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Developers like us do things like this…

Developers like us use version control because we understand the value of being able to roll back.

Developers like us do backups because we understand our customer’s need for safety and insurance.

Developers like us have a process because that is key for delivering quality results consistently.

Developers like us ask questions because we understand the pitfalls that come with assumptions.

Developers like us understand business because the perfect solution, delivered too late, is no solution.

Developers like us are good communicators because we don’t expect the client to navigate technical jargon.

Developers like us are honest, simply because honesty is good for business.

Developers like us own our mistakes because it is the way to build trust and get hired again.

Developers like us don’t hide bad news because it shows care for the client to let them know you will not meet the deadline. It gives them time to plan accordingly.

Developers like us value privacy because the client needs to know their private data is safe in your hands.

Developers like us are generous because helping others along the way makes things better.

Developers like us are flexible because it is not always possible for the client to adapt to our workflow.

Developers like us are more expensive because we always deliver more than we got paid for.

Developers like us minimize risk because they understand the client has their reputation to consider when she places it in our hands when we deliver a solution.

Developers like us work fast because we don’t reinvent the wheel and use the best practices available in the field.

Developers like us never stop learning because we know first hand how fast the software world changes.

Developers like us future proof their code because it is never safe to assume how it will be used later on.

Developers like us prioritize customer needs because the final product is for them, not for us.

 

Note: this is a manifesto based on Seth Godin’s idea of “Tribes”: people like us do things like this.

If you had to charge ten times as much

This is such an interesting question because it asks for ten times, not twice as much. 

Asking for twice as much can trap you into thinking: 

  • I will work twice as hard! 
  • I will double the quantity of whatever I am offering! 
  • I will simply increase my prices, lose a few customers but keep the premium ones. 

None of those strategies really work when you need to charge ten times as much. Something else needs to change.

I have not found the “right answer” to this one, just yet.

But somethings are obvious:

I cannot work ten times more hours or put in ten times the effort. With 24 hours on any given day, that is simple, not possible. 

Ten times the quantity may also not be possible, not to mention that the customer may not be interested in that much more quantity. 

So what can it be? 

On the same airplane, different people pay different prices. And yes, you can find a ten times difference in tickets. The same plane does not fly farther, does not fly faster, and does not land in a luxury airport for those who pay a premium. So what exactly do they pay for? 

In the software industry, given the same project specs, you can hire developers on a wide range of prices. The specs don’t change, so the end result should be the same, so why the different prices? Why is a developer more expensive than the other. And why would a customer choose to pay for someone who charges ten times the lowest price on the offer? 

A possible, but lazy answer is status. If you care that a “Google Developer” worked on your project, you will pay to be able to say that, even though a “less famous” developer may have done the job. Beyond status, this can be a marketing signal as well. When you sell this service, it may be worth it to your customers to know that a “famous” developer worked on it if that signals quality.

Trust may be a better answer. I don’t think you can trust someone “ten times more” than another person. Still, you do have a definite feeling that you can trust person A but not trust person B. 

And if trust is essential to my business, then person A can successfully charge ten times more than person B. What is the value-added to justify this increase? In the moment, probably none. But in an environment of clickbait and shady practices, person A has spent valuable time, resources, and emotional labor to prove trustworthy. Their reputation is their asset that you pay for. 

Going higher on the “better” scale, you may have to change the people you serve. If you are a high precision car mechanic, that will not matter if all your customers want from you is to fix their headlights. You may be fast at it, you may be precise, but it will not matter. You will not be able to ask ten times more for your services in that crowd. You need to find a different crowd, likely a smaller crowd, looking for that particular skill. To them, it will make sense to pay you ten times more, because the value they get out of your work is twenty times more. For them, you will still be a bargain.

On the same level with “change the people you are serving” can be “change your story.” In fact, the two go hand in hand and influence each other. If you sell a commodity, you have no choice but to join the race to the bottom. The alternative is to trade in emotions. To transform fear into belonging. For that, you need a story. You need to stand for something. To serve people at the edge, that everyone else has overlooked. 

For “regular” people, water is free. For someone stranded in the desert, water is priceless. A way to charge ten times more is to find people who are thirsty and then create the product or service that will satisfy their needs. 

Charging ten times as much is scary because it usually means you need to change and sometimes in dramatic ways. Letting go of the old clients is not easy. Letting go of the old product or service feels frightening. What if you are wrong? And we arrive at risk. Those who play it safe always find themselves in a crowded place. Setting out to sell water in the desert does not mean you will also find someone there. 

How about you? What would you change if you had to charge ten times more? 

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally

I like to be comfortable. I like instant gratification and home deliveries. I like automation that makes my life easier.

But what is all this ease for? What will I do with it? With the extra time and the extra energy?

If I am smart, I will do something hard to do.

Leaning into comfort when it comes to your personal life may be a good idea, but when it comes to business, to creating value for your audience, all the low hanging fruit is gone. All that is left are the hard questions, the tough problems that everyone else shies away from.

You can look at this and conclude that “it is too hard!” or instead, you can conclude: “This is an opportunity to serve in a place with a big need and little to no competition.”

“If one can do it, you can do it, if no one can do it, you must do it” – Shajjath Aleem

There is something to be said about a problem that is too big. That is also a trap as it lets you off the hook. If the problem is so big, nobody really expected you to keep your promise and solve it. It is just another way to procrastinate.

Look at your resources, consider your will power, your energy, and your passion and choose a hard problem that you can actually solve.

Credit: Seth Godin – The Dip

Is your website really helping your business?

I know this seems like a silly question to ask in 2020, but I still see examples of websites that do not actually help (or not as much as they could).

For a website to be helpful, it needs to have a well-defined goal. And if you can track that, all the better!

Here are some examples:

  • it helps sell your products or services
  • it showcases your experience and expertise
  • builds a community
  • makes a bold statement about a cause you believe in and support

Website vs. Social Media

Social media gets a lot of attention today. It is tempting to focus on building a following there. We all know and follow “influencers” on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn. 

But who really owns that audience and that space? Hint: It is not the influencer. It is the social media company. 

On a social media platform, even if you create content, you are still the guest. You are still a product that gets attention back to the social media company. You and your business can be kicked out at any time with no explanation given or a way to get back. And everything you have built can fall like a house of cards. 

This is where your website can help in a big way.

At the very least, your website should build a mailing list as a way for you to be able to contact your audience directly and not depend on “the algorithm” or “boosting” your content. 

Unlike your social media page, the website is yours, and so is the mailing list. You may be forced to change hosting or email providers, but you don’t lose your audience or content, provided you are disciplined with your backups.

A website can be supplemented with a podcast. The podcast shows will also be distributed directly to your subscribers at no extra cost to you. There is no algorithm involved and no need to “boost” your content. A podcast has the added advantage that your distributing content cost does not increase with the number of subscribers, as it happens with your mailing list. You should, however, still invite your listeners to subscribe to your newsletter from time to time. 

The Take-Away

The take-away is that your website should do something, not just take up Internet space.

It should at least:

  1. build trust
  2. invite the user to subscribe to your newsletter or podcast
  3. have a clear value proposition and a call to action on the home page

How is your website doing? Let me know about your challenges in the comment section.

Automated “downtime” alerts

Do you know that frustrating moment when you realize that your website has been offline for three days? Or that your shopping cart stopped working last week? 

That moment is also valuable because you now know that something is broken, so now you can fix it. But at the same time, you wish you learned of this faster!

On a community website, this may not be an issue, as your users will let you know when the site is broken, but that is not the case for a blog, or an online store, or a landing page that is collecting leads. 

You could set a daily reminder to check things are OK, but that will chip away at your precious time, and it quickly becomes boring, so you will begin to forget to do it or begin to think that you don’t have to monitor the website anymore. 

I am all about automation, so let’s automate this! 

Google Analytics

The easiest way that is also free is to use Custom Alerts from Google Analytics. The logic is simple. You have an expected value of daily traffic (based on historical data), so you create a custom alert to let you know if it drops below that. Of course, you need to have Google Analytics installed on your pages for this to work. 

Pingdom

Another way is to use a tool like Pingdom. I have used them for a long time in the past. They no longer have a free tier, but the value you get from the service I think is well worth the $10/month they ask for it. I like Pingdom because they provide more than just “your web site is down” notifications. They provide performance analytics too, which, as we know, is a factor in how your website ranks in Google searches. 

But the real power of Pingdom is transaction monitoring. Transaction monitoring helps you know if a process is working, not just a page: a process like the signup form, or progressing through making a purchase. These are incredibly difficult things to set up tests by yourself, and you get that for $10/mo.

In House Tools

You can also write mini scripts that load your webpages and inspect the results for clues to determine if the page functions as you intend to. Since I am a software developer, that is what I use today for most of my projects. 

The downside is that you have to write these scripts, test them, and maintain them. Depending on your team composition, that may cost you more than using something like Pingdom. 

The upside is that since it is your code, you can do all sorts of interesting things with it, not just email notifications. You can use that to trigger different processes and even attempt an “auto-fix” by restarting relevant processes or clearing out the caches. 

A more powerful subset of this is writing automated tests for your web apps using a tool like “TestCafe” to simulate a user interacting with your web application going through a purchase or signup process. 

You can create custom monitoring and analytics tools to aggregate data from multiple signal sources that can provide insights not readily available in Google Analytics. For example, you can monitor how a campaign is affecting not only your website but also social media engagement across all the networks you care to track. 

What does the client want?

Some time ago…

Some time ago, the conversation with a potential client would be something along the lines of:

“How can I help you?”

“I want a website to sell my products.”

“OK, great, this is a price and you’ll have in a month.”

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the reaction would be: “Well, this is not even close to what I had in mind…”

I had to change the game and ask more questions 🙂

“What colors do you like?”

“Red and blue.”

“Great, and font wise?”

“I want something elegant, precise!” 

“For images?”

“Oh, something joyful and warm…”

“Excellent! This is the price; you will have the site in a month”.

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the feedback is: “This red is not red enough, and now I realize the red and blue are a bad combination! Can we try yellow instead of blue? And the font is too girly for what I have a mind. We are going to need new images as well. The top one is ugly, and the rest don’t match the brant at all.”

Oh, the frustration.

At some point, I’ve spent two weeks back and forth, trying to nail down the shade of blue. That was a waste of my time and the client’s time!

I had come to believe that the clients don’t know how to communicate (I had a much shorter description for this). I had resolved that I would never even discuss with someone who could not write a technical specification that we can agree on, and that I could deliver. 

This decision blocked many customers, but more importantly, blocked important learning. 

The Breakthrough 

I was watching a video from Chris Do. He’s a designer who also teaches business, and I admire his style. To me, it feels like he is talking to me specifically. The kind of decisions you need to make in design apply in software and for anyone who uses creativity to solve a problem. But I digress. 

Back to the video. 

He was taking questions from the audience, and someone asked: “How do you deal with clients who don’t know how to communicate what they want?” Ah! The golden questions! I had the same struggle. I perked up, waiting for the knowledge to be bestowed on me. 

Chris looked into the camera, and you could tell that the question was really testing his patience. Hm… And he said: “How many times do I have to tell you that the good-communication is on you! It is your responsibility to help your client articulate her problem and then discover if you can help her.”

All the pieces began to fall into place in my mind. I suddenly understood that in blaming the client, I was not only asking the wrong questions, but I was not developing a critical communication skill. 

In the present time…

When a client wants to work with me, they better be ready for a ton of questions :). As someone jokingly said, they need to feel like they’ve been to the shrink after the first discovery session. 

Here is how the conversation might look like:

“I want a site that can help me sell my products.”

“Sure, that is something that I specialize in, but out of curiosity, what problem are you trying to solve?”

“Well, I need to increase my revenue, obviously”

“OK, that makes sense. How do you know that having a website is the best way to solve this problem?”

“I don’t know… everybody does it… what other options are there?”

“I am glad you ask. Before I can answer that, I’d need to know more about your business. It’s OK if I ask you a few questions?”

“OK…”

“At the moment, how do you generate your revenue…”

And this would go on for a while. 

In the end, what I need to know is:

– what is the biggest problem that this customer is facing 

– how can I help them discover this problem if they don’t know it

– how can I help them articulate their underlying needs 

– in the end, are we a good fit? Can I help her with what she really needs? Can she afford me? Do we like each other well enough to work together for a few weeks or months? 

And by the end, the client would also need to know

– how do I work

– can she trust me

– what is my price range

– what kind of a solution can she expect

– is hiring me the right choice for her

In Conclusion

Make sure you correctly diagnose the problem before you prescribe a solution. If the solution you’re thinking of is not the right one, you need to find out as soon as possible, not at the end of the process.

If you found value in this article, let me know in the comments below or on Facebook. This feedback will help me understand what to focus on in the following posts. 

Go create the New Paradigm today!

Building Trust

When I want to learn something, there are usually hundreds of resources available for that topic. Or if I want to buy a product, there is generally more than one option available. 

So how do I make my choice? 

For a while, I thought that I am considering benefits versus price versus quality. I imagined that I am making a rational decision. 

But that is not so. 

Someone was also looking to learn about a topic, and they ask me about it. I told this person that there are likely many people on YouTube, teaching this way better than I ever could. But they did not want to learn from YouTube; they wanted my perspective and guidance on it. 

I wondered why they would make this choice, when, at least in my mind, I was not the better option. 

And it comes down to trust :). Very simply put: they know me, they trust me, and they like me. And they would prefer I show them what they need to learn, rather than some stranger on YouTube that they have no connection to. 

Considering this, I realized that I do the same. I don’t act rationally at all. I much rather work with people I know, and I trust, even if they are not always the “best” at what I am looking for. When there is a connection, things are much easier. 

Trust, connection, and familiarity sound like very personal concepts, but they apply in business. Each action that you take as a business can build or erode trust. And in today’s world of “clickbait” and “shortcuts,” trust is ever more scarce

Building trust takes time. It requires empathy, the emotional labor of truly seeing the other, and serving your customer even if that means sending them to your competition. Yes, you may have lost a client, but you gained trust. 

It also means keeping your promises even when it is difficult to do so. Especially then. And it means being open when you do break a promise, owing to the situation and not trying to hide it. 

On a related note: online reviews are a tool that we sometimes use to determine if we can trust a vendor that we don’t have a relationship with yet. 

This tool gives power to you, the consumer. You can express your gratitude at no extra cost to you by writing a praising review for the vendor. But you can also be vengeful and write a bad review. And we all know that bad reviews weigh more heavily than the good ones. For some reason, we feel they are more “honest.” So wield this power wisely. 

Be generous with it, and don’t abuse it. Online reputation is hard to build and very easy to destroy. 

User Feedback – why is it important?

There is something that I noticed while designing web apps and user experiences. The client sometimes has particular requests about what font to use, what images and colors, and how the interactions should happen.

And if I probe why do they want things to be done like that, I most of the time get the answer that this is how they like it.

In a way, it makes sense. It is your site, your brand, and it should represent what you stand for and show your brand’s personality.

But when you are offering a service, and you want to help your visitors achieve something, you need to put their needs above your desire to have the website a specific way.

Your visitors expect to read your site easily. They expect a button to look like a button. And a clickable link to obviously be a clickable link. It would help if you found a balance between being familiar and being unique. If you go all the way on the “unique” side, your visitors will be very confused by your offer and wander someplace else. So this very distinct design is not really serving your customers, is it?

What is a better way to go about this?

You can ask your visitors for feedback and listen to what they have to say. If they find it challenging to make use of your offer, you need to change that, even if it’s something you like a lot about your web site.

You also need to ask more people, not just one. How many more? It depends on the size of your business, but the more you can ask, the more reliable the data becomes. And then, you can build a design that both showcases your brand and what is unique about it but also serves your customers in a way that they expect and understand.

I know this is not always easy. I’ve been guilty of this approach myself, many, many times in the past. I was blinded by how “elegant” I thought my solution was that I disregarded the feedback that showed it was not working for my potential customers.

If your web presence is just a way to express yourself, your art, your ideas, then it’s OK to break the rules and do something “crazy.” Just know that serves your need to express and bee seen. But if you want to provide a service, the marketplace will quickly teach you a lesson, when very few people engage with your content, because it is too hard, or too different.

In today’s world, it is easy to create a website where you can have both worlds: customer-centered and another that is “self-expression” centered. And they can both work together and support each other. But now your audience has a choice. Do they want to explore the new, edgy thing, or they want to benefit from the offer that will serve them quickly?

In conclusion: ask for feedback from your user! And be grateful for the feedback you get, especially if it’s “not good,” because it points you to things you can change that may lead to dramatic improvement of engagement with your offerings.  

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face

The quote in the title belongs to Mike Tyson. And while I don’t condone violence of any kind, there is a lot of truth to that quote!

I read his quote in a business book a few days ago, and it was one of those things that have an after kick. Only after I got to the next page, I started to laugh at the very graphic explanation of an unexpected big surprise, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

Why was this so funny to me? 

It is funny because I am a big fan of plans and lists and thinking ahead and having a strategy. 

But more often than not, something happened along the way (the so-called “punch in the face”) that threw my plan out the window. It does not look funny in the moment, but looking back, it is pretty amusing. 

So what is the connection with web applications? 

To understand, let us look at another useful quote, the Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will!

This quote is a more pessimistic view of something that is statistically true: “If anything can happen, it will happen.” It does not matter if it’s good or bad, but since the bad one hurts, that’s what got captured in Murphy’s law. 

When you build a web application, you do your best to plan, to foresee potential problems, and avoid the common pitfalls. The more experience you have, the better your plan is, and the more future problems you can avoid. 

But here is the kicker: no matter your expertise, if something can happen, it will. And since there is no such thing as a perfect product, the inevitable will happen sooner or later. A surprise that does not fit into your carefully crafted plan. 

This idea is not an excuse to stop caring and stop delivering excellence. It is just a word of caution that humbling experiences await you/me in the future :).

The reason I enjoy Tyson’s quote more is because of the visceral feel to it. I rely heavily on planning and my past experience, so when the rug is swept from under my feet, that scares me. I have always managed to recover, eventually, but still, I am not looking forward to the unpleasant experience of free falling. 

However, I am told there is another way. And that is “falling with grace.” Accept that you cannot foresee everything and that the unexpected will hit you, and you will fall. But you can learn to fall with style, to fall forward, and to bounce back. 

My plan to deal with the unexpected is to have backups, a cash reserve that can come to the rescue of the project, and always keep in mind that: if something can happen, it will! I should add to that more practice in falling :D.

New Normal – Collaboration Tools – Asana

As I wrote in a previous post, the remote collaboration will become the “new normal,” so you might as well get comfortable with the tools. 

I bring up again the resistance to change. Know it is there, say “hello” to it, and then persist anyway. There are gems and diamonds on the other side! (And cookies if you like sweets).

Bribing aside, you can find dozens of tutorials on how to use Asana, so let’s instead dive into this question: “why bother?”

The challenges of “self-management”

School, and the first jobs I had, taught me to be obedient and to follow orders. This habit meant that someone else had to do the planning, issue the requests, and track the progress. 

When I broke off, on my own, choosing my projects and collaborators did not mean that I instantly knew how to self manage! Quite the opposite!

I was anxious that nobody was telling me what to do and when to do it. I perceived this responsibility as a burden. (spoiler alert – it is, in fact, great freedom, but it took me a while to wake up to that).

I began by writing my thoughts and things to do on pieces of paper. That worked so well for the first few days until I realized I was losing the pieces of paper, or some of the messages were no longer making sense because they had no context. (I had on a piece of paper this note in big, bold letters: “Very Important: 5“. To this day, I don’t know what was so important about that five.)

Next, I moved my notes to the computer. Each project had a “TO-DO.txt” file where I would write my tasks, and log my progress. This file worked well for many years. And I still use it today for small projects. With larger projects, it was getting more and more difficult to scan the file to see what is “done” what “needs to be done” and what is the deadline for each item. 

And there was another problem. I was continually checking that I did not miss anything from what I promised I would do and that I would deliver on time. This monitoring would crowd my attention by keeping mental track of dates and features and promises. Not much room left for creative thinking. 

I looked for a solution. I knew from the start that it had to be online. Why? Because I did not want to carry my computer with me to check on things. Ideally, I would log into a website and have everything there, accessible from wherever I have an internet connection.

The right tool for the job

I tested a couple of things, and the tool I like the most was Asana.

First of all, it has a free tier that has everything that I need. 

Second, it has an excellent design that makes sense. Think of it as an advanced “TO DO” list manager. That means you can easily add items; you can check them off as done; you can immediately see what still needs your attention.

These reasons were great, but what sold it to me was the feature to add “comments” for each item. I did not even know that I was missing this feature. Comments became essential for complex tasks, where I had to do research and keep track of my findings and have all that information connected with the relevant “to-do item.” A long text file with notes would become so hart to read that it would be useless. But items with their own set of comments, now that is very easy to digest at any time. 

The second thing was the reminders! When you set a deadline for a specific item, you will be emailed a few days in advance that you need to take care of that item. Now, I could relax and free my memory from all the dates and deadlines and allow the software to do that for me, knowing that I will not miss anything. 

The final reason is why I put this into the “collaborative tools” section. You can add more people into a project, share your list of items, add comments, and complete tasks. You no longer have to write emails working out with collaborators what needs to be done. Instead, you can assign a task to someone with two clicks, and they will get notified about it. A follow up to the email problem is that you can keep all the discussion next to the task, so you don’t have to search for an old email.

For a team (and even a solo project), this tool adds clarity! I have discovered that when you are clear on what needs to be done, it is much easier to build the confidence and the motivation to actually do it. 

In Conclusion: choose a small project and give Asana a go. Don’t just read this post and decide, but actually test it out and then decide if this can improve your workflow by freeing your mind to focus on the creative things and not project tracking. Look at this as an investment in yourself and your team.