Learn about content and business from a master

Content is on the rise in prominence at the moment, due to the interest in content marketing and inbound marketing. As always, there’s a mixture of good and bad advice available.

In addition to what you may read from marketing and content agencies, it’s well worth investing a little time in listening to creators.  In this case, it’s Leo LaPorte, founder of the multi-million dollar TWiT network of podcasts, speaking at New Media Expo.

I should note that unfortunately the video can’t be embedded, so you’ll have to watch it on the International Association of Internet Broadcasters website. It also seems to auto-play if you leave it paused for a while, which may freak you out slightly if you go for a toilet break.

And finally, a tip of the hat to Euan Semple, who happened to mention the video as worth watching in a Facebook conversation.

Celebrating two years of business

Tomorrow it will be two years to the day since TheWayoftheWeb became a business as well as a blog. It’s slightly surreal to think how fast that time has gone. Despite the fact I seem to have a habit of projects coinciding with family events which should help me remember anniversaries, it was only in a conversation on Monday that I realised 24 months has passed.

In that time I’ve gone from sole trader to Limited Company, worked on a large number of diverse client projects, partnered with some other great small businesses and freelancers to grow the available resource, survived some big changes in my personal life, and learned an amazing amount about how to work, how to run a business, and most importantly, about myself.

It’s a reminder to thank a huge number of people for their continued support – whether that’s my parents for always being there, the former employer who gave me the first piece of freelance work that kicked things off, all the clients who have invested in my services, and the friends and contacts who have offered invaluable support, encouragement and advice. Naming every single one of them would probably turn this into the longest article ever written, but I really and truly value the input of everyone.

That also includes a large number of people who I have never met in the flesh, but have supported, advised or helped with a huge variety of things via Twitter, Facebook, email, Skype etc.

 

How did I get here? What did I learn?

When I initially became self-employed, I’d always thought about running my own business. I’d dabbled with my own websites in some spare time and dreamed about doing it for real, but also had a family and home to support from what had been a regular wage for large media companies.

Initially, I told myself I was doing it in the short term to pay the bills, and that I’d probably go back to working for someone else fairly soon. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid having to sign on for unemployment benefits even when I went through a long period of applying for entry level media jobs (Instead I enjoyed myself delivering washing machines, packing fruit, cleaning supermarkets etc), and so preferred to keep my skills sharp by taking the first few projects I was able to get.

And for the first few months it was very tight. Any savings vanished, some bills had to wait a while, and my earnings were negligible, but with the support of some very key people I was able to scrape by and slowly work started to come in at a higher pace.

But that didn’t mean it became easy. Every new client and new piece of work provided a new challenge, whether it was getting things done and achieving success, or just managing a growing client list. But after being interviewed and even offered some amazing full-time roles, I realised that I was turning them down for valid reasons, but also because I was becoming more and more in love with running my own business.

Since then TheWayoftheWeb has gone from bloke at dining room table on an aging laptop, to a virtual agency with a core group of regular freelance staff. The dining room table has become an office, and the aging laptop has been replaced and supplemented with monitors, printers, etc. I’ve learned which tools and software to invest in to make life more manageable, and I’ve become more fired up and determined than ever to continue to grow things in the right way in the future.

At some point I’ll delve into more detail, but seven of the main things I’ve learned:

  1. Plan and invest in the right support at the start in terms of Accounts, Legal and Project Management. The longer you leave it, the more work and expense you’ll face to fix it. Especially at tax time.
  2. Do the hardest stuff first each day and don’t put it off. It’s easy to convince yourself you’ll get around to something you hate, but running your own business means ‘the boss’ has the opportunity to ignore it indefinitely. See the first advice on the time and expense that’ll involve eventually.
  3. Use the right tools. For me, that includes Freshbooks for invoicing, and Trello, Basecamp and LiquidPlanner for project management. I also use a range of tools for SEO analysis, social media monitoring, web hosting etc. It’s worth investing the money for the right tool, and the time to learn how to use them properly.
  4. Plan a large amount of your time for managing and communicating with clients, paying bills, general business admin and working with anyone you sub-contract. You’ll never get to spend all your time just on the work itself.
  5. Also plan on investing in your office, whether remotely or at home. The 4 Hour Work Week is a nice idea, but doesn’t happen for most of us, especially early on. Things like a decent chair, desk, second monitor, etc are all worthwhile investments. As is making your office more enjoyable with pictures and plants. Don’t overlook things like Spotify for music etc when you’re at home, and decent headphones for the coffee shop/client office.
  6. Get focused – it’s easy to get caught up in social networks and email. In my case, it’s often part of my work, and so I can’t even turn it off to avoid distraction. That means becoming more and more disciplined about what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t mean you can’t tweet during the day, or comment on a picture, but invest in a timer or time management programme and let yourself have fun for 5-10 minutes as a break between work. Not a replacement for it.
  7. And finally, when you run your own business it can completely dominate your life and every waking thought. Make a conscious decision and effort to dedicate time to non-work activity, particularly if you have a family. Working for yourself doesn’t have to mean financial insecurity for ever, or for you to miss out on the rest of your life, but it will expand like a gas to fill every available minute if you let it.

Who knows what the next two years will bring. I’m still learning, facing new challenges and enjoying myself on the whole more than ever before. I’ve become used to the rollercoaster each day between elation and despair which I think everyone experiences, even when things are going smoothly!

Hopefully I’ll be running a bigger business, which enables more people to build their own careers in the location and way they want, whilst working with me to provide solutions in the way clients need. But even if I decide that I need a change, or I fall in love with a particular company and become employed again, I’ll always be proud to know I made it this far.

Due to work, any proper celebrations involving beer will have to wait till the weekend. But that’s fine, because I really do enjoy what I do, even the achievement of completing the bits I hate like tax returns. And to paraphrase Seth Godin, why do a job that you hate so much you spend all your time looking to escape it?

P.S. I know that I said I wouldn’t name people, I really do have to thank Tim for his amazing help during some difficult times, and Oscar for always being the ultimate in inspiration.

How does your business handle ‘off-menu’ requests?

To celebrate a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, I took my son and ex-girlfriend on a trip down to Woburn Safari Park on Sunday, and on the way back we decided to eat at our nearest OK Diner.

It’s a pretty regular thing for my son and I. He’d quite happily live on hot dogs every day, I’m a fan of burgers (Particularly their bacon and guacamole burger), and he seems to have inherited my love of 50’s American style and music. Plus, the kids menu comes with crayons and pictures to colour in, which gives the two of us something to do!

Bear crossing at Woburn Safari Park

One reason why we spent so long at the Safari Park. It appears bears assume right-of-way!

 

But I left feeling a bit disappointed in myself. You see, as part of the kids meal, you get the choice of vanilla, strawberry or chocolate ice cream, but when my son first got offered a choice of flavours, he picked mint.

And until now, the waiting staff have happily accommodated him, which has made it feel a bit more special. This time though, the waitress enforced the menu options, so he settled on chocolate instead.

Part of me says that’s fine – it’s a clear menu option after all. But part of me wondered why I just accepted it – I could have either asked for a favour or even offered a pound or two to see if they’d have upgraded the ice cream. It’s not the English way to go ‘off-menu’, but it would have kept the special feeling that I and my four-year-old had after getting a ‘special’ ice cream.

I’m sure we’ll be eating there again soon – great milkshakes and burgers are a necessity in life – but it started me wondering whether my son will now automatically go for a menu choice or stick to his guns next time, and how all sorts of businesses react to special requests.

 

How does your business handle ‘off-menu’ requests?

Every business involves a lot of consideration for what can be offered, what is profitable enough, and how that can be presented in the marketplace. Often it’s more about ruling out possibilities to maintain some focus and direction, and to be able to market a clear message.

But in every case there will always be customers who want to tweak what you do. Maybe they want a different colour or size, or maybe they want an additional service bundled into your offering. And as time goes by, clients may have a wider range of needs that they’d like to come from one provider, or that they hadn’t considered previously.

Strange things on the menu here

So how do you deal with them?

I don’t believe any business can try and please all the people, all the time. Some requests are going to be completely uneconomical to fulfill.

But I think you have a couple of choices.

  • Where it incurs little or no downside, accommodate the request. An off-menu scoop of ice cream might eat very slightly into the profit margin on a particular meal, but the cost would be marginal, particularly compared to the lifetime value of 2-3 people regularly buying full meals.
  • Where it incurs a prohibitive downside, explain the reasons for denying the request, and if possible recommend alternative solutions. That may mean exposing some of the challenges you face as a business, and even suggesting someone goes to a competitor company, but in the long run you’ll find that good, honest reasons and recommendations would gain you more than just saying no.

There are several companies who have achieved oft-quoted success with that customer service approach, such as Zappos, who train their reps to recommend competitor websites if they don’t have what a customer wants. And 10 years after founding in 1999, it was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion. CEO Tony Hsieh published a book about company culture and process called ‘Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose‘.

And there are plenty of restaurants and bars around the world which have off-menu choices known to a select few (until they become widely-shared on the internet).

Even McDonalds and other fast food outlets have ‘off-menu’ choices, although I can’t vouch for them being available in the UK. Or edible.

But the key isn’t having special items, or allowing special requests. The key is empowering the people who run your business at every level to be able to handle those decisions effectively.

  • Empower every person in your business to be able to handle any off-menu request. Your customers benefit from being special. Your employees and colleagues benefit from being trusted to make those decisions. And your business benefits massively in the age of digital recommendations and the amplified word-of-mouth.

Global culture is changing dramatically, and everyone is becoming more accustomed to being able to customise any purchase to be exactly what they desire. If you’re not looking at ways to incorporate that customer need into your business, you risk losing them to someone which will.

And considering the theme of this post, here’s a cool hot rod picture from Flickr.

Hot Rod

Key trends for 2012: Digital Disruption gets Physical

It’s the trend and prediction season, and there’s one overarching theme which ties together the main three technology trends I believe will break into the mainstream in 2012. Over the past decade we’ve seen a huge amount of disruption triggered by increased internet access – both in terms of speed and availability. The access to information and entertainment has had a massive effect on media and entertainment industries, whether through legitimate ways to access content or piracy. And we’ve also seen new tools and changes in collaboration, business practices, marketing, freelancing, crowdsourcing and much more.

But the majority of these changes have all been concerned with the fact you can transmit information and content effortlessly around the world. The key change for 2012 is that three major trends and breakthroughs will have a far bigger impact than ever before on the physical world. All three have been discussed and reported in technology circles for months, years, and in one case, decades, but all of them are reaching that tipping point where ‘normal’ non-geeks are interested and getting to the stage where they will start to invest with their cash.

Trends for 2012 #1: 3D Printing:

Having previously predicted that 2012 will be the year of 3D printing, I have to lead with it. Since writing that post in August (which was one of my most popular), the profile and interest in 3D Printing has only risen. We’re still at the stage where people can find new ways to utilise it every week, whether that’s criminals using it to produce credit card skimmers, the highly debatable use of creating gun parts, or the potentially life enhancing application of 3D printing to create new bones. One of the reasons I love 3D printing so much is that it’s still at the stage where it’s advanced enough to be indistinguishable from magic, but sadly I suspect that era will be over soon, and we’ll see more companies probably publicly demonstrating how they’ve been using it in-house for rapid prototyping etc.

  • In addition to the BBC link above, it’s being featured by the likes of The Economist, highlighting celebrity 3D printer Jay Leno. We’re already entering the cool celebrity endorsement stage.
  • DIY 3D Printers are coming down in price – e.g. $500. OK, so we’re still at the stage where you need to assemble your own kit, but when the existing companies build enough demand and scale, or when you get someone like Samsung or Toshiba in the market, the ability to source parts in massive bulk and package them in something that’s consumer friendly will rapidly change. How long before a bright pink or blue 3D printer covered in cartoon characters is on the shelves of Toys R Us for example?
  • Having seen Makerbot gain funding and more media attention, now Shapeways has raised $5.1 million for the alternative approach of remotely producing whatever designs are sent to them.
  • The tech, the stories and applications are a dream for anyone in marketing – if any 3D Printing company wants to chat to me about the possibilities, I’d definitely be interested. I can’t think of many technologies that have so many simple yet magical ways to entice consumers
  • And there are a number of startups now building their businesses on the platform of 3D printing, for instance, building personalised robot figurines to order, which leads me nicely onto the second trend…

 

Trends for 2012 #2: Robots in the workplace and your home:

Robots have been around for a long time in both science fiction, and in the workplace. As ideas and mechanical automatons, they’ve been around for hundreds of years, and in an industrial setting, they began work in the 1960s. More recently, their military use has skyrocketed – for a detailed look I highly recommend Wired for War by PW Singer, and their use in warehousing and distribution has been documented in various places. So why am I tipping something so old and obvious as a trend for 2012?

  • For one thing – use in the home, and the drop in prices. A basic Roomba robot vacuum cleaner costs £239.99 on Amazon, comparitive to a number of Dysons, for example. Sadly robot lawnmowers are still equivalent to the highest end of the human directed version, but I’d put money on that changing in the near future. And when that happens and you send one out, all your neighbours will suddenly get a prime view of it.
  • And the other is the increased sophistication of their role in the workplace. Korea is trialling robot prison guards, Toyota has unveiled 4 robot health assistants due on the market around 2013, and they’ve already got competition from the Riba healthcare robot due to 2015, amongst others. President Obama has already announced the U.S will fund the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which is part of the many efforts to enable robots to interact with humans in their work, rather than simply isolated on a production line doing a very simple task.
  • Again, cost is an issue with a current personal robot costing $400,00. A bit much for personal use, but costs will decrease rapidly – in 1973 the first personal computer cost around $200,000. And in the workplace, more specific requirements and designs lower the cost to the point where investing is a case of direct comparison with a human equivalent. Whether or not you support or use immigration or cheap labour for repetitive tasks, there are still costs involved and potential problems which robots could answer. And given we’re on the cusp of self-replicating robots and machines, 2012 probably won’t see a personal robot butler in every home, but will see more businesses investing in them, and more widespread use of the single-task robot in your personal life.
  • And one element which might help that spread and help the adjustment is the rise of home working and telecommuting, as there has been work and research which leads to the use of robot ‘stand-ins’ for workers away from the office for meetings etc (The same thing still continues in virtual worlds, despite the perception of business ‘failure’ in places such as Second Life – and the use of more traditionally framed virtual collaboration tools could well lead to a resurgence in the future, particularly with more senior executives of an age where virtual worlds in video games are second nature)

 

Trends for 2012 #3: ‘The Internet of Things’

Possibly the clunkiest name for any trend, but fairly self-explanatory when you realise this refers to connected devices. Again, this isn’t a radically new idea, and comes accompanied with references to the internet fridges we all failed to rush out and buy. But that was before the iPad started to replace a recipe book on the kitchen counter, next to the internet-connected radio and the smart phone.

And the key development is that the infrastructure is now available in ever-growing areas – ever-faster broadband, wifi, power lines etc.

  • Consider that the EU has already seen fit to sign a framework for privacy for RFID applications, which power the connectivity.
  • Businesses are already there – remember the warehouse robots from our last trend? RFID. Want to be able to connect all your vehicle assets? RFID. Want to be able to track all your inventory, no matter where it is in the supply chain, down to a single box? RFID.
  • Increasingly we’re controlling more of our lives from a small group of devices – smartphone, tablet, laptop, Kinect etc.
  • There are already a huge number of applications and businesses utilising existing technology, such as Arduino, to allow your plants to message you when they need more water, or your doorbell to text you when someone rings it.
  • And remember the Internet Fridge back in 1999? Well, it’s back and wifi enabled. And given that the likes of Tesco have started using augmented reality to allow you to snap a picture of your groceries on the wall of the underground station while you are waiting to come home, suddenly being able to access what’s in your fridge and what you need to buy when you’re out and about suddenly doesn’t seem quite so daft…
  • If that all seems a bit too far – consider the amount of self-diagnosis being utilised in cars. And imagine the time and frustration saving when your rubbish washing machine is internet connected? This isn’t about using your tumbledryer to surf the web – it’s about saving time and effort when it breaks by contacting the engineers directly to let them order a part and come and fix it, rather than trying to arrange an appointment via a call centre for someone to come and look at it, go away again, and then come back with the right bit to fix it.

 

The implications of 2012’s Physical Disruption

The one outside element which might have an effect on the timescales is the perception of the global economy. I don’t think that will slow 3D printing particularly, as tough economic times tend to see a rise in DIY and self-repair, plus investments in items which are very much about longterm quality and value.

It may be harder for robots to be accepted into the family – they inherently seem more frivolous, even with the argument that the time-saving means more productive work can be done to show a decent return. In the workplace the cost savings are more immediately apparent and the future looks less accessible for anyone in an unskilled manual labour role. Much as the longterm prospects for call centres might start to decline this year, which I don’t think anyone except employees will mourn (Sorry for the few good call centre people I’ve dealt with).

Put simply, 2012 is the tipping point, I believe, for small business of crafted products. I remember watching a presentation video, which I believe was JP Rangaswami (Annoyingly absent in every history and bookmarking tool I use, so I’ll continue to try to locate it), in which he talked about a return to a pre-Industrial Revolution business world, and 2012 seems to be the point where that becomes an increasing reality. Big brands will continue to exist, but already they’re moving to a world in which they retain their size by the interests they own and the backroom elements they can provide more than leading the storefronts and businesses with their brands.

That has positives – at the point were you can save money by printing your own products rather than paying to import them from outsourced manufacturer in Asia. Optimistically, saving on the more menial healthcare tasks may allow for more training and specialisation in more complexity, assuming the NHS isn’t completely destroyed. And a connected house should mean more time to be productive or relaxed.

But it also has scary implications for employment – the easy reassurance is that when the economy improves, everyone will be back in work and everything will be OK. But the effect of digital disruption has been that it creates money, and employment, but in sheer numbers the workforce will always be much smaller than what was replaced, as we increasingly use algorithms instead of humans. Extend that further out into unskilled and semi-skilled professions and we need to rapidly reconsider the education system and the industries which the UK and the world will be pursuing in the future, and how that maps out against the world’s population.

So that’s something to look forward to next year.

Self-employment – the first anniversary

It’s strange to think that it’s exactly a year since I became self-employed, considering that it’s almost hard to remember what it was like working for a full-time employer. Luckily the fact that it coincided with my father’s birthday is a handy reminder that 365 days ago I started working on my dining room table with an old laptop running Ubuntu, a notepad, and the idea that if I could survive for a year on my own I’d consider it a massive success.

And yet here I am at the same table, albeit on a much newer laptop.

Lessons from self-employment:

One of the best things about working for myself has been the massive learning curve which shows no sign of slowing down. Suddenly I became responsible for invoicing, accounts, new business, and everything else, rather than ‘just’ marketing or writing articles, and that definitely took a while to get to grips with. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’ve managed to get comfortable with invoices and tax forms, with a combination of asking advice and finding some decent tools to help manage things.

It’s also been a massive confidence boost to not only be able to get a business going by myself, but to actually survive and reach the stage where my earnings are slightly more than I was able to get in full-time employment. My financial situation, a young family and the start of the recession were all reasons not to go it alone, and I don’t have much disposable income even now, but I’ve actually been able to start reducing some debts which has been great, despite the need to buy a new car midway through the year. And it’s been amazing to not only attract some clients from contacts I’ve known over the years, but also gain new business through new referrals and sources – the fact that it’s all purely coming from my own efforts and from people who respect my abilities enough to recommend me is incredibly empowering, and it makes me more determined than ever to do the very best job I can for every single client.

And it’s been a strange experience working in a variety of industry verticals, from food and catering to mobile applications and software, with all sorts in between. My work combines all areas of content strategy and digital marketing, and my clients not only span a variety of industries, but also a range of knowledge and existing ability, so there hasn’t been a day that hasn’t had something different to offer. And having recently started doing more formal training and tutoring both under my own banner and for a respected training organisation has been a great experience and has helped me evaluate my own knowledge and particularly my communication skills in person.

But probably the biggest lesson has been in thinking about the future. I recently admitted to a couple of people that if everything stayed exactly the same for the next 40 years, I’d be pretty happy with my life – I’m getting to spend time with my son, work with cool clients, and spend some time on my own projects. But I’ve also been thinking about expansion and agency models, and wondering what would make the most sense. What I’ve realised is that I know a number of people who are intelligent and talented, and claim to be fed-up in their current roles – so maybe there’s a way I can work with them and help them to break free and pursue their dreams in a virtual agency capacity? It’s something I’ve definitely going to be investigating in the near future.

The massive list of people to thank:

I can’t even begin to list all the people who have helped and supported me, whether it’s been my family, including those who stood to risk the most if I couldn’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table, or friends and colleagues who have offered referrals and client leads. Then there is a list of great clients, including those I’ve worked with directly, and those who I’ve helped whilst sub-contracting for other organisations.

There’s a huge number of people who have shared tips and advice, including creative coaches, business people, accountants, marketing experts, advertising people, writers, etc. And an equally huge number who have inspired me in some way, whether it’s by following their own adventures, or by their approach to life.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that a list of names would leave so many people unaccounted for, so basically if we’ve spoken, emailed, tweeted, exchanged messages via Facebook, or you’ve linked to me or shared one of my articles, and you think you might be on the list – you are!

The future:

One of the most interesting things about becoming self-employed is that I’ve experienced the frustration of having ideas buried within large organisations, or letting them gather dust because I didn’t have the confidence to go off and do them myself.

That’s changed forever, in a process which started 5 or 6 years ago when I first registered on Blogger and began writing under a pseudonym. That eventually became this site after a couple of false starts, and the transition to WordPress (which I again timed to be memorable – timing it with my son’s birthday).

At the same time, alongside my client work, I’ve had time to start a small group of sites (OnlineRaceDriver, FPSPrestige, ResCogs) which are growing steadily and gaining a reasonable audience thanks to help from a great group of contributors – Cheers to Kalps, Tom, Thomas, Don, etc. And also thanks to the PR and Marketing people from various game developers and associated companies who have started to support us with kit to review, competitions to run etc.

And I’ve been able to start a small experiment in website design and development which is still taking shape in many ways, but has already delivered some clients and is starting to deliver more, thanks to the input of Jonathan and two Matt’s.

I think I’ve now finally started to find the balance between feeling unable to pursue ideas, and trying to launch all of them at once, and the next year should see a more focused expansion of what works, and some changes to what doesn’t. And hopefully the ideas I don’t feel able to pursue can be shared with the right people and help them find more success.

So thanks, cheers, and I can’t imagine what will happen over the next 12 months, but I do know I’m looking forward to every single day…

 

Dan

Client solves Ecommerce for WordPress via Open Source

I don’t often write about clients on my blog for various reasons, but I wanted to spread the word about Jigoshop, which is a great Ecommerce for WordPress solution that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. One reason is simply that it’s a really good product which I can easily recommend – as part of research I played around with the alternatives and I can honestly say that I’d already decided to use Jigoshop to power a couple of future projects before working with them. And the other is that it’s one of the first times I’ve been working on a project which is delivering something via Open Source, rather than using OS products as an end user.

Jigoshop Ecommerce for WordPress

 

So what makes Jigoshop so good?

It’s worth explaining that the company behind it, Jigowatt, specialises in Ecommerce sites for a large range of clients, using both WordPress and Magento, so they’ve spent a lot of time working with all the existing ways to produce effective and attractive online stores, and have particular experience handling the backend admin side of getting lots of products uploaded and ranking in search for their clients. That means they’ve got a long list of all the features that they wish existed and eventually reached the point that they knew it made more sense to build something to answer all their problems.

It’s incredibly quick and simple to use – even I can get an online store up and running in about 20 minutes. But at the same time it’s also highly configurable when you want to get into setting attributes, localising your shop, and stock management.

 

The benefits of a true Open Source Ecommerce solution

I was lucky enough to start getting involved with Jigowatt and Jigoshop when they started discussing how to licence Jigoshop, and how they could try and ensure that it has the optimum chance of being the best possible product, and also how it can generate revenue to justify continuing to work on it alongside the masses of client work they’ve got at any time. They had already started discussing the open source model, obviously drawing from their experience with the likes of WordPress and other open source developments and plugins, and they’d also been open and honest on their blog about their ideas – which led to really helpful input from other WordPress plugin developers, for instance, comments and suggestions from some of the guys at RocketGenius, who make the great Gravity Forms solution.

I also whittered on about everything from the birth of the Free Software Foundation and Open Source to the business models used by the likes of Arduino, and slowly the shape of the Jigoshop business model emerged, which was to release the shop itself under a GPL licence.

  • That means that you can download it, get your store up and running, and take payments via Paypal without having to sign-up for a trial or submit a credit card.
  • And it means anyone can build on top of it, whether that’s additional features or themes etc.

The revenue streams are all around specific extensions to the main Jigoshop platform, whether it’s payment gateways or specific themes, as well as allowing donations. And that’s an approach I really hope works for this specific project, because I really want to see Jigoshop continue and evolve.

 

It’s not just me recommending Jigoshop

Obviously as a client, I might be a little biased, but the good thing is that absolutely loads of WordPress specialists and big independent sites have been giving positive reviews to Jigoshop, reinforcing the fact that it’s a really good product. Just some of the mentions since it launched include Mashable, ThemesForge, and Envato. And there’s a growing forum community on the site which is worth checking out.

 

So I figured there’s enough to justify writing about a client for once! And obviously if you’re interested in finding out more about the range of freelance content and marketing services on offer, then please do get in touch….

A blogging #FollowFriday

It seems that the rise of social networking has led to two effects on blogging and the interlinking between bloggers. Facebook and Twitter aren’t killing blogs, but they do seem to have led to a lot of people dropping blog rolls of their favourites, regular recommendations of others, and the classic blog memes whereby you’d tag other bloggers to respond to a challenge or question.

And while recommendations via Twitter, Facebook or any other social network are always great, I figure it’s time I started recommending people once more. So here’s 10 blogs I read religiously for consistently good quality content, inspiration and advice, which is generally delivered in an entertaining way. And for an atheist/agnostic to read something ‘religiously’ that’s gotta be pretty good praise.

  • Tara Hunt: Online Marketing person turned entrepreneur, and really insightful for the whole ‘running a business’ thing.
  • Neil Perkin: Another person with a history in magazine publishing, and someone who keeps me thinking I need to raise my game.
  • Jonathan MacDonald: If you’re not familiar with ‘choice architecture’, you really should be.
  • Eaon Pritchard: Moving down under doesn’t appear to have mellowed Eaon – in fact his blogging appears to be better than ever.
  • Mark McGuiness: As a creative coach and poet Mark shares really useful creativity and productivity techniques alongside his fomal coaching.
  • Sizemore: Sometimes rude, and infrequently updated, but consistently packed full of interesting and unusual inspiration, as you might expect from someone who writes interesting and unusual scripts.
  • Adam Westbrook: Given the rise in online video, you need to be using it well. And I can’t think of much better places to get tips.
  • JP Rangaswami: Longer, thoughtful, insightful posts on internet culture, with the occasional diversion into cricket and the Grateful Dead.
  • Louis Gray: Not only did he start blogging about news fillters, aggregators and curators the same year I started this blog, and have children around the same time, but just as he had two offspring to me one, his blog justifiably rocketed for news on a valuable growing area of the net.
  • Danah Boyd: Anytime anyone talks about teens, privacy and the internet, I reckon Danah Boyd is the sanity check to measure their plans against.

And now for some bonuses:

That list isn’t particularly focused on the big names, the rising stars, or anything other than these are 10 people who if I’m short of time, I’ll skim through Google Reader to see if they’ve posted anything and make sure I’ve read it before skipping other stuff (generally the things I skip tend to be the generic news from bigger tech websites). That’s not to say they’re the only people I read a lot, though.

Others in the list include: Dave Cushman, Chris Brogan, Fred Wilson, and loads, loads more.At Paid Content, Rob Andrews is excellent, and at ReadWriteWeb I always make time for Marshall Kirkpatrick. I’ll look at other ways to recommend more people in a more accurate and dynamic way some in the future.

In the meantime, you can see what I like enough to share via Google Reader, or via an automated Twitter feed.

Rethinking how I manage my sites

I’ve been pretty busy with client work and my own sites recently – and managed to commit a cardinal sin in forgetting to renew the hosting package on one of my oldest projects, 140char.com.

I still own the domain, which I registered back in 2008 to give me a place to write about Twitter and Microblogging as it started to gain interest from early adopters and a wider audience, and over time I included the likes of Tumblr, Posterous, Plurk, Yammer etc, with whatever insight and analysis I could provide, as well as covering the bigger news stories.

Over time it proved reasonably popular, and a few articles got some great links from prominent bloggers such as Stowe Boyd, and prominent tech sites such as Engadget – but I always saw it as a smaller side project alongside this blog and my day job at the time. Move onto the 2010 and having seen traffic level off, and given the launch of other projects which seemed more viable, I decided to effectively park it for a while, and operated it as just a link blog, reposting everything on the subject which came into my Google Reader via Diigo, while I considered what to do with it, and whether or not to keep it or sell it etc. At the same time, I saw the deserved success of virtual friend Shea Bennett when he launched the far more focused Twittercism, which has now become AllTwitter after acquisition by MediaBistro

Traffic obviously dropped due to the linkposting, to the point where it was steadyish at around 1000 uniques a month, but in terms of priority, it’s dropped below all my client work, this site, and 3 others I’m currently working on… So when the hosting account was coming up for renewal, I planned to transfer it over to my main reseller account, and at the same time, work out the best use of the domain for the future…

And whereas I always set-up all client and current projects with multiple reminders to ensure this never happens, as an older project from the days before I was so diligent, it didn’t have any of that in place.

Tactical Facepalm

So the question is what I do with the domain and content now?

And at the same time, it seems like a good chance to re-evaluate all of my websites, profiles and web activity to ensure that I’m practising what I preach when it comes to an effective, efficient and productive internet strategy.

So be prepared for a bit of soul searching over the next couple of days as I review everything I do. And at least I’m not alone in a hosting slip-up, considering Disney managed to forget to renew the Club Penguin domain and leave several million users without a site!

In the process of re-evaluating everything, I’ve also started to tidy up my old accounts on places like Tumblr and Posterous, and start using them with a bit of actual purpose, so if you’re interested in the somewhat esoteric interests I have in cult books, music, films and comics, then you can always see what I’ve been enjoying at http://badgergravling.tumblr.com/.

So the question is whether I pay to just renew my hosting with all the original links intact, and then start transferring everything over to another site with the appropriate 301 redirects to maintain most of the value of the original links, which would be time consuming, but would retain something from the 3 years of posting, and would be generally what I’d do with clients. Or in the interest of time, just nuke my past like Steve Rubel.

Do I set myself up to continue a half-hearted attempt at updating by linkposting for the sake of it, or is there a more valuable use for that domain?

I could probably sell it for a tiny amount, considering that although it has respectable page rank, I’ve never really monetised it effectively.

Or is there another way to utilise it which would mean that it’s providing value to people – considering that Twitter coverage in particular has spread to mainstream traditional news publications?

In the meantime, my current main sites are:

TheWayoftheWeb – you’re here, so should have an idea what I do. Hopefully. But it’s all around freelance digital content, marketing and running that business.

OnlineRaceDriver.com – online race games. Currently growing by over 20% every month, and getting to a good, solid traffic level.

FPSPrestige.com – FPS games – i.e. Call of Duty, Battlefield etc. Far newer, but growing faster than ORD, and again, getting to a decent traffic level already.

MyDpip.com – the site for Digital People in Peterborough. Slightly neglected due to the fact that both of the people originally involved have been a bit distracted recently, but getting a bit of a reboot in the near future.

Jodanma.com – and this is why we’ve both been a bit distracted. As the non-designer in the company, it’s been slightly frustrating to be waiting with a holding page whilst we’ve been working on client projects, but we’re building in some space soon to finish our own site, which will be a relief.

Not a bad tally, even without 140char.com, and without including a few smaller, more experimental ideas…

BBC’s The Apprentice needs a disclaimer

One of the few TV programmes I end up watching against my better judgement is BBC’s The Apprentice, which never fails to provide irritation and bemusement in equal measure. Ironically having created a mobile app in a previous challenge, this week the contestants were tasked with creating a print magazine, essentially acting out my career path in reverse.

One of the few positives is always the hilarious commentary provided by my Twitter network, and one very valuable suggestion appeared tonight courtesy of @kaigani

@kaigani tweets the apprentice needs a disclaimer

Now I know that The Apprentice is a reality gameshow and not a business documentary. It’s easy to forget that behind all the apparent analysis and insight, that it’s essentially Big Brother in the Boardroom, and I’m not going to start going into psychology when it comes to first perceptions, interviews or workplace performance.

But there are times when it really is legitmately painful.

Besides claims that engineers can’t run companies (Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford and originally an engineer, for example?), or Lord Sugar doesn’t need to be taught how to use a phone (Amstrad E-M@iler anyone?), it’s the judgements that tend to make me want the disclaimer more than anything.

So far we’ve had the better mobile app return a lower amount of downloads due to a crap app store description, and the better magazine idea return lower advertising revenue due to the refusal to negotiate at the end of the first pitch to an ad agency, for example.

Despite the fact that the losing idea and team would have been likely to be far more successful in the long run, the ‘rules’ state that they’re being judged purely on one number, generally the financial return.

At which point, the person responsible for the app store description and the refusal to negotiate is selected to survive for another week due to a perceived ‘glimmer’, and a candidate named Glen is fired primarily for being an engineer as far as anyone can tell.

  • If you’re going to claim that it’s all about the numbers, then you’ve wrecked that by ever seeing or meeting the candidates.
  • If you’re claiming it’s about someone you’re able to work with, then actually the decision could be made after the initial few minutes with them.
  • And if you think The Apprentice is about business, then presumably Fawlty Towers was a guide to hospitality management?

Obviously Lord Sugar has been hugely successful in business, but does that actually give him the best insight into what was responsible for his success, and would he have actually made it through his own gameshow?

The best productivity tip you’ll ever get…

One of the best things about running my own small businesses rather than working in a large company has been the fact that I’ve been facing up to challenges and weaknesses rather than being able to find someone to delegate them to. I’m lucky enough to be able to get very good advice from a number of successful people, and there are times when paying for external assistance makes sense – for instance, when it comes to legal issues or accounting. But it’s still down to me to get that assistance sorted and make the decisions, and it’s down to me to understand enough about each subject to judge whether I’ve gone with the right people.

And that means overcoming the force of resistance.

It’s something that I talked a little about in the context of reviewing ‘Do The Work‘, but there’s also a very simple phsychological trick which is invaluable, and which I picked up from the very useful 59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman. It’s a really good book that distills down a lot of the self-help advice you see being sold into very quick and simple advice based on scientific research, and aims to help you change in a matter of minutes, not months.

One of the tips on motivation and productivity references the ‘Zeigarnik Effect, which you’ve probably experienced, even if you didn’t realise it. Named after Bluma Zeigarnik, who first noticed the effect of unfinished activity on waiters in the 1920s, the lesson is simple. If you start something for a few minutes, it will stick in your mind, and your anxious mind will keep referencing it until it’s finished. And that is likely to be enough for even chronic procrastinators to finish the most arduous of tasks without any other tricks or tools.

It’s why ToDo lists help, or why focusing for 20 minutes with the Pomodoro Technique can work so well – because you’re forced to sit down and start the thing you’ve been putting off because it’s big and scary.

But just by getting started, you’ll be much closer to finishing it, and moving onto the next thing!

And it’s certainly working for me – whether it’s writing down the initial outline or draft of a marketing strategy, tackling the admin side of business, or even getting blog posts published!