Coverage for TheWayoftheWeb

I’ve often published constructive criticism on the media industry, but I also have a lot of respect for the people working in it, and Im always proud when journalists I respect choose to quote anything I’ve written.

So it’s an honour that the Peterborough Telegraph asked to re-publish my last post ‘Why your business must own its content‘ on the Peterborough Today website.

Add that to being quoted in an article on Search Engine Watch, and it’s been a rather nice week!

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.

The ‘Way’ of TheWayoftheWeb

It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.

When I originally started blogging, I played around with a couple of websites and names before settling on ‘TheWayoftheWeb’. It was inspired by the film Ghost Dog, which in turn led me to finally reading Hagakure, a work which contains thoughts and instruction from the age of the Samurai.

Since then, what began as a personal blog has become much more than that, particularly since TheWayoftheWeb Ltd came into creation. It’s becoming a hub for a growing team of people working under that name to provide a range of services for decent and fast-growing list of clients.

 

So what is ‘The Way of the Web’?

I did question whether it’s the right name for a company rather than a website. But I think it fits the philosophy and strategy I have for the future, so I felt it was time to clarify the name a little.

  • The Way doesn’t refer to a set method of tactics. It’s not a prescription for how to set-up a Facebook page or write a blog post. It refers to a set of principles which should be applied to building a business at a strategic level in our modern digital era, and coping with the benefits and risks which are inherent to the world now and in the future.
  • The Web doesn’t mean simply the fixed line internet accessed via a desktop computer. It means all communication technology, both via humans and devices in the coming age of the ‘internet of things’, which encompasses all manner of connected and semi-autonomous devices.

What that means is that we combine a small number of disciplines to allow us to help clients grow their business and understand what changes are required now and in the future, with the right mindset for a digital world.

Or to put in another way, we provide content and content marketing, search engine optimisation, social media marketing, accompanied by the tuition and insight into how this impacts the business as a whole, beyond plans to publish a blog post per day or five tweets a week.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t handle ‘straight’ SEO work, content outsourcing or social media marketing, but it means that we work harder to align that as part of the overall business, no matter what level of investment is being made.

That’s just the right Way.

Why I love writing and technology…

…because done well, both can inspire people to act.

Whether it’s laughter or tears, love or hate, making a purchase or revolting against a government – both can provide amazing tools to inspire and encourage.

It’s how I ended up combining writing and marketing.

And it’s why I don’t dream about one day turning this business into an ‘SEO’ agency. Or a ‘social media’ agency.

I dream growing this business into something larger which is known for being able to enable change and action both internally and externally.

And it’s why I also think a lot about how that looks in terms of structure and recruitment.

And both of those issues are likely to become increasingly important this year, so if that’s the sort of thing you might be interested in, please do get in touch. Location won’t be important, but the right ideas will…

Still here – 6 years of blogging and 4 years of data…

Although I started publicly blogging at TheWayoftheWeb on a blogspot account back in 2006, it was only in 2008 that I switched to WordPress and installed my current Google Analytics account, so May 1 is kind of an anniversary. Technically I really started blogging back in about 1999 with a Homestead website, but that didn’t progress further than some horrific design decisions and a couple of extremely half-hearted business ideas, such as a database of pub reviews (I still occasionally wonder how much revenue the likes of FancyAPint make!)

Either way I’ve constantly veered between writing about marketing and journalism, with the occasional posts about blogging and more personal topics. I’ve invested about $300 in the site over the years, including domains, hosting and themes, and I’ve apparently published 1,299 posts, so an average of 20 per month.

And in the last 4 years, that’s brought me over 113,000 visits, almost 100,000 visitors (Should happen in May), and 157,041 pageviews.

It’s also resulted in about $30 in advertising revenue during the period I experimented with ads on here, and about 3 times as much in affiliate revenue.

So you may think reaching 100,000 for around $180 and a lot of time wasn’t the best way to spend my time?

 

The real value of this site:

But that’s ignoring the real value that this site has given me and continues to deliver:

  • Leads for my digital content and marketing business – I don’t need to reach a million people, if I reach 20 or 30 that want to hire TheWayoftheWeb to provide content, marketing or training.
  • It keeps me writing – If there’s a time when I’m focused on other work, this place is the one where I can write whatever I like, whenever I like, although as it’s the only form of marketing for my business, I’m probably doing that slightly less now!
  • It’s entirely mine – All the content is mine, all the data is mine, and I set the rules regarding privacy. 2 minutes of tweaking domain settings and I can move it wherever I want, whenever I want.
  • It’s helped meetings – Surprisingly often I’ve been in meetings where clients or agencies etc have seen my blog and have even occasionally mentioned a post or brought a printed copy along to discuss a particular point.
  • It gets me referenced – Not only does it provide proof of my identity to the likes of Google+, but it’s also been linked to from the likes of The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal.

 

Blogging dying?

In the time I’ve been blogging, it’s been pronounced dead at least 3 or 4 times, and the latest eulogies are probably the strongest yet with numerous studies suggesting corporate blogging in particular is fading fast.

And personally I think that’s great – because the more my competitors and my client’s competitors ignore the benefits of regularly publishing fresh and quality content on their own domains, the easier it is for me to succeed.

I’ve seen client sites grow massively over the last 12 months. And I’ve seen some of my own sites which are more focused and targeted on mass audiences go from a couple of thousand readers per month to 70 or 80,000 per month.

So although I share some of the fears that others have written about regarding the future of the open web ( For example, see John Naughton and Brendan Cooper in the last couple of days), there’s still a lot of success to be had before the opportunities may start to close.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to take advantage of them right now.

 

Oh, and in case you’re interested, here are the 10 most popular posts so far:

  1. The best webcam-based augmented reality application
  2. 2012 – The year of 3d printing?
  3. Has Microsoft made a major marketing mistake?
  4. The best G1 application, augmented reality and Moore’s Law
  5. Solving Feedburner Feedsmith problems with WordPress 2.9
  6. The best social games on any platform
  7. Problems embedding Youtube videos in WordPress
  8. Augmented Reality needs to jump the shark
  9. Breaking the habit of broadcast media
  10. How the traditional world punishes social media

What is ‘The Way of the Web’

When I started blogging years ago, I had no idea that one day it would become the main public face of my business and career. It started because I’d made a few attempts to launch websites before becoming employed as a journalist, but had never made the effort to learn how to code and develop a decent site, so when technology offered me a way that I could publish whatever I wanted with no Editor, it seemed like a wonderful freedom.

If you’ve ever tried to name a website, business, book or band, you’ll identify with the problem of coming up with a name for something – until it’s established and familiar, most names just sound odd. Considering I was once guitarist with a band named ‘Inflatable Hostess’, this shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise!

But as the site has grown from friends and family to thousands of people every month, I’ve been increasingly asked about the name (Although not as much as my Twitter username ). So with a lovely new logo now in place, it seems like a good time to explain what on earth I was thinking…

What does ‘TheWayoftheWeb’ mean?

The name of the site was inspired by a number of things, but is mainly inspired by my interest in Japanese culture, particularly around martial arts. I’d read the ‘Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai‘ not long before launching the site, having seen it referenced in the film ‘Ghost Dog‘. It’s an interesting book of notes provided by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunemoto, around the time the samurai class switched from being mainly warriors to administrators.

But the main inspiration comes from the philosophy behind Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. If you only ever considered Bruce Lee a film star, then the insight into his approach to martial arts and fighting styles might be a little bit of a surprise, but the key element that inspired me is that Jeet Kune Do isn’t a fixed style like Karate. It’s fluid and changing, hence why it’s often called a ‘style without a style’, and that a good martial artists should be like water, and moving fluidly without hesitation.

And that’s the personal hidden joke within the name.

There is no one set ‘Way’ of the Web – the important thing is to set out on the journey and find the way which works for you and your business.

 

So what does ‘TheWayoftheWeb’ do?

The succinct business philosophy is simple – it’s much easier to find what works for you with experienced help. The longer version is providing:

  • Content creation Content is a foundation of success in digital, whether you’re a publisher, retailer, manufacturer or service provider. Sometimes it’s hard to see how you can produce amazing writing from inside your business, which is why hiring someone with experience in journalism and writing online can really transform what you’re doing by asking the right questions.
  • Marketing – You need people to see what you’re doing. But how do you achieve that with the ever-changing state of search engine optimisation, or the constant launches of new social networks? What you need is someone who can advise on where to start, and give you a solid foundation to work from.
  • Training – Whether or not you want someone to provide content and marketing services for you indefinitely, at the very least you probably want to know exactly how to measure whether it’s successful or not, and the world of analytics and social media monitoring can be daunting with so much potential data to turn into insight. And if you do plan on transferring content and marketing to an internal resource, then you can shortcut a lot of time, money and experimentation.
  • And lastly there’s this site – which aims to provide insight and guidance into journalism, writing, and marketing in a digital world, with the occasional more personal post to avoid becoming an endless stream of tutorials, and to provide an insight into the actual person you’re hiring – the most qualified person in the world won’t be effective for your business if you decide within 10 seconds that you hate them, so by taking a look around you hopefully get an idea whether there’s a fit with your business.

And that’s it in a fairly large nutshell. Of course, it also provides you with a way to Contact Me, and who I am.

 

Your turn: I’d love to know how you came up with the name of your own blog/site/business and how it came about… And what you think of mine!

TheWayoftheWeb Most Read Posts in 2011

There’s still a week to go, but unless something radical happens, here’s a quick run-down of the most read posts I’ve written on this site in 2011. It’s purely in terms of visitor numbers via Google Analytics, so I’m resisting the temptation to try and promote posts that I felt may have been overlooked!

1. 2012 The Year of 3D Printing?

If anything, the coverage of 3D printing has only gained pace since I wrote this, and there have been several more developments with funding, new businesses based around the technology, and growing consumer awareness.

2. Problems embedding Youtube videos in WordPress?

With the roll out of new embedding tools from Youtube, Vimeo etc, it turned out that WordPress was stripping out the code whenever you tried to publish an embedded video. It’s since been corrected, but judging by the traffic, it wasn’t just me that was a bit puzzled by the fact I had to revert to the old code.

3. Feeling attacked on all sides

A popular post for freelancers and entrepreneurs which covered my feelings about setting up my own small businesses, and then seeing constant news about competitors and massive global corporations moving into similar areas. How do you work on a tiny marketing business when the ‘big boys’ are constantly unveiling new social media units?

4. Guy Kawasaki’s ‘Enchantment – The art of changing hearts, minds and intentions’

A review from back in February of what I think is one of the most useful books released this year.

5. Everyone’s a curator now

How content curation may be a new buzzword for the media industry, but everyone else is already doing it with their writing, photos and videos. How does that change the way we act with friends and family, or how we upload and share?

6. The two sides of 3D Printing

Two examples of current 3D Printing – one very positive, one perhaps very negative, which hopefully start people thinking how best to utilise the technology in benefitting us all, rather than just being impressed with the tech itself.

7. Why don’t Facebook fans like us anymore?

What turns people away from a company Facebook page, and also how to plan to fix it.

8. Klout and Peerindex: Social network loyalty cards

How Klout and Peerindex are initially mapping ‘influence’, and the result that they act as loyalty cards for the social networks they include, requiring you to do your daily posting on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ rather than using a competitor, for example. Add in the quantity factor as a part of their metrics, plus the perk offers as a reward, and they’re loyalty cards for digital services.

 

And I’d like thank you

I’d just like to give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone who has visited my site, subscribed to my feed, RT’d, Liked, or +’d a post, left a comment, stumbled, reddit’d, digg’d, or told their friends about TheWayoftheWeb.

Starting a blog or a business is incredibly tough, and sometimes we all forget to share how important it is when we see that someone has enjoyed what we do. I promise you that I still get as excited by seeing new readers, new comments, and new recommendations of what I do today as I did when I first started blogging. And even on the worst days, when I’m working alone at home and feeling like noone cares, it’s guaranteed someone will post a comment or share a post on Twitter, and it’ll fuel my determination and motivation for weeks.

So many thanks, Happy Christmas, and if I can help you in 2012, please do let me know…

Wikio’s Top Online Marketing Blogs for October

TheWayoftheWeb has unexpectedly made it to number 18 in the top 100 Online Marketing blogs as measured by Wikio. That’s pretty darn nice, and apparently puts me ahead of some big names, including 1000Heads, iCrossing etc. And it’s probably a warning for Econsultancy and WeAreSocial that I’m gunning for them next month!

Obviously I’m expecting an email from Wikio at any moment to say that there was some kind of computing error and there’s no way that a bloke working from a kitchen table should be outranking some pretty big and well-respected agency blogs, but until they do I’m making sure I’ve got a screenshot for posterity!

The only explanation I can think is that it’s down to the wonderful people who read this site for reasons beyond my comprehension. And that it’s still possible to create popular sites even in crowded markets as long as you keep going and doing the things you love – something made rather poignant by the recent loss of Steve Jobs. In my case, I love writing, teaching, figuring out the best ways to engage and involve people, and figuring out what triggers people to do things with technology, so here’s to cracking the top ten in November.

From Hollywood to Aylesbury (and UK freelancers)

When I dreamed about entering the movie business, I always assumed it would involve luxurious offices in Los Angeles or London, rather than a suburban semi-detached in Aylesbury. As it happens, I’m helping out the immensely talented Dalang Films, who are now releasing their own projects after working on many of the biggest films of the last decade.

Hollywood Sign

Chatting about their plans and introducing them to a few ideas around licensing, digital distribution and marketing, I couldn’t help thinking about the way business is changing every day in the UK, with more and more freelances, entrepreneurs and small businesses appearing every day.

A recent story on the Atlantic shared some relevant stats from the U.S.

  • In 2005 1/3 of the US workforce participated in the ‘freelance economy’, with data showing that number has increased ever since.
  • 2009 saw the highest level of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S in 14 years.
  • Online freelance job postings rockets in 2010, and companies are increasingly outsourcing various functions, along with increasing support for telecommuting.

I don’t have the equivalent UK figures, but I’d suspect we’re probably a bit behind due to cultural differences, but the same change is definitely happening. And despite the media fascination with ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in London, or even the ‘Silicon Fens’, there’s a huge amount of small business and individual endeavour that’s being missed.

For instance, the 40-50 people in Digital People in Peterborough are almost entirely comprised of small businesses and individial freelancers, with just a handful of exceptions. And I’d bet a similar picture is true of a huge number of geek meet-ups, or business networking events outside of London.

It’s not an easy life, and I wouldn’t romanticise the challenges of choosing between buying food or paying the bills when client invoices get missed and paid late. Or of working late into the night on something because there’s simply no-one else to help. But I do believe that there’s a cultural and business change happening which not only makes freelancing and telecommuting more acceptable, but will also enable it to become easier, with more support from the various necessary institutions.

And if you’ll excuse me, I have some client work to finish before I sit back with a beer and practice my Oscar acceptance speech. I know there’s not one for marketing, so I’ve offered to help out on various odd film jobs to make sure I get included in the nominations!