals is a very fun and practical way of implementing planning. With daily goals it’s easy to see success or failure. Over time your goal-setting will become better and better and you’ll find yourself becoming an expert in knowing what is capable of being accomplished in a day. The more you know abut your own abilities the better your planning becomes. This may well be the most practical and easy-to-understand point from this entire list. Setting daily achievable goals directly demonstrates the importance of planning. Set. Achieve. Replicate.
Practical Step Five: Build In A Buffer
The final practical step I want to share with you relating to the importance of planning through practical application involves building in a buffer. Don’t be so incredibly strict in your planning that you fail to plan for the unexpected. Life is unpredictable. Humans are by their very nature prone to fluctuation and last-minute changes. If you plan too meticulously you’ll end up failing miserably.
Building a buffer into your planning allows you to be flexible and still achieve everything you have planned. Since this is practically speaking here’s what that buffer might look like:
- Allow for extra time between your meetings on your calendar. Don’t schedule things so tightly that you have no time for delays in a meeting. Have you ever been in an entire day of meetings without a single delay? I doubt it.
- Plan extra time for your journaling. Some days the words will flow and others will be a struggle. Again, scheduling things too tightly will lead to a higher stress level and a less creative approach.
- Even your daily goals should have a buffer. As you look at your goals for a day and how they relate to your work week, consider how these may shift from day-to-day. Don’t build up a domino chain where a single failure will make your entire week unsuccessful.
As I hope you can see these are five practical ways to demonstrate the importance of planning through your daily routines. Putting these items into practice each day won’t guarantee you success but will absolutely demonstrate the importance of planning. You will quickly see the results from these real-life simple steps. The importance of planning is something you absolutely should not neglect and I look forward to hearing your stories about how these steps help you take a more intentional and planned approach to your work and ultimately your life.
November 29, 2016
No Shame in Learning
The fear of failure can be a crippling feeling. Whether it’s the struggle with personal pride, the feeling of rejection, or simply the internal disdain for not being successful. Whatever the motivating factor, fear over failing can inhibit your success significantly. I know from personal experience the deeply intimidating feeling of being observed by the world and the intense pressure associated with this feeling of scrutiny. Granted this is often a perceived feeling and lacking substance but the feeling exists none the less.
This feeling tends to force a tendency I hold already – the deep-seated desire for perfection. If I can release perfect software, if I can build a perfect company, if I can create the perfect culture then I won’t fail. But what a ridiculous and impractical goal. Sure it sounds excellent but the reality is that no one is perfect. No plan is perfect. There will be failure.
An advisor once shared with me an important nugget of information that I hold on to now as I create and grow. He said,
“Have no doubt you will fail, you will zig and you will zag along your path as you build this company. Don’t beat yourself up for that. Just keep your eyes focused on the goal and press on. There’s no shame in learning”
Sure it’s not necessarily new advice or revolutionary even; but in the moment it was exactly what I needed to hear. There’s no shame in learning from failures and using them to make yourself better. The key lies in that simple statement. Rather than focusing on failure as a missed opportunity or a flaw in your person or process it is far better to think of those failures as learning moments. And if you learn from them-they weren’t failures at all.
Failure isn’t bad, the fear of failure can be. Ultimately the outlook you have and the way you deal with failure is far more important than the actual misstep. If you learn from the mistakes you make, if you use those failures as ways to improve your product, your business, even yourself, you’ll be better as a result. I’d be so bold as to suggest you’ll be better than if you hadn’t experienced those failures at all. How many great inventions have you heard about which came to be as a direct result of a failure? There are story after story of incredible successes built on the back of a failure. In every instance it’s the ability of the person to learn from their failure which makes all the difference.
So, maybe you’re in a tough spot right now, maybe you’re a bit paralyzed with the idea that you’ll fail in the undertaking you’re in the midst of. If so, I hope the advice I received and have shared with you now will help you to press on, make bold decisions, try new things, and even fail. Just be sure you learn from each failure; and who knows what you’ll do next!
August 2, 2016
The Importance of the Last Mile
Everyone talks about going the extra mile. But there’s actually something to consider before thinking about going the extra mile. In fact there’s something directly before the extra mile. And that is the last mile. Even from an early age I had the concept of finishing drilled into my brain.
Many of you who know me may not think of me as necessarily athletic. In fact you would probably assume I was your typical computer nerd with glasses during high school and you are mostly correct. I was a computer nerd and I did wear glasses but I also played sports and enjoyed participating in both soccer and basketball during my high school years. This environment helped me mature in team activities and also in other areas of my thinking as well.
As I mentioned one of those concepts has been permanently impressed on my life and affects nearly every aspect of my daily life. I hinted at it above but let me give you a little more detail about why the concept of finishing sticks with me so thoroughly.
It was a hot summer afternoon and we were running sprints. Back and forth we plodded across the dead remnants of a soccer field, the lush grass long since withered and faded under the blistering unforgiving summer sun. Goal line to the box, back to the goal line, forward to the half, back to the goal line. Repeat. To his credit the coach would run with us, encouraging us, cheering us on, cracking jokes, pushing us. When finally we were allowed to collapse exhausted onto the needle-like surface of the battlefield he would remain standing. We knew he was spent, clearly he had to be, in our youthful eyes he was ancient and yet he stood. He stood because as he would go on to tell us, it’s not whether or not we played the first 80 minutes impeccably, but how we played the final 10; the last 1. Standing rather than collapsing. Finishing the game. But not merely finishing; finishing strong. That was only the first of many lessons on the value of finishing.
Every game would begin with a huddled mass of excited, adrenaline-filled fists jammed into a circle before being thrust heavenward with the battle-cry of “Finish!” More importantly ever content, regardless of victory or defeat, was ended with the same ritual. Some times the cry was painful as loss still echoed in our heads. Other times the anthem rang out embodied with every goal and winning moment of the latest success. But always, “Finish.”
The lesson taught has gone on long past those summer evenings. Gone are the game-day lights and the glory of a sports conquest. But the concept of finishing continues on. Just as my coach had always envisioned, he was doing more than teaching us to play. He was teaching us how to live.
In a world where “going the extra mile” is praised and celebrated and where going above and beyond is rewarded with accolades and commendations, we too often lose the value of finishing. There is tremendous benefit and something to be said for finishing strong. Before worrying about going above and beyond, and before thinking about the next big step you could take, focus on finishing well. Create finished products. Deliver work done excellently. There is extreme value in the last mile.
July 12, 2016
The Speed vs. Quality Debate
I love moving fast. Anyone that has spent any time around me knows that I am always looking for ways to improve efficiency, move quicker, and go faster. But there’s a very dangerous downside to speed. The first thing usually sacrificed when you are seeking speed is the quality of what you’re doing. This leads to a very real challenge which do you focus on and when should you focus on speed instead of quality; or conversely, when should you prioritize quality over moving faster. This is the question I’d like to look at quickly in this post.
Honestly, I entitled the post using the word debate because it’s a discussion, or debate, that I hold frequently with myself. So to help answer the question we’ll look at what speed means and the benefits of speed, then the definition of quality and what the benefits of quality are and lastly we’ll explore if it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.
First, what does speed mean and what are the benefits of moving quick? I have spent some time thinking about this and have ended up with three big benefits for putting a priority on progress.
Faster to Market: Whether you’re the new kid on the block, the youngest business entering an industry, or the established enterprise leader building on a legacy of success there is tremendous advantage to being the first mover. You’ll be the trendsetter and the business by which others measure their success. Being faster to market means you set the stage, the tone, and the expectations for the market. This is definitely a big advantage to being fast.
Innovation Leader: This benefit is very similar to the first but I decided it was unique enough to be its own. Innovation is a funny thing. Sometimes you’re perceived as innovative if you bring a new idea to the market, obviously speed helps you do this. But there are also those times where you’re speed to adapt to a newly identified market also gives you an incredible advantage. You might not be the fastest to the market, but the speed with which you innovate within a fast-growing space still yields big results.
Continuous Improvements: The final benefit attached to speed over quality comes from the ability to quickly iterate and make improvements to the product. Mark Zuckerberg is famous for saying,
“Move fast and break things.”
The underlying emphasis is not necessarily on breaking things but on moving fast and fixing things when they are broken, in other words, continuous improvement. Clearly this state of continually finding, fixing, and improving a product requires moving fast. Speed demonstrates to your customers that you are dedicated to providing the best product as quickly as possible.
Secondly, we need to look at the value and benefits attached to creating quality. Quality takes time, thought, and constant tuning. Here are the three benefits I believe come from putting quality as the highest priority.
Reliability: This benefit almost seems to be in juxtaposition to the Zuckerberg quote we looked at earlier. In this situation breaking things is bad. When you focus on delivering a top-shelf quality experience you have the added benefit of supporting a reliable product. Reliability is an inherent benefit of doing things “right”. Your product is considered a quality product when it’s reliable and works as expected.
Polished: As with the benefits of speed above there are a couple of quality benefits which appear at first glance to be overlapping, but I would suggest that the concept of a polished product is unique enough to be a separate benefit. A polished product means the user experience in the moment is exceptional. Whereas reliability is the ongoing successful benefit of quality, polished is the instantaneous benefit of quality.
Impressive: The final benefit I’ll mention for quality is that when something is just done right from start to finish the feeling left with the customer is an impressive one. Want to impress your audience? Deliver a quality product. Think for a minute what draws you to a particular product. If you hear about something from a friend, and they are struck with the high quality delivered you’ll be interested in checking it out for yourself. The impressiveness of a quality product encourages viral sharing.
I realize I’ve structured this post as an either or solution between speed or quality. In reality, the best situation is a careful intentional balancing between the two. This might appear hard and at times you’ll certainly have to select one over the other but the vast majority of time you can put in a little thought and effort and balance these two forces and achieve the greatest benefits of both. Here’s how that might look.
Speed with Quality: When you’re attacking a new market or entering a new space the benefits of speed provide you the greatest value. But you can (and should) still put thought into delivering a quality experience. You may not be as reliable but you can certainly be impressive. Remember being impressive means a focus on the overall user journey. You may have stumbles at points in the process but the overarching experience is positive. You can absolutely focus on this while delivering quickly.
Quality with Speed: Once you’ve established yourself in an industry and you have maybe become a bit more senior in the space you will be focused more heavily on quality. You want to make sure the product is polished, the overall experience optimized, and ultimately the product highly reliable. But again, this is a balancing act and you can still introduce speed into this environment. You can move fast. You can continue to innovate. In fact, your position as the incumbent gives you a unique opportunity to provide new features and push boundaries faster than others.
Ultimately, as with everything in life. Moderation and balance is the key. Too much of anything is a bad thing and once you’ve been able to identify the proper blend of quality and speed instead of quality or speed you will find the greatest success. And just like a seesaw, this is a process which must be constantly evaluated and adjusted. A mix that worked for you at one point in your company history might not be the most successful at a later stage. The goal is therefore to be intentional in balancing speed and quality and find the best mixture at every stage in your business.
June 30, 2016
First Follower FTW
Recently a humorous in-office chat unfolded on our #cooler Slack channel. It began simply enough. I posted a random photo that I found to be funny due to an optical illusion.
This lead to one of our team posting this humorous reply.
What happened next caused me to remember a post I had meant to write but forgotten about. This is the message which pushed me to write this post.
It seems rather innocuous and unimportant even, but the opposite was in fact true. This was the first follower. Why you might ask? Because this post lead to this.
The leader was the first poster, they had an idea and they shared it. But the first follower, the second poster, they started the movement. They supported the idea and turned it into something more. That’s a very practical example now let’s look at this concept of first follower in a bit more detail.
What is first follower
The first follower is a phenomenon I learned of first from a TED talk by Derek Sivers. In this talk he discussed a popular viral video which you can watch here if you feel so inclined. Here is the bottom line if you prefer a tl;dr version.
The first follower is the hidden leader of a movement. They support the vocal initial person who began doing something different. The first follower lends credibility, support, and raises awareness. The first follower takes the focus off the person and places the focus on an idea. This is the moment when a movement behinds. Let me rephrase that another way.
“A movement begins when the focus shifts from a person to an idea.”
Why be a first follower
Clearly there is an immense amount of power held by the first follower. This person is the true hidden driver behind revolutionary change. Their input might not always visible or even publicly recognized but the power exists. The first follower recognizes they have the ability to support and promote the idea creator. Being the first follower requires bravery. At this point the idea is new, young, and unaccepted. The general audience has not yet accepted the idea being promoted and the creator is a lone voice proclaiming their message. The first follower therefore holds an immense amount of risk in accepting this idea and following the promoter. But the power, the responsibility, the opportunity to make an idea a movement lies in the hands of the first follower.
When to be a first follower
Because of the amount of risk associated with being the first follower there should be some guidelines followed before blindly becoming a first follower. Here are a few general questions to consider before assuming the role of a first follower to an idea.
Do you agree with the idea?
Sounds basic right? But before you follow someone or something you have to determine that you fundamentally agree with what’s being shared. The world today is so connected and accessible that anyone can share any random idea or thought. This does not mean every idea is worthwhile or worthy of becoming a movement. Critical thinking is required.
Do you feel passionately about the idea?
It’s not enough to simply agree with an idea you need to feel passionate about it. Is this truly something you believe in. Keep in mind is the turning point for the idea and its creator. This holds the potential to turn an idea into a movement. You should feel passionately and willing to truly support and back the idea.
Are you prepared to support the idea?
This question should be an easy one to answer if you have asked the first two questions but it’s still important to ask yourself if are ready. Supporting an idea in its infancy may result in rejection from others who don’t follow with you. Even more difficult is the acknowledgment and acceptance you may even be ridiculed for your belief and support of the idea.
If you answer these three questions and you’re ready to move forward then keep reading.
How to be a first follower
There are many way you can demonstrate your support and approval of an idea some are easy and some require more work. Typically the more difficult the way to demonstrate your following the greater results you’ll experience.
Be a silent supporter.
This may seem like passive support but in the early days of an idea (before reaching the critical mass) even the silent support is important to the eventual success of the movement. Silent support might be as simple as a “like”, or maybe a public acknowledgement of someone else’s verbal comment.
Be a vocal supporter.
The next level of first follower involves vocally supporting the idea. Again slightly more risk involved as you are publicly sharing your agreement with the idea. This might mean resharing, retweeting, or verbally affirming what someone else says or does.
Be a secondary creator.
This is the most difficult level of first following. At this point you we no longer merely supporting silently or vocally but you are creating and sharing additional supporting ideas. You are taking your support of someone else’s idea and you are owning the idea at this point. This is opens you up to your own level of ridicule as you are now becoming a bit of a public leader yourself. This is creating variants of the idea and sharing them all with the purpose of growing the support for the original idea.
The bottom line is simple: be a first follower. Start a movement. Don’t feel like you must create an idea to be successful. Instead as this post and the supporting documentation and research shows – you can be the true force that makes an idea into a movement. Find those ideas you believe in, passionately believe in, and support them, advocate for them, and build on them. Follow them.
June 6, 2016
The Greatest at Personal Branding
On Saturday I woke up to the news that Muhammad Ali, arguably one of the most well-known sports figures of all time had passed away. My first reaction was a bit of surprise as I had been fairly unaware of his detiriorating condition. My next thoughts went instantly to the highlight reel in my head of the best moments, quotes, and interviews with the legendary loudmouth. As I Googled my way through the classics a new thought began to enter my marketing mind…
I was front-row firsthand witnessing a master of personal branding. As I reflected on this fact I tried to put my finger on a few of the reasons why I found myself admiring this master marketer. Here are the five big takeaways that I believe make Ali “the greatest” even in the world of personal branding.
Ali was bold
No one would ever accuse Ali of not speaking his mind. One interview would quickly prove that Ali was bold in his approach. He spoke frequently about his abilities and his talents. But not just bold in words. Muhammed was bold in other areas of his life as well. He stood by what he believed whether that was related to religion, politics, or boxing. After beginning life as Cassius Clay he boldly changed his name in response to his conversion to Islam. When the United States attempted to force Cassius to join the military during the war he boldly stood up for his beliefs, not to be defiant, but to be resolute and true to his own beliefs.
Ali was creative
As I stated in the beginning one of the first things that came to my mind when I thought back on the life of Muhammad Ali was his colorful and creative use of language and even poetry. I’m sure almost everyone knows at least one famous quote which began “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” (Can you finish the couplet?) Ali never failed to flash a great big smile before dropping some creative rhymed taunt aimed at his opponents. He used this creative talent to make his name and his brand memorable and enduring for generations.
“I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail, I’m bad man….Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
Ali was not afraid of offending
Secondly, Muhammad was clearly unafraid of what others thought or what their reactions might be to his life and his vocal outspokenness. This was not because he didn’t care, but more that he was so completely compelled to be himself and share those beliefs he was not deterred by the response he might receive. If someone was offended by him, well that was their right and freedom to be so. But that potential offense would not keep him from broadcasting his beliefs and speaking his opinion. The key thing to remember is what motivated him. He was driven incessantly by his beliefs and convictions. He didn’t offend just to offend someone, but he wasn’t afraid of offending when it contradicted his passionately held personal beliefs.
Ali owned up to defeat
While it might not have happened often there were a few times that Muhammad lost the fight. These were very telling moments for Ali. Rather than faking it or falsifying the truth the world renown fighter owned up to the defeat. He may not have humbly rolled over and claimed complete failure; but he did give credit to the victor. There’s plenty of evidence to this fact, one of the most memorable for me is an interview before his infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight. Ali praises a litany of his competitors for their victories in previous fights. It takes a big person to humbly accept praise in victory, it takes an even greater individual to be gracious in defeat.
Ali wrote his story
The last point I dwell on is perhaps the most important and also the most poignant. Ali was his own biggest promoter. He constantly referred to his skills, his abilities, his talent. He never sat back and let others describe his character or his performances. If Ali was in the room while someone was sharing something about him, Ali would immediately speak up (usually louder) to share his own opinion and view of himself. One of the most entertaining things to watch is any instance when Ali begins to pontificate on his own abilities and his greatness. And here’s where I think we learn a valuable lesson from Muhammad Ali. He branded himself as “The Greatest” – this was a self-claimed title. And yet, within hours of his passing, the branding he had worked on building his entire life, the story he had spent every interview instilling in his audience was fixed and established forever. “The Greatest” had died.
This is the ultimate in personal branding. Ali provides us with an excellent example on how to brand ourselves. We must be bold to share what we believe. We must be creative in how we share those beliefs. We must not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in (even when that boldness is potentially considered offensive by some). We must be gracious when acknowledging the successes of our competitors And finally, we must never give up writing our own story. Tell the world what you want them to know about you. Craft your own successful image. Be relentless in the pursuit of your goals and be intentional in sharing your story with others.
The world has lost one of the greatest sports figures of all time. Perhaps even the greatest. But the lessons we can learn from this persuasive, powerful master of their brand will continue on forever.
May 24, 2016
Truth, Trust, and Transactions
False transparency is damaging to relationships. When an untruth is shared under the guise of being “open” and “honest” but the listener is clearly aware of contradictory information the relationship is damaged. In a world where openness is valued and transparency is respected the Internet has revolutionized these concepts. Here’s why:
In the old days it was much easier to “fool” people. It was much easier to share half-truths and slight exaggerations when the audience was unable to verify the truth of the information shared. Think about this for a minute. With companies like Google whose mission is to categorize and make all the world’s information accessible; information has never been more available. Have a question? The Internet has the answer. And here’s an important point. Not just one answer. Not just one viewpoint. The Internet has dozens, hundreds, thousands of answers and views. With the rise of the connected computer network humans have the ability to find and connect with like-minded individuals around the world. Stuck in a difficult situation? Have a perplexing question? Find solutions, recommendations, and advice from a host of others who have experienced similar situations (or identical ones).
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
What does this have to do with openness and transparency?
Simply put, companies, individuals, organizations must be vigilant and committed to being truthful. Either commit to being open or don’t. There is no place for a false transparency. Interested in launching a new ad campaign touting a specific feature or benefit which performs unlike anything else? Be sure your claims are true. Attempting to convince others of radical transparency? Your data better not be manipulated. Your statistics should be valid and backed up by others. Otherwise, it’s your audience that will feel manipulated and tricked. They will see through your attempt at openness and will interpret your communication as demeaning. It’s insulting to feel lied to by someone. Nobody likes feeling tricked or treated as stupid.
Why is this important?
Because every company wants to be known as open. Every company wants to be known as trustworthy and transparent. However wanting to be known for something and committing to the day-to-day requirements to accomplish that are two very different things. You have two choices – commit to the goal and resolve to follow through regardless of the consequences, or don’t market yourself as if you are. But that’s not the main reason way this is important. Companies want to be known as open and trustworthy so they can build relationships with their customers. Everyone knows the adage that relationships are built on trust. Relationships built on trust result in advice being followed, purchases being made, and deals being brokered. When people trust someone they value their opinion and listen to their suggestions.
Clearly relationships are important and trust is the foundation. Thus, when a situation arises and trust is lost the relationship suffers. Future conversations are filtered or scrutinized more. Advice is not readily accepted. All interactions are evaluated, judged, and validated through others. This is not the type of relationship that yields long term value (for either). That’s right, the value is not just for the company. There is also an intrinsic value to the person as well. They can find better products, improve their lives, and simplify otherwise difficult decisions. The transactions are not just for the company. Transactions involve multiple people and multiple interests. The right relationship between a brand and a customer is valuable to both of them.
What is the response?
Be open, be honest, be transparent; ultimately be truthful. Even if the truth hurts, or if the outcome is not what you think your audience wants to hear – be committed to telling the truth. This is what being open truly means. This is what will help to establish a foundation of trust and begin laying the basis for a long, healthy relationship.
May 6, 2016
Know Your Limits
Most people recognize that as they get older they start to slow down; or at least their bodies start to slow down. There’s less they can do and there are more things slowly seizing up. Recently I had a friend jokingly comment that they were ok with the minor aches and pains, and the crick in their neck was not that big a deal because as they said, “Hey, I’m 53 now and things are starting to break down.”
As they get older people start to understand their bodies better as well as getting smarter about what they do. In short, they know their limits. Maybe it’s not staying up as late, not eating everything they want, or not jumping into that pickup basketball game like they used to. As a result of this self-imposed limiting they are able to do more and do it better. This seems counterintuitive. Self-limiting should mean less gets done and more experiences are lost right? In reality, once they start restricting themselves and understanding their own limits they can push themselves within those boundaries and experience life more fully. I find this truth to be insightful for many other aspects of life as well, both personally and professionally.
Let me share what I mean. I titled the post Know Your Limits. I tossed around several different ideas but finally settled on this. Originally I wanted to express the idea of self-awareness and how knowing what you were good at would equate to being capable of doing things excellently. Ultimately being excellent, being known for doing excellently is important to our feelings of self-worth and personal value. We want others to recognize our talents and skills. We want to feel as though we’re accomplishing something worthwhile and in our hearts we want to feel that we are providing value to those around us. This lead me down the path thinking about what helps us accomplish those feelings.
I began to think about the next logical level from the end result of doing something with excellence. How do we do something excellent? Well we have to be able to do it “right”. There’s usually two ways of doing something ‘right’ – either through training or natural ability. However, even those natural abilities and talents need to be cultivated and refined. This requires work and time spent improving, tweaking, adjusting our practice until the end result is clean, polished, and excellent.
Next in the progression involves looking at how many different things we’re working on. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. As I just shared, every talent or ability requires work and time. Time. I’ve talked about it frequently on my blog in the past because of the critical role it plays in everything we do and every journey we undertake. And here again we see time becoming an integral factor in our path to excellence. If we recognize that time is the only asset we can’t beg, borrow, steal, store, or create more of then we need to think about all those way we are consuming it. This means we have to consider how many different things we’re working on and the time required to be excellent. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the commonly shared almost anecdotal 10,000 hours rule. If not, a quick Google search will reveal a number of helpful posts on the subject. I’m not going to question the legitimacy of the post, or the specifics of the claim. But it provides a good basis to help shape our thinking.
10,000 hours. If we look at the average life expectancy we find there are approximately 689,412 hours in life. We then find that we spend about 90,228 hours working in a typical life. If we ignore the fact that there are probably a dozen other demands on our time even at this somewhat unrealistic view of our time we still only have approximately 9 things we can truly master in a lifetime. (90,228/10,000 hours). Wow. That is not a lot. And yet, how many of us, myself included are trying to be excellent at dozens (if not more) of different things? We believe we can beat the system and be excellent at everything we do. Some of this is natural human optimism. But if we can recognize this temptation to be overly optimistic and idealistic then we can begin to cultivate and refine our talents in a more achievable way.
And so we return to the title of this post and the goal we want to accomplish. In order to be excellent, in order to do things right, in order to be successful we have to recognize and build the right foundation. We have to know our limits.
It’s incredibly hard to be this self-aware. In business it’s incredibly hard to stay focused on those few areas where you can truly be excellent. As you get closer to achieving excellence others will begin to recognize your differences and your ability to rise above. When they do they’ll begin to use and promote you and your brand…and they’ll want you to solve all their problems. This is the trap many fall into. Those problems will start to creep outside those areas you have focused on and become excellent in performing. If you know your limits and the limits of your business you’ll be prepared to answer these requests the right way. Of course there are ways your business will continue to grow and adapt and become better but prepare your customers by making them aware of what they are requesting and your current abilities in those areas. Share your limits. Don’t be afraid to grow but also don’t be afraid to share your current strengths and weaknesses. Your customer’s will respect and appreciate that even in this you are doing things excellently.
Let me know if as you have read this post you’ve thought of other ways knowing your limits is beneficial to your success. I think the concept of time management, efficiency, and self-awareness are all critical elements for ultimately being excellent. Are there important elements? Are there other benefits to being self-aware and knowing your own limits? I look forward to seeing what you think.
April 28, 2016
A Pyramid Scheme for Startups
Most startups traditionally all want to approach the market in a similar way. Scratching an itch. Starting with a great idea. Focusing on fixing a problem that the entrepreneur has personally experienced or seen. This is common. And certainly nothing wrong with this way for getting started. Ultimately you have to feel passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve; the pain you want to alleviate.
If you didn’t have this deep-seated desire there’s no need joy in the task you’re undertaking. But too many times (I’m learning this too as I talk with others) this is the sole foundation and focus of the business. When this personal perspective is the only focus of the startup there will be a struggle. So how does a startup grow beyond this phase? What’s the better approach to take for a successful business?
As I learned from a good friend there is a simple diagram which can be immensely helpful in creating this structure. I call it a pyramid scheme for startups. Only this pyramid scheme is highly beneficial and immensely helpful. And totally legal.
I’ll start by giving you the picture and then digging into it a bit to better explain each level and what it looks like from a couple different perspectives.
How the marketing uses the pyramid
First, we want to look at this pyramid scheme from the position of the marketer. The marketer needs to create the branding and marketing message for the organization. They have to start with the core and work out. In this role they need to take this pyramid, start at the top, and work their way outwards (or down).
A good marketer recognizes they must begin by identifying what the company is (What we are). Once they have a good handle on the “why” for the business; they align with the company goals and objectives; and then they shift their focus to be slightly more broad and begin to create the marketing message. This marketing message should point people to what the business does and funnel traffic “upstream” into the what and why statement.
We’re Different. Here’s How.
Continuing downward the marketer then begins to build on this marketing message into some of the specific ways in which the business is different from the competition. This is the differentiating aspect of the marketing message. Again, this stage is broader still in the overall marketing context and begins to include other sources, the general market space, and a broader reach.
The broadest and most generic marketing message is the bottom of the pyramid. The last part a marketer builds out and focuses on revolves around the practical application of the business/product to an audience. How the customer would use the product.
An interesting point you’ll notice as the marketer builds this pyramid from highly specific (company-focused) to very broad (audience-focused) there begins to form a number of different “channels” or as more commonly known “verticals”. This can be easily shown in the pyramid with the following minor addition.
What you’ll see is with the addition of these vertical markets the marketer continues to funnel everything upwards into a single core message and becoming more company-centric and refined.
It’s a brilliant way of thinking about the marketing message. I think it represents similar concepts to what you’ll find if you look at Simon Sinek’s presentation on Start with Why. Which incidentally is also one of my personal biggest influences. I’ve written on that topic time and again. But this is only one part of the equation.
How sales uses the pyramid
We can take this same pyramid structure and look at it through the eyes of the salesperson. If we start from a sales standpoint we have to approach the situation from the opposite direction
The reason for this is simple but let’s walk through it anyways as an exercise. First, when you’re approaching a business from a sales perspective you have to start from a common point. The best salesperson recognizes that instead of yelling about what makes the business great the best way to begin involves listening. A salesperson that listens first to a customer, understands and helps identify pain points is going to have a much easier job providing a solution that solves specific problems.
You have to listen first.
This approach of listening and identifying pain points means simply identifying how the business/product would be most effectively used by the customer (aka the bottom of the pyramid). This is a critical step. This lays the foundation for the relationship and helps the salesperson reach the broadest possible audience. Keep in mind the verticals we discussed previously. Listening to the pain points and identifying use-cases means targeting a specific vertical path from the bottom of the pyramid.
Secondly, once the customer recognizes and relates to the pain points and how they would use the solution the salesperson can continue to refine the sales message to begin to highlight key differences between the product and the competition. This is still the differentiating step, but specifically as it relates to the pain points previously identified.
Relate to your customers
The third step is the relational step. At this level in the pyramid the salesperson takes the differentiating factors and leverages those along with the pain points to relate to the customer. Here the interests of the customer need to be aligned with the solutions provided by the company. This is the “caring” level where the customer begins to see in a semi-focused manner why this particular company will uniquely be able to help them.
Finally, the last step in the sales process is where the company can share a bit more of their personal message, culture, and experience. This is where the company can open up a bit. Note, that you don’t want this to occur too early in the relationship but rather be saved until the connection has been made and the basis for a relationship formed.
I hope you find this helpful to think about as you work within your company (really any stage company can probably benefit from this). Keep these principles in mind as you build your marketing strategy and your sales strategy. Focus your time and efforts where they matter most. Of course this isn’t a perfect picture and there are ways this could be improved upon both generally and also in specific company use cases.
As I’m learning and thinking on these things I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Have you found a particular pyramid or other diagram that helps identify and organize your thoughts around preparing a marketing message (sales traffic) besides the funnel. Because, yes, I’ve seen enough funnels to last a lifetime.
March 29, 2016
The Importance of User Interface
One of the topics you’ll frequently see me write about (or speak on) relates to user interface and the user experience. I am passionate about providing the user with an experience that is both pleasing and easy to use. As a result I find that I am constantly looking at and analyzing the software and the interfaces of others. I find some that I think work amazingly well and I take note of what they do right. Unfortunately the majority of the interfaces I interact with I find do things poorly and in some cases absolutely horrendously.
What is it about gas stations?
The latest interface fiasco which forces me to write this particular article is captured in the screenshot below.
For the careful observer you’ll probably notice this is not the first time I have shared an image from a filling station or gas station. In fact, the previous time I pointed out something from the gas pump it also related to the user interface. If you don’t remember that image I’ve included it below as a refresher.
It’s hard to know where to start but I suppose I’ll begin with the first graphic since it’s the most recent one I have come across. There’s one major and very glaring problem with the simple four step process they’ve outlined on this card. If you guessed step number one then give yourself a gold star, you are right!
Yes, Yes, Yes
A good user experience should never begin with the first step requiring the user to cancel something. This starts the interaction off wrong from the very beginning. You want to instill positivity and encourage them, not start off with a negative. In fact, this is a rather well-known fact and a common practice in sales/marketing worlds. One of the earliest encounters I had with this principle came from a timeless book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. If you’ve never read this book I encourage you to do so. As you work through the principles you’ll come upon Principle #14:
“Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”
Now, if we understand and agree with this principle then the idea behind this 4-step process beginning with a negative, “1. Press Cancel” is inherently wrong and a bad user experience. How do we make this experience better? Well, in this case simply changing the first step to “1. Press Go” or any other positive action word will resolve this conflict with the user experience. Maybe even drop the first step all together and move to a simple 3-step process!
One way to say yes
We started with the easy one, let’s now press on to the next image and a seemingly more difficult interface to fix. While at first glance this image and the user experience seems daunting and possibly unfixable the truth is that the solution is a simple one. One of the things I spend considerable time on is finding the best way, the most efficient way to accomplish a goal. I spend time finding ways to help others save time. I think good user interfaces should be efficient. And one of the best ways to be efficient I have found is by following another key principle. Keep it simple, otherwise known as the KISS principle.
“Keep it simple, stupid”
This is not a new concept and certainly not something specific to computers and software interfaces. But it can certainly be applied to these areas. Here is how you can apply the KISS principle to the user experience. Don’t make them click three buttons when one will do. Don’t give them 4 options to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to think through the interface and consolidate options. Give the user one way to say yes.
I know you may be thinking I am over-thinking and over-analyzing something as simple as the way I pump gas, or how I interact with the rewards program at a gas station, but this is how I see the world. I believe we can make even the everyday experiences better and more enjoyable. Because every interface has the opportunity to improve a relationship, or harm one. The details matter. Every detail matters. Be thoughtful about how to do things better, how to interact better. Make it simple. Make it efficient. Make it excellent.
January 12, 2016
Free Software and Success
Marketing automation is highly complex. A free app gives the wrong signal as if everyone with MA can be successful.
I recently saw this tweet and it annoyed me. The foundational belief that if something is free it cannot therefore be of real value is completely and totally false. Availability has never implied success. Cost does not unequivocally equal value. Granted there are many areas of life and the world where a brand may charge a premium for a similar product. You may find yourself paying for a logo, or a particular “name brand” recognition, but this hardly means the higher the price the greater the value.
The reverse is even more fallacious. The more affordable (or even free) price does not automatically relate to the quality of the product, the value of the software, or even the ability of this software to be helpful in future success.
A free app means the availability of the raw goods, the resources, are available without cost. The impetus still lies within the business to correctly implement the software to be successful. Let’s take a different perspective.
Imagine you find a stunning piece of software, it’s beautiful, it’s highly functional, it does absolutely amazing things. But you can’t find the price anywhere. You’re convinced this software is just what you need so you agree to begin using it regardless of the price. Now, you have two possible outcomes, you either fail to successfully implement the software and it sits there, beautiful, shiny, untouched. Or, the second option, you take this software run with it, implement it, and it makes your business incredibly successful. You’ll notice one thing that’s not revealed. The cost. Through this example what we discover is that the price of the software plays absolutely no role in the eventual outcome.
The price of software tools used should never be thought of as an indicator of the business’s eventually success.
Now, marketing automation has traditionally be considered complex, detailed, and difficult to use. But the status quo exists to be broken. Disruptive organizations, like Mautic, demonstrate this fact. Mautic revolutionizes the marketing automation industry with convenient, easy-to-use, intuitive marketing software. Mautic empowers everyone, and gives each the tools they need to be successful. Mautic gives the raw product. Mautic supplies the things necessary to be a success; but does not guarantee it. And an interesting fact, as we look at Mautic and what it has the capabilities to do, we haven’t once discussed price.
This leads to two obvious and glaring contradictions to the initial suggestion. First, marketing automation is no longer complex and difficult to setup or use. Second, Mautic doesn’t make you successful any more than having the various parts to a bicycle means you can ride one. Regardless of price, software is a tool to be used to accomplish a goal. You can read more about this theory in a recent marketing automation tool article on Mautic.org.
Bottom line: Don’t reject something new based on preconceived possibly erroneous notions.
November 30, 2015
The Importance of Marketing Tech
Recently I answered a question on Quora about the efficacy and “rule of thumb” for the benefits of marketing technology and how this tech should increase revenues. I thought it was a great question and followed a train of thought I have recently been pursuing so I added my answer to the page.
I believe you will be hard-pressed to find any definitive metrics for how efficacious marketing technology is for a business. The reason for this is in part related to a previous blog post I wrote on Mautic.org. The short version, summary, of that post in essence says that marketing automation platforms and other marketing technologies should always be considered tools to be used and not solutions. Here is what I mean and how it relates to this question. Let me use an analogy to make it easier to understand.
I’m very interested in bass guitars. I love the idea of laying the foundation of a musical rhythm the rest of the band then builds upon to create beautiful music. Bass guitars come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. Each has their own beauty and their own purpose. They are powerful tools that, when placed in the right hands, can be used to impress and stun the audience. But, if I were to give a bass guitar to my son (awesome kindergarten kid) the result would be vastly different. Obviously you naturally and instinctively understand this difference. The guitar didn’t change-the player did. And the results are completely different.
The analogy should be fairly self-explanatory. Those same principles apply to marketing tech. These are tools to be used and with the right marketing department they can impress and stun the C-Suite and others. Inexperienced or new marketers will find the benefits far fewer and their path much different.
Once we’ve established this baseline understanding there are numerous metrics and statistics which demonstrate what is possible with effective marketing strategies. But remember, you should think of this like putting a Rickenbacker 4001 in the hands of Cliff Burton. If I were to pick up the same instrument my results would be different. Here are a few statistics floating around regarding marketing technology and improvements in efficiency and costs. Your results may vary.
Marketers who implement marketing automation see 53% higher conversion rates and annual revenue growth 3.1% higher than others.
Email marketing has an ROI as high as 4,300%.
Successful lead nurturing programs average 20% increase in sales opportunities.
So, there’s three quick stats, a quick google search will yield hundreds more. The key here again, is that the marketing automation platform, or the marketing technology used is only the tool to help you be a better marketer. The right tool can save you hundreds of hours. Pair your expertise with a powerful platform and the results will be epic.
*For full disclosure, I contribute to the Mautic, free marketing automation platform, and have a strong bias to the belief that a powerful platform doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Mautic is an open source tool capable of helping you rock out like Metallica.
September 15, 2015
Finding the Right Fit
(Building An Exceptional Team)
Part of my duties in my day-to-day life involve finding the next great talented person to join our team. I don’t think by any means I am an expert at this, but I have been told on numerous times that we have a great team. (That’s not me, that’s the team believing in what we do). Remember these are not just empty chairs floating around and in need of a warm body. These are highly important positions for your team. Every single team member is important. When it comes time to build a team or fill seats, whether that is for a business or for a community there are several things I think are incredibly important. Some of these qualities might be surprising and some may be noticeably absent. I would like to share with you the five qualities I seek most often when looking to build a team.
These might be different for you and you may find mileage may vary depending on the industry or the focus of your company or organization. But I believe the following five qualities are a great place to start when building a team. I’ll give them each to you quickly and explain why I feel they are important.
Of course everyone is looking for an honest employee or co-worker. No one wants to think they are working with someone that will lie, cheat, or steal (remember though: if it’s in the refrigerator and unlabeled- that’s fair game). But in seriousness, an outstanding team member must have outstanding character. They should be not only honest and trustworthy but open. No, not the type of person who blabs every little detail about their personal life. But rather, they are quick to share their concerns, their potential problems and their work struggles. They are open and transparent in both successes and failures. I believe this is one of the most important character traits you want to find.
I love determined people. I am highly determined. I’m motivated. I love to work with people who are determined. They take the tasks they are given and they “make it happen”. Sometimes today that feels like an overused phrase but this determination to accomplish things is important. Immediately you may think the opposite is laziness, but I disagree, the opposite of determined is disinterest. They may be present and performing their job but without determination they are not the outstanding team member they could be. Determined does not mean working long hours every day either. Determination may require an occasional late night or at the least the willingness to put in extra time when the situation arises, but being determined is not being a workaholic. Being determined is more about a state of mind.
A great team member will be proactive not just in doing what is required of them but seeking out other ways to help the team succeed. This state of being proactive means being a thinker. Proactive team members are always interested and engaged, they want to see great things happen because they believe in what they are doing. But more about that deep down belief in the next point. Proactivity isn’t just doing more work or finding more work to be done. Proactivity means a sense of alertness to the team environment and the outside community. What does that look like exactly? I’m glad you asked. Here is a simple three word phrase that I like to use to describe this concept. Proactive means listening. Many consider listening to be a reactive or passive activity. But if you are actively listening to what’s being said what you’ll find is you are essentially hearing what could be next. If you are actively listening you are proactively building the future.
Yes, an outstanding team member needs to be caring. I don’t mean a touchy-feely, let’s all hold hands and dance through the fields type of caring. But the outstanding team member needs to care deeply about the team, the organization, and the community. How does this happen? Simple. When you build a team surrounded about a shared belief system. When you find those team members who see, understand and share the vision of the team then you will have found an individual who will care. Let me describe this quality by sharing another opposite. The opposite of a caring individual is an apathetic person. They show up, they do their job, and then…then they leave. They only punch the clock; these individuals lack determination, they lack the proactive understanding about the underlying foundation for why you do what you do. They don’t care. A caring individual must be deeply motivated by the reason why.
The last character quality I like to seek out when identifying exceptional team members is their ability to get excited. Too many times I think the idea of excitability gets a bad rap. People label someone as excitable if they are easily agitated, that’s a completely different word. When I say excitable I mean someone who’s passions can be stirred. They are caring, they understand the vision and they are compelled by the vision to accomplish the mission of the team. And this excites them. This drives them and gives them determination. to be proactive. I love to see someone get excited about what they are doing. This speaks to me. I see their passion and this passion, this excitement, is contagious. It spreads throughout the team. If you have a team member that does not have the quality of excitability then the team as a whole suffers. But when excitement works its way through a passionate team then each person feeds on that excitement and the passion builds, and builds, and builds within the team.
And those are five of the key qualities I like to look for when building a team. When I find someone with those traits I have a pretty good feeling they will fit within the team. They will share in the culture of the team. There are some great examples of company culture and team culture which I follow but I will refrain from commenting or sharing my thoughts on that aspect of hiring in this post.
You may have noticed a few qualities conspicuously missing from this post. No I haven’t neglected the importance of formal training, potential salary requirements, or the hard-working nature of a team member. But these are secondary qualities. They play a part but they are not what I look for first. I want to build a team that will last, a culture that inspires, and a community that grows for years, and decades to come. When I meet someone with the five qualities I listed above the result is usually someone who will not only fit into an amazing team but become an amazing part of the community.
July 27, 2015
You’re Going The Wrong Way
This was my first experience with Lyft, the other popular ride-sharing service. I had previously used Uber on multiple occasions but all the recent publicity and press I figured it might be time to explore the alternatives and see what else was available in the ride-sharing space. Lyft is of course the second most popular service with others coming along behind them.
I was familiar with Lyft but to be perfectly honest I hadn’t checked them out earlier partly because I was a bit turned off by the “fun” nature. I’m looking for a nice, professional ride, not a party car with a giant pink mustache. But here I was in Portland preparing to return after a long week of conferences and I decided to give the mustache a chance. I’d be leaving in the dark anyways. And so in the early morning hours with some hesitation I requested a Lyft and waited.
My driver, Max arrived promptly and to my relief the mustache effect was minimal. He helped me get all in and as I had heard I rode in the front seat instead of the back…no big deal. We settled in and he immediately guessed my destination to be the airport (I suppose there’s not much else people use Lyft for at 4 in the morning). I explained it was my first time using Lyft and was interested to see how things went. I had barely gotten these words out of my mouth when I was treated to one of the most heart-stopping experiences you want to face at a time of day when your eyes are barely open.
Max had pulled out and started driving along unaware he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. No big deal, it’s deserted roads at this time of day right? Mostly. You see the one vehicle that seems to always be on the roads is the impressively-built, industrial-sized, public transit, also known as the city bus, equipped with a wonderful set of powerful headlights. It was at this moment, caught in the brilliant glare of two spotlights I turned to Max and rather casually observed;
“I think you’re going the wrong way.”
I can’t help but think in that moment how much I felt like John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes,Trains, and Automobiles. If you’ve seen the movie you know what part I’m referring to. Let’s just say I was relieved to see that Max did not have horns and an evil laugh when I turned to him with my now fully-open eyes and racing heart.
Thankfully Max was able to pull a quick and well-maneuvered three-point turn (I guess the Department of Motor Vehicles must have planned for this type of thing when they made three-point turns a mandatory part of the driving test.) We escaped without incident and were able to get back headed the right direction and had a relatively uneventful remainder of our trip to the airport. (Not sure there’s much more that could have been done to make it more exciting at this point).
So now comes the question. Would I use Lyft again? After a hair-raising experiencing like this do I feel comfortable doing it again? I’d have to answer absolutely I would. Things happen. Mistakes can be made by anywhere and at any time. This could have very easily been a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. But if I book a Lyft in the future and find myself in a similar situation, or any other less-than-optimal experience…well that might just close the book on the service for me.
You see, as humans we’re tolerant of an occasional faux-paux (well, most people are). We recognize that things happen and we’re willing to overlook them, forgive them quickly; particularly in a new service or new product. We are more tolerant. However, repeated negative experiences build on each other. We don’t forget things quickly (I can assure you I won’t forget this Lyft ride anytime soon).
How quick are you in turning?
This is the aspect that can absolutely destroy an otherwise great startup. You can have glitches in your beta, you can have a bug here or there that hopefully can be fixed quickly. A minor three-point turn and you’ve redirected the user back onto a successful journey in your app. But fail multiple times and your users will leave. They will establish a perceived pattern, they will assume a poor product, a bad implementation, and leave you with a failed startup. Yes, first impressions are important and critical to get right, but they are not the only thing to consider. The overall user-experience, the attention to details, the responsiveness handling issues or bugs when they arise are just as important.
Are you listening?
In my startup life these are the types of lessons I’m learning. Listen to your users, they may be telling you that you’re going the wrong way. You may need to pivot or simply do a quick, three-point turn, but always be listening. I hope if you’re in a similar situation you can draw some inspiration, encouragement, or at least a laugh from my journey and use it to make your startup-life more successful.
July 3, 2015
The Price of Free Software
Let’s talk for a minute about the topic of free software. As you may know I am deeply involved with the Mautic community which offers a free marketing automation platform. This platform is free, open source and available for immediate download by anyone interested. I am thrilled to be able to play a part in this community which seeks to support businesses, organizations, and people in their marketing efforts without asking for anything in return.
I have over a decade of experience in this type of environment as I’ve previously volunteered my time in the Joomla community as well as spending time in both WordPress and Drupal communities. All of these communities are centered around a free product and also an open source one. Their content managements systems can be downloaded and installed and used with no payments made. These are merely three additional examples drawn from personal experience, hundreds if not thousands of other communities exist to provide free software. This leads to an inevitable question. Is free software truly free? What is the hidden price of free?
I’m going to break this down into three sections. First, we’ll examine monetary costs, second we’ll look at secondary costs, and lastly we’ll look at future costs. After each section we’ll draw a conclusion.
The Monetary Cost of Free Software
This first point may seem almost ludicrous since we’re discussing free software and by very nature free software implies that there is no monetary cost. However, unfortunately in some cases free software is limited software. These types of free software are poor restricted attempts to win customers by offering something free which in truth is merely a hint or shadow of what the software should do.
This is a uniquely cruel form of torture and one which should be abolished and abhorred. No software intentionally shackling or tethering the user under the guise of free software should be allowed to exist as free software. This kind of “free software” does indeed have a very high monetary cost and unfortunately gives all other types of free software a bad name.
Conclusion: All free software has not been created equal.
The Secondary Costs of Free Software
There are, of course, additional costs associated with a software platform that exist far beyond the money spent in acquiring the software. These are indeed very real and should not be forgotten. Let me name just two of these secondary costs for you.
- The Learning Curve: With free software there is a learning curve which the user must overcome before they are comfortable using the platform. This learning curve requires time and dedication. This time can be extremely expensive. And yet, I would challenge you with a question. Could I not remove the word “free” from the first sentence and the statement would remain the same? “With software there is a learning curve which the user must overcome before they are comfortable using the platform.” Yes, this statement is also true and valid.
- Training & Support: Free software may not cost for its use, but there are training and support expenses which result from the use of this software. And again, these costs would be equally attributed to paid systems as well. Every time software is implemented there is an opportunity for training and support fees to be provided.
So we see that there are opportunities for additional secondary costs associated with free software. There is something though that I touched on briefly in the second part of the Learning Curve cost. The time involved in learning a new platform, of any kind, is a cost that can be most exorbitant. But here’s an interesting suggestion. When dealing with a free community full of active volunteers this learning experience can be much aided through network of others. This type of learning can never be accomplished in the same volume by a paid software company. Thousands of volunteers working and participating on the improvements of the software able to answer your questions, offer advice, and improve your understanding makes your learning curve easier with free software.
Conclusion: All software has secondary costs.
The Future Costs of Free Software
Here we explore the potential future costs as a result of implementing free software. Some would suggest that because free software is free it must then be unsustainable and more liable to disappear in the future. I find this somewhat ironic. These communities which exist purely for the growth and improvements of the software and are not tied to a for-profit business serve to exist for far longer times. Successful communities will be able to continue without fear of failure due to lack of funds. Now free software where the code is also open source means the code will be forever in existence and available to everyone, anywhere. And lastly, due to the sheer size of free, open source communities volunteering there is a much larger development pool capable of continuing on the progress and improvements to the software.
Conclusion: Free software is not bound by for-profit corporations for future existence.
I am not foolish to assume that all free software is as wonderful as the software I listed at the beginning of this post. These are both free and open source software tools which are a bit different from just examining “free software” however, my background and experience leads me to speak to this type of free software. There are of course other, far worse examples of free software which harm the concepts of the software listed here.
And lastly, you may notice that the second item listed is the only example where actual costs may exist. This is indeed a cost associated with free software. However, as I stated this cost exists regardless of the nature of the software. Both free and not-free software hold these secondary costs. Therefore I believe it is fair to say these costs are valid to be disregarded when valuing the cost of software since they will exist in any situation.
I conclude then that while there may be costs associated with free software you will find that these costs are far, far less then in other situations and ultimately you will still find free software to be more cost effective than the alternative.
May 11, 2015
Cheaper by the Dozen
Each of you possesses the most valuable item in the world. I don’t care where you work, where you live, or where you bank. Each of you is incredibly wealthy. Each one of you possesses something invaluable. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy because I haven’t seen your bank balance. :) But I’m not crazy. Because it does not matter if you have any of the tangible goods or resources of the world. There is only one resource you have that can never be replaced. You can’t make more, buy more, or borrow more. You can’t re-use it. This resource is your time.
Time is paramount. Throughout all of history there has been no discovery sought after as much as the quest for immortality. Humans have always looked for ways to prolong the inevitable death and thus the ending of their time. Dynasties rise and fall, wars are raged, empires are established, and then decay. Solomon mentions this inevitability when he says ashes to ashes and dust to dust. In spite of everything we do and accomplish, time presses ever onward. Time is of paramount importance.
Time drives us, time moves us, time consumes all of us. Therefore those things which affect time are also important. When we look at what consumes our time we start to look at how time is lost, or more directly how our time is wasted. Our time is our most valuable possession. We want to spend our time wisely. This interest in how our time is used – this is efficiency. And this is what we’re talking about today. How do we improve efficiency in our world, in our business, in our design?
I would like to share 3 stories with you today. 3 stories and 3 points. Very short, simple stories that I hope you’ll be able to see a connection and a common theme weaved throughout leaving you with a thought you can carry with you as you go.
I travel a lot for conferences. Most of my travel occurs via airplanes. Man, I love airplanes. The ability to move around the world so quickly compared to the old days. I would never have been able to survive a 3 week trip by boat across the Atlantic. It would have killed me I’m quite sure. I like to move fast. I like to get get where I’m going and get things done.
Airplanes are great. Airports however, are not always that great. How many have had the wonderful opportunity to travel via airplane? And how many have had the wonderful experience (err, great misfortune) of having to endure an airport? Yeah, they seem to go hand in hand, which is unfortunate because I would definitely skip the airport part if I could. Just the flying part for me please.
Because I travel so much my odds of misfortune are higher. I have a greater chance of missing a connection, losing my luggage, or experiencing the extra bit of lovin’ from a personal security screening. (That’s right, you know what I’m talking about. Usually I prefer them buy me dinner before we go there!)
Well, one of the worst feelings I think I’ve ever experienced is running through an airport terminal so I can catch my next flight. That’s a miserable feeling. On one trip I was passing through Washington DC to return to Europe. Man, I remember this like it just happened. I think I still to this day have nightmares about this one. The flight across the Atlantic only happens once a day. If I missed this flight I would be stuck in DC overnight and have to wait an entire 24 hours for the next one. My flight landed in Washington and I had 30 minutes to make my connection. Sounds like plenty of time. I grabbed my bags and began the brisk “walk” to the other terminal. Well suddenly I found myself in a queue (Like that? I’m using the Queen’s English).
A line. A security line! I had just gotten off a plane where not 1 hour before I had gone through security. Here now I was stuck in another security checkpoint. What a terrible inefficient process. I’m all for security. But let’s talk about this for a second. My flights are scheduled to give me 45 minutes between flights, I was delayed a bit so only had 30 minutes, regardless, not much time. I went through security initially, boarded the plane through the secure area, travelled on a secure plane, landed at a secure gate, and walked through a secure terminal to arrive at this security checkpoint.
Do you see my point? What an inefficient process! And I’m not even going to start on the actual security screening process. So horribly horribly inefficient. Heathrow is especially full of opportunities for improvement! If we have time I’ll share some of those with you too.
Well I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I passed through security and rushed to my gate. At this point I’m no longer briskly walking, this is full-on jogging at this point. All pretense of self-respect and dignity were lost as I dodged the other travelers in my way. I made it to the gate mere seconds before they closed and slid, hot, sweaty, and out of breath into my seat on the plane. I made it. Barely…, but I made it. But I wasn’t alone, almost at the same time the person to my left dropped into his seat as well. He was holding a small cooler on his lap.
I realized he had actually been running with me through the terminal. We were both taking the same flight to Washington DC. We were both stuck in the double security situation. We shared a quick smile as if to congratulate each other for our fortune. Only then, sitting in our seats did I take the time to see what he held in his lap. The inconspicuous cooler had medical tape sealing it shut and several labels plastered on the side. I read one: Human Organ Inside.
A realization dawned on me, maybe you too as you listen to this story. While it might have been an inconvenience for me to miss my next flight it was much, much more to my seat mate. It was in a very real way a matter of life and death. In the medical field where the amount of time an organ can survive outside the body is measured in minutes, every single second counts. An inefficient process, a poorly executed strategy, excessive steps in a security screening could be the difference between life and death. Efficiency is important.
So here’s your first point I want you to remember.
This leads well into our second story. This story relates to the medical field (as you probably guessed) and involves some numbers. But don’t panic. I’ll make it fun.
That number is how many seconds you have in 70 years. A second seems so fast, so inconsequential. But lets look at a few facts. Wait! Interesting facts, not boring statistics! In a second you can blink 7 times. In one second a very fast human can run 39 feet (12 meters). A second is all it takes for a commercial jet to travel 800 feet. (Yep, had to bring my airplane back into the mix).
All of those are related to speed, but seconds can relate to other things as well. In one second 4 babies are born. In one second 2 people die. Although we often think that a second is such a small insignificant unit of time much can be happen in a second. Lives are changed. The world is moved. (Quite literally, the earth moves 18 1/2 miles every second). If we believe every second is important than we should make the most of each. We should find the most efficient way to do things so we can save those seconds.
Frank Gilbreth was obsessed with this idea of saving steps, saving motion, and saving time. By reducing the motions required to perform tasks he could complete work faster, and more efficiently. Frank is actually where the title of this talk comes from, Cheaper by the Dozen is an autobiographical book written by Frank’s son about the life and methods of his parents. The book title comes from the fact that there were 12 kids in their family and they would often receive attention when in public for being such a large family. Frank would joke that it was more efficient to have 12 kids because they were “cheaper” by the dozen. Obviously a bit of a joke but it represents the very real way that Frank and his wife Lillian would approach every situation. He studied motion, he studied efficiency and how to improve processes. Sometimes he did so in unique ways, sometimes in quite obvious ways, but always in order to improve lives. Let me share one specific story with you.
Frank would time everything. He would video a process (now this was old school type of video, hand-crank cameras and all) and then he would analyze the video and the time it took to complete a process. He’d break down the process into motions and determine how they could be improved to speed the entire process up and complete the task quicker.
During World War I Frank turned his attention to the medical field and the surgical procedures followed with injured soldiers. He saw ways he could improve the process and save lives. He studied hours and hours of surgical procedures and he is responsible for some of the same time-saving tricks that are used even today in hospitals around the world. Every time a surgeon turns to a nurse and asks for a specific instrument, Frank is responsible. He found this saved a tremendous amount of time during these life-and-death surgeries. But he didn’t just improve the operating room, he also studied the movements and activities of the post-op patients and established methods for rehabilitating soldiers to continue living their daily lives.
That’s powerful stuff. Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian most assuredly believed in the power of a second and the importance of efficiency. They saw firsthand how being efficient could improve or even save a life.
This is the second point I want to leave you with today.
Timeout: Now I know you’re thinking this is all great and quite interesting, but how does all of this relate or affect me and my work. Designer, developer, business owner, user interface developer, user experience expert, and everyone else I haven’t named. We live in a world where seconds matter; even the milliseconds matter. Studies have shown a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. Or more specifically if an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost $2.5 million in lost sales every year. And that’s just page load speed.
Seconds matter in other places too. If your design is confusing, or your process flow difficult to follow you exponentially decrease your user engagement. 1 second is bad, 2 seconds is far worse. It takes only 2.6 seconds for a user to look at your webpage and determine where they should focus. Be sure that you focus your users and provide a very clear path for them to follow. Your goal should be to keep engagement high and initial commitment low. Efficiency in your process will support this goal. Employing time-saving techniques, motion-saving clicks are all important parts of this process.
You may not feel that you’re saving lives by reducing excessive clicks on your website but you are absolutely improving them. Think of all those times you’ve been frustrated with inane checkboxes, excessive steps, and pointless clicks. Now think of the times you’ve been pleased with a process that works well. Do you remember how refreshing, how exciting that moment felt? Your life was improved. It may not be as direct an impact as Frank’s but I assure you, your work, when done right, improves lives.
Sometimes it’s obvious the way you can be more efficient; and at other times it takes a bit of creative thinking to find ways to save those valuable seconds. This is the fun part of our work. We get to use our imagination, we try things. Sometimes they fail miserably, but often we are able to make a difference. This leads me to my last story I want to share with you today.
Sir George Cayley, does anyone know that name? Probably not. Let me give you a different name and we’ll start there. Has anyone heard of the Wright brothers? Yep, that name is far more familiar. In fact, they originate from where I currently live, North Carolina USA. These two brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are frequently referred to as the first men to fly an airplane. Now there are some discrepancies and debate over exact timing and the result is a more detailed attribution would be they are the first men to experience powered, controlled, fixed-wing heaver-than-air human flight. That’s a mouthful. But there’s something in that description that’s important. You see, the Wright brothers although they are more well-known were not the first to think of this concept. Decades earlier, even centuries for some of the ideas, there were others thinking outside the box, thinking uniquely. Sir George Cayley was one of these individuals.
Sir George was from Yorkshire (See how this all ties together?) and in 1799 he discovered and proposed the ideas of aerodynamic forces, the fixed-wing concept, and the use of separate systems for propulsion and control. Sounds familiar. Now before this time humans were still trying to fly, and you probably remember the methods they attempted. There’s plenty of video footage archived if you’re ever in the mood for a good laugh. It’s quite humorous.
But here’s the important thing: George thought differently. He saw a different world. He looked at the same problem but from a different angle. In some ways that’s similar to our previous story with Frank Gilbreth. Frank thought differently too. He would button his shirts from bottom to top instead of top down because it saved 4 seconds! That is definitely thinking differently.
Sir George may not be as widely known or as well-recognized but he thought differently. And that’s the important thing to learn from this last story.
This is my final point I want you to remember:
Whatever your role is, whatever your occupation is you will be better if you allow yourself to see the world from a different point of view, think outside the box, entertain ideas, and encourage your own personal growth. When you see the world differently you solve problems in new ways. You find ways to be more efficient and save valuable time. Don’t get stuck in ruts. Don’t follow blindly along the paths of those who have gone before without testing and proving it to be the best route.
Be willing. Be bold. Be different.
I hope these three stories and points are helpful to you. I want you to remember them. When you return to your work and you sit down at your desk remember these three simple things: Every second counts. Saving time improves lives. See the world differently.
If you start your day with that simple thought you’ll accomplish great things. You’ll make the most of your time, you’ll improve the lives of others, and you’ll create incredible things. I’ll end by saying thank you. Thank you so very much for giving me your time. I trust you found it well spent!
March 24, 2015
The Secret to Growth Hacking
Recently I had the great privilege to travel and speak at the 3rd annual CMS Africa Summit. I was asked to deliver two keynotes and the second one focused on the idea of growing a community. The session title: Building Powerful Community Networks, was given to me by the event organizers but I believe it was quite insightful on their part.
Below are my slides from my session. While usually I offer a more extensive write-up to associate with a slideshare like this I believe these slides speak fairly well for themselves. I trust you’ll look through these slides and you’ll be able to easily see the message I shared.
I believe deeply in the power of communities and I love researching how to scale community growth. I hope you’ll enjoy glancing through this deck and exploring what I see is the secret to growth hacking.
February 23, 2015
Scaling Applications for Global Communities
Below is a transcript of the talk I gave recently in Oman at their Free and Open Source Software Conference (2015). If you want to watch the talk instead you can do so on YouTube starting at the 1:18:44 mark (Here is a direct link to my talk on scaling applications for global communities). Or if you prefer to download and read later, here’s a PDF version.
1. The Personal (about me)
I know you probably aren’t too terribly interested in hearing my entire life story so I’ll keep this short and sweet. As you may have seen, or read in your pamphlet, I am deeply involved in open source and several different projects. I spend an incredible amount of my time both creating code (I love to write code) and also telling others about open source code. I truly love speaking about open source and sharing the power of those communities with others.
Let me give you just a little bit more information about what I work on. I am extremely proud to share that I am the founder of an open source community for marketing automation, called Mautic. But I contribute to a number of other projects also. And one of those roles, in fact, the very first open source project I ever had the privilege of working in was Joomla, an open source content management system. I started my journey in Joomla just as a user and a developer (remember, I love to write code). But over time I became more involved with the community until today. Now I’m the community development manager for the project and am a frequent speaker, project evangelist for Joomla.
2. The Project (about Joomla)
This is without a doubt an incredible community. Joomla has been around since 2005. Fittingly enough Joomla and I share a birthday, August 17. Many of you probably know that Joomla was a fork from a previous open source project called Mambo. Since 2005 Joomla has continued to grow and expand and is now recognized as the second largest, and most downloaded CMS in the world. That’s pretty big news. It gets even more exciting. Joomla not only holds the second largest CMS market share but is the largest not for profit, community-driven CMS project. No other CMS platform has this type of honor.
So that’s a pretty nice introduction to Joomla, but maybe a few more specific examples will help to put the true size of the Joomla project into perspective. And you’ll see later how this all ties in together.
- Joomla is multi-lingual
- Joomla is accessible
- Joomla is convenient
Great ideas? Well Joomla is much more than just a few impressive statistics. The Joomla community focuses on an aspect much more important than just the lines of code. Something deeper. Joomla focuses on people. The individuals who make up the Joomla community. These unique and special people all play a vital role in the success of the project. Here are some numbers related to the growth of the Joomla community.
- Joomla has been downloaded over 60 million times
- Joomla has more than 2,000 forum posts every day
- Joomla has more language translations than any other CMS
Again these are some fine examples of the size and scale of the Joomla community. This also demonstrates the growth rate for the community. I mentioned that Joomla focuses on people. I want to return to that in a second. But before I do that I want to touch briefly on just a couple more areas related to the Joomla project.
These two areas are often the most difficult to bring up when sharing Joomla with others. It’s not always pretty. And it’s not always easy. But the truth is Joomla is just like any other community and any other project. It has struggles, it has problems, and it ultimately has successes. Let’s take a minute and look more closely at a few of the struggles which face the Joomla community. Perhaps you can relate to some of these.
Joomla has grown quickly and has struggled to maintain order. Obviously anytime you see the type of amazing growth that the Joomla community has seen you will have difficulty maintaining order and avoiding chaos. It’s almost inevitable you will find yourself struggling with keeping that easy-to-understand, easy-to-get-involved nature you often find in smaller communities. When projects scale to huge sizes the simple act of getting involved as a new volunteer can be an incredibly difficult task (and sometimes an impossible one). This struggle for order is even more of a potential failure when the project is completely and totally community driven. Without any single entity supporting the community, helping to make the tough decisions, and ultimately ensuring the project’s forward progress it can become difficult to avoid confusion and chaos. I’m not saying it’s impossible, Joomla has worked very hard to show that this is a possibility. What I am saying is that it can be difficult and it’s certainly a struggle.
Joomla has struggled with adapting to change. Just as you will find in many large and established companies (Think Microsoft). It can be a very difficult struggle to stay relevant and ensure your project doesn’t begin to just tread water. The minute you begin treading water is the minute you begin sinking. A project must maintain its vision for the future. A community must be driven to continue improving, innovating, adapting to change around it. When a community (or business) does not allow for change, it will ultimately die. If we consider Microsoft as an example then we can all relate to this sense of stagnation. What was once a booming technology company on the cutting edge of everything is now a behemoth trudging, plodding along through the daily chores of bug fixes and patch Tuesdays. Gone are the glory days of new release after new release. They spend millions (maybe even billions) of dollars in their research and development departments. They understand the power of innovation and the need to return to those monumental discoveries. Joomla must also be able to pivot, to make changes, to improve and adapt.
Those are a couple of the struggles the Joomla project faces. They are difficult to share but understanding and knowing your struggles is the first step in overcoming them. So I talk about them openly. I share them with you and I hope to share how we overcame them. It’s an ongoing, continual state of learning.
3. The People (about the community)
I mentioned the Joomla community and the focus that Joomla has on the individual volunteers, contributors, and people which make up the Joomla community. Let’s look now in a bit more depth at several facets of these individuals. This is the good stuff. If you only take one thing away from my talk today. Learn this. People matter. More than code, more than working groups, more than teams, more than documentation, more than anything – the people who are giving their time, who are giving their lives to the project: these people matter. That’s one of the most important things I’d like to share with you today. Relationships are important.
Let me tell you a little story. A Joomla story. This is the story of a person who is relatively quiet and shy, would never step outside their comfort zone and would never think about standing in front of a group of people to talk. In the beginning it started with a few small bug fixes. A pull request for improving a module. Nothing fantastic and certainly nothing ground breaking. In fact I’d dare to call them worthless fixes. But they weren’t worthless. Because they served as the beginning for something greater. These seemingly minor one or two line comment spelling corrections were just enough for this individual to stay committed to the project and continue keeping involved in the community. As time passed the encouragement from others in the community helped this person become more involved. Soon, at the bidding of his new friends within the Joomla community this individual applied for a leadership role. He was welcomed with open arms and continued his involvement soon he was spending a significant amount of his time each day devoted to the success of Joomla. He became more and more involved and was passionately committed to the community. All of this came from a few almost meaningless lines of code. Why? Because of the encouragement and support of others in the community. As you have probably guessed this is my Joomla story. This is how I came to my position in Joomla. If you hear nothing else from my story I hope you will hear this: Encouragement, support, and the relationships formed with others in the community are of utmost importance.
If we are to explore the complexities of scaling an application for a global user community then this should be our one guiding principle: People matter.
There are of course many aspects which can prove to be difficult when growing an application to global size. We will discuss a few of those and look at how Joomla has handled each. I refer to Joomla as our case study because as I have demonstrated above Joomla is a worthy and fitting case study for us to examine.
Let’s look at three different problems which must be overcome if you want to scale your community globally. First, languages can prove to be challenging. As you are aware even from my speaking here today there are times when languages can prove a difficult obstacle to overcome. As your community or application grows beyond the boundaries of your country or your specific language it will inevitably face this problem. Each new language, each new country where your application begins to be used introduces a new set for potential problems. Let me explain. When I say languages are a difficulty I am not referring merely to the words. Of course the words present the most obvious challenge, but in the world we live in today we are blessed to be able to translate our words.
Notice, I said translate our words because translating our words is not the same as translating their meaning. This is where the true problem lies. There are so many other aspects of language which must be considered. Things such as tone of voice, implied meaning, cultural differences, are just a few ways in which language barriers can prevent successful project growth. In order for your project to be a success you must consider all of these aspects. Take Joomla for example. Joomla has been incredibly successful in this regard. If you’re not aware let me share a statistic or two with you. The Joomla CMS currently has 58 different translations that’s a staggering number of languages. Each of those translations has a working group of individuals dedicated to keeping that language up-to-date with each new release of the software. But as I mentioned it’s more than just language strings or words. Joomla works very hard to ensure that implied meanings and cultural differences are also considered when working groups and individuals collaborate. Great care is taken to be considerate in all communications. This sounds trivial but is instrumental to the overall success of the project. Joomla has created a wonderful culture code document which outlines specifics for how the Joomla culture should be created and maintained. Languages are more than words.
I offer a second example from a much younger and newer community, Mautic. I have begun implementing exactly what I stand before you and share. Languages are an important pillar in the building of a global community. Within only 3 weeks of launching the beta for the Mautic open source product we have been able to see 5 complete language translations and a dozen more started. It’s exciting to witness and it shows to everyone that the Mautic community values each language and each country.
Here is your first lesson: If you want your application to be globally accepted, to scale to the size of a world-wide audience then you must consider the value of languages, both in word and in meaning.
Next we turn our attention to a second important problem that must be overcome when scaling globally. Timezones. It is often easy to forget in a daily routine of application development and product releases that there is an entire world of varying timezones. 2PM in one location is 2AM in another. I can tell you first hand speaking from my own experience in the United States it can sometimes be forgotten that not everyone is on the same relative time as I am. If you are interested in being able to grow your community, or your project, or your organization to a global size then you must remember and account for varying timezones. Let’s take another look at Joomla and how this community handles the timezone problem.
The Joomla leadership is comprised of three different teams working in harmony across the many aspects of the project. These teams are each consisting of individuals from around the world. Each team has dozens of different timezones. Joomla has used several different tactics but one in particular has proven to be useful and serve the community well. Joomla alternates the the schedule of leadership meetings. What does this look like? Joomla changes the meeting time when a leadership gathering is held. By doing so Joomla ensures that there is an equal opportunity for each person to meet in a timezone that is most convenient for them. (and everyone shares the same inconvenience) The timezone is an often overlooked important aspect of being able to scale an organization.
In the beginning this can be a difficult task. When your community is small this will be a challenge and will require dedication and attention. I share an example from Mautic. This community as I told you before is much younger and much smaller. As a result the initial community members must be more flexible and more dedicated with their time. When beginning to grow your community be prepared to spend significant amounts of time at all times of day and night. You may not sleep much! But if you are committed to seeing your community be successful you must be prepared to make the sacrifice.
The second lesson to learn: In order to increase the global availability of your community and project you should pay attention to the timezones of your contributors and volunteers. Make your community convenient.
We arrive now at our final problem you should seek to overcome as you grow a global product. I say final, but in reality there are many more problems you will face. The task of building and scaling an application is a constant and ongoing challenge. But we look in particular at three problems and this final one is related to accessibility. Just as you want your meetings (timezones) and your communication (languages) to be convenient you want also for your community to be accessible.
I’m quite pleased to share the success Joomla has seen related to being an accessible project. Don’t mistake me. One of the reasons why Joomla has been successful in regards to accessibility lies in the fact that it continues to focus on and constantly improve accessibility. This is not a one-time thing to be solved and then ignored. This is a key point. Joomla continues to focus on this aspect of its community and the software. Through the use of specialized formats, screen reader improvements, and special administrator templates designed specifically to be accessible Joomla shows its incredible attention to accessibility.
Here is the third lesson: To scale a global community requires focusing on every type of user and being a community whose people and whose code is accessible to everyone.
So we have covered three lessons to help scale an application for a global community. Dealing with languages, timezones, and accessibility. As your project and community grows you must focus on each of these areas if you want to overcome the complexities of a global community.
Let me quickly give you some practical steps for implementation. First, you must plan ahead. Don’t think only about what your code or your community looks like today. Look ahead at what it will become in the future. Plan for what will come in future days, weeks, months, or even years. Be prepared and be constantly ready to make changes when needed. Next, monitor everything. You will need to be vigilant as you watch your community grow. You must be monitoring your code to ensure it remains stable and can handle an increased load of traffic. You must be monitoring your community to ensure it continues to grow and that it is accessible, and convenient for new contributors to take part. Lastly you should take what you have planned, mix with what you have seen through your monitoring, and apply it to improving your community. You cannot simply observe and make plans without implementing them. You must be looking to constantly improve. Your code must adapt and grow as new opportunities arise. Your community must adapt and grow as you scale to larger size.
Let me close with this. There is no formula that guarantees you will be successful in scaling an application for a global community. It simply cannot be put into a specific step-by-step exact plan. Rather what I offer here are some important lessons that when put into practice will offer a strong path to lead towards a successful global project. I want to thank you again for this opportunity to share with you what Joomla has proven to be a successful strategy for scaling and what Mautic is also following in like manner. And I wish you each success as you seek to grow your communities and projects. If you have other questions or ideas feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to answer any questions that I can and look forward to hearing what you are passionate about!
January 5, 2015
The Importance of Planning
Everyone loves to point out those projects which are immensely popular and claim they were overnight success stories. There is something glamorous about the idea that the next day it might be something new. Or, even better, that it might be their idea. Success is only a day away. Unfortunately this notion of instant success is more myth than fact. Some of the greatest companies that have been termed overnight success came from a very different background. The truth of the matter is much less glamorous and much more realistic. Great ideas involve planning. Planning is vitally important to success. Let’s look briefly at 5 reasons planning is important.
1. Planning helps identify goals
One of the most beneficial aspect of planning is in creating goals to accomplish. When you sit down and write out what you want to accomplish you will be surprised how this goal structure lends itself to creating a plan for accomplishing them. There are a couple of different strategies when working on goals. Some of the more popular include creating three goal types, short-term, mid-term, and long-term.
Short-term goals are those items you would like to see done in the next 2-3 days. These goals are quick, easy to accomplish and relatively simple goals. The mid-term goals are things you’d like to accomplish in the next few weeks or months. This is the broadest time scope and can vary in degree of difficulty. Ultimately each of these mid-term goals are concrete, well-defined goals which can be directly actioned. The last goal type is the long-term goal. These goals are much more abstract and contain more figurative type of language. These are the big picture goals and long-term aspirations you hold for your project.
Writing these goals out and organizing them into these three categories (of course you can use more if you like) will give you the great beginnings to a roadmap. This roadmap is what we’ll look at in our next point.
2. Planning offers directions
If you start creating your goals in the first step and organize them accordingly what you’ll find is you’ve begun to take the first step towards creating a roadmap. Planning a direction for your project or business involves creating a roadmap. Planning takes many different shapes and sizes and as you create this roadmap for accomplishing your goals you will find your planning is offering you great direction.
Business direction allows you to plan for a course of action you will take to accomplish your goals. Planning how you accomplish them is a valuable exercise for your business growth and development. As you plan you will put together a course of action. This course of action will help you to be prepared for what comes next. You’ll be ready to answer questions and you’ll have an advantage over others which have not prepared for their future.
3. Planning uncovers problems
You create your goals and identify your direction and you become prepared for what is coming next. The more prepared you are the better you are able to handle problems as they arise. Even more than handling problems as they arise the art of careful planning will help you to uncover potential problems before they even occur. When you work to carefully plan out a direction you’ll undoubtedly uncover possible bumps in the road along the way. If you aren’t careful in your planning you may never discover them until its too late.
Uncovering problems means finding solutions and implementing fixes before they become a reality. There are few things as exciting as fixing problems before they are even found. Being able to resolve conflicts and work around issues is an invaluable business advantage. Careful planning helps uncover problems.
4. Planning adds professionalism
Professionalism doesn’t mean stiff and stodgy. Just because you are professional it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Professionalism means you are prepared. Preparation is another word for planning. Planning adds a sense of professionalism to your business. When you plan your course of action, when you outline your goals, and when you uncover problems you give yourself the opportunity to be prepared for things that arise.
Being prepared keeps you from getting caught off-guard if things don’t go as planned. This is an important point. Planning does not mean everything always works as you intend. Errors, problems, and failures will still happen. Planning helps you stay professional as you handle those times. Planning keeps you prepared for when things don’t go as you hoped.
5. Planning gives perspective
Lastly, planning your goals and your direction helps to give you a clear perspective of what matters and what is possible to accomplish. As you create your goals you will focus on what you want to accomplish. Planning how to accomplish those goals will force you to organize them and also to prioritize them and put them in perspective. No one wants to waste time working on something that is not important. However, the day to day life of a startup or small business too easily gets overwhelmed and those goals and objectives get lost in the daily grind.
Planning helps to stay focused and to keep your perspective. Keep your perspective on your purpose and your future. Then and only then will you see success and you will be rewarded for your planning.
“Meticulous planning will enable everything a man does to appear spontaneous.”
– Mark Caine
Because as much as human nature likes to believe in overnight sensational success stories, the truth is more common. Perhaps a change to a well-known quote would be appropriate. Instead of “practice makes perfect” a better quote would be “planning makes perfect”.
Don’t believe in wild fantastical stories of instant fame; instead plan a course, identify goals, and move confidently towards accomplishing them. Maybe you will be the next company everyone is talking about.
December 15, 2014
Beta List Featured Startup Mautic
So there’s an awesome website, if you’ve never heard of it you need to check it out. It’s called Beta List. Beta List gives you just what it sounds like, a list of awesome new software platforms that are currently in beta. You can get a quick overview of what the app does and view a screenshot or two before visiting the site to sign-up for the beta.
No, not an advertisement!
Why am I talking about this website? I’ll tell you why. Yesterday I was notified, much to my delight, that our young, new community Mautic has been added to the list and featured. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s pretty awesome to be placed on the list among other great up-and-coming beta apps. We’re incredibly excited to share Mautic with new people and introduce others to the future of marketing automation. Free and open source marketing automation.
Check us out!
If you have time I’d encourage you to stop by our listing, check us out, but also look around at some of the other amazing beta opportunities listed on the website. Oh, and I apologize in advance because you may get lost in the excitement of looking around and lose track of time.
December 10, 2014
Crowdsourcing design is a trendy way to get things accomplished these days. And when you think about it, there is certainly some appeal to the idea of getting dozens of high quality designers working on your project. As a business looking for a new design you get to set the amount you wish to pay and then sit back and pick the design that appeals to you most from designers producing design after design for your review.
But it gets even “better”, as the project backer you don’t even have to pay for revisions or changes. You simply share with everyone the changes you want, the things you like and the things you don’t and the designers will rush off to create updates and new mockups. And it doesn’t cost you a cent. Sounds great. Sounds too good to be true. The problem is, as you’ve been told time and time again…if something is too good to be true; it probably is.
Crowdsourcing Cheapens Designers
What is a good design worth? Design can be a difficult thing to associate with a price. There are so many different factors to consider. The experience of the designer, their education, their years in the field, and a number of other qualifications are typically all taken into account when a designer bids on a design job. However when a job is placed out on a crowdsourcing site and the business sets the price this dynamic is demolished. No longer does the designer put out a thoughtful proposal. Instead the job goes to the designer who has the most time and values their abilities the least while still maintaining some resemblance to quality work. Of course there are good designers on crowdsourcing sites like 99designs.com and fiverr.com and similar. I would never imply that there aren’t good designers on these websites. But they are forced to work on spec (that’s a topic for another post) and they are forced to compete against many other under qualified designers delivering sub-par work simply to fit within a budget, a timeframe, or other limiting factor.
I understand the importance of competition and I understand the value of the market place setting the standard for prices and deliverables. But design is a mix of art and science. The truly great artists will seldom spend their valuable time creating work on spec in a public setting with no commitment or interest from the business securing their services. What remains are those designers eager to make a name for themselves or simply deliver a lesser quality of work for the purpose of winning a quick payment.
Crowdsourcing Kills Creativity
It seems ironic almost to think of crowdsourcing as killing creativity but it’s true. When a project is put out on display in public for design submissions as is the most common practice on crowdsourcing sites the result is often the same. The buyer places their ideas in a brief for how they would like to see the design, often specifying colors, similar logos they like, and any other aspects they would like conveyed. Everyone gets the same brief. But then things begin to unravel. The first “round” of designs which the buyer reviews will be the most original they will ever see. After this step they will have effectively destroyed all creative elements of the design process and it comes down to designs being iterated upon until one is selected. Again, this might sound great but it’s not. The reason this process is bad is simple. Everyone is able to see the feedback the buyer provides on the submitted designs. This means everyone sees which designs the buyer prefers and the feedback they like. Even if a site offers to hide the feedback but allows the selecting of good designs and the removal of rejected ones the result is the same.
Creativity dies as every designer must begin consolidating all designs around the few selected favorites by the business owner. No longer is the designer in charge of creating a unique and memorable design, but instead they are no relegated to mimicking the favorited designs. Goodbye creativity.
Crowdsourcing Encourages Stealing
Some may suggest that the previous point also deals with stealing in the sense that all the designs begin to converge and as a result similarities from the favorited designs begin to appear in every other designer’s work. There is, however, a much greater form of theft which plagues these crowdsourcing design websites. Crowdsourcing design has serious limitations as mentioned above. Time is tight, the payout is even tighter and the pool of designers is huge. All of these forces combine to make a compelling reason for designers to cut corners. The temptation to steal existing designs, make minor modifications and pass them off as original works of art is too great. This leads to very unfortunate outcomes. First, the designer has compromised their own sense of ethics by stealing the work of another designer. Second, the buyer suffers by unwittingly believing they are purchasing an original design when in fact they are merely receiving a stolen, plagiarized copy. This can lead to disastrous results. In the case of design work where the new design will represent a brand it is of utmost importance to have original, copyrightable designs.
Crowdsourcing puts unhealthy pressure on designers to steal previously created art and other copyrighted work in an attempt to meet the tight deadlines, high competition, and low payouts of design contests.
As I mentioned there are certainly benefits to crowdsourcing and even for crowdsourcing designs. But I would always insist that buyers be very cautious, and designers should be vigilant. If you are a business purchasing a new design my first word of caution would be to not rely on crowdsourcing for key design elements (think logo, brand identity, etc…); second I would encourage businesses to be very cautious of the origin of any design work chosen. A simple Google image search will often uncover the most blatant copyright infringements. And lastly I’d offer a word of encouragement to designers. Be true to yourself. Be true to your talents and abilities. Don’t sell yourself short, don’t trade your ethics for the possibility of a small payout.
October 27, 2014
The Importance of Appreciation
A Personal Experience
I’ll start this post with a personal story. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this and so I think I will merely share my experiences of a problem many others face. I’m a long-standing United airlines flyer. As my travel requirements picked up significantly so did my trips with United. I was pleasantly surprised to receive drink vouchers when I reached the Gold status level. I was equally surprised to receive another batch when I reached Platinum. When I reached the top tier status Premier 1K, United took the time to send me a note thanking me for my loyalty and a cheap gold hand wrap for my carryon luggage. The little piece of fabric probably cost them a dollar or less but the impact was huge.
Perhaps even more important was the fact that I was not delayed, bumped, or left behind on a single flight the entire year. Every single trip was executed without incident. That settled it – I decided to book as many of my trips for 2014 on United as possible. Even when those bookings meant a bit more of a nuisance to me and my schedule I was willing to do that because of my experiences with United.
Much to my chagrin 2014 has been fraught with delays, missed flights, bumped flights, and a host of other issues. I’ve had more inconveniences, missed conferences, and delays then I thought possible. Now granted there are things outside of United’s control…like the weather. But more than 75% of the problems were in no way related to weather. United seemed to be short-staffed, short-planed, and just in general unable to meet the demand.
And let me tell you there’s nothing worse than finding out that you’ll actually be getting home at 2am instead of 6pm. That phone call to home is not a fun one to make.
The Rest of the Story
But this is only half the story. Unfortunately it seems United has misunderstood the very basic concept of new vs returning customers. I have once again flown an extraordinary number of miles with United and have achieved the various status levels same as the previous year. I’ve done so quicker and with greater overall ticket price than previous as well. There is however, one major difference. I’ve not received a single email from United, not a single letter, not a single voucher.
Honestly I couldn’t care less about a silly letter, a coupon voucher or a handle wrap. But what I do care about is the customer service. The recognition for my loyalty. It wouldn’t have been that hard to make me feel special. And it certainly wouldn’t have cost United much at all (maybe a postage stamp). But instead because I currently hold a status level they have neglected to notice my current travels as I once again achieved that status. It’s the age old problem with keeping current customers happy or winning new ones.
I’ve mentioned it time and again both on my blog and on twitter. Saying thank you, showing appreciation is so easy, so inexpensive, and yet so powerful. There’s no way to describe the feeling a genuine heartfelt word of appreciation can give someone.
The Importance of Appreciation
I am sure I’m not alone in noticing United’s treatment and unfortunately for United, many others like me probably begin to look elsewhere. When recognition and appreciation fails then loyalty falters. I think this is the key point to take away. Sure the debate can wage on whether its easier to get a new customer or retain an existing one. But at the end of the day what matters is if a company recognizes and appreciates those customers who demonstrate loyalty to their brand. If a company fails to acknowledge loyal customers they will soon be left without them.
Lesson to Learn
What does all this mean? It means for one thing, United better figure out what they are doing or they’ll lose existing customers faster than they can win new ones. But more importantly it means there’s a valuable lesson we can learn from this example. We should each be sure to take the time to appreciate loyalty. Again, it doesn’t take much. Just say thank you. Write a note, send a tweet. Find some way to express gratitude. Appreciate and recognize the efforts your customers have made and you’ll find you have a customer for life.
October 17, 2014
A UI Treat from Yosemite
This may sound silly. In fact you may laugh at this but I have to share it anyways. Recently as some of you know I had to send my laptop back to Apple because the video card in it went kaput. It just quit working and was making the computer constantly shutdown. When I got it back I found out they had completely wiped the hard drive. I was going to have to start completely over setting up my environment. Oh the pain. All the work I’d done configuring multiple versions of PHP and my local development tools. Oh well, the screen looked amazing and the video card was working.
I decided as long as I was having to start fresh I might as well download the latest release of OS X and play around with Yosemite. I had previously watched the keynote when Yosemite was announced and I must admit I wasn’t taken by anything spectacular. Nothing made me catch my breath or decide I had to have it (obviously as I hadn’t downloaded it before). But now that I was starting fresh I had nothing to lose. So off I went to download the beta.
The Search Command
While I still don’t see huge change or differences which make me really amazed there are a few things which I have found I absolutely love. I’ll share two very quickly. First for those that know how I work I am always on the keyboard. I rarely use the mouse and try to do as much as I can without moving my hands from my keyboard. As a result the CMD+Space shortcut to launch search and then type the program I want to use is a huge favorite of mine. It’s almost second nature to hit the key combo and look to the top right to begin typing the app name. Well, with Yosemite they’ve brought this feature front and center – literally. Now I can look in much larger font and much more detail as I enter the program name. It’s pretty cool.
The Context Menu
The second feature is much more subtle. It’s incorporated in several different layouts but I notice it most when using the right click. I think they’ve called it the frosted glass look. It’s subtle, but I love it. Something about the semi-transparent nature of the context menu just feels right. I don’t know quite how to describe it or quite what I would say is the reason for my love. But I enjoy it. Now I admit I don’t see it much because I use the keyboard mostly (refer to the point above), but when I do find myself using it I like it.
Yosemite and You
If you have the opportunity to try Yosemite take a look at these features and see for yourself. Sometimes the little UI treats are the most important. I think that’s a great lesson to take away. It’s not the next game changing operating system and it doesn’t do something completely revolutionary, but the little things matter. The little touches which make something stand apart are critically important. Remember this as you’re working on your next project. What is your frosted glass moment? What can you add to make your users’ experience unlike anything else?
September 17, 2014
Quicker Decision Making
Everyone has to make decisions. Some of those decisions are big, life-altering types of choices. Some decisions are mini half-second opinions. Most of us make those micro decisions quickly and without much thought. But when it comes to the large decisions we hesitate. If we’re honest with ourselves sometimes we wait too long. It doesn’t really matter whether we know the right choice already, we still wait. Sometimes this comes from a fear of failure, but sometimes it comes simply because we don’t like the idea of change.
Wait! I’m not going down that rabbit trail. I am talking today about a different aspect of decision making. Making the hard business decisions. Doing what you know should be done but have waited to do. Procrastinating on decisions already determined. Got it? I’m not talking about rushing into decisions which should be discussed, reviewed, and debated with team members. These are the decisions you’ve already made but don’t implement.
Delaying the inevitable
I’d like to look at only those decisions where you already know the answer or the choice you need to make. To be clear – I’m not debating the question, doubt, or uncertainty of whether or not a decision should be made or a change should be undertaken. I’ve written about that in other posts. Today is looking specifically at those times when you know the right decision but you hesitate in making it. You are only delaying the inevitable. Here’s three ways to help make quicker decisions.
1. Listen to Others
I’m writing this post directly from personal experience. Recently I had to implement a new software solution in the office. We needed just the right system. There were several available options we found on GitHub (because we love open source). I was evaluating them and almost immediately there were some questions raised in regards to one solution. It was written in a different language and required a unique server setup. But I liked it. It looked “pretty” and it seemed like it would do what I wanted. Almost 16 work hours later..I gave up on it. This particular solution just wasn’t ready and if I had listened more to others I might not have tried to make it work as long as I did.
2. Watch the Clock
I touched briefly on this point in the previous paragraph. As you are working through your choices and following your first-choice decision keep an eye on the time you’ve spent. Don’t forget that if you have multiple people working with you on your project then you have to account for all those hours. Yesterday it was two of us working through my first choice and therefore the time spent was doubled. Keeping a close eye on the amount of time spent as you pursue your choice will help you as you determine whether or not you should continue. Quicker decision making means being ready to pull the plug on something and move on if your time involved becomes too great. Be decisive. Be ultra-controlling of your time.
3. Learn from Past
This is a quote by Albert Einstein which I absolutely love. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We laugh and believe we would never be that way but the reality is too often in every day decision making we do this very thing. It’s insane. We believe we have the answers and we forget the lessons we’ve learned in the past. We can help make our decision making better and faster if we learn from our past.
I believe I am making quicker decisions than I used to make. Of course remember I am referring to those decisions where I already know I need to make the decision but procrastinate in actually doing so. It’s a learning process. It’s probably a never-ending learning process. More (and better) experiences help to re-enforce a constant observance of how to improve decision making processes.
By the way, we did scrap my first choice and move to a better solution. The results have been fantastic. The new tool ends up being far far better. I only wish I had been even quicker in my decision making and done what I new would be better earlier; but oh well, live and learn.
Keep this in mind. You only have so much time. Your life is limited and your time is the most valuable asset you have. Don’t squander it. Especially when you already know the decision which needs to be made.
September 12, 2014
How Detail Oriented Are You?
We’ve all seen pictures like this. In fact, I love how some like to point out their “unique ability” to find more than the listed 3 differences or 3 changes. What is the underlying premise they are bragging on? What’s the thing that people who enjoy examining these types of pictures have in common? They like to be detail oriented.
The detail oriented person has several advantages and benefits.
First, the individual focused on the details is more likely to put together a polished product. They’ll be paying attention to the little details which make their product amazing and stand apart from the rest. Secondly, taking the time to make sure every detail is correct means you probably are a bit of a perfectionist. You’re focused on providing the ultimate experience to the end user and have the goal of creating a product which works exactly as it is expected to work. Third, if you pay obsessive attention to the little things means you are more than likely interested in continual improvements and upgrades which will make your product a perfect fit your target audience.
So there’s three ways in which paying attention to detail is beneficial to a company and a product. But unfortunately it’s not always a positive.
The detail oriented person must be careful to not fall into any of these common traps.
If you are too focused on the details you can miss the big picture. You’ll be so consumed with the minor details you will fail to see large scale problems which you need to prioritize first. Secondly, the detail oriented person can sometimes be accused of never releasing because they are forever tweaking the product. The perfectionist in them refuses to let them release something they are not 110% satisfied with. While there is a time and a place for corrections and improvements it can also keep you from ever releasing anything if you’re never satisfied. Lastly focusing on continual improvements and upgrades can lead to scope creep. The desire to completely satisfy every need and every potential use case can lead to adding so many features to a product that you lose your focus and the core problems you set out to solve.
It’s not always the final answer to be detail oriented. In fact it looks a bit like you have to balance on each of the above points between being too focused on the details and not being focused enough.
I guess this is personal confession time. I tend to be guilty of being incredibly detail oriented and focused. I look for the little things which will make the user experience incredible and pixel perfect. Yes, I do mean pixel perfect. This kind of thing is unacceptable:
Detail Takes Time
The problem is the time it takes to be that detail oriented. I won’t share the amount of time I spend on fixes like this and others. I believe they have to be right and they have to be pixel perfect. I won’t apologize for it but I will say I have to keep an eye on my time involved and make sure I don’t become a victim of the above failures. I know I’m definitely different but don’t believe I’m alone. I believe there are many people similar to me (or at least I hope there are).
I want to leave you with one question – How detail oriented are you? Should you be more focused on the pixel perfect minutia which will make your product pop? Or maybe you should be a little more relaxed and make sure you actually ship a product? Wherever you are in the spectrum I’d encourage you to stop and think about it. Make sure you’re still making progress towards your goals. Don’t get stuck never releasing a product and don’t sacrifice your product for a release date. Think. Act. Succeed.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
September 11, 2014
How to be Memorable
One thing every good business wants is to be remembered. This will inevitably lead to future sales and greater growth. If our businesses and our marketing must be designed to make our company or organization more easily remembered by our audience then we must look at how to be memorable.
I’d be foolish to attempt to tell you that these 6 tips will make you instantly memorable. There are of course no set guidelines which will guarantee your organization or company will remain in someone’s memory…this isn’t Inception. However, here are six things to get you started.
Listen more than you talk
The art of listening is one which I’ve mentioned previously and one which is more than likely the most difficult on this list to do well. Listening when your job is in marketing is even more difficult because social media networks try to focus your attention purely on active sharing of information instead of nurturing the one-to-one connections which happen when you are listening.
When you listen to someone when they speak you will be remembered as thoughtful and caring. But this leads directly to the next point.
You must be genuine when you listen and respond to someone. Your attempt to engage and connect with your audience involves listening and responding with true interest in their situation. If you are not genuine you will most definitely be discovered. When you are in marketing in particular your community, your audience will be more aware then ever to your intentions and your motives. If they are not genuine then your audience will distrust anything further you attempt to share.
Your genuine interest and interaction with people will make you memorable for your personal touch.
Ask good questions
One way to encourage good listening and help assist you in being genuine is to ask your audience good questions. When you ask the right questions you’ll demonstrate that you are indeed listening to their situation and you care about their needs. Asking the right questions will cause you to think about the person you’re speaking to and what matters to them. Good questions are leading questions. Questions which require the other person to give sentence responses. In other words, not yes or no answers. These closed answer questions quickly turn a conversation into an interrogation.
If you’ve ever talked with someone and they have asked questions which showed how you they were truly listening to you and wanting to know more about you then you know how it makes you feel. You remember them for being attentive and wanting to learn.
Share your story quickly
Of course you never want your conversations to be one-sided. You’re not just asking questions and listening. You have to share information too. This isn’t hard. In fact, this is the part of the conversation you’ve been waiting for and if you’re not careful you can quickly become memorable for the wrong reasons. You don’t want to be remembered as the long-winded talker who wouldn’t shut up. Instead you need to share your story but share it quickly. This means practicing your elevator pitch and getting your information shared easily.
When you are succinct in your talking you will be quickly remembered for listening more than you talk and for sharing good information in an easy-to-follow manner. When you’re in doubt you should always err on the side of sharing too little instead of too much.
Be quick to follow up
The conversation and the connection doesn’t stop when you walk away or hang up after the call. Your opportunity to be memorable and your connection with your audience continues on long after the conversation has ended. You can stand out in the other person’s mind by being quick to follow up. Don’t forget their name, don’t forget their answers to your questions. This continues to show your commitment to them and your desire to maintain a relationship. Be genuine in your follow up and legitimately look for ways to speak with them after the meeting.
The follow up is an important way to not only stay in touch but also to make your business or organization memorable in their minds.
Offer to help
The last tip I’d like to leave you with in your desire to be remembered (at this point you have listened well, you have asked good questions, you’ve followed up) you are in the best position possible to help them. That’s right. You can offer your assistance in helping them in any way you can. Perhaps you can directly assist them because of your expertise or your field, but even more importantly, you may not be able to directly help them, you can help them indirectly. Connect them with the right people. Make introductions and genuinely demonstrate your desire to see them succeed.
If you offer to help (especially seeking nothing in return) you will be remembered as someone unique, someone special. A person who is interested in more than just a simple sale or self-serving purpose.
You can be memorable. It’s not difficult and with just a little bit of thought you’ll be implementing these six tips and increasing your chances of being remembered. It’s important to keep in mind that just because we are practicing specific ways to be more memorable we are always doing it with the right motivations and the right emphasis. It comes down to being genuine. You must be genuine above all. Love what you do and be passionate about the things which motivate and drive you. Share what you believe and make strong, lasting connections with others.
September 10, 2014
Open This Email
I’m keeping it short today. You’ve probably got a busy day today especially after losing several hours yesterday to the Apple Debacle and their supposed Live Event. This probably just means your day today will be a little extra hectic. Remember as you go through your day today that many of the people you’re about to contact or send an email to probably also have a busy day.
Because you’ll be sending email today, and because the people you send them to are probably just as busy as you are I want to give you 5 tips to help get your email read.
1. Keep it short
Don’t use 100 words when 10 will do. Be concise and straightforward. Leave off the fluff parts of the email. This doesn’t mean you have to lose your personality or be any less polite in your email but removing the extra sentences and words which just muddy the water and make the email longer than necessary will make your correspondence easier to read and understand. Here’s a great article on the subject of short emails. Mentioned in this article is the somewhat popular http://five.sentenc.es/ website.
2. Give a single call to action
I confess I’m an email skimmer. I’ll glance quickly over an email and see what the purpose is almost immediately upon opening one. I want to see what the point or call to action is within the email. If you want your email to be read and then some action performed as a result you need to make sure your email is extremely clear and to the point. Don’t give 3 or 4 different purposes in a single email. If you do you can be sure your email will be ignored or at the best-left for later.
3. Use short sentences
Use short sentences instead of making your email a long and elaborate story-telling experience with multiple compound sentences. If your email is merely an opportunity to share information then you can be more elaborate but if your purpose is to illicit an action then keep your sentences short. Short sentences promote skimming. Keep your thoughts succinct. Keep your words precise.
4. Time it right
When sending emails consider the time that it will arrive in the inbox of the other person. Is it the middle of the night? Is it during an off-peak time? You should find the peak time to send your email and then structure your email to be sent during that time. There are a number of tools for desktop email delay and sending at specific times. All modern email newsletter tools (e.g. Mailchimp) let you specify when your newsletter or email will be sent. Take advantage of this feature.
5. Know your audience
Never start an email with To Whom It May Concern. If you are taking the time to write an email to someone and you expect them to take the time to respond or do something for you the very least you can do is know to whom you are writing. You can almost guarantee your email will be ignored if you don’t take the time to know your audience. Write specifically. Write directly.
I told you I’d keep it quick today. I hope you’ll be just as quick when writing your next set of emails. They are simple tips really but you’ll be surprised how many times you forget them when composing your email messages. I personally always struggle with the first tip. I find reading and re-reading my emails before sending gives me the chance to simplify and refine my message.
Make today a profitable one for you and send some good emails!
September 9, 2014
Should Apple Change Their Presentation Style
The date is the 9th of September 2014. It’s a Tuesday. We’re about to experience in a few short hours the annual Apple event. As we get ready to once again revel in the anticipation, the excitement, and the thrill which has accompanied each of these occasions I think it’s a good time to discuss why or when you might change a good thing. When should you change a good thing?
Apple’s Presentation: A Good Thing?
The good thing I refer to of course is the standard presentation style that Apple uses to deliver its product announcements. I assume most of you (if not all) have seen an Apple product announcement at one time or another. In case you haven’t here’s a few samples.
Yep, there’s some definite similarities. In fact you might see a very distinct pattern and wonder if that level of repetition is a good thing or if it’s time for a change. Regardless of your belief of Apple’s particular product announcements, here are 4 quick tips to consider when thinking of change.
1. Repetition can be overdone
As you can see from the above videos there is an opportunity for competitors and other market leaders to capitalize on the repetition by mocking the similarities between videos. Here are a couple of the most humorous.
Yes, repetition can be overdone and can be dangerous (if you’re not the size of Apple) and even when you are the world’s most valuable business. Be careful that your repetition doesn’t leave you vulnerable to your competition.
2. Innovation requires change
Innovation usually takes the form of new products, new ideas, or something revolutionary to an existing market. These innovations come in the form of a change to an existing status quo. The best way to help innovation is to encourage change. When you don’t encourage change you stifle the possibilities for innovation.
Yes, I realize we watch those Apple videos and each is announcing an “innovative” and “revolutionary” product. But innovation covers more than just the product. Innovation must also occur in the marketing message and in the sales strategies. When you innovate be sure you innovate everywhere.
3. Stagnation means death
Stagnation is the third thing to consider when trying to determine if change is necessary or need. If you’re not moving, you’re drowning. It’s a popular expression and one which frequently means if you’re not changing and improving then you’re business is destined to fail. While there is absolutely something to be said for consistency and for remaining stable this does not mean you cannot continue to improve your product. You should always be looking for ways to improve and grow because as my last point suggests…
4. Nothing is perfect
That’s right. Nothing is perfect. There is always room for improvement and change. Everything created, no matter how wonderful, how innovative, or how revolutionary the product might be. You must always be looking for what will make your product, your idea, or your business better. Don’t lose sight of your vision or the reasons you are in business. If you have not achieved those goals then your vision compels you to continue improving your product. This improvement requires changes. Don’t become lazy or accept mediocrity in your business.
Change can be difficult, there’s on doubt about that fact. There is an element of fear involved in change. Don’t be afraid of change. Also equally important is be sure you know when and why to change. Consider that repetition can be overdone, innovation requires change, stagnation means death, and nothing is perfect. I hope those 4 quick points are helpful as you consider Apple’s grand announcements today. Enjoy the presentation, appreciate the experience, and learn from the best (whether it be a good or a bad example).
September 8, 2014
Movement or Action
We all know people who are so busy they meet themselves coming as they are going. The frantic, fast-paced lifestyle tends to be a badge of honor amongst United States workers especially. If we’re ragged, worn, and constantly moving then we must be successful or at the very least critically important. But this great quote by Ernest Hemingway comes to mind frequently in those situations.
“Never mistake movement for action.”
– Ernest Hemingway
As a society (and again because of my geographic location I will focus heavily on the United States) Americans seem to have lost the concept of action and replaced it with movement. I see people who are consumed with staying busy rather than productive. Being busy is not the same as productive. Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you are active. Or rather, just because you are moving does not mean you have taken action.
I am important
I realize staying busy gives a sense of importance, of self-worth, and of the vital role we must play within our jobs if we are so busy we cannot stop to eat. But if we are not measuring our outcomes and pointing to our performance as proof of our movement’s value then we are merely moving for the sake of moving. We’re merely being busy. Here are 3 quick ways you can check to see if you have movement or action.
Work for a purpose
The first thing I check when I am feeling extremely busy is what I am working towards. What is the purpose or goal of what i’m doing? Is there a reason why I am so busy and not just why I am busy but more importantly – what am I hoping to accomplish. And I force myself to be specific. I can’t use excuses such as, “I’ve got to keep my job” or “Someone has to do these things.” Those generic reasons are not a purpose for movement. Those generic answers are excuses.
A better purpose for movement would be something like – “I am working this much or I am this busy because I have a deadline with an investor scheduled for Monday at 9am and I must get X, Y, and Z done beforehand.” A reason like this not only proves you are moving with purpose but also helps you to refine your tasks to better accomplish the goal.
When I find myself incredibly busy I will most days evaluate my progress at the end of each day. This helps me ensure I’m actually doing something profitable. I want to work for a purpose and I want to be sure I’m not simply moving. If I am making progress on my goals then I know I am doing it right. When those times come where I get to the end of a day and feel mentally and physically exhausted but cannot point to clear progress made throughout the day I realize I’ve been moving too much.
There’s something important in that last sentence. When I get to the end of a day and cannot point to clear progress…to be able to point to progress means I must have a set of goals or a purpose to my work. Not just “make it through the day” (though sometimes I admit that sounds like a hard enough job in and of itself). But rather I must set out to accomplish clearly defined goals which will help me to arrive at my final completed work. I cannot evaluate my progress without them.
I’ll never forget the impact the father in the book Cheaper by the Dozen had on me. Frank Gilbreth was a time and motion study expert. I learned so many little ideas from that book. In fact I don’t want to go into too much detail about that now because I plan to write an entire post on him. The bottom line is simple. Always be looking for ways to improve your efficiency. I want to make sure I’m acting with a purpose and making progress, and doing all of it in the most efficient way possible. The more efficient I can become the more I can accomplish.
The goal is to be less busy and yet more productive. I want to increase my efficiency by scheduling tasks in the right order, by prioritizing my workflow and my meetings so each builds on the previous and the end result is progress and goal completion.
We all end up being busy at one point or another. We all end up moving at a ridiculously fast pace. I am certainly not speaking out against that. I’d be the worst offender of all if that were the case. Rather, I’m speaking out against movement without action. As Mr. Hemingway so aptly put we should never mistake the two. When we find ourselves the busiest this is when we should pause for a moment and evaluate ourselves. Use these three quick points to check and see if you are moving or active.
September 5, 2014
The Importance of an Organized Desk
If there’s one thing I wish I could maintain better its my desktop. No, not my virtual desktop on my computer, that one is, in fact, surprisingly sparse. In fact at this very moment there are exactly zero items on my laptop desktop. I find it much easier to keep this space uncluttered then the one which lives in my physical world. This got me wondering if an organized desk is actually important.
But I’m a creative genius…
I have always heard a cluttered desk is a sign of creativity. I like to think of myself as creative and therefore believe a messy desk proved to the world the extreme level of my awesomeness. Based on the number of paper piles, writing utensils, and sticky notes littering my desk (along with envelopes, plates, cups, and more) I was clearly the undiscovered creative genius of the decade. But perhaps these are just excuses I used to keep myself from worrying about keeping my desk clean. I decided to do a little digging into what others would suggest are the benefits of a clean desk. I’ll leave them here for you to decide if you agree.
A clean desk demonstrates organization.
Don’t laugh. It’s true, when an office desk is clear of clutter, excess paper, and all the various and sundry tidbits which litter a desktop it demonstrates an individual who is organized. An organized person is someone you can rely on because they have clearly introduced structure and reason into their environment. If someone is reasonable then you can trust them with making logical decisions and choices which will best accomplish the tasks they are given. Cleaning a desk demonstrates a level of organization.
Notice that the title of the article is an organized desk. Not a clean desk, not an empty desk. Organization means you have a methodology and a space free of clutter and randomness. Introducing order and structure can be done without being empty. By the same thought then a clean desk is not necessarily an empty desk. A clean desk merely means organized.
An organized desk shows priorities
If you keep your desk organized then you are automatically keeping yourself in a constant mindset of prioritization. While you organize the papers on your desk you’ll find you think about it and where it belongs in terms of what needs to be done. Sometimes you can quickly place it in the trash and you have one less thing to be concerned about. When you maintain an organized desk you show dedication to a continued focus on priorities. Your clients, your boss, your employees will all see this very visual representation of your ability to be consistent in managing your priorities. Keeping your desk organized means you value prioritization.
An organized desk helps the environment
If you can keep your desk organized and free of paper you are helping reduce the paper usage in your office. Recycle and remove paper and give the impression that you discourage others from delivering paper to you. Think about it. If someone walks into your office and they see a clean and organized desk free of paper they’ll be much more hesitant to place a paper on it. But if instead they saw a sea of cluttered and jumbled papers pouring over the edge of your desk they’d assume one (or one dozen more) won’t really matter.
Paperless offices are wonderful at this but far too rare. Maybe craft a small sign on the corner of your desk which simply states, “Consider the environment before leaving paper on this desk.”
An organized desk saves you time
Ok, so the above three reasons are great and worthwhile reasons and sure there’s value in each of them. But let’s be honest with each other, none of those reasons are quite compelling enough to make you keep an organized desk. We drink a coffee from a reusable cup to help preserve the environment! But this last reason, this reason right here is the one reason which grabs attention, and forces me to keep my desk spotlessly clean.
We all need more time. There’s never enough time to get everything done that needs to be done in a day and an organized, clean desk gives us more time. You won’t waste time searching through stacks of paper to find the information you need. In fact there have even been studies done about just how much time you lose! The bottom line is simple – an organized desk saves time.
A desktop challenge
There you have it, the single most important reason why an organized desk is important. So for this end of the week wrap-up I’ll leave you with a simple challenge. Organize your desk. Save yourself some time by spending a little time organizing your desk. Then once you’ve realized that you’re not only saving time but you’re also helping the environment, improving your prioritization, and being cleaner and more organized you’ll realize it really is worth it. Don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. See if your lifestyle and work environment change as a result of an organized desk. Trust me, we will all still know you’re ridiculously creative.
September 3, 2014
Making Onboarding Easy
This article is applicable to both communities as well as business. That may seem rare but I think it’s more common than we first think. The term onboarding refers to the process by which a new employee is brought “up to speed” on the way a company conducts their business.
This onboarding is often unique to a particular company or community but even with the differences there are a few techniques which can be used everywhere to make the process easier. We use these same principles when hiring new developers at WebSpark. I’m not saying these should be applied everywhere or that it’s the perfect process but I’ve found it works pretty well and is incredibly easy to implement. Here is a 5 step onboarding plan for new team members .
You have to be friendly. The first thing to do is introduce people. Make the new guy/girl feel welcome. You don’t want to cause them to feel as if they are an outsider from the beginning. Immediate inclusion in the group is important. Let them see the atmosphere which should permeate your community and the culture which embodies your team.
Remember how you felt when you were joining a new group for the first time. Remember the things which made you feel most relaxed and most comfortable.
When you’re introducing someone new remember to start small. Don’t immediately throw them into a group chat with two dozen others who are all well-acquainted with each other already. There’s nothing like stepping into a chat and feeling like every sentence is an inside joke between friends and you’re not included.
Start small when introducing someone new. Grab a few team members and hop into a side conversation. Make the new team member feel comfortable and at ease within this smaller circle before introducing them into a group chat.
Make sure the newcomer is aware of the various communication channels used by your company. This is especially important when you’re working in a distributed or remote work environment. If you use a particular chat messenger (we use Slack), if you have a team project management system or other online tools which you use regularly as a team make sure your new team member is aware of them and knows how to use them.
In a community its important to know not only where the general community is talking but also where the different working groups and teams are communicating.
The next thing we do at WebSpark with a new employee is partner them with someone else. Usually this person is someone working on the same project they are working on. By partnering with someone they again feel as if they are part of a team and not left to work on their own. When just beginning on a new job it can be intimidating to feel as though you have no one you can speak with talk to or feel as if you are working side-by-side with on the tasks you have.
Communities are the same way. When a new volunteer joins a working group there should be a person assigned to partner with them. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn. Nothing encourages involvement better than the feeling of having a partner in work. You’re not alone. You’re not searching blindly for answers. You have a partner.
Beat a deadline
The last of the initial five step onboarding process is setting easily accomplished deadlines. The sense of accomplishment for seeing a task completed is invigorating and inspiring. Whether its relevant to a particular job or merely something needing to be done the feeling of having successfully navigated the process and finished a job successfully is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a community or in a company the process should be the same.
Communities have a great opportunity to encourage this confidence. There is always a list of things to be done and never enough time to do them all. New volunteers can be shown some of these items and with their partner work through them. They’ll feel great getting something done and the community will be strengthened.
The process of onboarding someone to the team is certainly more in-depth and at WebSpark involves a few more steps, there are of course legal and HR issues to be addressed and other things which must be handled with a new hire, but when we look at companies and communities these 5 onboarding tips are applicable to both.
Onboarding is a delicate and vitally important process which if not done correctly will lead to a high turnover rate and ultimately a low success rate among team members. I’ve learned quite a bit over the past decade and these five simple tricks have helped me a great deal both in community and company environments. Hopefully some of these will help you as well.
September 2, 2014
Magic and Content Marketing
Magic is one of those occupations that has a mix of lovers and haters. Some dislike feeling tricked, or not being “in the know” about how something is performed. Regardless I think there are some similarities between performing magic and the art of successful content marketing. Yes, magic is an art and so is content marketing. Here are four questions you should ask about your content marketing.
Where are your users looking?
One of the first things magicians and sleight-of-hand artists learn is the skill of misdirection. Causing your audience to watch one hand while the other hand performs the trick. Hmm, deception, how does that relate to content marketing.
Well of course we don’t want to encourage deception in our writing, but there’s another principle that must first be learned that is far more important than deception. The magician must know exactly where their audience is looking. They must command their audience and draw their eyes to exactly what they want them to see. As a content marketing expert you want to be so in touch with your audience that you know exactly where they are looking and what will keep them looking. You want to draw their eyes to what you want them to see.
Are you entertaining?
There’s no doubt that sleight-of-hand artists are entertaining. You can’t help but watch them somewhat mesmerized when they are performing a trick. You want to see every move, every split-second action. You’re highly engaged and entertained. Just the same, you as a content marketing artist must make people feel entertained while they are reading what you write. It’s no longer just a manual or a blog article about a new feature for a piece of software. It’s an opportunity to entertain.
This means because you know where your audience is looking and because you are in touch with what interests them you can now craft a story, an intrigue, a heartbreak, or a comedy which captures their hearts and engages them in what you are sharing. You must be entertaining. You must be engaging. Your content is your stage from which you can mesmerize the world.
Are you exciting?
Magic is exciting because the user knows what to expect and yet is still fooled. They are drawn into the illusion and the magic of the moment. When you craft content marketing you have an opportunity to excite. Yes, of course the user may know what to expect and yet you can still surprise and delight them through your delivery methods. Be exciting in the sentences you construct and the words you use to deliver your message.
Content marketing is not just business. Yes, it has many real-life applications and uses. But we should never forget that our content is a way to communicate, excite others, and stir within them a passion for the thing which drives and motivates us. Your words can empower people. You can excite your audience to do more.
Are you encouraging questions?
If you’ve ever watched a magic show you’ve seen audience members shocked, amazed, entertained, and excited. Then the questions start to come out. They want to know how the trick was done. They want to know more. They want it to be performed for them again. A good artist will be at home with their audience, will encourage interaction, and will welcome the opportunity to establish a more personal interaction.
As a content marketer you want to do the same. Content marketing is about engaging with your audience; sharing relevant information and encouraging questions. Good marketers leave their audience wanting to know more and asking questions. Great content marketers not only cause their audience to ask questions but they provide answers as well. Suddenly the content has come alive and become a channel by which the writer and the audience share a bond.
Are you practicing?
One thing every magician or sleigh-of-hand artist will tell you is the importance practice plays in their success. I’ve heard stories of magicians practicing a single trick for thousands of hours before ever showing it to the world. They want the illusion to be perfect. They want the mystery to be captivating and the trick to be flawless.
Content writing is also a skill which must be practiced. Your words must be chosen carefully and thoughtfully and the more you practice writing beautiful sentences the better you will become. You should want your writing to be flawless. There is not a day which goes by when I don’t see an imperfection a flaw, or a mistake which I could have done better in my writing. I see each day as an opportunity to practice more.
My wife laughs at me because I constantly go back, read and re-read my posts and then chagrin over how they could have been improved.
Magical Content Marketing
You can be a content marketer. You can be great at writing a thousand words a day without blinking an eye. Perhaps you are quite good at creating captivating posts. There is always room for improvements. We can all become better, hopefully these four questions playfully comparing content writing to magicians and other artists help to look lightheartedly at ways in which we can continue to improve our craft.
We are artists. We must be flawless in our execution, engaging in our delivery, exciting in our content and magical in the experience we create. Let’s practice a bit more magic when performing content marketing.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
August 29, 2014
Paying When It Hurts
There are always those moments when things get tight in your business. Whether a client has delayed on paying their invoice, or the workload vs. employee ratio has gotten a bit thin between large projects. Whatever the case there are always those times when money is more precious and you want to hold on to as much of it as possible. And yet your bills are still due. And you know of things you need to do to improve your business. I’d like to talk with you about paying even when it hurts.
The best thing to start with is understanding what I mean by paying. There’s two ways people normally look at the distribution of money (or time) to someone else for a product or a service. Either you look at this transaction as an expense or you can look at the transaction as an investment your viewpoint will depend on how you value or look at what you are receiving for that money (time). This is the first major hurdle for most small businesses. Too often they view every transaction as an expense. Because everything is an expense then nothing is a positive transaction, everything is just another drain on resources.
Small businesses need to understand the importance of investments this is one of the major factors which I believe separates small business from medium-big business. More big businesses understand the importance of spending money as an investment rather than merely an expense. Let me give you very briefly 3 ways paying when it hurts is a good thing to do.
1. Paying Proves You Value Your Business
When money is tight and you still choose to invest in your business this demonstrates the value you place on your company. Obviously I’m not talking about bemoaning every transaction and ensuring everyone knows you’re spending every last cent of your revenue on the transaction. But conducting your affairs in such a way as to demonstrate that even though things are a struggle you are continuing to invest in your business will speak volumes not only to your reputation but also to the value you place on your business and its success.
These investments made when times are tough inevitably do more to strengthen your relationships, grow your business, and improve your personal outlook on your company than most other aspects of your daily workflow.
2. Paying Makes You Work Harder
You have two options when it comes to a potential investment. You can complete the transaction, recognize the need for additional revenue, and push harder to achieve it; or you can cancel the transaction, pinch your pennies, and work harder on maintaining your current stockpile of resources. Clearly you can see how the first option will do a couple of positive things for you and your business. First you’ll acquire the asset or resource you perceived as important in the first place. And secondly, you will push yourself to be even hungrier in chasing after additional revenue.
When you invest even in the tough times you encourage and motivate yourself to work harder.
3. Paying Shows Commitment
This final item goes nicely with the first. Not only does paying when money is low prove that you value the business but it also proves you are committed to seeing it succeed. When those around you see you continue to pour your time, money, and resources into a business and work on growing it even during the hard times you prove your commitment. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see that level of commitment and desire for success…I want to do business with them.
Not only personal commitment but corporate commitment is demonstrated when a company focuses on investing in their business even when money is low.
Paying Pays Off
The bottom line is this: paying pays off. You’ll notice throughout each of the three points listed above I referenced the payments as investments instead of expenses. This is the key concept I mentioned at the beginning. You must change your mindset from looking at every transaction as an expense. Once you begin to realize the immense value each of these opportunities presents you’ll be even more ready to continue those investments in the future.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
August 28, 2014
Proprietary Open Source
I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in some business circles where companies are eager to use open source. Open source is the “thing to do” and everyone is doing it. I love it. The more the world uses open source the better. The problem comes when the businesses are using open source but keeping their same closed source mindset! That’s not the open source way. That’s a business interested in open source merely to be included in a trend. That’s a poor attempt at proprietary open source.
What do I mean by proprietary open source? I’m glad you asked! It’s a bit of a contradiction those two words, and yet it seems to be what some businesses try to do. Here’s what I mean.
Protect the Code
The first thing these faux-open source businesses want to do is protect their code. They want to be accepted as open source by the world but they have failed to understand some of the very basic tenants of the open source way. I don’t mean they want to protect the code from being used incorrectly or broken. I mean they want to lock the code down and prevent it from being manipulated, used, or distributed by others. They want to keep the code from being universally accessible. For those who may not recognize those last two words, they are pulled directly from Wikipedia’s definition of open source.
A business cannot be an open source business if they fail to follow the very definition of open source. The right way to protect the code is not obfuscating, encrypting, or otherwise restricting access to the code. Successful open source businesses understand this.
Dominate the Market
The second signal of a false open source company is their singular quest to dominate a market. Of course every business seeks to be successful and success can be enhanced by complete control over a space but this is not the reason to select open source. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being the best or being the company which stands head and shoulders above the rest. But dominating a market should not be the reason a business chooses to be open source.
Make a Profit
Making a profit is an important part of any business. If a business doesn’t make a profit then the business will fold. Of course I would never suggest that a business not seek to be successful. I’m always looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase profitability and grow the businesses I’m involved with. I do mean that if a business selects open source purely with the goal to make a profit then they have not understood the purpose of open source. There are many examples and long debates on open source as a successful business model. This is not my point. A business should not be consumed purely with being profitable and as a result view open source merely as a way to generate revenue.
Miss the Point
When I see a business exhibiting the above symptoms I immediately begin to think they are missing the point. They fail to understand the open source way. The reasons for using and contributing and working with open source are many. I’ve heard countless stories from people I greatly respect on why they work with open source. The more I hear these stories the more stark the contrast becomes when I see someone fighting to keep their code “protected” and keep their business in control of a marketplace. I realize these businesses have missed the point.
Lead the Way
The open source way is indeed a different way of thinking. It requires a dedication and focus on more than a single business. Is your business an open source business? Is your focus on an open source world? There are many, many great resources available to help you as you learn more about open source and doing business in an open source marketplace. Will you be one of them? I encourage you to consider it. Consider promoting open source. Lead the way.
August 14, 2014
Knowing When To Pivot
The idea of pivoting in a business is one of those things not thought of when things are running smooth and business is growing. Often its not until things start “slipping” do you start to hear the rumblings of a “pivot” in the works. What is a pivot? Why should a business pivot? And when should a business pivot? Let’s see if we can answer those three questions.
What is a pivot?
The first question I want to look at is the background, definition, and meaning of a pivot in business. The first thought which comes to my mind is the analogy of a basketball player. If you’re familiar with the sport at all then you’re aware that once you’ve picked up the ball (after dribbling) you are no longer allowed to move both your feet. You’re only allowed to move one or the other. This action is called a pivot. You can pick up one foot but the other must remain firmly planted where it was originally placed.
Business pivots I like to imagine are quite similar. A pivot is when a business identifies its core business is not completely meeting its needs (for a variety of reasons which we’ll see in the answers to our next questions). What a business may choose to do then is to pivot the focus of its business slightly to something different. Similar to the basketball pivot I like to imagine the business keeps one “foot” firmly planted in the culture, goal, and objectives upon which it was founded. Now that we have a basic understanding of a pivot let’s look at the reasons why a business might pivot.
Why should a business pivot?
Business pivots are difficult decisions to make. Sometimes they may be gut-wrenchingly hard. But they can be a necessary part of a business’s evolutionary process. Sometimes it’s the only way for a business to survive. Knowing what a pivot it we need to understand the reasons why you’d want to perform a pivot. Here’s a couple to get us started.
Pivot because market shift
Sometimes in the course of business the market will shift away from what you’ve been doing. This is a common reason especially in the technology industry. The current trends change so quickly it becomes very difficult to keep up with trends and if you’re not vigilant your market can shift away from you seemingly overnight.
Pivot to refocus on core purpose
Another useful time for performing a pivot is when you realize you are not accomplishing your goals or your core purpose. Stop and think about why you got into business. Are those reasons what still motivate you to get up and go each day? Does your team believe what you do is accomplishing your goal? If not then it might be time to consider a pivot.
When should a business pivot?
You may notice that the last sentence of the previous paragraph brought up our next point. It might be time to consider a pivot. If we know what a pivot is and why a business might consider a pivot the last question we’re going to ask today is when should that be done? This is certainly the most difficult question. Along with a pivot comes change.
Many people (customers, community, team members) are averse to the idea of change. Change causes us to stretch ourselves and possibly lose the comfort zone we’ve settled in to. (Ironically this might be the very reason why a pivot is necessary).
Pivot on time
Too many times a pivot comes too late. Business has already lost the market (see the reasons above) or the community, team members have lost the core value and begun leaving the company. A pivot is difficult to time because some of us don’t like change and secondly it’s just plain hard to do. But constantly analyzing and studying the market and the reasons why you do what you do will help you spot early on when a pivot is necessary.
Pivot when necessary
No, that’s not an easy-out type of answer. The truth is you should perform a pivot when it’s necessary. Timing is key and the only way to know when a pivot becomes necessary is if you stay alert and attentive. Don’t get lazy. Don’t be over-active either. The best thing you can do is to be consistent and be constantly pro-actively growing. When you notice shifts that would require a change-pivot. Don’t pivot just because you are bored with the current business environment.
The easy answer is to pivot when your business has faded, but I would suggest this is too late. Be proactive but don’t be over-active. Don’t change for the sake of change but at the same time don’t avoid change because it’s hard. Pivoting when done right can take a business to the next level and keep you successful for many years to come. Know when to pivot.
August 7, 2014
Don’t Be Busy
I know we often hear the admonishment not to be lazy. It’s as though a slower pace and a relaxed view of life is somehow frowned upon. Typically this seems to be more prevalent in Western culture and particularly in the United States. The ideas of being a workaholic is touted as a sign of a tireless worker dedicated to their job.
Busy Does Not Show Dedication
But there’s a subtle (or not so subtle) difference here. There’s certainly something to be said for being active and involved in your work. Yes, we want to make sure that our jobs are done well and we demonstrate our commitment, but that does not necessarily mean we are emailing our co-workers, bosses, or vendors back at 11PM on a Friday night.
The School Day Mindset
In an effort to avoid being labeled as lazy I think we become obsessed with appearing busy. That’s right. Appearing busy. It’s not that we’re doing great things, but instead we’re simply doing busy work. I remember in school how much I hated it when we were assigned busy work to complete at our seats. There was no point no purpose or if there was a purpose it was extremely minor. The work was merely an exercise to keep us busy.
I’m not advocating for laziness. In fact, I am often accused of being too busy. But in reality I try not to be busy but to be something else. Here is the key point. If you only take away one thing from today’s post I want you to remember this: Being busy is not the same as being effective.
Can I repeat that for emphasis? Just because you’re busy does not automatically mean you’re effective. Sure you can quickly fill up your day with menial tasks and responsibilities. You can create busy work for yourself to do. It may appear that you are being highly productive when in fact you may simply be busy. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Being busy doesn’t allow you to accomplish your goals. Being busy just means you’re tired and feeling overworked.
Why should we not be busy?
If we focus on being effective rather than being busy there will be several positive side effects which will result. The first is easy. Being effective rather than busy means you are placing your tasks in priority and accomplishing things relevant to your goals and ultimately your job. If you are filling your time with busy work you will leave yourself less time to do those truly important things which matter far more in the long term.
Your body needs a break
Secondly, if you aren’t forcing yourself to be busy by filling your hours with those unimportant time drains then you’ll find you have a clearer head. You will be able to relax when you’re not working and you’ll feel more refreshed. When you take the time your mind and body needs to recover from a long day (week) then you’ll feel more refreshed and energized to continue working effectively. Your productivity will increase as your busyness decreases. That’s a seeming paradox. The less busy you are the more effective you become. You’ll be spending your time doing those things which really matter.
Your priorities get misplaced
Lastly, when you fill your time with busy work you leave yourself very little time to be effective. You’ll feel constantly overwhelmed because you’re not “finding the time” to get the important things accomplished. Each day those important tasks will be the ones that get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list and then bumped from one day to the next when you ultimately run out of time. Your brain is smart and it knows doing the hard things are hard. They’ll take real brainpower. It’s much simpler and easier to fill the time with menial busywork.
No, don’t be lazy
I’m certainly not advocating laziness. And I realize that sometimes being busy and being effective are one and the same. Those times when you have incredibly tight deadlines or project due dates and it requires a ridiculous level of effort. But those are the exceptions to the rule. In general I recommend be effective not busy. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Being effective is. Accomplishing your goals and feeling that sense of accomplishment is what matters most.
July 31, 2014
6 Ways Leaders Work
I’ve had opportunity to see a wide variety of leadership styles in the various open source communities and business environments I’ve joined. It’s interesting to watch how different leaders work and how they function. Each seem to have a slightly different opinion of what makes a strong leader and what character qualities are most desirable.
Of course leaders come in a variety of sizes and shapes (we’re all unique after all). And everyone has their own opinions of what makes a strong leader. Based on my experience I’d like to share 6 ways leaders work. There are of course others. I’m merely going to point to six which I’ve seen successful from personal experience watching various leaders.
One thing I’d say before beginning my list of six attributes is that I chose my title with purpose. Some would argue leaders don’t work but rather they lead. I would suggest that they are working but simply not in the same way as other team members. These tasks are definitely something which take time and effort and work. Regardless of whether you believe the leader is in the front, beside, or behind the team, a servant leader, or an outspoken forerunner these six ways still apply.
A Leader Identifies Needs and Problems
One of the ways a leader works is identifying needs and problems within a company or project. They must be able to objectively look inward and compare with competition and identify weaknesses (and strengths). I focus on the problems because its quite easy for most to see the positives and the successes. Similarly it’s easy for anyone to point at failures but identifying is more than just seeing them. Identifying implies an entire process of finding, prioritizing, and strategizing how each is handled and addressed. Some may need to be seen and ignored. Others may require immediate action. A good leader must identify each.
A Leader Recognizes Talent
Another important way a leader works in a company or community is through the process of recognizing talent in people. A leader must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each person and help them find the best way in which they can achieve both personal success and professional success. Everyone has unique abilities and certain tasks which they will excel at performing. A strong leader pays attention to the individual. They care for the person and they work to place each person in the role which fits them. As I mentioned this is two-fold because not only must the individual find satisfaction but the overall business or community goals must also be accomplished. Finding the right fit can be a difficult and yet highly rewarding task.
A Leader Motivates and Inspires
A leader has to be always ready to motivate and inspire. When a need or problem has been identified the leader must be then able to motivate and inspire people to solve those problems. It’s not enough to simply identify problems or point to failures. A leader must be capable of motivating solutions to be found. When a leader helps the individual find tasks which suit their needs they also inspire them to make things happen. There is a sense of excitement conveyed by a leader who is capable of motivating and inspiring others.
A Leader Listens
A leader is not always the loudest voice in the room. Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who recognize the value in quiet listening. Participating in active listening (thinking about what’s being said and applying the information) is an important character quality which I’ve seen demonstrated by good leaders. They take the time to listen to the people around them. This helps them identify problems, recognize talent, and also learn how to better inspire people. Listening is often neglected in favor of talking. Strong leaders don’t just shout orders and point the way.
I still remember watching a man I considered a great leader stop before going to an important meeting to listen to an idea of someone else. He didn’t need to stop and I wondered whether he really had the time, but he was making a point. Each person matters and each opinion is important. A good leader listens as much as they talk.
A Leader Shares The Vision
One of the most exciting parts of a leader’s job is sharing the vision. A leader doesn’t have to necessarily create the vision, but many times they have the role of sharing that vision with others. This involves demonstrating a passion for the goals and the plan to accomplish them. I’ve heard it said that excitement can be contagious. A good leader is highly contagious. They want others to see what they see and they want to share the excitement.
This task of sharing a vision can be a difficult job at times. The energy required can be quite exhausting over time, and secondly sometimes personal opinions may differ from the vision. A good leader is able to put personal differences aside when the vision has been decided upon.
A Leader Supports and Encourages
A leader must be always ready to support and encourage those around them. They must endure with resolve. I think this one is sometimes a hard one for leaders. If you look at the previous points a leader must maintain excitement and share a vision, they must motivate and inspire, and they need to actively listen. these are all very physically and emotionally draining. But a leader must continue. Leaders must exhibit endurance to continue the encouragement throughout the project or job. A leader must keep going; past the initial rush and excitement which naturally comes with a new project or a new goal.
A leader must also be a cheerleader. Leaders listen and identify ways to support others through words, through actions, or through connection with others. This task is equally difficult because it requires persistence and patience.
I hope you have been able to identify some ways in which you are a strong leader and even maybe a few ways in which you can improve. I know just writing my thoughts down I see several areas where I can improve in my leadership skills. One this is quite evident as we look through these 6 ways. Leaders definitely work. They may not be completing the tangible tasks identified as milestones on a project but they are absolutely critical to its success.
What ways do you relate to as an individual? What are your leadership strengths? What are your weaknesses? Being able to define those ways you can improve is the first step to becoming a better leader.
July 29, 2014
The Forgotten 20 Year Plan: Part 1
I see lots of talk about the 5 year plan for startups. It’s a popular topic and one which is almost always requested when pitching to investors. A five year plan outlines your strategy, your target market and your ability to grow. Interestingly enough once a business either comes close to, or passes the five-year mark the next milestone that begins to get talked about is the 100 year plan. That’s a huge jump. There must be some spot in between which is important to also follow. Yes I know some companies will already be familiar with this. But for the sake of definition I will call this the 20 year plan.
What’s involved in a 20 year plan exactly? Let’s start by examining what this type of company looks like. In this first part we’ll look at three qualities which a forward-looking company should possess. First, a company which has passed the five year mark has done several things. They’ve proven they have a market which is interested in their services. They’ve also proven they have the determination to succeed as they have passed the all-important five year point. It’s possible they have proven to be agile and able to innovate as the market has shifted. Those are some characteristics of a company which has reached five years. What characteristics will help it reach twenty?
A Strong Supportive Culture
Companies looking to hit the twenty year mark must demonstrate a strong and supportive culture. This ensures the employees are comfortable and happy working in the environment. A culture which encourages its people to take pride in what they do and nurtures their personal growth as well. Strong companies look to support a culture where newcomers can’t wait to become a part. With the right type of culture an incentive package is much more than just another zero on a paycheck.
A Commitment to Improvement
The idea of improving is almost a given. Every company will say they are looking to innovate and improve. The key is showing a commitment to do so. Saying is one thing. Doing is another. In order to structure a company which will continue towards the 20 year milestone you must be willing and committed to improving. I’m using the word improving because the alternate term is somewhat scary to some people. The truth is the successful company must be willing and committed to implementing change. It’s definitely an intimidating thought to some as the idea of change is a difficult one and sometimes painful one for some people.
A Focused Expansion Plan
Successful companies must also be looking at expanding and growing. Anything floating stagnant will eventually drown. In the twenty year plan there must be a measure of attention on expansion. Notice my title though, this is not random growth and expansion I believe it must be a focused plan. It must be one carefully thought out and aimed at accomplishing a specific purpose within the company. The future success of the company depends on making the right decisions for continued expanding without losing focus of the core mission.
I believe the 20 year plan is a good milestone to be added to the timeline of any company. The 5 year and 100 year plans are important and often the most looked at goals when evaluating a company but there is something missing I believe when we look only at the beginning and the end.
Sometimes a company needs to spend time evaluating where they stand at the five year mark and look at the next goal before looking at the end. This is where a twenty year plan makes sense. We’ve just started to touch on what a company would need to have to look forward towards a twenty year plan. In the next article I’ll begin to look more at the details of the plan itself and what I believe companies should put down as goals.
July 28, 2014
5 Ways to Always Win
Small business owners (like myself) are often challenged with proving themselves to others. This is especially relevant when dealing with bigger companies. Something about a big company they frequently like to throw their weight around and prove their value by how many dollars are in the bank, how big their market share, or how many employees they maintain. I find myself struggling at times with how to best respond to those questions and what I personally view as a ‘win’. Of course I’d be lying to say that I didn’t want a business to be sustainable, growing, and profitable. But sometimes I think it’s important to be more specific. Some of the time I like to define some other ways to always win.
I’d like to give you 5 ways you can win at anything. Pick whatever you want apply one or more of these 5 principles and you’ll find you are always guaranteed a win. I know you immediately want to just scan the key points steal the ideas and run with them (or perhaps groan inwardly and close the screen). I’d encourage you to thoughtfully read each point. Perhaps the next time you’re looked down upon to prove your success you can use one of these to bring things into focus.
1. Be The Best
The first of the ways to always win is to be the best. It might sound like an easy way out and not even really a tip, but, simply put, if you’re the best you will win. You will have the better product, the better service, the better opportunity. The first way you can always consider yourself and your business a success is if you truly are better than your competitors. If you have spent time, energy, money – or more commonly – blood, sweat, and tears building your business and you have made your goal to be the best at what you do then you have a reason to say you win. You have defined your market, you have identified a need and you have delivered the best solution. It’s important that the market points to you as the best also. It’s not a label you hang on yourself. Self-proclaimed accolades are of no importance. Be the best because your customers say you’re the best. No one can deny your success when this is the case.
2. Be Confident
If you have worked hard to build your company, if you have listened to the need and focused your time on meeting that need through your product and service then you absolutely must be confident in yourself. If you want to win you must expect to win. This doesn’t of course imply that you never fail. In fact, its rather because of the failures that you can be confident. There’s a quote by Colin Powell which I think fits here.
“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”
– Colin Powell
Note that failure is understood to be a part of the process. Again, I’m not suggesting a foolish confidence but rather a confidence placed in a job well done. Be confident in the road you have chosen the failures and lessons along the way and you will win. Be confident and you will win.
3. Be Determined
The last in this triad is the idea of being determined. If you are determined to win this impacts how you run your business and ultimately decides your success. If you are determined to succeed you will find a way to succeed. You will win if you are determined to win and never give up. This concept of being determined is again not a foolish headlong plunge in a single direction. Your determination should never take the “blinders” approach. The blinders approach is when you set a course of action, define the steps and then march forward like a horse with blinders refusing to look to either the left or the right. This approach is not the right type of determined approach. The better idea is the concept of determined persistence. You’re determined to succeed. You persist in your striving regardless of failures, course corrections, changes in plan until ultimately you achieve your goal. If you are determined like this you will always win.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence…Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
– Calvin Coolidge
These first three methods are the most common. These are the ones you’ve heard before and you probably can relate to because you’ve seen them somewhere else or just generally understood them to be the way in which most business judges wins and losses, successes and failures. I’d like to give you two additional way you can always win. I don’t mean this to be glib or tongue-in-cheek. I earnestly believe these two points are equally important when considering winning.
4. Redefine Success
The next time you start to judge yourself or give account for your business to someone else consider the opportunity to share a different idea about winning and success. I think it’s too easy to look at the bottom line, the dollars, market share, or number of employees when describing a win. In reality there are absolutely other ways to win. Perhaps a better definition of success might be the quality of life you’ve improved for someone else, the spark of knowledge you’ve given to someone else, or the opportunity to celebrate the success of another person as a result of your influence. I believe those are absolutely wins. I consider myself to have succeeded when I see someone else win and I’ve been able to be a part. My business may not have seen a direct increase in sales as a result but that doesn’t diminish the fact that we’ve won indirectly.
Success should not always be measured by Wall Street standards. Redefine success and you will always win.
5. Join Others
The last way you can be sure you will always win comes when you stop looking at your business with an us vs. them mentality. When you join a community, a network of others you have an opportunity. You can share your experiences, you can share your failures and you can learn. Not only does this improve your chances of success as defined in the initial three ways above but perhaps even more importantly you’ll see success in others and you’ll join with them in their victories. Winning does not always mean your personal success. You can also win through celebrating with the wins of someone else.
Similar to redefining success above, joining with others means you’ve won a connection, a relationship, and greatest of all, a friend. Every time I have the chance to develop a lasting friendship with someone else I absolutely consider that a win. You will always win if you join with others.
I hope you’ve sincerely read through the above 5 ways to always win. Of course the idea I want to share is that winning is much more than what we often consider winning when it comes to the business, corporate view of winning. Your business is much more than that single type of winning. Life is much more than a number on a page. You can always win in life if you’ll take the time to truly understand the important things.
July 25, 2014
Community Building 101
One of the most common topics I speak on and work with on almost a daily basis is the topic of community building. How does an organization create, maintain, or grow a community? The topic is an interesting one and often a difficult one. Each community environment is different and unique and requires a thoughtful and focused plan to help nurture and grow from nothing into a powerful, strong, and successful community. The job of community building lies not with one person but with a group of people. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start With A Team
I hinted at the first tip in my introduction. Quite simply the job of community building is not a one person job. In order to build a strong vibrant community you will want to make sure you have a small group of dedicated individuals who share a similar goal and objective. Of course understanding the meaning of a community and the purpose behind a community it should be relatively easily to find a group of individuals sharing a set of goals. If you can’t organize even a few people then perhaps you need to step back and re-evaluate those goals. Make sure you’re forming your community around the right thing. This dovetails nicely with the second tip.
Identify Your Nucleus
In order to successfully build a community you need to provide a nucleus which the community will be able to grow out from. This can be an ideal, a goal, a dream, or something more. The important thing is to have something which serves as the central focus for your community. Work with your team (mentioned above) to identify what your nucleus is and how you want to focus on your central reason for starting a community. This nucleus is vital as it serves as the anchor to which you can always return to as a community as you grow (or shrink).
Create A Catalyst
The next thing you’ll want to do as you build your community is to create a catalyst. Find the thing which will cause your team and those individuals beginning to form around the nucleus to grow. Create an ecosystem where growth is inevitable. Of course there is only so much you and your initial team can do but there are certainly ways in which you can be the catalyst for growth. If you have identified your core values and goals and people begin to join in your community it’s important to give them the encouragement they need to grow. Think of the catalyst as the way in which you light the fire inside each volunteer to become more involved and to get others involved as well.
Define A Culture
The last tip I’ll mention in this post is to properly begin defining your culture. Don’t believe the culture will create itself and automatically appear simply because you’ve begun growing your community. The culture of a community takes thought, planning, and nurturing. You will want to create a culture which reflects your core values; the goals upon which you’ve begun building a community. It’s never too early to begin planning this piece. Community building means planning ahead. Plan for the success you’ll see and be ready to grow at an exponential pace. Having your culture defined and clear for everyone to feel at home and part of the community.
These are just a few tips to get you started in the job of community building. Being a community manager often feels as though the weight of the community is on your shoulders. The reality is a good community manager recognizes it’s not the job of an individual but is a part of everyone’s role in the community. Community building takes time, effort, and thought.
I love the role of community manager because I get to be the enabler. I’m the vocal volunteer encouraging others to get involved. In some ways the community manager is the tangible result of a good catalyst. I get to share the spark with others and fan the flame of the community to encourage others to become a part. Based on my experiences I may share more ideas directly related to the role of the community manager-and I may also share my reasoning why I think the title is wrong.
Community Building is Fun
Building a community is incredibly fun and is an opportunity to reach out to others, make new friends, grow common interests, and be a part of something. I’ve got a million more ideas on community building…not because I’m an expert, more from my own failures than anything else. I’ll probably share more in future posts. I may get into specifics on ways you can help communities grow. Got ideas? I want to hear them. Let’s share our knowledge and improve each other’s understanding.
July 21, 2014
7 Tips For Better Content Marketing
More and more these days I hear of marketing agencies focusing on a “new” form of marketing. The current buzz word? Content Marketing. I’m pretty sure anyone working in marketing for any length of time is well aware of the long and enduring importance of content marketing. This is by no means a new concept to marketing. However, as this has gained greater support I’d like to share 7 tips to help you make sure your content marketing strategy is done right.
To get us started I’ll provide a quick definition for those possibly less familiar with the term and idea of content marketing. There are of course other valid definitions but this one servers our purpose well for what we will discuss today.
Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Based on this relatively standard definition (Thank you Google), here’s seven things you should consider to make your content marketing better.
1. Your Content Should Serve A Purpose
Content marketing is much more than merely putting words on a blog. Content marketing needs to accomplish a goal. You need to make sure you are serving a purpose. Think about the content you’re sharing and the reason why you’re creating it. If you can’t clearly define a purpose for your article then rethink it before publishing. Find a way to connect with your audience, be in tune with their needs and share something which will benefit them.
2. Make Your Content Shareable
This point is more similar than you might think to the first idea. In the first point I say to make sure your content serves a purpose. In this second point you need to make sure that your article is easily shareable so others can quickly send it to others. This is the flip side of the first point. Rather than thinking of the purpose of your content for your reader, think about how your content serves your purpose. Making content easy to share means you must make sure that when it is shared it’s going to help you accomplish your purpose. Consider placing common social sharing tools on or near your article to increase the usability and ease of sharing.
3. Don’t Ramble
Writing content requires time and thought. You can’t just throw words down on a page and hope they make sense. Nor can you write content without thinking through exactly what you want to accomplish. If you try to write content ‘off-the-cuff’ or ‘on-the-fly’ you’ll find you’re much more prone to rambling and getting off topic. When you begin to ramble you will lose the attention and focus of your readers. Staying focused in your writing and structuring your content around a theme or purpose will help ensure you stay true to the purpose you wish to serve.
4. Focus On Your Content Form
One you make sure your writing is serving a purpose (both for your own reasons as well as the needs of your audience) you should make sure your content is well-formed. The careful creation and delivery of an article should demonstrate your attention to detail and your desire to be polished in your approach. The form of your content should show your audience you’ve thought through your article and planned what you wish to share.
5. Be Original In Your Words
Be sure when sharing content you are doing more than merely repeating something already said. Write original and fresh content which serves a purpose and is easy for them to share with others. Be creative and avoid the use of over-used jargon and cliches. One easy way to keep your content original is to make your content personal. Share your experiences, successes, and failures and what you’ve learned as a result. Personal stories and those unique influences are a great way to be original in your content marketing.
6. Use Graphics
Content marketing is more than just words on a page. Content marketing is the use of a variety of techniques to deliver rich content. Sometimes it can be simple to think this rich content should be only textual. But if you think about those content items which you personally found most informative, helpful, or simply easy to share you’ll find the images and graphics used within the article were important in the way you consumed the information. Be sure you use appropriate images in your content marketing.
7. Think Before You Write
I saved one of the most important tips for good content marketing until the last although I’ve hinted at this idea in many of the preceding points. Strong content marketing should aways be done with great thought. A well thought-out piece of content marketing will demonstrate your purpose, will be clearly structured, and will accomplish your goals without rambling. Your audience will appreciate an educated content strategy which encourages sharing and is visually appealing. Think through every aspect of your content marketing and how each individual piece of content contributes to the greater long-term strategy of your business.
Many businesses can feel overwhelmed with thinking about their content marketing strategy and the path they should follow to be successful. These 7 tips should provide some very real methods to make sure your content marketing is effective. If you’re in a business where you are contracting someone else to specifically provide this service then these tips should help you ensure your contractor is doing a good job for you.
I hope these tips prove useful to you and encourage you as you continue engaging in content marketing. Your content is important and can serve an incredible role in the overall marketing strategy of your business. Don’t ignore this valuable resource but rather take these tips and make your content marketing better.
July 18, 2014
The Timing of Inspiration
I don’t know about you but there are frequently times when I’m standing in the shower and a revelation hits me. I am struck with an idea on how to do something better, a product that should be created, or a revolutionary new approach to a situation. There used to be a time when I would grab that dripping wet idea and run through the virtual streets of my mind shouting “Eureka”. However, as I’ve grown older my approach has changed. My thinking on the subject of inspiration has changed. Now the importance of timing inspiration is far more important than before.
What exactly do I mean when I say timing of inspiration? It’s simple really. i have written before that ideas are cheap. It’s not so much the realization of a new product which holds the value. Sure, everyone wants innovation and everyone is looking for that stunning idea. And yes, the concept of innovation and inspiration are closely linked. What I think important to remember (and too often its not) is the timing factor. Simply having that epiphany or realizing there is a solution which hadn’t been thought of previously is not nearly as important as properly timing and executing on that idea.
“Timing in life is everything.”
– John Sculley
Timing the Market
I would like to suggest that the timing of an idea is of critical importance to its longterm success in the marketplace. There are several aspects of timing which need to be considered when discussing timing inspiration for success. What I mean is if you don’t properly plan for and execute your idea then it will be either launched prematurely or delayed past the point of relevancy. Timing is critical. You must determine the exact moment at which the market will be most accepting of your idea and follow your inspiration. If you release too soon then you run the risk of being too far ahead for the mainstream. If you release too late then this means usually either the problem you were hoping to solve has faded or someone else has found a better solution already.
Timing the Work Day
The next part of timing which perhaps carries the most weight of all is the idea of timing the execution of the idea in your work day. You’ve only been given a set amount of hours in which to work each day. (Unfortunately this is the case, if you have found a way around this please let me know). Since we’re limited by time we must maximize every minute for utmost efficiency and longterm success. We have to analyze the potential for success of each idea before blindly chasing each flash of inspiration. If we don’t practice this idea of timing but run headlong after every fleeting idea flickering through our heads the result will be an erratic meandering path without purpose, without direction, and most likely without success.
Timing the Ideas
I left this one for last for a couple of reasons, first the article flows from the broad view of the market to the very specific view of an individual moment of inspiration, but secondly because I wanted this concept to be the final one. The idea of timing ideas is tricky. Inspiration is not necessarily something which happens on command or on a time schedule. As I mentioned in the beginning often I found my inspiration to occur during my morning shower. I said I didn’t go running after each new idea any more quite like I used to, but that doesn’t mean I ignore or forget the idea by any means. Rather, I make a mental note and write the idea down in my idea book which I carry around with me and take a more methodical approach.
Inspiration is not the rushed instantaneous feeling you get when a realization hits you. Inspiration is the well-thought-out execution of a brand-new revolutionary idea at the proper time and in the proper place. Too many times it seems we place all the importance of an idea on the immediacy and almost frenetic pace with which that idea is shared with others. Timing the idea to give it the proper focus allow it the proper steps to be successful is important.
Methodical But Not Slow
So, here’s the bottom line. I’ve learned rather than losing my head and chasing off after every novel idea or moment of inspiration that hits me. I take a more careful approach. I evaluate each inspiration and weigh the risks and rewards of pursuing it. If after this evaluation I determine the idea is still a good one and worthy of pursuit I plan a strategic course for making the dream a reality.
There’s an interesting notion that seems to exist which implies methodical execution is somehow slow and undesirable. That is simply untrue. Methodical means following a plan and having a purpose. This methodical approach can be every bit as quick as any other delivery approach. But the value lies in the checks and balances involved in following a plan. It allows you to evaluate the worthiness of the idea and keeps you from blindly following paths which will not ultimately help you accomplish your goals.
The next time you are struck with an idea think about how you are going to plan for its success. Don’t blindly meander around following every new bit of inspiration that pops into your head. Of course it would be nice if you could heat the butter at the same time as the toast so it spread easier…but is that the best use of your time. Timing your inspiration allows you to organize your ideas for maximum impact. Timing the market, the work day, and the idea itself is ultimately timing inspiration. Practice this approach and see how quickly you accomplish your goals.
July 17, 2014
Are You Social Sharing or Social Selling
There’s an ongoing debate which always occurs when discussing the proper and improper uses of social networks for business and marketing purposes. We hear story after story about people who are considered the blight of social media because every post will be a blatant and over-the-top marketing message for their latest product or service.
I probably don’t need to go into more detail as you know exactly the type of person I mean. (Hint: if your twitter stream contains multiple ALL CAPS posts and more than two hashtags on each you may have a problem.) But just because controversy exists around social media marketing and the potential for abuse is high this does not mean you should not engage in social sharing for your business. The key is following some common sense tips to make sure you don’t become the type of person everyone tries to avoid.
Here are 5 quick tips which I believe will help you keep your social profile free from the dreaded stigma of social spammer and yet allow you to continue to share your business opportunities.
1. Mimic Real Life
Consider your social networks to be the same as an in-person meeting. Would you shout into the face of your friends about your ability to SAVE THEIR BUSINESS simply by using THE GREATEST WIDGET EVER!!! #BIZSECRET #ACTNOW #COUPON. I would sincerely hope you would have enough common sense to never do this face to face when speaking with a friend or colleague. When you are sharing information online it can be easy to think you’re merely shouting into the void. You’re not. Consider the recipient. How does that message look to them? Are you helping them? Remember it’s not all about you.
2. Make Friends
The second tip you should consider when posting to social media is as simple as following the Golden Rule. I would expect everyone knows this principle in some form or another. The concept is easy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I touched a bit on this idea in the previous tip but like to focus on it a bit more in this second idea: Make friends. One of the best ways to make friends? Make yourself friendly. Be a listener and not merely a talker when joining in online discussions. You’ll be a better salesperson but more importantly you’ll be a better friend. Again thinking from the perspective of the other person, you listen to your friends most. This is a delicate subject because you should not seeking to build friendships for the sole purpose of selling something. This leads to the third point.
3. Meet Genuinely
You’re starting the process of making friends and building relationships. Don’t ever make a selling or marketing strategy your purpose for building relationships. Grow friendships organically and for the right reasons. Meet people with genuine transparency. Believe it or not people can immediately sense if you’re attempting to make friendships without genuinely sharing an interest. Shared interests are a fantastic way to find true friends. Look for those things which you have in common and begin relationships based on those items. Friends are the best references to have because not only do they care about you and your success but they will help you in spreading your message to their friends as well. This increases the opportunity for your message to be heard. If we think back to the idea of using social networks as we would in real life then we can easily understand why an introduction by a mutual friend makes it much easier for you to meet new people.
4. Maintain Balance
Ok, so this particular point in my opinion is one of the most important ones. I have a personal problem with those friends on my social networks who share nothing besides their products and services. I want to be friends with them for a number of reasons and while I am interested in their business it is not the only reason I am connected to them. When you choose to share your business product or service be sure to practice moderation. Don’t get so caught up in trying to social sell that you fail to social share. The point is to maintain balance in your posts and in your topics. If you’re being genuine this will naturally effect your social networks. Because even though I am sure your business is quite consistently on your mind, I can pretty much guarantee it’s not the only thing you ever say. When all people “hear” is what you post online, be sure it’s balanced.
5. Market Passively
Too often people think they need to be aggressive marketers. This line of thinking is what leads to the type of messages I poked fun at in the first tip above. Aggressive, over-the-top type of social selling becomes a nuisance to followers incredibly quickly. The better option is to market passively. What do I mean by passive marketing? Quite simply put I mean share information about your products and services without being directly marketing or directly selling a particular product. Share your struggles and how you overcame them. Share the benefits of your products, tell the stories of successes which have resulted from your business. Here’s an idea, share information and stories, tips and tricks….without any call to action. It’s daring, it’s different, and it forces you to be more passive. As you do this information sharing you’re marketing passively.
Today we have social media channels and outreaches with tremendous opportunities that previously were never thought possible. We’re learning more about how to use these tools for not just personal but also professional benefits. Be sure that you focus on doing it right. You want to always focus on social sharing and not social selling. Got ideas on other good tips? I’d love to hear them.
July 10, 2014
Introducing Something New To Open Source
Open source software is the future of our world. The power of the community has been clearly demonstrated and the opportunity to provide equality to businesses of all sizes has been shown. I’d like to share my latest endeavors with you and encourage you to join me.
Too often businesses are forced in to situations which limits their opportunity and their ability to succeed. Small businesses account for over 65% of all new jobs and more than 22.7 million small businesses existed (several years previous). Strikingly though of this dominant portion of the economy 80% average less than $50,000 in receipts. Small business is a struggle. More small businesses close than open each month and yet the struggle continues.
Small Business Confession
I’m part of a small business. I know firsthand the struggles faced and the challenges which exist in the day to day. One of the greatest concerns and frustrations I meet is the lack of strong software tools available for small businesses. This weighs on me heavily and I am deeply passionate about changing this perceived standard.
“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
– Albert Einstein
What I Fight For
I’ve spent my entire professional life seeking ways to combat these issues and help other small businesses just like myself to succeed and find the resources they need to achieve their goals. Too many vertical markets exist where the only providers are large, closed corporations intent on maximizing their profits and focused solely on serving other businesses of their same size. The Fortune 500 helping the Fortune 500. No one is looking out for the little guy. The underdog. The up-and-comer.
Other Open Source Projects
Through the years I’ve been privileged to be a part of several open source projects and to create several open source tools aimed at providing an equal playing field for small businesses to compete at the same level as these large businesses. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the importance of good support, the value in a community, and the opportunity for growth through conflicts.
Initiatives I’ve been fortunate to be involved in have released amazing Content Management software, Customer Relationship Management software, Project Management software, Live Chat Management software and others. Each of these software tools has been with the same goal. The empowering of small businesses. We’ve sought to reduce the ridiculous over-priced expense which previously had prohibited small businesses. But there’s still more to do. There are still more challenges to conquer and more ways to empower small businesses. Rest assured I will continue to be an active supporter and vocal contributor to each these open source projects.
Continuing To Grow
I am incredibly excited to share with you the next open source project I’ll be involved in. Myself along with several other close friends have identified a vertical market completely out-of-reach for many small businesses due to the exorbitant monthly costs. Monthly fees exceeding the entire gross revenue of approximately 75% of all U.S. small businesses. And yet a powerful piece of software which incredibly helps those businesses which can afford the service. This tool is revolutionary not just in the powerful, cutting-edge framework upon which its built but also in the disruption it brings to a previously closed market.
I look forward to sharing much more with you through my blog as we go about preparing tools. I’ll share the pain-points, the highs and the lows of beginning a new open source project and we’ll grow together as we begin to form a community. As we go if you have questions, ideas, or just general comments I welcome them. You can contact me directly through my email. The excitement is growing and the buzz is definitely starting to increase. I hope as things progress and I share different behind-the-scenes peeks you’ll start to feel the same enthusiasm that’s driving me!
Beginning a Community
Yes, I know I’m leaving things a bit in the dark at the moment but I promise more will come. I’ll share screenshots, ask for feedback, and just in general do everything I can to get you involved. I’m only one of the people involved in this very exciting effort. If you own, run, or work in a small business I hope you will become more and more involved as we go through this process. It’s never too early to become a part of this new open source community.
I believe in small businesses, equality, and community. I believe in open source.
July 8, 2014
Too often as small business owners we are terrified of failure. Fear is a powerful motivator but it’s not always an appropriate one. We tend to live constantly in fear of failure as though a failure would somehow define us and characterize our lives. We find ourselves judging our usefulness and our self-worth by our successes. We all need to learn a bit more how to embrace failures.
Embracing failures is a difficult thing to do and usually one we don’t enjoy focusing on. It’s much easier to discuss embracing success. We are inherently drawn to the idea of defining success as the positive outcome and failure as the negative outcome. This is not always the case and we should work on being more comfortable with failing. Failures can teach us far more than a success ever could and our opportunity to learn and grow from failure is far greater.
Failure Is Not Final
One of the first things I remember when I find myself failing at something is that failure is not final. I purposely chose the active verb “failing” because I believe many times it’s not a past tense thing I have done, but an ongoing opportunity for change or growth. In fact, along the way to success you may encounter dozens of tiny failures. These failures are not “show-stoppers” so to speak but rather opportunities to shift direction or focus and improve the final product. Here’s a quote by Thomas Edison which I think fits well.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison was famous for his inventions (e.g. the lightbulb) and his persistence. I once had opportunity to visit his laboratory and hear more about some of the more obscure creations he invented. I remember this quote being engraved on a plaque and it stuck with me. He is often thought of for his inspiration & perspiration quote but I find this quote to be far more relevant and encouraging.
Failure Is A Learning Experience
I think most of us would agree that failure is indeed a learning experience. The part we struggle with the most is applying what we learn and implementing change as a result. We can’t simply turn our failures into a distant experience. We should embrace these failures and use them to motivate us in our future efforts. If something doesn’t work the way I planned I try to learn why it didn’t work and use that knowledge to shape my future attempts. We must be willing to acknowledge failure first, and secondly study the failure to analyze exactly why it failed. I wrote earlier about overcoming adversity in that post I mention that adversity is what gives us skills and experience. When those adversities overwhelm us they are still a learning experience.
Failure Is Inevitable
One of my favorite magazines is a monthly one called, Inc. Magazine. This publication shares the stories and successes of some of the popular startups of the day as well as more established companies. A common thread I have found in reading the stories of many of these founders is twofold. First, they will almost all tell you they were not an overnight success. It appears so but in reality they have spent months, years, building up to the point where they became successful. And secondly, many of them will describe the failures they experienced along the way. Failure is a sign of attempting something. If you don’t try then you will never fail nor will you ever succeed. I’m reminded of another quote by another inventor.
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin
Here’s an incredibly successful inventor, writer, politician boldly stating that we should not fear failure. He doesn’t say you might know failure. He says you will know failure. He too saw failures as inevitable. But instead of giving up he used failure as a motivator. We should continue to reach out and not fear failure. Embracing failure and planning to learn from it.
Failure Is An Event
The last point I want to share is that failure is an event, not a character summary. What I mean by that is to recognize failures will happen and to not place your self-worth in a failure. Just as you would not measure the quality of your life by the time you once went to the beach. A failure is merely another event which occurred in your life. What you do with that failure points more to your character than the actual event of failing ever could. I struggle with this point the most. Possibly more ego and pride than anything else I hate to acknowledge failures as I quickly conclude they are character definitions. This is wrong thinking. I love to use my kids and my wife as my motivation to get beyond the failure. Especially at this time when my children are young. They don’t know me by my business successes or more importantly by my failures. They know me by the time I spend with them and the way I love them and care for them. My personal relationships with each of them create and define my life far more than a failure event ever could.
I encourage you also to use and embrace failure. Embracing failure is hard at times and none of us would seek failures out but as we’ve seen – failures are inevitable and these events will affect all of us. Use them as learning experiences to improve, to grow, and to change. Change can be hard but if we don’t implement change when we fail then we’re not learning from our experiences and becoming better.
July 7, 2014
Thunder and Water: On Naming Your Business
Thunder and Water are two primal forces found in nature. They each contain a descriptive and vivid imagery which I would imagine immediately brings to mind some specific scene or instance when you experienced one of the two. Words are powerful. And because you can convey so much through word choices you should be selective and thoughtful when naming your business.
A National Treasure
Recently I had the opportunity of traveling to Niagara Falls. It was an incredible opportunity to experience a beautiful part of nature. Of course my family is never one for sitting back and merely observing. We chose to go for the full experience. This involved both a movie with a historical perspective of the falls as well as the now famous “Maid of the Mist” boat excursion.
(On a side note: If any of you have the opportunity to visit this wonderful national park, don’t hesitate).
Well, since I’m always “on” when it comes to work my mind automatically drew similarities between some of the historical facts in the movie and small businesses. One of the interesting points they mention in the movie and which my oldest daughter, Kate, and I discussed afterwards was how they named Niagara falls and what the name meant.
According to the informational film they created and showed at the falls the name translates literally into English, “Thunder of Waters”. The narrator supposed this to be as a result of the obvious loud thunderous sounds of the water crashing onto the rocks below. The Indians in the area would often refer to this term or, thunder and water, when mentioning the falls.
I loved the symbolism, the very descriptive, clear, and informative name. Of course my mind immediately began to compare modern names of businesses with the simplicity and clean-ness of the name Niagara.
How many businesses today are named because the .com domain name is available? Be honest, how many times have you looked at domain names and started your business name search with a www lookup? It’s sad really. The technology age we live in has made us slaves to its rigid protocols and boundaries. Rather than selecting a name which is imaginative, descriptive, and informative we select something completely random simply because we can register the domain.
To be honest I love looking back at names from older generations, especially Indian names, they did an amazing job at creating and joining words for a purpose. They sought to give meaning to a person, a family, or a group. Through the years we’ve somehow lost this ability (to an extent). We’ve shifted our focus from creating deeply personal and meaningful names to silly, made-up nonsense words which would be better found in a Dr. Seuss children’s novel than the name of a successful company.
Does your business name truly reflect something of meaning and value? Before you push the purchase button on that domain name order stop and ask yourself. Does this name truly reflect my business, my product? Am I purchasing this name because it fits with what I’ve already established as my business?
If you answered no to the above question then save yourself $7.99 and don’t buy that name. It’s far more important that you re-order your priorities. Arrange them the way that will be more beneficial for your business success. Put your domain name in its place (and that’s not first). Start with what matters to you. Why are you creating this business? What problems are you intent on solving and what are your goals as a company? The first question to always answer is the “why”.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”
– Simon Sinek
Be Full of Meaning
Once you have defined you’re “why” you are ready to move on to the next step. Identify your keywords. Those unique and descriptive words which suit your business and define who you are. Use these keywords to come up with a name which suits your business. When naming your business, be daring, be catchy, be unique, but most of all be meaningful.
Your business name is your first impression. You can capture imaginations, capture hearts, and capture customers with the right name. Be sure your name is full of meaning. It may seem unimportant now, but I guarantee you when you reach a certain size you’ll be asked the question some people dread…”So, what’s your name mean?” If you don’t have a name full of meaning your answer to this question could potentially cost you a client.
I won’t go on through the other important steps since in this post I want to focus merely on the importance of naming your business. However, if there is any interest I may continue on with a more in-depth series on establishing a business.
A Personal Note
I don’t normally include too much in my posts that are personal (should I change that? Tweet me and let me know!) but I’ll leave you with a picture of my three kids on the boat ride shortly after the “mist” left us all completely soaked. We had a wonderful time and we all agreed Thunders of Waters was a most appropriate name!
July 3, 2014
The Ultimate Productivity Tool
If you’re anything like me you have a list of tasks a mile long you need to complete. This list might exist in your email, your calendar, or possibly even just a piece of paper you’ve scribbled things down on. Bottom line, you have tasks. I have a secret to share with you. The ultimate productivity tool.
Did I get your attention? Here it is. You. That’s right. The ultimate resource at your disposal for getting things done is quite simply yourself. Why is it then so difficult to get things done and to be productive? Why do we spend so much time searching for the perfect app or the perfect tool to do the job? We seem to hope as if by some miracle we’ll find the project management tool that organizes things perfectly! (and even do the work for us)
Procrastinating Is Easy
I have found myself doing the same thing. Procrastinating but pretending I’m actually doing something useful. Productivity means not procrastinating. Sounds simple but as humans we’re extremely good at fooling ourselves. (Sometimes it seems we only fool ourselves). We procrastinate by claiming we’re looking for a better tool. Again, the tool is not going to get the job done for you. The tool merely organizes information.
Of course you need to use tools and you need to be organized and yes, there are different tools with different focuses, but if you spend all your time looking for a different tool which will help you more you’ll never get anything done.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Don’t spend more than 30 minutes looking for a new tool. If you can’t uncover something better than what you’re currently using in 30 minutes stop looking and get back to working. You can always look again later.
Busy Does Not Mean Productive
We tend to trick ourselves into thinking if we’re doing something…doing anything…then we’re busy and we’re productive. In reality being busy is not productive. I often think the more I’m doing the less productive I actually am. Shouldn’t the most productive person be the one who does the least because when they do work they work efficiently and quickly? A productive person will be busy in short bursts rather than live in a continual state of busyness.
If you’re busy look at what is making you busy. Are you busy doing tasks or are you busy looking busy? If you’re busy doing tasks are you working smart? It takes thought to make sure you’re doing the right tasks and working effectively.
Practical application: Break your work time into distinct blocks of time and take breaks. Force yourself to stop and step away and come back. The goal is to get your mind disengaged and then re-engaged when you return. You want to make your time productive and work in short bursts of high efficiency instead of a continually busy frame of mind.
Don’t Chase Rabbits
There’s a number of other reasons why working in shorter time periods is smart. We’ve touched on one already. A second reason is the infamous rabbit trail. For me all it takes is a look up from my computer screen and I find myself hundreds of miles away and thinking about some completely random and totally unrelated topic. If you sit at your desk all day and never take a break you’re encouraging yourself to let your mind wander. Your brain needs breaks. If you don’t plan for breaks in activity then your brain will take its own break whenever it pleases.
There are numerous studies which outline the attention span for humans. And no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise – you need breaks. The key is not to try and fight the mental rabbit trails but to control when and where they occur. Enjoy the daydreaming. Great things can happen when you let your mind wander.
Practical application: Don’t attempt to keep your mind from wandering, instead try to keep your day dreaming to those times you have set aside as breaks. Stay focused on your tasks while you’re in your work block of time. If something drifts across your mind, write it down so you’ll remember it for later. Then get back to work. When your breaks do come, change your scenery (get up), change your posture (move around), and change your mind (chase those rabbits).
The last productivity tip we’ll talk about is doing versus talking. Of course planning is important and you must be thoughtful about what you do. But this does not mean you should spend your entire time discussing your options or reviewing every possible outcome. If you spend all your time analyzing and debating your course of action, you’ll never have a course of action. It’s a balancing act between discussing and doing. (I wrote about these two roles in a separate blog here.)
When you find your time being spent discussing and debating every task and the way each task should be completed; it’s time for a change. (Keep in mind the talking can be just with yourself!) Stop talking and start doing. Even if you find out later there’s a better way you could have done the task. The goal is progress (forward progress).
Practical application: Keep a close eye on the time you spend between discussing the task and doing the task. If you start to elaborate too much or plan for every possible unknown then force yourself to pick a path and start work. Don’t lose time worrying over each and every decision. You can always make changes later.
Here’s the bottom line.
Most of us already know what it takes to be productive. We understand the steps necessary to get things done and we absolutely know the importance of using our time wisely. What we often fail at is implementing and following what we know. Hopefully these productivity tips will help affirm what you already know and encourage you to re-examine your workflow. It’s not the tool or the app which will make you successful and productive. It’s you.
Remember we’re all in this together.
July 2, 2014
5 Meetings You Should Always Cancel
Nothing has the potential to slow progress more than the perpetual organizing of meetings. Meetings kill momentum in a variety of ways and I’d like to look at a 5 meetings you should always cancel if you find yourself being asked to attend.
Meetings Kill Momentum
First let me say right away – meetings don’t have to be bad. Meetings serve a very important roles and can be used for making a great cohesive team. But careless meetings and unplanned meetings can absolutely ruin a team. Nothing has greater opportunity for disrupting progress then a poorly constructed meeting. Here’s a few of the major warning signs to avoid when implementing meetings. Avoid these common meeting pitfalls and you’ll have successful meetings with purpose and productivity.
The Eternal Meeting
Problem: This meeting type is the dreaded meeting without a definite length. Usually the eternal meeting is begun with good intentions, there may be some good points needing to be discussed and the various people involved simply want to give adequate time to each topic. In an effort to make sure no one feels rushed the meeting is given either an unbearably long duration or worse no ending time at all. The eternal meeting may also slip quickly into several of the other meeting types listed below.
Solution: I’ve read several different articles on the best length for a meeting. Some recommend setting a meeting length of 45 minutes. This gives enough time to share information but also encourages the meeting to stay on task and to the point in order to cover everything. I’d encourage you to look at taking that a bit further and plan your meetings to be 15 to 20 minutes max.
The Leaderless Meeting
Problem: The leaderless meeting is the meeting type where there is no clear moderator (or facilitator) and no clear note taker. The result is the conversation meanders aimlessly along without any direction or focus. The leaderless meeting is a complete time drain without a facilitator pushing the conversation towards a meaningful goal.
Solution: Every meeting should have a clearly defined facilitator and note taker. These two roles should be agreed upon and the people filling the positions should be capable of performing their duties. The moderator must be capable of keeping people on point while not stifling creativity or lively discussion.
The Impromptu Meeting
Problem: The impromptu meeting sounds like a good idea but never is. These meetings usually are last minute thoughts which very rarely give people enough time to prepare. Without adequate prep time the meeting participants lack clear direction and the ability to share their ideas or work effectively. Usually an impromptu meeting is also leaderless as well as eternal.
Solution: Plan your meeting times with enough lead time for the participants to prepare. In addition, be thoughtful about creating a meeting time and selecting a facilitator to run the meeting. Impromptu meetings don’t have to be bad but care must be taken to limit their length and have a clear focus and leader.
The Pointless Meeting
Problem: The pointless meeting is the meeting where nothing is decided upon; no outcome is defined and no definitive purpose has been created. These meetings typically start with good intentions. (e.g. We should meet every Friday at 4:00 PM to discuss the items accomplished this week) These meetings quickly become nothing more than a ritual and in the example above a rite of passage to get to the weekend. The pointless meeting is the worst waste of time as attendees are typically frowned upon for not attending and yet attendance does not mean progress will be made.
Solution: Never hold a meeting simply to maintain a schedule. If your meeting does not have a purpose or a goal then the meeting is unnecessary. Don’t waste time sitting in a meeting where the only purpose is to regurgitate information about the previous week. Send an email to share accomplishments instead. The pointless meeting hurts productivity tremendously if the participants must drop what they are doing to attend a meeting without a purpose. Organize meetings with purpose and timeframes.
The Missing Meeting
Problem: The missing meeting is the meeting where attendees fail to show. This meeting type is more difficult one to cancel early on as you may not know if everyone shows up until the meeting is about to begin. Remember a few things though.
First, since you no longer have the “pointless meetings” then there is no “standing” meeting time. Each meeting is for a specific and defined purpose. Second each meeting should have a clearly defined length and a moderator or facilitator ready to lead.
Solution: Plan meetings in advance so participants have the opportunity to respond with an RSVP. This way attendees can schedule the meeting on their agenda and prepare to attend. Never schedule recurring meetings. Never start impromptu meetings without an opportunity for people to plan to attend in advance.
If attendance for a particular meeting is going to be too low to accomplish anything productive – cancel the meeting.
If you find yourself in a situation where these types of meetings are occurring – do something about it. These types of meetings should never occur and should always be cancelled. They disrespect the time (and ultimately life) of the people expected to attend and they fail to accomplish anything productive.
There is nothing worse to the momentum of a project then to be bogged down in pointless and mind-numbing meetings. Don’t forget that meetings rarely contain the power to make a motion and carry a decision. If your meeting is not capable of reaching a definitive decision then seriously question the purpose of the meeting. Talking things out can be helpful for some but rarely serve any real purpose. Ultimately anything covered will be rehashed in the follow-up email and resulting email thread discussion.
June 30, 2014
On Overcoming Adversity
There’s a phrase we probably all know and many have probably quoted at some point in the past. It’s been immortalized on coffee mugs and inspirational posters – “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Such a catchy little phrase. But what are we talking about when we say the tough get going. What does it mean to be tough and how does one “get going”? What is involved in overcoming adversity?
I think I’m quite aptly suited to looking at this topic. Not necessarily because I’ve overcome great struggles, but more because I have faced (and continue to face) adversity. I think, or at least I certainly hope, it’s a common battle for small business owners. There seems to be a continuous stream of problems to face and battles to fight. Some days I wake up and question whether or not I’m actually one of the “tough” that’s referred to in that quote. Other days I wake up and I’m convinced I am absolutely a fighter ready to conquer any challenge.
The idea of being tough is not necessarily being hard. We’re not talking about beef jerky here. Tough as in being filled with a type of inner strength or determination. Strong to tackle challenges and make decisions without being swayed by fear or doubt. I am not very good at being tough. Some times I question myself a dozen times over a single decision. I am unsure if I’m making the best choice or if I’ve completely goofed and misread a situation.
Everyone loves a personal story (especially a failure) so let me give you one of mine. I was in charge of determining how to handle subscription processing for the CRM app we’ve developed, as well as the other apps we offer. My first thought was to combine the purchases on a single site (Great idea – simplify support, accounting, etc…). I selected our main company, WebSpark, to handle the various purchases. (Bad idea – this mixes subscriptions with custom development clients). I goofed. This was a horrible move and really messed up separation of tasks and purposes.
Here’s the “getting tough” part though. Rather than wringing my hands and stressing over the failure I focused on fixing it. I set about organizing a plan. We began the process of moving all these subscriptions and purchases to a single site but this time a fresh site dedicated just to this (Extension Depot). Everything worked out fine and in the end the move was a great one.
So based on personal experience this is how I view toughness. Toughness is a state of mind. The act of being tough is not a persistent state but rather the determination to step up when challenged. The willingness to accept failures, learn from them and do something. This is being tough.
The second part of that popular quote is the phrase, “get going”. How does one “get going” and what does that mean? Again, I don’t think we’re talking about actively moving somewhere specific. As I shared earlier. I see the idea of getting going to be the act of doing. It’s the willpower needed to not sit still, roll over, and accept defeat. It’s a mindset of action over stagnancy.
Go towards a solution. Go towards a goal. Go somewhere. This is what you find when you look at someone that is determined to be successful. The small business determined to succeed – keeps fighting. To “get going” means to pick up the pieces after a failure, to rebuild dreams bigger and better than before.
Seems weird to think of a struggles as good, but the failures are some of the best things to happen to a business. I read a quote not long ago which I greatly enjoyed.
That’s right. The struggles, the challenges, and the failures you face make you more skilled. Those businesses which see problems as opportunities and adversity as power will become great.
If you never faced challenges. if you never knew the hardships of failure you will not be as tough or as skilled to handle them in the future. I take encouragement in this fact. As a small business I am motivated to see these failures as opportunities to improve.
There’s something to be said for the calm after a storm, after traveling through hardship you appreciate those quiet waters just a bit more. The same goes for struggles in business. If you have faced challenges and overcome them you appreciate the times when things go well. It’s a bit like the old proverb says:
You must experience the bad to appreciate the good.
How do we overcome these obstacles and this adversity when it comes our way as it inevitably will? Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind. Understand first that obstacles are going to come, it’s almost a fact of life.
Second, realize that the best way to overcome a challenge is action. Don’t fear failure or wallow in defeat. Use those moments to make your business better. Acknowledge the problems and find ways to use them to your advantage.
And third, consider your struggles as ways in which you will become more skilled. By viewing at difficulties with a positive outlook you will stay positive and determined.
Don’t lose your determination. Don’t lose your drive to succeed. Remember being tough means being committed to success and determined to not give in. Keep moving towards your goals. Pick yourself up when knocked down and get going.
We’re all in this together!
June 25, 2014
The Beauty of Standardization
I could of course have just as easily written standardisation (to please the other half). The concept in question is not necessarily related to a particular language but rather to the idea of keeping everything looking the same. There is a certain beauty in organization and standardizing items. How does this standardization help make open source better?
A Personal Confession
First I’ll admit that I tend to exhibit some slight tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behavior. There is something inherently rewarding and satisfying in having things done neatly, cleanly and in order. I love standardization. I find myself to be much more ‘at ease’ and at peace with things when they have been organized to all “look the same” or at the very least to follow the same general pattern. But how does this relate to business? How do I apply this behavior of standardization to open source and what benefit does it offer? I believe there are several reasons why standardization and general organization can make your open source community more successful.
Standardization Saves Time
When everything is organized to be in its proper place and labeled the way it should be it becomes infinitely easier to locate what you’re looking for. If you’ve ever had to find an old client’s folder on your hard drive or network server you know exactly what I’m referring to. Do you store things by client name, by project name, by company name? If you don’t have any set standard for how every client and every project is stored it quickly becomes a mess.
What I Do
Our client folders at WebSpark all follow a very specific structure and directory tree. And yet its very simple. We have two main folders. We have an archive folder and an active folder. Active folder only contains current year projects. These projects live inside a folder named by the company for which the work is done. When the end of the year is reached these folders are moved into the archive (and merged into any existing company folders).
Having a strategy for how your folders are named makes it that much easier to look for Project X done for Company Y in Year Z. We know exactly where to look and the process becomes much faster…not to mention it looks much nicer also.
And before anyone says it – yes, I realize you can perform a hard drive search and find folders as well as files. However, I’m pretty confident having a neat and orderly directory tree will be faster over time as you get used to the structure. I’ve given you just one example of how we use a standardized structure, but if you’d like to see more just message me – I have tons of examples.Standardization saves you valuable time in your open source organization.
Standardization Simplifies Training
If you’ve ever had to show someone else how to get something done you know what I’m talking about. There’s nothing worse than trying to show how things work to an eager new co-worker and having to bounce all over in an attempt to explain why it looks like a complete chaotic mess. (See, we store only PDF’s that end in a Y in this folder because the server performs a reverse alphabetical look-up when displaying search results.)
Instead, if an open source environment has organization and structure and follows a standardized method then training becomes much more simple. Rather than attempting to explain some complex and convoluted exact use cases you can simply explain the methodology and standards followed. (It’s a bit of that teach a man to fish thing.)
Standardization Shows Thought
If you’ve ever walked into a room which has been neatly organized and everything is labeled, marked, and categorized you know what I mean. One of the first thoughts to cross my mind in those situations is “wow, this took some time.” When standardization is implemented and followed it demonstrates careful thoughtfulness. It shows an attention to detail and it shows the organizer has a plan.
Let’s turn that thinking towards an open source project. If you look to join a project as a volunteer and you want to be involved you start to look for how the “room” is arranged. Is it easy to find things, does there seem to be a method to how things are done? If there are clearly defined standards and procedures you are instantly more confident. Clearly an open source project with easy-to-follow standardization has put significant time and effort into being a successful project. Standardization in open source projects leads to success. Not by the standards alone, but by what those standards represent: care, thoughtfulness, and attention to the details.
Standardization Saves Lives
That sounds overly dramatic but allow me to give you a real life example. I am sure many of you are aware of or have at least seen the following sign. It exists around the world and at one point was the subject of an international meeting.
In 2008 an international committee met to discuss the need for an internationally recognized symbol and a universal AED sign to be used everywhere. This committee was looking to implement standardization. The result of that meeting is what we have here. An instantly recognizable symbol that will make saving lives easier. In the frantic moments of cardiac arrest being able to quickly locate and use an AED greatly increases the chances of successful resuscitation.
Open Source Applications
So I briefly touched on the open source aspect in one of the thoughts above, but in reality, every single one affects open source.
When dealing with an open source project, particularly one where the volunteers are not paid, time is of the utmost value. Every minute counts and if standards help to save valuable time then they increase the amount of contributions and the value of those contributions.
Open source communities with standardizations in place allows for existing volunteers to easily and quickly bring new contributors in because the training is simple. Standardization means you can take ten minutes and explain exactly how to contribute to an open source project and the new volunteer can then immediately do something.
Whenever I’m looking at open source projects and debating how much I want to be involved I look at the standardizations. For me this demonstrates how “thoughtful” the project and the community is. If things are standardized and processes are in place I feel more confident that my time and my efforts will be well spent because the project and community demonstrate a well-thought out plan. (Although I admit sometimes the chaotic projects allow me the opportunity to help create the standardization and the processes.)
Now you’ve heard the reasons why standardization is beautiful. Get out there, seek out the open source projects you’re involved with and see how organized the processes are. Implement standardization and improve the health of your community.
June 24, 2014
Look For An Executioner (to get things done)
Ideas are overrated. I’ve heard it said recently ideas are valueless…until they are made a reality. The role everyone is looking to find is the executioner. The person who can execute a good idea and make it real. The person who can get things done. This role is vital to your business success and the successful launch of your product.
The Job Description
What does this person look like and how can you tell if you’ve found one? An executioner is someone more focused on seeing results than sitting back and watching things happen. They are eager to get their hands dirty and to see if they can take something and make it successful. In reality they execute on an idea or plan because they are a doer. Below are 5 ways you can tell if someone is a doer.
Doers Are More Than Dreamers
This is one of the most obvious ways you can tell if someone is a doer. Of course we need dreamers. I’ve already shared previous articles on the importance of dreaming and how it’s been neglected in businesses. But as I share in that article – everyone can be a dreamer. It’s easy to do because at one point we were all born with the ability.
No resume looks good simply because someone has listed the top one hundred ideas they’ve dreamt up.
Doers like to get see things become a reality. They focus on the beta. This is the minimum viable product necessary to see if the idea will be successful. Doers are driven by the deep-seated desire to create something.
Doers Are Focused
Unlike the dreamer who can think up a million different ideas before lunch time the doer is focused on only a couple. They are focused on how to get things done and deliver a usable product. They love the ability to demonstrate. Doers don’t get caught up in every new twist and turn or adding a dozen various bells and whistles along the way. The doer is consumed with creating an adequate representation of the main objective to show the viability of the idea.
Doers are focused on deliverables. They look for what needs to be accomplished and then they move towards the goal. A good executioner focuses on the tasks required to complete a job. They focus on outlining steps, milestones, and tasks which need to be completed and then immediately begin digging in and doing those tasks.
Doers Are Busy
There are two types of busy (maybe even more). I think the easiest way to think about these two types would be through a comparison. If you’ve ever watched a Formula One race you’ve seen the speed at which those cars rip through corners and fly down the track. Their tires work so hard they fall apart. Bits of rubber peel off and are flung off as it does its job of keeping the car sealed to the road and moving forward in order to be successful. The second type of busy is the car in the mud. These tires are stuck. Every time the gas pedal is pressed they spin like crazy…but they make no progress. Flecks of mud fill the air, maybe even a little smoke rises from the tire…but nothing is accomplished. The car remains where it is. Both wheels are busy but only one wheel is actually doing anything.
Does are busy accomplishing things. Doers don’t just look busy to the outside observer. They want to have their time and energy evaluated by what they produce. They don’t sit around and wait for someone else to tell them what to do. Get things done is practically their mantra and their calling in life.
Doers Aren’t Afraid of Failure
I’ve said it before that you can’t be afraid of failure if you want to be successful in business. Of course this title may be somewhat misleading. I don’t mean that you blindly ignore caution and warnings. Nor do I suggest you pretend you are unafraid of everything. Fear is healthy, fear motivates, and fear is good for business (that’s a blog post yet to come). But how you handle fear is of utmost importance. Fear should never be in control or be able to paralyze you from accomplishing things.
There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
– John F. Kennedy
Doers aren’t brazen or brash, but they are determined to accomplish their tasks and then decide if something is successful. They don’t sit back and think up every possible opportunity for failure and then allow that fear to keep them from trying. Because the doer is interested in how to get things done and how to succeed. There simply is no time to waste and no reason to sit back and worry.
Doers Are Finishers
I’ve been putting on another blog on the topic of finishing. It’s of such vital importance that I’ve re-written my intro paragraph a dozen times already. I hope to be done with it soon so I can share more thoughts on the topic of finishing. Suffice to say right now, a doer is a finisher. They are not satisfied with a half-done job. They stay the course and see a project through to completion. Doers are busy completing the tasks and getting things done until they accomplish the original goal of delivering a product.
Doers finish what they start. This is different from the focus we talked about earlier. The doer is only satisfied when they have been able to complete their tasks and see a finished product. Then (and only then) can they see if their idea is successful and a profitable one for the business.
Seek Out The Doer
I trust these reasons are useful for you the next time you are looking to build a team for a product or idea. Maybe the above will even be helpful when looking at yourself. Are you a doer? Should you be a doer? Every business needs doers. Every business needs executioners willing to get things done and to make it happen. Whether you’re looking for the next position to fill on your team or introspectively examining yourself – seek out the doer. Look for the executioner.
June 20, 2014
4 Reasons You Should Create Killer Content
Of course everyone wants to have a great website with killer content. Well, maybe I should rephrase that slightly. Everyone understands they simply must have a website in today’s world. The power of the internet to reach customers has become a well-known fact and every business wants to capture new customers. Many of these sites face the same problem eventually. How do they keep their website fresh and keep traffic coming?
As businesses create their websites they have to decide on what pages they want to include. Web design agencies will often tell them to look at their competitors, or simply find sites they like and learn what some of the common pages are. The inevitable outcome is a quick search on Google for their industry and a brief browsing of the top results. Because these sites rank high on search engines the chances are good they have a blog of some kind or some other means of delivering fresh content regularly to their users. And you know what’s coming next. Because X, Y and Z companies have a blog, these businesses decide they need one too. They expect to see a great looking constantly updated blog filled with great content.
Some web shops will be smart and ask the business who will be maintaining the blog. In fact, some shops may even offer advice and encouragement for ways to keep content fresh on the blog. The reality is sadly very different. Sure, the business may start strong for a day, a week, maybe even two. But eventually the time involved with creating fresh content becomes too much of a chore. The job gets missed a couple of times, the world doesn’t end, and slowly but surely the blog gets completely neglected.
Maybe it’s a lack of interest, maybe even a disbelief in the importance, usually it comes down to time. Killer content takes time and dedication. Many businesses don’t see an immediate result and therefore fail to place the proper importance on the art of content writing.
So in order to help businesses and to help you feel properly motivated to write fresh content and spend the time and energy it takes to create killer content; here are 4 reasons why you should write.
1. Engage your reader
The first reason you should make a blog a priority on your site is obvious. You want to engage with your reader. You don’t want to be “in their face” but you do want to let them know you’re around if they need help. When you go into a store and you’re greeted by the staff it lets you know someone is available. Sometimes people don’t fully understand the importance of this concept so let me see if I can paint a picture.
Imagine you see a store which looks interesting to you. You walk up and open the door. Maybe it creaks just a little when you pull the handle and maybe it looks a little outdated. You’re hesitant but still curious. As you step inside you notice there’s no music playing over the speakers, the lights are dim and you might possibly be the only person in the store. You cautiously look around but you’re already wondering if you’ve made a mistake. Finally after a few minutes of skeptic browsing of their products you decide clearly the business is closed and quickly make your exit.
If your website does not engage your reader, you are the proud owner of the store I just mentioned. You effectively turn the lights out and give the impression your store is deserted. You make your visitors feel like intruders. They don’t have any reason to believe the store is open and they will think no one is home. Creating fresh content is critical to engaging your customers.
2. Encourage return visits
If you create fresh and exciting content your readers will look forward to coming back. Think of it like an opportunity to get together with a good friend. You look forward to the next time you will be able to spend time with them and you enjoy the interaction you have. If your website provides killer content full of interesting tips, tricks, and facts which your friends are interested in – they will love to return.
Notice I said provide content they are interested in. You must know your target audience. You must know your “friends”. If you create content but it’s not interesting to the person you consider to be your ideal customer they won’t stick around and they won’t come back. Admit it, when you are out with a group of people and the topic of the conversation shifts to something you’re not personally interested in, what do you do? You don’t stay engaged, you check your phone, look around the room, or lose interest. If the conversation never held anything interesting for you, you’d probably quit coming. Your content needs to encourage your readers to come back for more.
3. Educate with excitement
How many times have you visited a website because you’re searching for an answer to a problem? Probably more times than you care to admit. I know I often joke about leaving my brain in the other room if I don’t have my phone handy to perform a quick search whenever I don’t know something. We can all agree we use the web to educate ourselves. So let’s take it a step further. When you were in school, or university, what classes were most interesting? For me, the best classes were the ones where the professor was excited and interesting. I was learning without even thinking about learning.
When you write content you should take the time to craft interesting content which is both educational and exciting. I know not every industry can be (or should be) filled with comic relief, witty stories, or anecdotal advice. However, every industry can take the time and make the effort to educate without being boring and dry. Find ways to share information without sounding like an encyclopedia.
4. Earn industry respect
Educating your audience as I described in the previous point actually does two things for you. (See saving you time already!) You may be writing your content to help educate your reader but you are also demonstrating your expertise at the same time. Now not only do your customers see that you know what you’re talking about…so do your competitors. You will become an expert in your field and earn industry respect through your content.
Every industry has to have leaders. Every field has to have experts. How are those experts found and identified by the community? There are several different ways to gain credibility but a very easy one which is readily available to everyone is through sharing knowledge and educating the industry. Killer blog content gives you street cred.
When you create killer content you engage your audience, you encourage them to return, you educate them and you earn the respect of the industry. Don’t neglect these very simple four reasons why your blog should be one of the most important aspects of your website. Yes, it is time consuming and yes it requires a certain level of dedication. But creating fresh and killer content is one of the most important ways you can spend your time. Dust off that blog, crack your knuckles and start writing today!
June 18, 2014
Putting Imagination To Work
I’m always amazed to hear the things my kids say. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing they will say the “craziest” things. I usually laugh about it and move on. The other day though it hit me. Somewhere along the way most adults lose the imagination they had when they were kids. This is sad because I believe imagination can be one of the most powerful abilities to have in life…and in business.
Imagination at the Office
Imagination in the workplace? Sounds a bit crazy. I mean daydreaming at your desk can get you fired can’t it? Maybe the problem is the demand put on people to be nothing more than drones or robots. Humans are imaginative, creative creatures. It’s wrong to stifle that creativity and the result is a very difficult work environment. Those who do dare to be creative, to rebel against the drone mentality are often rebuked by others, shunned as being disruptive, or worst of all simply ignored. We lose the imagination and the creativity we once held captive as a child. And it can be nearly impossible to regain.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Dare to Dream
That’s a catchy little title, Dare to Dream, but I don’t mean what you probably think first. Let’s look at the two main words, and lets look at dream first. I don’t mean inspiration dreaming, the accomplishing-great-things type of dreaming. Instead I mean the natural, deep-seated creative dreaming. Think “crazy” and see what happens. Don’t stop yourself and analyze every aspect of an idea – just dream.
And secondly, dare. Dare implies just by nature some level of risk is involved. As I mentioned earlier dreaming is frowned upon (usually) and as a result most people are a bit intimidated about the idea of dreaming. Dare yourself to dream. Take a chance, and be risky. Force yourself to step outside the box you’ve been placed in and allow yourself to dream.
Technology has encouraged the human race to move faster. Under the pretense of simplifying our lives we have created more and more technology. This new tech has done the very opposite of what we anticipated. We are “busier” now than ever before. Our days (and now our nights) fly by at breakneck speed and most of us simply hold on for dear life and try to survive the pace. When you’re moving at this ridiculous speed you have very little time to dream.
In order to use your imagination you need to slow down a bit. Need to see this in action? Take a child for a walk. You will find yourself walking with a purpose while the little one will be meandering behind you. Everything is interesting to them; every flower, every rock, everything is a new and exciting discovery. Now think. What would you normally do here? You’d call out for them to “catch up” to “hurry” and to quit dawdling. We’ve lost the excitement of a lazy, aimless stroll. We have been conditioned by our world to always be moving fast. Slow down. Your imagination and creativity will blossom if you take the time to let your mind wander aimlessly.
Where I live there used to be a hands-on “museum” where you could engage in different games and entertainment called the imagination station. I love the name. I never thought of it in terms of business though until recently. I think its a fantastic name for a department most companies already have. Of course it has a more professional name now. Companies call this department, Research and Development (R&D). In reality though, this is the imagination station. And this department should not be limited to a specific room or building. Everyone has an imagination and should be encouraged to use it.
This is where imagination gets put to work. It seems counter intuitive to some that imagination and work should coexist. The truth is every company on earth wants imagination. They might call it R&D but more commonly you’ll hear another term used. Innovation. There it is. The holy grail for companies. If they could only innovate then they would capture market share, grow to new heights, and become the “next big thing”.
Here’s my firm belief. Innovation = Imagination. Yep, rather than fighting against imagination and “crazy” thinking – companies should encourage dreaming. There are of course some companies who get this and believe in allowing everyone the opportunity to dream. Unfortunately, I think these are the exception and not the rule. More people should be encouraged to slow down, dare to dream, and
“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
– Maria Montessori
The next time you find yourself moving too fast to even think clearly – force yourself to stop. Step away from your desk. Go outside, find a new path you’ve not walked before and just meander. Pretend you’re a child exploring a new world and see the world with different eyes. Daydream. You’ll be happier, healthier, and quite possibly innovative.
I’ll leave you with a rather famous quote. It may be somewhat overused lately but it’s still very relevant and definitely worth a read.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. … They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
– Steve Jobs
June 16, 2014
The Power of Personal Branding
When you’re working for a company in today’s world there are many more opportunities for sharing and discussing your opinions with others around the globe. Your ability to gain a personal following of people is greater than ever before. How does your personal branding interact with your work life and why does personal branding matter?
Many companies now like to impose certain limitations on social postings when it relates to their business and what employees can and should say in their personal social networks. Why should they care about those personal branding opportunities and what should be the accepted solution? Personal branding is a hot topic although perhaps not with that term. A more familiar term might be personal social networks. Or who you are online. Or to put it simply – what you say and do.
Why Personal Branding Matters
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
– Jeff Bezos
What people post online matters. It matters a lot. The reason why is because the internet of today has allowed for audiences and networks of people to connect who never would have connected before. The stage is much bigger. As a result what is said online and how it is said matters because it is powerful. Why do companies limit social network profiles of employees? Unfortunately they limit them because of fear.
Most companies worry about lots of things. They worry about their competitors, they worry about the market, they worry about revenue, and they worry about employees just to name a few of the worries. Everyone missteps and makes mistakes and a company is no different. To grab a famous quote:
“You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”
The larger a company gets the more likely they will at some point make a decision not particularly appreciated by everyone. Companies fear this moment. They use words like backlash and scandal to describe these moments. As a result they try to monitor and limit personal social networks to help ease this fear. Is this acceptable? Should a company be allowed to dictate what is or is not shared on social networks? I believe that’s the wrong question. The better question would be: Has the company hired the right type of employee?
The Right Employee
If companies are hiring the types of employees who love their job and love their company and resonate with the core beliefs and missions of the company then their online personal branding will also reflect this. Of course I would never be so bold as to assume that if a person agrees with their company vision they will never have a difference of opinion or be disgruntled over a decision. The difference is the reaction. It always comes down to the reaction. Sometimes there is no power over the decision made, but there is always power over the reaction.
The right employee understands more than just the decision made. The right employee understands the intentions and motivations of the company and interprets the decisions made through those beliefs. No, they will not always be right. But understanding the heart of the company results in a different reaction. And elicits a different response.
The Right Company
It’s not all about the employee. The right company makes the decisions which best follow the mission and values established. Making decisions that match up to these core beliefs allows others the opportunity to acknowledge why a decision was made and the thinking behind the choice. The weight of a good decision is indeed a heavy one but the right company handles them through careful listening and proper communication.
Secondly, online personal branding matters because it provides a way for you to grow as a person. A personal brand is an opportunity to expand. An opportunity to make new connections and to grow beyond a current position.
A personal social network provides a platform to share thoughts, connect with others, and to grow. Ultimately self-improvement occurs. Beliefs are shaped, friendships established, and opinions formed as a result of social network interactions and the availability of others. This personal growth also allows for personal branding. Posts and thoughts shared help to establish a niche. No longer are social conversations limited to a small and local audience. Voices are much louder. You now have the ability to expand your horizons. And you should make the most of it. Force yourself to grow, challenge yourself to think and encourage others to become better as well. Your personal brand matters.
The community perception is the last point we will look at quickly in regards to why your personal branding matters. By community perception I mean what does your personal branding say about you to others. We’ve looked at the risks and fears of personal branding to corporations; and we’ve looked at how personal branding can encourage your own growth. Now let’s look at how personal branding shapes what others think of you.
I left this point until last because this is the most common way personal branding is interpreted. What you say and do online is most commonly associated with how others think about you. As you’ve seen above however it is much more than just what others see. Personal branding affects where you work, how you work, and how you grow as a person. Only after those things begin to take shape do you really notice how others view you.
3 quick tips when establishing your personal branding
I’d like to offer three very quick tips to help you as you establish (grow) your personal branding. Follow these and you’ll find satisfaction in your personal brand efforts.
Be true to yourself
Your personal brand should be a true reflection of who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not to please others. Don’t put on a fake persona purely to reach a certain market share or demographic. Your social networks, your connections, your communication should be a true reflection of who you are and what you believe. Anything else and people will see right through you. Be honest with yourself and with others. Your personal brand should always be genuine.
Your personal brand should always be considerate. Learn how to disagree with respect and dignity. As mentioned earlier you will never agree with everyone 100% of the time. Understand you’ll disagree with others. Handle personal disagreements with character and grace. You’ll gain their respect even if they still disagree on your opinion. Being considerate also means listening. Don’t talk down to others or attempt to force them to agree with you. Listen to what they say and understand why they think the way they do. Your personal brand should always be considerate of others.
Never be afraid to share your thoughts and your opinions. They are yours. No one else holds the power over your feelings. It’s easy to think of boldness as loud. I recommend trying to be quietly bold. Be bold, but not brazen in your approach. Yes, you are in control of your own feelings and opinions, but temper them with consideration. Be respectful of others while still expressing yourself. Your personal brand should always be bold.
Remember your personal branding efforts should never be established because of a desired outcome. Your personal branding should be a genuine reflection of who you are and what you believe. You should be considerate to others and you should be bold to share and interact in the community. Personal branding is an image of you, a reflection of your values and beliefs.
Your personal branding is powerful. And your personal branding matters.
June 13, 2014
How Committed Are You
Plymouth Rock holds a very important place in the history of the United States. This was the first place in the New World the pilgrims traveling from Great Britain came ashore. This represented the end of an incredible 3 month journey across the Atlantic ocean and the start of a new life. These early travelers were incredibly committed to accomplishing their goals.
So, clearly these early settlers were committed to their cause but how does this relate to us today and how can their commitment be related to small business? Let’s look at four ways their commitment to their goals affected their decisions.
They Believed In Their Cause
This small group of courageous individuals were absolutely committed to their goals. They believed in their cause to such an extent they were willing to accept great trials. Regardless of your opinion of their beliefs and their choices, it is undeniable they were willing to do whatever the they needed to because they believed in the reason.
As a small business owner, founder, it is also absolutely essential that before you can see your business become successful you need to believe in what you’re doing. It may seem simple and rather obvious but consider the reason why you’re doing what you do. Do you believe in the cause of your business? Or have you lost your focus and now simply do what you think needs to be done to be successful? You must believe in the product, if now then you are not truly committed. (Not to mention you’ll find very little personal satisfaction in your work).
Your work must be fun. You must enjoy what you do and you must believe in what you are doing. A popular quote which most of you will know is applicable here:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
But it’s much more than just believing in your cause. It’s taking the next step and being willing to give up everything to accomplish your cause.
They Sacrificed Everything
The Pilgrims were willing and ready to sacrifice everything to accomplish their goal. This is easy to see as an extreme level of commitment however, often times, this is overlooked when thinking about the Pilgrims and their journey to the colonies (soon to be the United States). The conditions they were leaving in England and the conditions they were accepting when moving to the colonies were exact opposites. And yet, due to their beliefs and their level of commitment they were ready and willing to sacrifice everything they had. They sacrificed lifestyle, friends, personal health, prosperity, and even loved ones for their cause.
Small business founders face difficulties and trials that others may never see. If you’re a small business owner then you understand the feeling of a bank account with a zero (negative) balance and the uncertainty of how to pay employees (definitely no payment for yourself). And yet you must continue. If you are committed to the success of your business you must be willing to sacrifice everything.
“The entrepreneurial life is one of challenge, work, dedication, perseverance, exhilaration, agony, accomplishment, failure, sacrifice, control, powerlessness… but ultimately, extraordinary satisfaction.”
– David S. Rose
They Expected Hardships
It would have been foolish for these brave individuals to assume everything would go smoothly. They went ahead with their plans to travel across the entire Atlantic ocean full-knowing they would experience loss, they would be forced to sacrifice their old lives, friendships, and even family. The both knew and accepted these hardships as part of their commitment to achieving their goals. This is important. Many places and historical records document the exact conditions they would encounter during their journey and upon their arrival. These travelers were fully aware of exactly what they could expect. No surprises.
Small business owners especially must be cautious of this point. Plan for success, but always, always, understand and be aware of any associated risks. If you know the hardships you can expect to face you can prepare yourself better to handle them. There is nothing wrong with looking at the potential pitfalls and preparing a way to navigate through them. This isn’t a sign of unbelief or pessimism in your business’ success, but rather a very clear display of your commitment.
“Never sacrifice planning for failure in order to appear optimistic, this will only leave you looking foolish and unprepared.”
They Followed Their Dreams
One last important correlation we’ll draw between the pilgrims and small business is quite possibly the easiest to see and the most pleasant to discuss. The pilgrims believed in their cause but even deeper than a belief in a cause, they took action and followed their dreams. It seems almost poetic but it is a very real situation. Rather than sitting back and talking about change, bemoaning their current state, and dreaming lofty wishful perfect outcomes, they boldly committed to following their dreams. They made plans (with calculated risks), understood the sacrifices, and the hardships to come and they still chased their idyllic utopian society.
Small business owners dream big. We all believe in an endless vast open space where anything is possible and with a little hard work our dreams can become a reality. Dreaming up ideas to change the world is something done on a daily basis. The part which comes next (which the first travelers to the new world actively did) the difficult task of planning and executing on their dreams and actively pursuing the dream is the hard part. This is the part small business owners can learn and grow from. As you dream (dream big) be sure to make plans, calculate risks, understand the sacrifices, and expect the hardships to come (believe me, they will come).
“I think if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to dream big
and then dream bigger.”
– Howard Shultz
Life wasn’t easy for the early settlers and life certainly isn’t easy for small business owners. But we should continue to chase after our dreams. Because at the end of the day, it’s really the same dream of the pilgrims we’re still chasing today. The American Dream.
A Final Thought
I encourage you to examine the lives of these people and the above aspects. Explore what they endured, what they believed and begin to understand the commitment they demonstrated. Ask yourself, as a small business owner, how many of these same areas apply to your life. Answer those questions and you’ll see just how committed you are as well.
June 12, 2014
Hmm, interesting title for an article, Wilbur Buds. Sounds a bit like a person’s name. I’d like to discuss the history of an obscure (somewhat) product and the reason why I believe many have never heard of Wilbur Bud but have heard of the successfully marketed copycat.
Ok, rather than keep you in suspense guessing at what the copycat is (or worse, leaving the article to go do a quick Google search). I’ll start off by telling you immediately who the famous copycat is. I’m quite sure most are familiar with them. They run a multi-billion dollar chocolate company located in Pennsylvania (in fact, the city is named after them). That’s right, the Hershey chocolate company. The product? The Hershey Kiss.
Long before Hershey ever created their now-famous Hershey Kiss, another chocolate manufacturer was creating a small chocolate cone-shaped treat wrapped in foil. H.O. Wilbur and Son chocolatiers located in a small town in Lititz, Pennsylvania began selling their “Wilburbud” in 1894. The handcrafted chocolate bites were each made with incredible attention to detail, the bottom of each stamped with a unique petal shape and the letters spelled out W.I.L.B.U.R.
For many years they successfully sold their chocolate Buds and did well. Good press reviews and publicity eventually attracted the attention of other candy makers. One of these candy makers was Milton Hershey who began creating chocolate bars and other chocolate candy in 1900-1901 (yes, years after Wilbur and Son).
It was not until 7 years later in 1907 that Hershey announced their “new” product. A Hershey Kiss. The kiss looked remarkably similar to the Wilburbud but lacked the level of detail and craftmanship of the original.
So, what made the difference? Why did the copycat product which didn’t appear until well over 10 years later become more popular and a nationally (globally?) recognized product? The answer is in the detail. Or rather, the lack of detail. While Wilbur and Son focused on creating handcrafted, detailed chocolates (remember the embossed bottom). Hershey took a different approach.
Hershey had developed methods of mass producing chocolate bars and in 1907 when they announced the release of the Hershey Kiss they created a way to mass produce this chocolate as well. Sure, they lacked the detail, the craftsmanship of the original; but they were capable of scaling to meet a nationwide market.
So, what does this mean? I think it’s an interesting story and lends itself to be a great example of a very common modern situation. So many times entrepreneurs like to think they are inventing a brand new product for a brand new market and while there are times when this is possible and accomplished. Many many more times there are great products that are a variation of an existing product.
If the product/industry is not new, what determines success? I believe the difference can be found in a couple of key areas.
Having a scalable product is the first critical item to focus on when growing in a market where competition already exists. Be prepared first of all to handle the traffic, and load of selling to a much larger audience than the existing companies. Be focused on making your product or solution available as easily as possible to your target market. Hershey took advantage of assembly-line, machine-made, production to create a product which could be easily shipped nationwide.
If Wilbur had been able to envision the national demand for the product and create a method for distribution then things may have been very different. Obviously being scalable wasn’t the only factor. Let’s look at another.
Minimum Viable Product
Hershey delivered a minimum viable product. I am in no way implying that the Hershey Kiss was somehow inferior or of lesser quality than Wilbur’s. In fact, Mr. Hershey is credited with the following quote:
“Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”
Clearly he believed in delivering a quality product. This is a common mistake when outlining a minimum viable product. Being quick and simple does not mean lacking in quality. You can easily product a minimum viable product of extremely high quality.
In this particular instance Hershey saw the advantage of forgoing a special embossed base to the candy because (at the time) this would lend itself to an assembly line production much easier.
Hershey created a minimum viable product which could be easily scaled and shipped across the nation. The result? Hershey kisses are known the world over and has become a significant part of the Hershey Company’s $4 billion annual revenue.
As business owners when looking to take your product to the next level be thoughtful in your approach. Look for ways to deliver a scalable solution to your largest customer base. And secondly don’t focus on all the bells and whistles. Deliver a clean and fully functional minimum viable product. And don’t mistake this minimum viable product as somehow inferior in quality.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering. Wilbur chocolate still exists. Iff you’re ever in the quaint small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania you can stop by and pick up some of the tasty Wilburbuds. But you’ll have to visit them personally as they don’t distribute to any outlets.
June 10, 2014
Leading through Listening
Too many times we think the best way to market ourselves and our businesses is through talking (and talking) about our business, our services, or our products. We neglect one of the very most basic marketing methods. Listening to the customer.
We’re Listening, We Promise
Sure, we hear all the advertisers as they blare out their claims of “we’re listening to you.” How many people really believe these big corporate conglomerates are truly listening to their customers? Most doubt the sincerity and most believe the reality is quite different. Common thinking seems to be major shareholders, investors and other big business interests more frequently shape the direction of a company than the average consumer.
But how does a small business listen to their customers? How does the small business not fall into the trap of claiming to listen without really hearing? It’s easy to overlook and yet the ability to connect with people is one of the biggest advantages a small business can have.
The Long Shot
People relate to small businesses. I’ve shared statistics previously about the number of small businesses in America, and yet the sheer volume of revenues generated by small businesses. People love cheering for the underdog, the little guy, the long shot. Often the small business is considered the long-shot. The little guy willing to stand up and speak out for the average consumer against the Goliath in the market place, the big business.
The truth may be the big business offers better services, better products, and better support; but the small business has by its very nature an inherent advantage. And this has to be realized and nurtured. Successful small businesses realize this. Successful small businesses focus on the personal connection and the communication with their customers and their industry. Open transparency regarding company size and struggles can be intimidating and yet highly rewarding.
Listening and Speed
Size matters, but in this case smaller is better. Lacking the volume of business means each customer is important. The customer realizes this and appreciates the fact that their purchase and their presence is valued. When the customer feels they are truly appreciated they engage more. They offer their advice and their opinions. Small businesses absolutely must take advantage of this.
Success comes from listening to others, hearing the needs, and then implementing improvements.
Successful small business realize they can more quickly make changes to their business and their services then a bigger company. I often hear it compared to a speedboat versus an ocean liner. Big business has a much harder time implementing a shift in their business. This leads to a perceived lack of “listening”. Small businesses should capitalize on the ability to make changes quickly and implement improvements based on feedback.
Listening and Hearing
An interesting point arises when considering the act of leading by listening. Most would understand the concept of leading and what is involved with taking charge of a situation. But how does listening fit within that understanding? How does the act of listening make for a better leader? The answer is simple.
Listening is more than gathering feedback. Listening is the active process of collecting feedback and hearing the underlying need.
A good leader does not merely listen to people. A good leader takes what they hear and analyzes what is being said. The sub-context. The meaning for the response. Small businesses looking to be the leader must do this too. This takes effort, takes work, and takes humility.
Listening and Humility
Small businesses must realize that even though they listen and they implement changes based on the perceived underlying need they will not be right all the time. Everyone filters their communication through their own experiences and beliefs. As a result no one is perfectly in-sync with someone else and there will be times when the response is wrong.
Leading through listening means acknowledging those times when the art of listening has lead to the wrong solution. The true need was misinterpreted and the outcome provided the wrong one. Successful small businesses connect with their customers and openly communicate through the process of rebuilding and resolving problems. It’s hard to be genuinely humble in offering an apology.
Yet here is one more way a small business holds an advantage. Small businesses are people too. People are not perfect and people make mistakes. Humbly apologizing and demonstrating a desire to improve based on listening to feedback shows customers that the small business cares. The small businesses must relate to their customers and share their struggles and their desire to improve.
How do these concepts of listening apply to leadership? In particular, how do small businesses lead through the art of listening.
The best leader is humble in attitude, quick to take action and dedicated to hearing the need.
If a small business wants to be a leader they focus on their strengths. Find the ways in which they hold the advantage and capitalize on them. Listening is one of those advantages. Leaders don’t charge blindly forward. Leaders must listen. Small businesses must listen. When they do they become leaders. They become successful.
Small businesses often struggle with the concept of leading, they hold the mistaken belief that their size constrains them from being a leader. This notion of leading being available only to the big company is misguided and flawed. Industry leaders can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Small businesses have equal opportunities to be leaders. Notice they are not the same opportunities, they are different but they are truly equal. The successful small business identifies and capitalizes on those opportunities.
Take the Time
Do you take the time to listen? Remember, listening is more than just getting people to fill out a contact form or a survey. Listening is an art. Listening takes practice. Spend time learning how to listen better. Your business will benefit from the investment. You’ll find you gain trust, you gain support, and you gain customers. Be the leader in your industry. Embrace your company size, find your niche and lead through listening.
June 9, 2014
Small Business: Get It in Writing
Every small business owner likes to believe in the value of their word. Maybe because it hearkens back to the olden days when “spit and a handshake” were all that were needed to close a deal. Unfortunately some of the personal aspects of business have been lost in our global economy. Getting things in writing is increasingly important.
I’ve heard the stories and seen the movies where a massive deal is done and the only agreement is a handshake. This typically was used to demonstrate the value of the other person’s character and the level of trust established between the two individuals. There are several reasons though why this is not the best practice for today’s businesses.
Paperwork Provides Clarity
Working on a project with a prospective client it can be very easy when sitting around the table to begin throwing out ideas about what could be accomplished and what could be done during the project. One thing leads to another and suddenly there is a miscommunication between expectations and deliverables. If you talk about grand ideas with your potential clients and then agree to complete the work verbally without a clear, defined, and written scope of work you will find yourself in a bad situation.
Your client will believe everything discussed will be accomplished in the first iteration and at the cost originally provided. You’ll believe you have lined up successful follow-up work to be completed after the original project and both of you will be disappointed. Writing up specifically what will be accomplished, what timeframe each will take, and what the associated costs are will help to set proper expectations. No one will be surprised and everyone will feel more comfortable and confident in the arrangement. Taking the time to write things out will provide clarity and reassurance.
Paperwork Provides Accountability
Yes, there is something inherently motivating about the idea of a verbal agreement. A demonstration of mutual trust and respect in the other party. However, unfortunately if there is no agreement that is written and signed by both of you then you’ll be more prone to failure. The act of drawing up paperwork and both agreeing and signing this agreement is not a sign of distrust. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A proper agreement demonstrates the desire to go beyond mere trust and shows commitment to the process. You are willing to hold yourself accountable by signing your name to an agreement you’ve helped to create.
This accountability shows you as the provider are confident in defining exactly what should be done and you agree with the clearly outlined tasks and objectives.
Paperwork Provides Opportunity
When drawing up a draft of what should be accomplished you can use this time to take things beyond just providing clarity and accountability. You can seize this opportunity to outline future steps as well as identify additional services you can provide. Again, remember if you are in a purely verbal situation there are many opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding about goals and included tasks. Once you have written them all down you can more easily see areas where you can provide additional value.
Opportunities exist for both sides. The prospective client has an opportunity to see how you work. This gives them insights into how you run your business. Do you focus on the details? Do you take the time to listen to them and then relate their needs to outcomes? This is an excellent opportunity for the client to get a real-life first-hand look into how you do business.
Paperwork Provides Legitimacy
The last point is perhaps the most practical. While some may argue the above points as areas which could be addressed in verbal agreement situations, this last one holds very tangible benefits. In most courts (at least in the United States) the signing of an agreement is considered a legal and binding document. As much as we would all believe there is never going to come a time when legal counsel needs to be involved unfortunately the reality is you should always be prepared.
The signed agreement helps in creating clarity, defining tasks, providing opportunity, and encouraging accountability; but ultimately it serves to protect both parties in a legal situation. Every business owner trusts it will never come to the point where the legal approach has to even be considered. But every business owner should be prepared in the case it becomes necessary.
Small business owners embark every day on a perilous journey of establishing their name, their credibility, their trustworthiness. Although the first thought may be that a verbal agreement demonstrates trust and commitment the reality (as outlined above) demonstrates that getting it in writing will improve business and help to establish them much much more. Use this opportunity to demonstrate excellence.
Be smart about how you conduct your business. Use the opportunity of writing up an agreement to demonstrate how well you’ve listened to the client’s needs, how focused you are on providing them the perfect solution, how well you understand the tasks to be completed, and how committed you are to not only the immediate solution but to a long-term relationship with them. This builds far more trust. This goes much further than a slimy, germ-covered handshake ever could.
June 6, 2014
Small Business Matters: Educate Yourself
As human beings we essentially never stop learning. From the moment we are born until the moment we die we are constantly gathering information, making judgements and forming opinions based on our life experiences. As small business owners we should never stop learning either. Educate yourself. Constantly.
When beginning a small business you set out on a path. A journey which will undoubtedly be filled with challenges, heartaches, and hopefully a few mountain top experiences. But along the way you will need to learn. You’ll need to grow, to adjust, and to modify your strategies. Just because something was successful when you began doesn’t mean it will always remain successful. Small business owners must be forever willing to listen to others and to educate themselves.
Running a small business is a bit like continuing education. Only the stakes are much higher and the course isn’t graded (other than by your business success). Just as in personal life, business life is a never slowing pace and decisions must be made daily. What ways can you educate yourself as a business owner to ensure you ace the course? You can educate yourself by learning from others, learning from history, and learning from the market.
Education from Others
The first way small business owners can continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding is through other’s experiences, stories, and successes. Small business owners should be always listening. This is the key to educating yourself from others. If you’re so wrapped up in your own ideals and your own focus then you’ll easily miss the nuggets of gold being shared by others around you. When you choose to listen to others you have a couple of options.
Learn from Competitors
Obviously, you can learn from your competition. This is possibly the easiest way to educate yourself from others. You’ll naturally tend to do this anyway as you establish your business, identify your target market and identify the competitors in the space. Once you’ve seen who you’re competing against you’ll see what they do and what they don’t do. You’ll learn by looking at their track record, their approach, and their marketing. Don’t just copy their tactics. Be smarter and learn from them. See what they do that is successful and more importantly what they do that is not successful. Then you can capitalize on that.
Learn from Customers
You can also educate yourself by learning from your customers. Those loyal and the one-offs alike. Follow up with them, reach out to them and listen to them. Ask them what they appreciated and also what they disliked. You’ll only be able to improve if you take the good and the bad. Remember, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t need to improve, change or grow. No business is perfect and the customer will always be quick to tell you what they don’t care for. Obviously you don’t blindly change your business model because a single angry customer thinks you should. But exercise discretion and educate yourself on how you can improve for the benefit of your customers and ultimately your business.
Learn from Culture
The last area we can look at when educating yourself from others is the culture. Be aware of the culture which surrounds your business. Are you a local shop targeting only local customers? What matters to the community? What are the social acceptable business practices for the culture? Educate yourself on how to market effectively and be culturally appropriate. You will gain the respect of the community if you are conscientious of those things which matter to them.
Education from History
History is an excellent teacher. As a small business owner there is an almost endless supply of knowledge which can be tapped in to held within the history of businesses and particularly your business. Take advantage of this knowledge and educate yourself about what has been successful for other businesses in history. It’s important also to learn from your mistakes. Acknowledge those times when you’ve failed to do what you anticipated, and learn from your own history.
Learn from Business History
You are very clearly not the first small business owner in the world. There have been many many more before you who have gone through the same struggles, the same hardships, and the situations you are now in the midst of. Solomon, a historically recognized thought leader once made the following statement which I think aptly fits here.
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”
I have to admit, even in the overwhelming world of technology where new things are constantly appearing, this quote often comes to my mind. The underlying problem to be solved may be one which has existed and been solved in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. Take advantage of these historical records and learn from them. Apply them to your situation and your current problems and find ways in which you can educate yourself.
Learn from Your History
But sometimes even more importantly you should learn from your own history. When you make a mistake be thoughtful and retrospective. Write down the details so you don’t forget them. Share them with others. Find ways to help analyze what happened, what was the action taken and what led up to the outcome which you experienced. Learn not only from your mistakes but also from your success. Take the time to do more than blindly rush through business doing a million different things trying to find something successful. Instead be methodical in your approach (I hate that word, I personally mistakenly equate methodical with slow. That is absolutely an untrue assumption)
Be methodical and put thought into what has been successful, and what will continue to be successful in the future.
Learn from your history, apply it to your present, and use it to shape your future.
If you take the time to learn from your mistakes you’re more likely to not repeat them in the future.
Education from the Market
This last point is an easy one. Especially if you are in the software or tech sector. You absolutely must be willing to educate yourself constantly to stay aware of changes in the market space. Things don’t stay stagnate for long and small business owners must always be aware of the current and changing trends in their market sector. It’s foolish to believe that what you did 10 years ago is still relevant today with no other influencing factors. Things change, people change, markets change. As a result, you must be willing to frequently visit and review the state of the economy, your sector, and your target audience.
Learning from the market involves staying aware of new competitors, new opportunities, and new perceptions by your target audience. Be willing to listen (as stated above) and be willing to change. Change can be scary but change can be good. If you educate yourself by reading blogs, news articles, press releases; by watching videos, interviews, trends; and by communicating with industry leaders, attending events, and getting to know your audience you will position yourself to achieve greater business success.
Small businesses are vitally important to economies around the world. Your small business is even more vitally important to you. Do everything you can to educate yourself to achieve great things.
Make the effort to keep learning, keep changing, keep improving. The reward is worth the investment.
May 30, 2014
The Value of In-Person Meetings
Attending a meeting is an excellent opportunity to share information, expand your learning and make connections with others. Sometimes we would like to believe face to face meetings are not necessary. But there is still an incredibly important value of in-person meetings.
Many people complain about the value of meetings and lament the fact that meeting simply waste valuable time. However, there is, without a doubt, benefits and positive reasons for holding a meeting. Because the idea that meetings are important can be a controversial topic let’s look at a few reasons why we should value the opportunity to hold meetings.
Meetings allow for real-time, direct sharing of ideas
Yes, I have heard people exclaim that a virtual chat room can accomplish the same goals as an in-person meeting, however, if you acknowledge that a discussion is more than just verbal communication Reading people is hard if you’re only typing into a chat. I wrote a post previously on why the art of reading people is important and how to do it well. In fact, I’ve seen stats as high as 90% of meetings are non-verbal. You lose all of that if you do not meet in person. If you’re only typing into a chat, first you have no face-to-face ability as I just mentioned where you can learn more than what is typed. This is important to being successful.
Meetings encourage focused participation
Of course even in meetings where you’re in the same room with people you can find ways to disengage and lose your focus, but the probability is much higher that when in a physical meeting with another person (or group of people) you will spend a higher percentage of your time actively engaged with those you are with. If you’re sitting at your computer for a meeting I guarantee you there will be at least a half-dozen other items demanding your attention. You’ll lose your focus and be out of a conversation before you even realize it. This drastically decreases your involvement, your participation, and ultimately the effectiveness of your communication. Believe it or not, no matter how hard you try to convince everyone you can multi-task, it’s simply not true; and your meeting participants will know you’re not focused.
Meetings are part of the human DNA
Obviously we can’t point to a very specific gene but there have been studies on the value of meetings related to our genetic makeup and chemistry and they have attempted to quantify this through the use of biochemistry and hormones. It’s an interesting concept. As humans we appreciate contact, connections, and communication. Regardless of the actual hormone and biological or chemical triggers which are fired as a result of meeting people the outcome is still very much the same. The value of a handshake (or other culturally accepted greeting) may never be quantified scientifically but I’m sure we can all agree there is an intrinsic feeling of value placed on that connection.
Meetings mean opportunity for informal conversations
Many times virtual meetings, chats, and other conversations which are not held in a face-to-face meeting are recorded. This essentially means everything being said, or shared, is being copied, or recorded, and ability to be referenced, reviewed, and re-read for all eternity to come. We all understand the internet never forgets. People do. When you meet in person with someone you are able to be yourself even more. You can feel more comfortable knowing you are not going to be forever held accountable to what’s said or shared. Of course I’m not saying you’ll share wrong information but you’ll be more at-ease and you’ll be able to connect with others more effectively.
Meetings encourage personal growth
What’s the easiest thing to do? The easiest thing (for most of us) is to slouch comfortably in front of a computer and type our responses. We don’t have to be conscientious about our clothing, our appearance, or something else. Some don’t enjoy speaking in public or speaking with others, the human connection is difficult for you. Meetings held in-person encourage personal growth. You will force yourself to become better, to present yourself effectively, and to focus on someone else. You will become a better person and better communicator. Yes, it might be difficult but meetings encourage personal growth.
I trust that these are somewhat compelling benefits for in-person meetings. You’ll find personal benefits as well as professional benefits come from holding face-to-face meetings. So the next time you’re tempted to skip out on an opportunity to meet in person, be bold, put some clothes on and venture out into the world and hold your meeting in a true in-person meeting.
May 29, 2014
Important Small Business Roles
Continuing our business series and highlighting small business matters I’d like to look at a few roles or positions necessary in a small business to be successful and to clearly structure a strong team.
I should preface by saying these are not requirements and not a full list either of small business roles. Again I’m speaking from personal experience and what I’ve seen exhibited by other successful companies. If you think of other roles which don’t fall under one of the following categories I’d love to hear what you’ve found to be successful.
This role is the easiest to fill in a small business. I say it’s the easiest because usually the small business is begun because of someone with an idea. The founder has identified a problem and envisioned a solution. The visionary does more than just provide the initial vision however. They must continue to stay current with the market and the trends and provide ongoing ideas and solutions. Idea generation is a primary focus of the visionary. They are allowed to dream and they are expected to provide ways to improve not merely the business and the product today, but in 10 years, 20 years to come.
Summary: The visionary provides ideas and a future set of big things to accomplish. They must also be an effective communicator and motivator to encourage others to not only see the vision but to be passionate to achieve it.
The planner is the perfect balance for the visionary. This person must be able to take the ideas and dreams of the visionary and place them on a roadmap for implementation. They must provide the gravity for the floating ethereal approach of the visionary. Plans should be detailed but not too overly detailed and the planner must take into account the available resources and project realistic deadlines and timelines. The planner asks questions and prioritizes things based on their understanding of the small business and their goals.
Summary: The planner provides realistic goals and plans for accomplishing the goals of the visionary. They must be an effective organizer and highly realistic to continue the vision but place it on an achievable timeline.
The creator is the person who generates proof of concepts and puts a real-life tangible implementation of the ideas and dreams. They must be able to both conceptualize the ideas and visions of the visionary and then apply them to a sample demonstration which can accurately represent these ideas. The creator works closely with the visionary and the planner to ensure things are prioritized correctly and the right ideas are put into action at the right time. There must be a strong ability to distill ideas down to their true essence and capture the idea with a minimal amount of effort.
Summary: The creator generates a real-life representation of the ideas of the visionary in accordance with the plans of the planner. They must be an effective analyzer and capable of summarizing the minimum viable product as defined by the vision.
This role is invaluable to the success of a small business. Perhaps I should begin by defining the role and the title I’ve used. The term is absolutely not a negative term. This individual is the person who is completely focused on the details “behind-the-scenes” to make sure everything works and is built on the right foundation. The squinter looks at the details, the nitty-gritty points which allow everyone else to do their job effectively. Quick example, the squinter ensures the business has been incorporated correctly, has structured the by-laws, directors, and other legal needs. They analyze the market and the numbers and the viability of the product and business.
Summary: The squinter focuses on ensuring the business is built on the right foundation and is structured to be sustainable. They must be an effective thinker and detail-oriented to establish the business correctly and prepared for the future.
There’s one role which I have specifically not mentioned in the above positions I find necessary in a small business. You will notice I do not focus on The Doer. This is because I believe every role is a doer role. Without a team working together and everyone doing work to make the company successful the business will fail. I do not believe there should ever be a single person doing all the work. So I suggest the doer is actually a part of everyone’s role.
These small business roles are a few of the positions you’ll find in any successful business. There are certainly instances where multiple roles are filled by a single person, in fact if you read my previous post on the many hats worn by a founder, I think my point is clear. There are other positions and roles which would help and perhaps some of these could be tweaked or defined even further. Read this list and see how it applies to your business, find the areas you are weak and determine if you need to seek additional help. Remember you should always staff to your weaknesses. And of course…
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 27, 2014
The Art of Reading People
Reading people is absolutely an art. Sure there is an inherent skill to it, but as with other art forms you can learn this skill. If you’re a small business owner the ability to read someone is critically important. You must be able to do more than just talk, you must listen, understand and interpret the responses you receive.
What do I mean when I say “read” someone? Obviously I don’t mean you’re reading literal words off someone’s face but instead I mean listening to what they are saying, thinking about what they mean, and interpreting the non-verbal cues being sent. Non-verbal? Yes, these are critically important to reading and understanding the person you are communicating with. By non-verbal I refer to items such as body posture, facial expressions, and speech intonation.
Why Reading Right Matters
Reading people correctly will allow you to relate with them better, modify or reiterate your message, or even stop and find out why someone may disagree with you. If you read someone wrong you can easily misinterpret something they say or think they understand what you’re expressing when in reality they are completely lost. No one enjoys sticking their foot in their mouth. Even worse, no one likes the feeling when they believe the audience is fully agreeing with them when in reality they simply think the speaker is full of hot air.
Reading someone right is not difficult but takes thought and effort on the part of the speaker. You, as the communicator, must be able to do two things at once (or even more). The small business owner relies on strong relationships and good communication to effectively grow their business. The small business where the owners are able to listen and respond to the needs of their customers and do more than just talk “at” them.
Tips for Reading Right
Look for signs of hesitation
Hesitation can be both a positive signal and a negative signal. Signs of hesitation are little things like questioning eyebrows, perhaps a delay in providing feedback, or even a deep breath. These signs can be instructive in understanding what a person is thinking. Hesitation can be a sign of uncertainty, questions, or even disagreement. Hesitation can also be simply a delay in the communication medium. Be sure you don’t misread hesitation for disagreement. We’ll discuss hesitation and silence a bit more in a later point below. Keep reading.
Watch body posture
Body posture can be an important indicator. There’s a fantastic TED talk given by Amy Cuddy on the topic of body posture. I encourage you to watch the video and learn some great tips about body posture. Amy focuses on how your own body posture affects your outlook but watch the video and analyze it from the perspective of understanding what the various postures mean when you see them in others.
Listen to feedback
This is funny because you’re thinking about being a better speaker. A better speaker and effective communicator does more than talk. Listening to the feedback you receive is important for ensuring your message is clear. Feedback can take many forms. Feedback can be something as simple a sigh, a nod, or a verbal response. When you find yourself talking so much that no one else has an opportunity to respond you are not being an effective speaker and you are failing to read your audience. Be sure to include an opportunity for your audience to give feedback.
Follow the eyes
Humans can be incredibly communicative with only their eyes (and eyebrows). When you’re speaking with someone don’t neglect the eye contact. Of course, there are some cultures where this is seen as impolite; I would expect cultural differences to be taken into account in all of these tactics. You certainly don’t want to offend your audience. By the statement, following the eyes, I also mean being aware of where the other person is looking, if they are not looking at you, if they appear distracted or otherwise disinterested then you are not affectively communicating. Be sure you don’t lose your audience by not reading their eyes.
Interpret the silence
There is an old phrase, “silence is golden”. There’s a lot of truth in those simple three words. Don’t panic if there’s a moment of silence in the conversation. It’s ok to have a pause. This was a particular part of reading someone which I have been learning (very slowly I admit). I’ve always struggled with allowing longer periods of silence. I felt this meant there was confusion and I needed to clarify. Or that I wasn’t soliciting the right feedback. The truth can be very different. The topic you’re sharing is something you’ve probably spent many hours thinking about, mulling over, and preparing how you want to say it. You should not expect your audience to immediately understand everything you say. They will need time to process. They will need to be allowed the courtesy of silence to sift through what you’ve said and form their opinion. Be sure you’re interpreting the silence correctly.
Reading without Interrogating
This can be a very difficult skill to learn. In fact, this is where I struggle the most myself. Too many questions, too many attempts at trying to ‘figure out’ what someone is thinking and feeling can leave them feeling a bit interrogated. Remember the goal is not to analyze every movement and every thought. The purpose of reading someone is to make sure you effectively deliver your message and communicate properly. It does not mean persuading someone to agree with you. Let me say that again in a different way,
Reading someone’s response is an important tool for effective communication; it is not for the purpose of persuasion.
If you find yourself watching non-verbal cues too intently and you start to get the sense the person is feeling a bit overwhelmed and a scrutinized then you need to be sure you tone it down a bit. Relax your questioning and take a more casual stance. This helps restore a two-way communication and takes away the sense of being ‘under-the-spotlight’.
Reading people is important, and the above tips can help you become an even more effective communicator. Take time to practice and learn this art form.
May 22, 2014
Don’t Fool Yourself
It can be incredibly easy to do. You sit in an office with your team members working tirelessly on a product. You pour your life into your small business. And it is a beautiful thing. But here’s a word of caution. Don’t be so dazzled when describing your small business to others you fool yourself into missing its faults.
Ok, so I’m a father of three wonderful children. If you ever meet me in person I will regale you with stories for hours about them. I adore and love my kids and I mean it quite seriously when I say they are the best looking kids ever. Smart, funny, enjoyable to be around. Surely they must be the world’s perfect kids. But here’s the thing. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Every parent everywhere will tell you about their perfect kid. They’ll smile, nod and tell you how incredibly beautiful their wonderful little darling is.
Things Are Not What They Seem
Unfortunately I know from personal experience…they are not always the impeccable little angels their parents think. Of course it’s not always their fault. Since first bringing this little bundle of joy into the world these parents have doted on, cared for, and showcased their child to anyone and everyone willing to give a second glance. And (in the U.S.A at least) the obligatory response has always been,
“What a beautiful baby! How perfect; what a little angel!”
Or something along those lines. These unsuspecting parents are given (sometimes) false information, or a stretched truth in the process of polite conversation. What does this do?
A Skewed Reality
This constant reinforcement of a slight mistruth, or half-truth, over time will lead to a skewed sense of reality for the parents. They’ll start to believe their child truly is the best looking, cutest baby to have ever existed. I don’t mean to sound cynical, please don’t mistake me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent believing 110% in the qualities of their offspring. I would be worried if it were otherwise. However, those parents who continue to perpetuate the belief and proclaim it to others to a point of uncomfortableness for others are sometimes difficult to be around.
This leads to awkward moments when other people disagree but are afraid to tell them. (Or those times when you’d really like to let a parent know that their precious little angel may in fact have a pair of horns and pointed tail.) You see what has happened; these parents have so overlooked all possibility for improvement and have built up in their own minds an unrealistic shell of perfection they have distanced themselves from otherwise possibly helpful advice.
Small Business, Baby
You see where I’m going with this right? If you’re a small business owner you have spent hundreds, thousands of hours nurturing, caring for, doting on your company. You’ve fed it, watched it grown, seen it develop and begin to be a wonderful solution to the problem you set out to solve. When you started with an idea what was one of the first things you did? You’d share it with a friend or two. You’d tell them how awesome it was and then you’d wait. You want to hear those words…”It’s beautiful”. Maybe even if you’re especially lucky you’ll hear someone exclaim, “It’s perfect!”.
What an incredibly great feeling. Affirmation that this thing which started as just a figment of an idea in your mind has been turned into something more by the simple affirmation of another. You continue to work on it. You pour your time into making it better and better. Along the way you continue to seek the constant feedback from others, only you’re not really looking for feedback, you’re looking selectively for positive responses. You want others to confirm just how perfect your small business is.
As time passes and you constantly hear only the feedback you’re looking to receive you’ll begin to believe you’re right. You must have the world’s perfect small business. And what will other’s think? Well, they will continue to see the problems (maybe even big problems). They’ll see ways for improvement and see reasons why your “child” really isn’t perfect, but they won’t be interested in sharing them with you. And your small business will suffer. Greatly.
Now I know you are different. You’re smarter than this type of person, but just in case you know someone else who might benefit from this reminder I think it’s worth sharing.
So, here’s the word of caution I shared at the beginning. Don’t be so dazzled by your own small business you fail to listen to others and fool yourself into believing your own story. Because you will end up being the only one believing. And fooling yourself only makes you the fool.
Instead focus on seeking out true and accurate assessments from others. Encourage others to honestly share their thoughts and opinions on your small business. Then listen. Truly listen and take to heart the advice you receive.
Seeking the honest opinions of others and heeding wise advice will make your small business a better business.
Who knows, you may find yourself in the end with the world’s perfect small business.
May 20, 2014
Small Business Is More Than A Product
When you are beginning a small business you often start with a vision, an idea or a dream of what you want your company to become. This product (service) is what you see as the key foundational cornerstone of your business. But a successful small business is much more than a product.
The First Thought
Sure, every small business (or any business for that matter) begins because the founders saw a need, saw a problem, and figured out a solution to the problem. It may have begun because they found a deficiency in their own lives where they really needed a certain outcome and could find nothing to meet their needs.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Along the way these founders realized there must be others with similar problems also interested in a successful solution. This is where it gets fun. These individuals turn from problem solvers to entrepreneurs. No longer are they simply working out a solution for their own needs. Now they have decided to share this solution with others. The wheels start to turn and they begin to realize they could charge a nominal fee and generate revenue on this product. This point where things get very serious.
Small Businesses Must Plan Ahead
The creation of a product which meets a need is not a business. A small business is much more than simply the product you wish to sell. This is an oft forgotten aspect of starting a new business. You as the founder of a small business will be wearing many different hats and you will be forced to consider many decisions beyond just the product you’re selling. Small businesses must plan out a road map for their future.
You must look at not only the immediate future of what you want to sell but you must also focus on where you want to be in 6 months or more. You should set out a plan (and be sure to set realistic goals and deadlines) which you will then follow as you build and grow your business.
Small Businesses Take Work
I’m sure everyone who has started a small business understands it takes an incredible amount of work to establish a successful business. Small businesses are a great starting point for growing larger companies or even building a sustainable small business. Again, it’s far more than a product. In fact, it’s more than just a product and a website.
I’d like to take some time in this article and address a short list of things you should plan on as well as work to be done when launching a small business.
Behind the Scenes
I’m going to call this group of items the “behind the scenes” items. These are things most of your customers won’t see or interact with but are vitally important for you to take care of before attempting to launch your small business.
- Legal Business Name & Incorporation Type
I plan to write a full article on this single topic as it is one of the trickiest and often more difficult items to consider when starting a new business. For brevity in this post I think it’s suffice to say, don’t forget to select an incorporation type (LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, DBA, etc…). This includes your articles of incorporation, membership shares, by-laws and more. Also be sure you have your business name filed with your required government authorities.
- Bank Accounts
This might seem obvious but I’ve seen it firsthand where a business has been created, a product released and suddenly customers are interested in purchasing and the business doesn’t have the necessary bank account to take the money! It’s almost laughable, but I assure you it happens.
- Merchant Accounts & Credit Processing
If you anticipate taking funds via credit cards, check cards, online payments (bitcoins) etc.. you need to be sure you select a merchant account, a credit card processor, or other digital payment processor. Things like setting up a PayPal account take a little bit of time and you will need to have your bank accounts and business information (EIN) handy.
The next set of items I’m going to label as “customer interface”. These are the items which the customer sees and interacts with. Important items to consider in this category are listed as follows:
- Customer Website
Again, this might feel basic and quite obvious, but don’t neglect this vitally important piece. Your website needs to be easy to navigate, simple to find, and clear in its purpose. Be sure you capture your audience’s eye and focus their attention on the appropriate things. Oh, and be sure you’re targeting the right customer (again, for another day).
- Product Delivery
Plan how you will be delivering your product to your customer. Will they be digitally downloading your product? Will you need to capture shipping information and process shipping? If you are selling digital goods will you offer a one-time download or multiple downloads? (i.e. Will you establish a membership website and customer portal?). Be sure to plan out how the customer gets what they pay for. You want this process to continue building their confidence they have chosen the right company and you want to keep them from any buyer’s remorse.
- Follow Up
What will you do after they have purchased your product? Are you going to add them to a mailing list? Will you email them additional information. Perhaps a physical card in the mail would be appropriate. Be sure to consider how you will continue to build a relationship with your customer. This is the point where a single-time customer will not only become a repeat customer but will also become a salesperson for you to their friends. This is the sweet spot.
- Support Center
Don’t blindly think every sale will be perfect and every customer a happy one. As mush as you want to believe they all know what they are purchasing and what you are providing there will always be those times when clarification is necessary or support is required. How will you handle support? Setting up a member’s area with a support desk tool is one option. Email support and phone support are also ways to support your product. Whatever you choose as most appropriate for your business, be sure it’s ready on launch day.
Whew! That is a lot of work. Starting a small business is definitely much more than a product. And there are still other things to consider. However, I don’t want anyone feeling overwhelmed so I will leave the rest for a future post. We’ll assume at this point you’ve taken care of all the above and you have just launched your website, held your grand opening, and invited your first customers into the store. Are you done?
Absolutely not. I often find myself telling people:
You can create the world’s most beautiful website, and have the most amazing product, but it will do no good if no one ever sees it.
In the next article we’ll look at what to do after you’ve launched your product. Now that you have your small business foundation started, we’ll explore how you can make it successful.
Please let me know if you have other ideas of important things to consider when building a small business. I’d love to hear from you.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 19, 2014
Steps to Successful Funding (Part 1)
It’s one of the most common questions I hear and one of the most challenging parts of any small business looking to take the next step. How to get funding?
I want to start by saying I’m certainly not an expert in this field. There are many more wildly successful entrepreneurs and start-ups who have successfully navigated the world of angel investing, small-seed rounds, and venture capitalists. I only recently joined this group and have much still to learn!
I’m thrilled (and slightly relieved) to share that only last week one of the start-ups I co-founded successfully raised its initial seed round funding through angel investors. This was an incredibly exciting time for the start-up team and for me as well. Personally it was my first successful round of funding and it was a learning experience to say the least. I’ll share below some of the process and some of the lessons I learned along the way when seeking that initial investment.
Don’t Chase Money
The first and most important lesson is simple. Don’t chase money. This is a strange concept. As a start-up looking for investors obviously you’re looking for resources, for capital, for an investment in your company to allow you to continue to grow and expand. So why shouldn’t you chase money? Because chasing money is hard. Chasing money means finding the wrong type of investor.
What type of investor are you looking for? If you’re interested in finding shrewd business people intent on maximizing their profit, and the return on their investment, focused solely on how your start-up will benefit their portfolio and generate more money for them – then chase money. These investors are not evil – but they are not the type of first round investors you need. If you are chasing the money only, this is the type of investor you will find. You may think you only need the money and you can do the rest. Be smarter.
If you’re involved in a start-up you need to be talking (and listening) constantly. Building relationships is critical. The saying, “It’s all in who you know” does ring true to an extent. The connections you make with others is vitally important. A word of caution though – do not be just a “taker”. A strong relationship is a two-way connection. Not only should you be looking for connections which are beneficial to you, but you should also be seeking out ways in which you can provide value to others. Be willing to give of your time and your knowledge.
Stop. Let’s take a quick timeout on this point. Here’s something I heard from a good friend and is extremely applicable here. Always, always, be yourself. Be genuine, don’t try to fake interest, or try to fake a connection. People will always see through it – no matter how good you think you are at faking it. The best possible scenario is when someone believes in you so strongly they’ll invest in what you’re doing no matter what it is. Because they believe in you.
When connecting with others, remember you’re making a friend.
Be genuine. Be yourself. Be transparent.
Share Your Story
As a start-up you should be talking and sharing your story. Don’t be the obnoxious person who never stops rambling on forever about how great they are and how their idea is the next big thing. But don’t be ashamed to share what you’re doing either. Admittedly it can be a fine line. The point is you want others to be aware of what you’re doing. You want to communicate effectively. This means both talking and listening. Find out what the interests are of others, and when they ask, share yours as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Listen to their advice and their opinion on your ideas. Thoughtfully consider what they say and improve your start-up’s goals.
Remember, you’ll never find people interested in investing in your start-up if they don’t know anything about it. You should refine your “pitch” so it’s clear, concise, and catchy. Don’t be overly wordy and don’t label yourself as Google for XYZ. You should be prepared to share your idea in a single sentence AND in a short paragraph. There will be times when you may sense that someone is semi-interested but time is limited at the moment. Don’t try to cram too much information down their throat. Instead, give them a short tidbit and wait for a better time.
You’ll never find people interested in investing in your start-up if they don’t know anything about it.
As you find yourself making friends and connecting with others you’ll find those individuals who are genuinely interested in your idea and what you want to accomplish. Remember, you’ll never reach this point if you don’t make friends and share your story. Talk with these new friends and be open about the position you’re in and what your needs are.
Be smart and share your true start-up needs. If you need money, explain the reasons why you need funds. What is it that requires money and why would an outside individual, or investor, be the best solution? If you need help with getting the work done tell them. This comes back to an earlier point I made. Be genuine and be transparent. If you’re trying to hide the reason why you’re looking for help from others you’ll look shady. (More accurately – you are shady).
Along the way you may hear from people ways in which they can help. You’ll find advice comes easy and everyone has an opinion. Be polite and considerate and take everything you can. Filter the advice and apply it to your start-up. If someone mentions they are interested in becoming more a part of your business (because they believe in the idea, or because they believe in you) then you’ve already laid the groundwork and it’s clear what you need. Don’t push the issue. Allow the conversation to unfold and and mature. Be patient.
When seeking funding for your start-up it’s important to be patient.
I will pause here and continue in the next article with what you can expect after you’ve discussed things casually. (See, I’m helping with your patience already!) We’ll look at getting serious, respecting the process, planning for delays, and more. If you’re interested in this set of posts please feel free to tweet me. I’m certainly interested in feedback and thoughts. If you have suggestions for ways I can improve, or questions on how particular things happened, don’t hesitate to ask.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 15, 2014
Building a Business Brand
Everyone is known for something. As much as you may wish that’s not the case at times. Similarly every business is known for something, be it a product, service, or character quality. What is your business brand and how does it affect what you’re known for?
According to Wikipedia, a brand is defined as follows:
Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”
Does this truly define what a brand is when you look at a company? If we look at some open source companies lets see if we can identify what makes up their brand. Then we can see how this applies to building a business brand for your small business.
Does A Business Brand Matter?
First question, does it matter if you have a business brand? Do you have to define a brand for your business? I think this is a great starting point. Based on my first sentence in this article you already know I believe a brand is an inherent part of a business. Rather than a contrived, artificial creation by some marketing team I believe a business brand always exists. What matters is the definition of that brand and how the brand is represented by the marketing team and other business outreaches.
Open Source Branding
Open source organizations are no exception. If we look at some popular open source platforms we’ll still find the existence and identifying effects of a brand. One example, Drupal, an open source content management system has created a page just for the purpose of defining their brand. You’ll find they have defined brand slightly different from the dictionary definition above. Rather, Drupal believes “a brand incorporates the values, culture, mission, personality and image of an organization.” This is an interesting difference.
Open source places their brand identity in the intangible aspects of the people who make up their community. I think this is a fantastic application of the branding definition.
The people within a business define and represent the brand.
Learn from Open Source
When building a business brand you would do well to learn from the open source organizations. A small business has the opportunity to establish itself both in culture and in branding. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Find ways to differentiate yourself. That sometimes feels easier said than done. Especially in some fields where the barrier to entry is low and competition is strong. How do you differentiate your business when building a business brand?
Everyone is Unique
At first glance the question can seem to be a difficult one and uncertainty can leave you unsure where to begin when building a brand. But the truth is building a successful brand is simple. You don’t have to build a brand. You embody a brand. You are the brand. As we discussed earlier, every business has a brand already. Every person in your business represents and lives the brand. And the great news is everyone is unique. There is no one exactly like you on this planet. Because of this simple fact the business which you are a part of is also unique. Build your business around this principle.
You’re not building a brand in the creation sense. You’re sharing a brand that already exists and drives your business.
Take the open source example above. Merge that example with the concept that everyone leaves an impression. The result is where you focus your attentions and efforts. Rather than attempting to “build” a brand you should focus on sharing, nurturing, and growing your brand. Look at the people in your company. (Here’s another benefit to being a small business.) What are the core values, beliefs, principles, and values you and your fellow team members hold? This is what guides your business. This is what you will be known for.
At the end of the day, your business brand reflects the people which make up your business and ultimately the products, service, support, or whatever it might be you are selling. Don’t attempt to create a false brand under the assumption it will increase your sales. Be genuine in sharing your brand. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. Interested in how this relates to your company culture?
Small Business First
Small businesses have the greatest opportunity to share unique, creative, and fun brands. Your small business can share the culture, the community, the passion of your team members through a brand which matches you. Building a business brand is simple. Learn from others, Establish values, Be genuine, and share your passion with others.
Remember, we’re all in this together!
May 13, 2014
Free Marketing Ideas for Small Business
Most small businesses also have small marketing budgets. And it’s pretty much a fact of life that there will always be bigger companies with bigger budgets working in the same space. How can the little guy get noticed?
There are a variety of ways a small business can effectively market themselves and their product without competing in the paid marketing arena so easily dominated by larger companies. Below is a short list of 10 ways you can generate traffic and interest in your company without breaking the bank. That’s right, free marketing. Remember, these are in no particular order. Try to apply some of these to your business and see if you have more success than the larger companies.
1. Make Your Size Matter
Find the benefits of having a smaller company size in your particular market. Does it increase your customer care? Then brag about it. Figure out the ways in which your size is a positive over the other companies in your same industry. It’s not always the best thing to be the biggest company around.
2. Take Advantage of Social Media
Social media provides an excellent opportunity for leveling a playing field. You can create a Facebook page or Twitter account just as easily as the next company. And there’s no reason not to. Of course there are paid or “promoted” tweets and advertising opportunities on other social media. Even still, the opportunity to interact with your users one-on-one and do more than just shout into a void exists for all companies equally. I’ll have a full post in the future on proper use of social media.
Everyone can write. Sure it takes some people longer than others to write good content, but there is no cost obstacle to writing. This is often the single biggest hurdle that businesses must overcome. Often writing is seen as a time-consuming venture which does not yield a return. The truth is writing fresh content can be the single biggest factor for improving your on-site SEO and although the return is not immediate, there is absolutely an incredible amount of value in good content.
4. Be the Expert
Small businesses usually started because the founder(s) knew something. They saw a problem and they created a solution. They are experts at what they do. When competing with a big company the best thing the little guy can do is to establish themselves as an expert in their field. Showcase why you do what you do and why you’re passionate about it.
Focus on what makes you different and those areas where your knowledge makes you more powerful.
5. Feature Guests
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to have them post information to your website. This will first of all encourage others to point traffic to your site, and secondly, will show that you are open to connections and sharing of information. Everyone is eager to share things they are working on and when they have an opportunity to share that on someone’s site they will not only be willing to guest appear, they will tell everyone they know about it. This will help your small business stay relevant in the industry and become a worthy competitor.
6. Build Lists
Everyone likes to be put on a list (as long as its a positive list). If you are in an industry where you can compile a top 10 (top 100?) then be sure to do so. Not only will you have many other people now interested in where they ranked and how they did but they will also understand you’ve spent time reviewing each. This points again to your expertise in your field. Be sure to do this thoughtfully and carefully.
7. Go Local
Big companies very often fail to understand the nuances and differences of a small community. Small businesses which are involved in their local community understand those details and as a result can meet the needs of their local groups more effectively. You may not get the best business from your local community, but word of mouth spreads rapidly and the more you are involved locally the better chance you have of being recognized elsewhere. Good work spreads.
8. Get Involved
As a small business its important to find ways to be involved. Involved in your local community (as mentioned above) but also involved in your industry. Find the trade shows, the meet-ups, the other places where like-minded people from your field are gathering, and get involved. You don’t have to have the biggest and best booth – in fact you don’t have to have a booth at all. Just be present, shake hands, introduce yourself, make friends.
9. Be Original
Small businesses should never try to just mimic the behemoth company. Of course there are always things to be learned from the others and especially the big companies which have been successful. However, small businesses should focus on what makes them unique and original. This ties into several of the points above. It’s all about finding a niche, demonstrating expertise and differentiating. Being original means being true to the character of the founder and creating the right type of company culture.
Similar to the previous point about being original, the best possible thing is to be willing to be innovative. Capitalize on your company size and your ability to pivot quickly. Find the failure points in the business field you’re in and capitalize on them. Don’t follow the status quo. Be willing to take chances and make changes which the big company will be too reticent to make. Use your size to your advantage and suddenly your perceived weakness (being small) becomes one of your greatest assets.
Small businesses make up the majority of the economy and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small business. I love them and love working in them. Just because there is no multi-million dollar marketing budget does not mean we cannot compete with the bigger companies. You don’t have to spend money to have a great marketing campaign. Use some of the points above and begin building your traffic and your audience without spending a penny.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
May 8, 2014
Small Business Matters: A Series
The numbers are overwhelming. Small business make up the majority of revenues generated in the US. Statistics show this particular area continues to grow with each year. This series will explore a number of topics which matter to a small business. Because small business matters.
I realize there’s a million articles and resources available for small businesses. In fact, in the United States there is an entire government agency created simply to assist and help these small businesses. I would like, however, to focus on specific topics with more practical application. Some of these will be related to situations where I have learned the hard way through firsthand experience and others I have learned from the wisdom and advice of others.
I also realize not everything I share will be applicable to a global audience and I apologize in advance for any information which may feel to American focused. I will do my best to share information from my experiences and connections from a worldwide perspective however occasionally may share information most relevant to those businesses based in the United States.
So without further delay let’s jump right in. We should begin a series with a proper definition of terms involved and layout some groundwork for what we want to cover throughout the series. Obviously the most important term is, small business. What is a small business and how do we categorize them?
Small Business Definition
A small business can be defined in a number of ways and depending on the setting may have different interpretations. You may see a small business defined to be any business under a certain number of employees or where the gross profits are under a certain monetary total (e.g. under 500 employees or under $5 million dollars in annual gross revenue). This is a difficult line to draw. I’ve seen businesses with 5 employees generating well over 10 million in revenue, does this mean they are still a small business? I’m not certain. For the purpose of this series I will define a small business as the following:
Any business where decisions are made by a select few individuals and these individuals spend an inordinate amount of their time outside of a typical workday focused on generating revenue for their business to become or stay profitable.
In other words, a small business is a business fighting to be profitable and the weight of the responsibility falls firmly on the shoulders of a few select individuals. I’m writing for those people. I’m writing for the little guy, the underdog, the ones struggling to make it and the ones barely hanging on. Sure, others may profit and you may find value in the information shared within this series. I truly hope you do.
You will notice I don’t refer to a specific revenue amount or a specific number of employees. I don’t believe these two factors adequately define what comprises a small business. Small business is more than a number, small business is a mindset, it’s a state of being, a lifestyle. Sometimes this is a great lifestyle and sometimes its a bit more “tedious” (for lack of a better word).
A Frame of Mind
A small business frame of mind has some particular features which I think can be identified. I’ve attempted to include a few in my definition above. First, a small business typically has only a handful of decision makers, many times only a single one. The more decision makes involved usually means a disbursement of both power and stress. The greater this disbursement the less the feeling of personal liability. Second, a small business usually means those same decision makers are working excessively (and I don’t mean 50 hours). And even when they are not working – eating, sleeping (or not sleeping) they are still focused on the success of their business. This constant feeling of fighting to “stay afloat” is pervasive with small businesses.
This Series Goal
Small business is special. It takes a special type of person to start with nothing and attempt to build a business. Every big business, every medium business began as a small business. But there’s something else. Every small business is a small business. That sounds stupid but I say it to make a point. Some small businesses don’t want to be big business. Sometimes being a small business is the goal. There is nothing wrong with this goal. It’s important to keep in mind that size is not everything. Whether seeking to grow or simply seeking to stay successful my opening statement holds true.
Small Business Matters.
April 29, 2014
5 Things Every Successful Founder Does
The life of an entrepreneur is a busy one. Here are 5 things every successful founder does. I’m not guaranteeing success by following these five steps. But if you look at a successful company more than likely you will find a founder who follows these 5 principles.
Principle #1: Time is Money
Serious founders understand the principle that their time is valuable. They don’t waste their time on ideas which distract them from their core mission. They plan their time for maximum efficiency and schedule their days. This does not mean they work overtime. In fact, smart founders work regular hours and take time away from work to recharge themselves. Taking personal time, time for exercise, time for family and hobbies helps them to spend their work time more effectively. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking to be a successful founder you should work 24/7. This will do far more harm than good. Your time is valuable, use it wisely.
“Let him who would enjoy a good future waste none of his present.”
– Roger Babson
Principle #2: Do What Matters
Successful entrepreneurs focus on what’s important to their business. They set a plan for what makes their business unique and what their differentiating factors are. Once they have determined what is important for their business success they focus their time and talents on achieving those things. This is important. As I mentioned, an entrepreneur must wear so many hats and focus on so many different areas of the business it can be very easy to become distracted and lose time (and as we just saw, time is money). As a founder be sure you share responsibilities. Make sure you have a team you can trust and spend your time on those items which require your attention. Don’t get trapped doing tasks someone else should be doing. Do what matters.
“Those who occupy their minds with small matters, generally become incapable of greatness.”
– Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Principle #3: Don’t Give Up Easily
Some founders appear to have found overnight success. It looks as though they woke up one morning and instantly became “the next big thing.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In most cases the overnight sensations are in reality the product of years of hard work and innumerable failures. What makes the difference is how these founders handle failure. The goal is to fail early and fail often. By not giving up when met with failure these founders learn how to improve their idea, grow their product, and make those changes which will in time yield a successful business. Don’t be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, don’t give up.
“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success. “
– Biz Stone
Principle #4: Ignore the Doubters
Founders believe they have an idea which will change the world in some way. They have seen “the future”. As such often times they are met with doubters. Many people are unable to see this vision quite the same way. Either they can’t understand how it would be successful or they simply don’t want to step outside their comfort zone to accept change. Successful founders focus on their ideas with bulldog determination and don’t allow themselves to be swayed by the naysayers. Doubters are the people who play it safe; they fail to see the possibilities and aspirations you seek to attain. Don’t let them hold you back. Don’t allow your dreams to be limited by what someone else might think.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
– Steve Jobs
Principle #5: Set Realistic Goals
It’s easy to see an opportunity and start to make a plan for how you would improve a product. Every good business starts with an idea and a goal. Successful founders create realistic goals and then meet them. It’s not enough to simply dream big. To see success these entrepreneurs finish what they set out to do. The best way to ensure they meet their goals is by settings themselves up for success with goals they can reach. They seek out a minimum viable product which meets the need they have discovered and they launch. Don’t get so caught up in adding features and secondary ideas that you never launch your business. Set goals you are sure to attain, launch your product and then add features.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”
– Zig Ziglar
Successful founders understand the importance of these 5 principles. They apply them to their business and their life. If you’re struggling as a founder or entrepreneur take a look at the list above and find one or two items where you can improve and then work on it. Don’t skim yet another article and miss the important take-away. You have to do more than read or hear. You have to apply them.
And of course – good luck! We’re all in this together.
April 24, 2014
It seems as though more and more people these days love to jump on Twitter and post whenever they’re annoyed, angry or frustrated with a company or service. Sharing only your grievances on Twitter will quickly alienate you from any potential followers. Here’s why you should tweet happy.
I’m certainly not against using Twitter for communication with corporations and if you look through my twitter history you’ll see several different examples of how I used Twitter to express frustration with a company or disappointment in a service. (Here’s an example and here’s another). But I also tweet when I’m happy with a service or a company. (please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). So I would encourage you to be balanced in your tweeting because a balanced social media profile is a good thing.
Sprinkle equal amounts of praise and criticism in your posts, along with a healthy dose of information, anecdotes and more. Always focus on the purpose of your social media platforms. Are you seeking a place to simply talk, or are you looking for communication? Are you seeking connections or do you just want to shout at people through the twitter bullhorn?
We’ve all been in the room with the person that just won’t stop talking about themselves, their problems, and their situations. It’s not fun to listen to them. In fact, most people can’t take it for too long before they begin to tune the person out and eventually wander off completely. No one likes to be around that type of person. The same holds true for your online social media networks. Think about the other person. Is the information you share relevant to them? Are they interested in what you share and more importantly do you give them reason or opportunity to interact with you?
You shouldn’t always be talking. You should be engaging. I want my social communication to be a two-way street. As much as I want to share, I also want to listen. I want to make connections and I want to learn about the interests of others. By doing this I am making sure I demonstrate that I am not the most important person. Your social posts give you this opportunity. Take the following four tips when posting on social media.
1. Post About Your Business Sparingly
No one wants to hear 24/7 tweets about your business and your product offering (remember that guy in the room you can’t wait to get away from). I’m not saying don’t post about your business, but do it in moderation. Share your business successes (and failures), share about your services, but consider how often you do so. Also, give information and advice based on your business experience. This leads directly into the next tip.
Share Business Strategy
As your business has evolved and grown I am sure you have found ways in which you could have done things better. Or maybe you found something that works very well for your business. Share tips and insights which your followers will find interesting. This is a different way of sharing about your own business. It provides your followers with information about you and your business without making anyone feel like they’re being “sold” something.
Be A Channel
Don’t be afraid of posting or re-posting content from someone else. Now I’m not saying you claim it as your own, give them the credit and merely retweet or share their information. This will give others valuable information which you have in a sense curated for them. You’ve applied your knowledge and wisdom to pull out those articles and nuggets of value and shared it with them. You’ve made their life easy and they’ll appreciate you more for it. There is nothing wrong with sharing someone else’s content.
Don’t post too much of any one thing. Don’t share too much about your business, don’t share too much strategy, don’t be just a re-tweeter of someone else’s information. You must stay balanced. By offering a well-rounded online social profile you demonstrate your full character. You want people to know you, not just one facet of you. Just as if you were talking in person to someone – you should conduct your social posts in the same way.
It’s simple really and we can all do it. Take these four quick tips and improve your social media profile. Remember don’t just post when you’re dissatisfied with something (or someone) but offer a well-rounded and true representation of your business and ultimately you.
April 23, 2014
3 Ways to Vent (and not regret it later)
Everyone has those days, or those moments when things reach a boiling point and you just have to let off some steam. Here’s a few helpful tips on how to vent without regretting it later.
Write it down
Yep, go old school. The painstaking process of finding paper and pen, writing down your grievances, and putting your thoughts into something tangible often involves enough effort and time to help you think more rationally. I’m not saying you need to follow the old advice of writing a letter and not sending it (though there’s nothing wrong with doing that). I’m simply recommending you take the time involved with actually writing something down. Force yourself to use complete sentences and paragraphs. And don’t forget proper punctuation. I’m not interested in twitter style messages or posts. Write down in detail the situation, the way it unfolded, how it impacted you, and how you feel about it. Doing this helps you in several ways.
First, you will feel as though you are actually doing something about the stress. You’re taking action. The human brain thrives on problem-solving and the simple act of writing down a stressful situation gives you the feeling of problem solving.
Second, you will force yourself to think through the entire situation. Start to finish. You’ll have a good working knowledge of the details of the situation and you’ll remove any ambiguity. Often stress and frustration can come from the feeling of the unknown. The feeling of uncertainty will translate into stress or anger and you react to the emotion rather than reacting to the unknown information.
Third, you will find writing things down takes time. Twitter and other social outlets provide instant responses and short (sometimes thoughtless) replies which are more of a knee-jerk reaction then they are a true response to a situation. By writing things down you’ll find time to think through the emotions and formulate a fuller response.
Tell A Friend
So the second way to vent without regretting it later is to find a trusted friend you can talk to. This one is a bit scarier as it involves trusting someone. You’ll notice I say a “trusted friend”. This needs to be someone you know you can trust with your deepest darkest secrets. The type of person you know would never betray your trust, under the threat of death. Remember you are sharing your anger and frustrations with them knowing they will not share it with others.
You’re not seeking out someone you can vent to in hopes they will take up your cause and fight your battle. You will be best served if your friend knows little to nothing about the people or situation involved. You’re not looking for reassurance and someone encouraging you to “let them have it”. No recording. And your friend should keep you accountable. You’re only allowed to vent on this particular instance this one time. No coming back for seconds.
Go running, biking, walking, anything that forces you to get outside and get your heart rate increased. The physical exertion will help your mind and your body to focus on something other than the problem. You’ll be expending your energy (and getting in shape at the same time). It’s important to not sit and stew on a problem. Letting the anger and frustration grow inside you will only eat away at you until you snap. If you force yourself to walk away from the situation and the pressure you will be able to distance yourself from the problem.
Running and other physical activities cause your body to stop thinking about mental challenges and focus blood supply and energy to your extremities and fueling your muscles. Plus it will only help you stay in better physical condition.
The next time you’re feeling angry and like you’re about to explode try one of the above ideas. See if it helps you control your emotions and put things in proper perspective. I am not saying righteous indignation is wrong. And there is certainly a time and place for sharing your thoughts. I just encourage you to not do it in the heat of the moment. And with that I’ll leave you with a quote from Warren Buffet.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
April 20, 2014
The Thrill of the Hunt
It’s that one weekend where my wife and I follow along in the amusing and pointless hiding of plastic spheres filled with candy so our children can run around giggling, laughing, and shouting as they hunt for their ‘treasure’.
Yes, it’s Easter weekend and culture has deemed this a time for a bunny to place eggs (makes no sense to me) in obscure locations for young children (and I admit, some older children) to go sleuthing in a total safari, big-game hunt. The result?
Approximately 80% of all hidden gems are found with 20% hidden so well, even the person responsible is unable to remember where it was placed.
No doubt it will be found months later when weeds are being pulled or the lawn is being mowed. The last plastic egg, faded by the weeks in the sun, with some candy wrapper remnant inside (the chocolate long-since melted).
Even as I watch these excited kids bounding with enthusiasm around the yard I can’t help but think to myself how much this relates to marketing. As a marketer we hide ‘eggs’ all over the backyard of the internet. We carefully tuck them away in the form of well-placed articles, neatly packaged comments, a tweet, or other social media post. All types of little ‘easter egg’ marketing nuggets.
Sometimes we take great care in placing one, and other times we almost casually toss them around and hope they land in a good spot. But we always have a goal in mind. We’re leaving them for someone else to find. Sure, we may leave some out in the open, easy to retrieve, easy to consume. But we also plant some slightly beneath the surface, a reward for those who dig, for those who look a little deeper. Then we watch, and we wait.
We watch as eager, excited customers bounce around from place to place looking for the products they need.
We hope they find the items we’ve left and we hope, just as my kids do when they find a new goodie, they come running towards us to show us what they’ve found. We want our customers, finding the treats we’ve left for them and running to us for more.
Hide them well
I’d encourage you to keep the analogy in mind the next time you’re working on a piece of marketing. Remember the 80/20 rule I jokingly referred to above. It may very well be that 20% of your hard-work is never found or uncovered. Or maybe it will remain hidden, lying in wait for just the right person to come along and find it, days or even weeks later. Be a thoughtful marketer. Take the time to carefully consider your ‘easter eggs’, plant them where your customers will look, but don’t overload them either. If the backyard were to be covered in easter eggs then the game would be no fun. It would become a mundane, almost tedious experience and no kid in the world would enjoy it. The fun is in more than just collecting tidbits, the fun is deeper, the experience, the feeling of accomplishment its as much the journey as it is the reward at the end.
I love marketing, I love the feeling of sharing the excitement with others. The joy which comes from planting the treats, writing the posts, and making the game. All for the hunters out there. Because there’s nothing better than preparing for, and watching others’ enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
April 16, 2014
If Only I Had
I have seen the quotes, the tattoos, and the posters shouting “No Regrets!” Unfortunately it’s simply not a reality – at least in my life I’ve not found that to be true. Instead as the title suggests I find myself often thinking, “If only I had…”
I’m going to be perfectly honest. I have and will continue to have regrets. Not because I wish there were things I hadn’t done, but rather regret that they didn’t work. Does that make sense? Yes, I learned from my mistakes and I am very glad to have made them. But that does not mean I am glad they didn’t work they way I wanted. And I regret that. As I look back on those times I will most certainly say If only I had done this or that.
It’s simple really. There are two ways to look at the phrase, If only I had.
1. If only I had done something differently.
That means I attempted something. I tried. I may have failed but I tried. I am looking back on an experience and learning from my failure. There is benefit in questioning your choices and determining if you could have done something better. I like this option.
2. The second option is not so good. If I didn’t attempt an idea.
If I quit before even trying and look back and say, If only I had tried. I consider that a failure. Because I didn’t try. This is the option where I should have been better. I should have tried. I don’t like living with this regret. It says I was too scared to try. I let my fear dictate my actions or the opinions of another keep me from doing what I thought would have worked. Could it still have been an epic failure? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t be wondering what if…
So it’s quite simple to me. I don’t have a problem with saying “If only I had.” I have a problem with not trying. Next time you’re looking back on decisions you made and times you’ve failed I encourage you – it’s ok to analyze and learn from your mistakes. Question yourself. But don’t give up before you start. Don’t regret that you didn’t try.