Archive for August, 2010
One of the various techniques for web site promotion that people talk about in blogs and podcasts is self promotion through content. This includes blog posts, forum discussions, and electronic value add documents. Documents can be cut down specifications, guides (Top 50 reasons why….), reviews, and other type of document which promotes you as a subject matter expert. And lets not forget, a document can act as a bait to prospect customers, providing enough information to gain their interest or start them on a path, but not enough to complete the journey – if you details are then at hand when they reach their limit, that’s where you step in.
But presenting the information and documents can be a tricky business. Some people say that you should provide a download link (after prompting the user for their contact details), and some say you should email them out again after capturing contact details.
However, I have found in the past that capturing contact details via web forms and pop-ups can be very hit or miss – with lots of gmail and hotmail email addresses registered, and names such as “kdsh” (random swipe of the keyboard). I prefer to just make the information generally available, in a somewhat protected form, but with my contact information included as the last page – this seems to build more trust, and for me, generates more interest than email addresses which are from throw away email services.
For presenting documents to a user, I would like to suggest the use of a new web presentation service – Issuu. Issuu is a free service, and allows you to present your documents in a nice page turn style as shown below (note the left and right arrows on the edges of the page to turn the pages). The example below is one of my HL7 health integration ADT specifications – but note the last page with my contact details.
Issuu allows you to do the small page turn view as shown below, or you can click on the document to zoom in, and change the way that the pages are displayed. It supports most file formats including PDF, word, graphic files etc. It also has a professional version (paid) which allows for more options for display, and integration.
My background and one of my interests is psychology. I have always been fascinated by what makes people tick, why they do things they do, and what makes people different from each other. But the aspect of psychology which I have always found the most interesting is body language. When we communicate face to face (rather than over email or phone), over 80% of what we say is through the gestures we make as we talk or listen.
Understanding body language can be a real boost for your business. If you are trying to convince somebody to purchase your product or use your service, they may be nodding and agreeing with you through their words, but if their body says no, well this is a big clue that you need to rewind and try a different tact.
Body language can be a complex business. Most people are aware that generally crossing of arms is a defensive action, but there is so much more to it than that. A good place to start to learn body language is through a book called The Definitive Book of Body Language: How to Read Others. This book guides you through the basics, right up to the more complex signals that can be used both in a business (“I don’t believe you” gestures) and personal (“I find you attractive, make a move”) context.
As a brief introduction to some of the clues in body language:
- A suggestion made when the hand is palm down is more than a suggestion, it’s a command. Whereas palms up or out is a defensive suggestion gesture.
- Hands held near or over the mouth when somebody is listening is a signal of not acceptance or disbelief
- Support of the head in the hand when listening is a signal of boredom – its time to change the tempo of the meeting or presentation
- Playing with the ears (pulling, scratching or rubbing) means you are making a connection – tell them more
- When somebody lies, there are various clues including looking away at the start of speaking, lots of swallowing, and high pitched at the end of a sentence
- Leaning way back in a chair can be a sign of boredom or disinterest, whereas a lean forward can be more interested
- Hands rubbing face (forehead, nose, eyebrows) is actually more of a defensive gesture than the arms crossed
- A women’s handbag is an extension of herself like a 5th limb – when she puts it close to you, this can signify acceptance.
- The biting of the lower lip by the teeth is an indication that the other person has lots of useful information to share, but they feel that they should not tell you
For more on reading peoples body language, take a read of The Definitive Book of Body Language: How to Read Others
In previous posts, I have talked about how useful it is to collect information from your customers or potential customers. From feedback on quotes (is the pricing good, does the quote style work, how understandable are they, etc) to feedback on projects (good value for money, good communication, would the customer be happy to act as a referral), any information that your contacts provide is good information.
There are different ways of collecting this information. You can create printed forms and supply these with the quotations and projects in the post, or you can create bespoke response forms on your web site and point your customers to the URL.
But an easier method is to use a survey or data collection service such as SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey allows you to quickly define a number of free surveys and email the URL to your customers, will collect the data and will send you back a summary and detailed report on the findings. It’s all quick, easy, and code free.
SurveyMonkey is free as long as you only ask up to 10 questions for 100 people. If you need more questions or more people, it has a fairly cheap premium version. It allows your survey to be customised with different types of questions (text, large text, selection boxes, yes/nos, scale from 1 to 10, etc), styles, layouts etc – all very nice and easy.
Clearly when you send out the email with the survey URL, the email needs to be about the person rather than you. If you send a request for information out to 100 people asking “We need to know how well we are doing…” you will be lucky to get 2 replies. But, if you make it about the customer and their needs “By filling out this very quick survey, we can meet your requirements better in the future and provide the things you really need…” your response rate will be a lot higher.
So give SurveyMonkey a trial, and start collecting useful customer data.
I had the opportunity to sit in a sales presentation earlier in this week, but this time I was working as a consultant and was sitting at the table, having the presentation given to me (and a few other people). The presentation consisted of the usual powerpoint show, a brief demo and then a Question and Answer session.
At the end of the presentation, one of the senior managers sitting at the table asked the question “What are the benefits of your system?” The salesman giving the presentation paused, thought about the question, and then gave a 5 minute reply – which completely failed to answer the question.
What he said was “Oh, the system is written in the latest technology, it provides a full user guide, we provide full training as part of installation, etc etc etc blah blah blah”.
To be honest, it was a fairly impressive list. But it wasn’t a list of benefits – it was a list of features. Every product and service has features – but its hard for these to make a sale – it’s the benefits that make the sale.
Benefits should/would include: “The user guide means that the answers are always at hand and therefore will save you time, the latest technology is used so that the software will have a longer shelf life and thus will reduce your support costs, etc etc. “ Benefits answers the big question – what’s in it for me?!?
The salesman’s list of features, didn’t list a single benefit, and the team decided not to recommend purchasing the product.
It’s a lesson well learnt, and I will be sure to include the benefits of my services and products in my future pitches.
So what are the benefits of your products and services?
Whenever you approach the end of a large freelance project or the last couple of weeks of a contract, what do you do? Clear your desk? Make sure to get the invoice out? Organise the wrap up drinks? There is a trick you can use to generate more work (sometimes) from the customer. The trick is to generate a report.
When I come to the end of a project or a contract, I spend half a day creating a ‘wrap up’ report for the customer – a nice light report (typically 4 to 10 pages) which covers three areas:
- A summary of the work I have done for them in the project or contract – this reconfirms to them what great value I have been, reconfirms that they made the right choice to select me, and tells them how busy I have been
- A notes section – here I detail anything I have spotted which is not as good as it should be.
- A recommendation section – considerations for future improvements
Now the trick is to make the notes and recommendations section not too scathing. You don’t want to point out to the person who has hired you how bad their processes are or why their department sucks. However, what you do want to do is bring to their attention areas which they may not be aware of, and (this is the most important part) recommendations for improvement on some (not all) of the areas noted and how you would deal with the issues.
A lot of managers live by the principle “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, and that is what the report is for – to say in a gentle way “oh, I noticed that your process for xxxxxxxxxxxx is causing problems, if you yyyyyyyyyyyyyy this will stop this problems occurring”. Of course, by branding the report with your personal or company details, who will be the first person they ask when they want to action on some or all of the areas documented?
The best bit is that if you cost this report into the project costs (hidden of course) or produce the report on their contract time, they are paying you to perform the analysis and advertise your follow up services.
As an example, of this, one of the gentle ways I documented and recommended a solution which I was then asked to develop is as follows (note, this intended to be fluffy, and not too critical but highlight an area of concern):
As part of the day to day standing data reference, it was noted that the operators need to adjust data into the SQL Server database using SQL Enterprise Manager. Whilst this is an effective and efficient method of amending the reference data, it may be worth considering that this also could lead to accidental deletion of data, tables or amendment to table structures. I would suggest a better method would be to develop a browser based data correction routine, which would allow the same functions to add and amend data onto the SQL database, but would provide audit and change control, whilst at the same time restricting access to the database to ensure that mistakes are minimised. This would also have the advantage of….
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 5 years, I am sure you know what adWords is. Of course, adwords now has lots of competition, including the Microsoft version (which runs on its own Bing search engine), facebook, yahoo and a host of others.
But does AdWords and its weaker counterparts work for freelancers?
A few years ago, I ran a marketing campaign for one of my software products – consisting of a new web site, sales material, cold calls and of course an Adwords campaign. The adwords was set-up and defined by a professional marketing company, and a daily budget was agreed. After a few days, I noticed the difference. I was getting a lot of web traffic, a handful of quality leads, and everything was good.
However, the problem I had (and still have) with adwords is the way that money evaporates when it’s in use. You would think that if you select a target per day, filter the days of the week, the amount spent would be a certainty: days x day rate = cost per month. Yet somehow, the bills that came in from Google were always way higher than expected. As time went on, the bills went higher and higher, and Google are not the most communicate company in terms of answering questions. So eventually, I stopped the campaign.
I am not apposed to adwords. In fact, if you have a nice specialist offering then it can be a very, very effective method of advertising. However, if you decide to go down the adwords direction, a few words of caution…
- Setup the campaign to be local to you – otherwise you will be advertising to the world
- Research your words and phrases carefully – nothing worse that advertising a phrase such as “Data Migration” to find that somebody clicks who wants to migrate their xbox game data
- Expect that your ‘competition’ will waste your clicks and there is very little you can do about this (I have seen horror stories of people employed to Google a search term, and repeatedly click on all competitor ads to use up their budget, so their own ads will be cheaper/successful).
- Don’t be pulled into the high cost game – when adwords suggests a click-figure, bid lower – you will still get impressions and clicks
- Run two ads at the same time and turn off the ‘use best’ option – when you have a week of stats, use the best and replace the worst with a new ad. After the next week, repeat the cycle, so your ads get better and better
- Regardless of the budget you enter for a day or month, expect the bill to be a lot higher
- Monitor the results and costs on a daily basis – don’t let it get out of hand
- If its your first time using adwords, google “adword discount” – there are all kinds of 1st time user deals on the web giving you credit to play with
As freelancers or small business owners, profit comes from one place and one place only – the ability to sell a product or skill at a price which is more than the cost to produce the item or carry out the work. So for freelancers who sell a service (web design, copywriting or development) the cost of the service must be based around a day/hour rate which is greater than our costs (salary, tax, rents, etc for the time taken to carry out the service).
Hopefully, as we become more and more experienced, one of two things will happen. Either our skills grow and so we can increase our day rate to reflect the expertise, or our skill grows which means that we need less time to complete the task (but we charge the same whilst needing less time, so the profits increase).
But, there is a third option which mainstream business use – reduced cost of sales.
When a business sells a physical device (a hammer, a stereo, a widget – whatever), if they have to design, prototype, market, manufacture a new version of the widget for each and every sale, the sales price of the widget jumps from a small amount to a massive amount – the widget becomes custom. The widget becomes very expensive, and therefore fails to sell. But when the manufacturer produces a million copies of the same widget, the cost of design, prototyping etc is shared across all sales, so the widget comes down in price and the it makes sales.
As freelancers, we can utilise this same technique. By utilising the same techniques, tools or methods in more than one project, we can re-utilise prior effort to reduce the time to complete the project and therefore increase our profits. As an example, I have a data migration program that was developed about 8 years ago for a project, and customer #1 paid for the time to develop this tool. But I have used and tweaked this tool in at least 6 other projects, reducing my effort, but the costs invoiced to customers #2, #3 through to #6 are as if the tool had never been developed. This, has boosted my profits for each project, or at least allowed me to reduce the cost thus make my service more sellable.
Now, the big question is, when you are working on your next project, do you increase the costs slightly to allow you to turn those custom developments into generic tools (apps, designs, templates, etc) you can use on future projects?
Over the last year, I have worked at a number of different customer locations, and I have seen them all having a moan about contractors, freelancers, and companies that provide them services. All of the complaints have been about one thing – communication.
Some have been complaining about too much communication of the wrong type – status reports that come in every day and reflect an incorrect view, too many sales messages (spam), and other junk communication.
But at the same time, I have seen complaints about too little communication regarding status of projects, developments and areas that the customers are concerned with.
From my personal point of view, communication (of the right type) is the most important part of any project – communication gives reassurance that things are going well, stops problems or issues vanishing into a black hole (which all customers hate) and gives feedback if there are any bumps that are in the future. Communication stops surprises, and makes sure that everybody has the information they need in order to complete the project.
As a side note, communication is the foundation of all good and strong personal relationships.
So how good is your communication skills, and what do you need in order to improve things?
As freelancers, I think is fair to say that most of the customers we will deal with will be… on the smaller side. Yes, we will deal with a mixed bag of companies from 1 to a few hundred staff, and we will deal with all sizes of projects from simple quick requests to more involved. But now and again, if we are either really good or very lucky, we might just land a whale.
Whales are either customers or projects which are massive. They are the projects that ever contractor or freelancer dreams about. They may take months or even years to complete, will be worth a year or more of our normal turnover, or will simply be companies that swamp us with lots of work (more work than we could dream of).
But whilst it’s great to land such a big fish, whales can cause problems. Apart from scaring us with their size, they can lead to problems in terms of resourcing, managing expectations, communication and most of all, cash flow. I have been lucky enough to have two whales in my freelancing career, and either by luck or judgement, both have turned out well. So can I offer a few tips for dealing with the whales….
- Because projects can take many months to deliver, try to arrange for some part of the payment up front to improve cash flow
- For the remainder of the project, chunk if down into stages, and agree in advance a payment schedule for cash release when stages are met. Imagine a 1 year project, and you don’t get paid until the end!!!
- If possible, include other freelancers as sub-contractors. Not only does this spread the wealth and build relationships, but it allows you to spread the risk
- Whales will come with lots of communication issues, so try to make it simple by having just one point of contact, and factor lots of meetings and communication in your prices
- Whales have a tendency to change direction at any time without notice, so make sure you anticipate this by having agreed specifications of requirement and delivery, and have everything signed off (physical signature) before you go too far
- Do not commit 100% of your time – no matter what the pressure from the whale. If you do, after the whale is gone, you will find your other customers will have deserted you
- You need to make it clear to the whale that your time is money – whales will eat your time up with meetings, reviews, peer-groups and other corporate bureaucracy – make sure that they understand this will be chargeable.
- Whales generally want you to become part of the whale – by name or location. It is not uncommon when the whale has customers, they will want you to introduce yourself to their customers as being part of the Whale-Co Ltd – part of their own company
- Be prepared for whales to cancel projects at any time – if they do, invoice up to the next stage payment, and don’t take it personally – its what whales do
Today, I thought I would share with you a list of my favourite mainstream movies which can help me feel motivated as a freelancer and small business owner. We all need to take a time out, put our feet up and unwind. For me, watching a movie is the perfect way to relax, and if the movie inspires and motivates, well, that’s even better.
So here they are, in reverse order of recommendation, my 8 movies for freelancers and small business owners:
#8 : Empire Records
The wild card starts us off – nothing about freelancing here, but a story about a small record shop fighting against the ‘big boys’ and how people can work together. With a good soundtrack and chocked full of stars, relax and watch Renée Zellweger get her grove on against the corporate giants.
#7 : Brazil
A very dark (and strange) film from Terry Gilliam, but the story of Sam Lourey fighting against the system (and the big corporation) is very good. Just watch out for the ending.
#6 : Nine to Five
A movie for the ladies – yep this old classic had to be in there – Dolly (and the other ladies) fighting against the mean old boss. Tells me why I ditched the corporate world to go it alone.
#5 : The Hudsucker Proxy
Now in this one, Tim Robbins character is used and abused by the corporation, but it all comes good in the end. Its message – don’t allow yourself to be used.
#4 : Wall Street
The message of this 1980’s classic is clear. Right or wrong, the message of “Greed is Good” is there, and the money games played keeps us interested till the final act.
#3 : Working Girl
Another ‘chick flick’ but I like it. The story of Tess and how she breaks free of the system and her manipulative boss (no aliens in this one Sigourney) is inspiring. Plus what can be better than the sight of a very young Meg Ryan doing the hovering in her underwear?
#2 : Jerry Maguire
Ohhh – this was almost my #1. 3 inspirational stories in one great movie – Jerry quitting (well fired if we’re honest) the big corporate world to go freelance, the aging football player also rejecting a full contract to go freelance, and lets not forget the goldfish – liberated from their tank to go with Jerry. Oh, and Renée Zellweger is in it apparently.
#1 : Secret of My Success
One of my favourite movies of all time. It’s a fun packed, fast story of how Bradley (Michael J. Fox) climbs the corporate ladder from the outside, rejecting the traditional way of working, and wins the girl at the same time. Cracking story, sizzling soundtrack, piles of inspiration – what’s not to love?