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.
September 23, 2014
Use Marketing Automation and Never Work Again!
What is Marketing Automation?
To some this is a familiar term and to others its a bit intimidating. Let’s look first at what marketing automation is and then we’ll look at a few more related topics and hopefully give a pretty clear picture about what we’re doing.
Marketing automation is defined by wikipedia as the following:
Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks.
This is a fairly detailed definition which while it answers the question of what marketing automation is, it could perhaps be simplified somewhat. Marketing automation is powerful software and processes which makes complex and repetitive tasks easy. (That’s pretty simple). It doesn’t mean you don’t work, but it does help with the repetitive and mundane tasks.
So that’s a bit easier but still rather generic. Let’s look quickly at who marketing automation is for and who should be interested in the topic.
Who is Marketing Automation For?
Marketing automation is for every business. Maybe that’s not completely true. Before Mautic was created marketing automation was something only available to large businesses with significant marketing and sales budgets. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of something which is revolutionizing a market and empowering businesses of all sizes. Marketing automation is changing forever. We are building software which everyone can use to save them time, simplify their sales processes, and learn their customers better. Mautic allows you to do everything from better lead nurturing and targeting to social media networking with potential clients. Marketing automation also helps you automate tasks such as email campaigns and much more.
Why Open Source?
So if there are such powerful software platforms already providing these services why bother with creating another one? If you’ve followed my writing at all then you know I’m passionate about open source. I believe strongly in the power of open source and I have volunteered hundreds (thousands) of hours to open source and its promotion. I truly believe open source makes our world a better place. Whether you’re talking about a content management system to power your website or software tools to give you the business tools you need to be successful. Open source now provides an option. Read my previous articles about open source and community if you need more reasons or specifics for why open source is important.
What is So Special?
So now we know what marketing automation is and we also know why open source as a software type is important we can now look at what makes Mautic different and special. As I said previously marketing automation was not available for everyone. Marketing automation used to cost thousands of dollars a month and was simply unaffordable for many for most small and medium sized businesses. Not any more. Mautic is special because it completely disrupts everything. Mautic is providing the powerful tools of marketing automation to businesses of all sizes at a cost everyone can afford. Free. This open source community is focused on empowering every business and giving everyone equal opportunities for success. That’s revolutionary. And as an open source community it’s exciting.
When Is It Available?
Ok so now some of you may be as excited as I am; at least I hope you are. Because Mautic is all about equality. Breaking down the barriers which previously kept powerful software away from the every-day businesses. Open source is truly changing our world. I am as eager and anxious as the next person to see Mautic released and am hardly sleeping as we work to release the beta software. Dates are shifting constantly (as always with software development) but we have a strong expectation that we’ll be able to release an alpha version to those businesses which have signed up to be early testers within the next several weeks.
You can check back on my blog as I will be posting more information about what is to come in the weeks to follow and if you have any specific questions or ideas please let me know – I would love to hear from you! We have great things ahead. And I truly believe we are all in this together – Let’s work together to do revolutionary things!
August 19, 2014
Open Source Project Update (Top Secret)
For those of you who have been following my blog and have seen my previous post about what I’m so ecstatically working on then this post will serve as a bit of a status update. If you are curious about what I’m talking about then I suggest reading back on my previous post. I admit I was slightly abstruse in my previous post. I’ll clear some of that up with this article…I hope. Here’s more information on this revolutionary new open source project (soon to be released).
What’s in a name?
I guess the first thing which would be important to share is the name of this super top-secret project. I’m excited to announce this new open source software will hereby and forever more be known as Mautic. Now before you go trying to figure out what it means let me save you the time and let you know you won’t find much. We developed a name which held the meaning, the essence, of what we were creating and are thrilled with the result. So what is the essence of the platform being created? That’s the next exciting question I get to answer.
What is Mautic?
Mautic is a free and open source marketing automation platform. That’s right, completely free and completely open source. No strings attached. After seeing this completely closed-source dominated market space and how severely it impacts the lives and successes of hundreds of thousands (millions even?) of small and medium-sized businesses which simply cannot afford the extravagant monthly costs of existing software-as-a-service only solutions we knew there was a problem. Mautic is set to fix that problem. We’re disrupting the space and introducing the power of open source to marketing automation in much the same way the CMS landscape was forever changed by the release of three powerhouse open source systems (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress) back in 2004-2005.
We are excited to be the catalyst for this movement and help grow the community around this project. The simple bottom-line answer – Mautic is a game changer.
The First Big Decision
One of the very first big decisions we needed to make was in regards to our logo which would represent us. We went through a very, very detailed process which if others are interested in the psychology behind the final selection or are interested in hearing more about the process involved with defining a brand image then definitely let me know. I’d love to share (as I said this platform truly is something the community can rally around) but I certainly don’t want to waste anyone’s time with “the details”. Needless to say a lot of time, effort and community feedback was involved in this process of selecting the most appropriate logo. And so I’m excited to announce and share the version which will represent the Mautic brand.
Without any further ado. Here is the shiny new logo for Mautic the free and open source marketing automation platform.
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.