Posts Tagged ‘resources’
If you have never used Google Alerts, it allows you to define a Google search term, and whenever new web pages or sites are created which match your search criteria, Google sends you an email with a summary and link of the new web pages that Google has just added.
If you have never used Google Alerts before, they are well worth playing around with. You just register as a Google user, set up an alert, and say how often new results should be sent to you (most of my alerts are set to be daily). But even if you are a long term user of the service, here are:
10 Google Alerts a Freelancer, Contractor or Small Business should be setting up now:
- Your company name – Get notifications when ever anybody mentions, references or talks about your company.
- Your own name – For the same reason as your company name, but know when they are talking about you personally
- Your land and mobile numbers – Useful to know if your numbers are listed in any directory based service
- Your email address – Not only will you know if you are personally referenced, but also know if your email address is made available on a spam list (which are sometimes published on the web)
- Your post/zip code – To find out what’s going on in your neighborhood
- Your industry (i.e, Freelancing) followed by ” major news”, “import news” and “major changes for ” – Keep up to date with the industry news
- “New mentoring group” for . . . – refine for your geographic location to find mentoring groups when they are set up or hold events (if you need a business mentor)
- Your competitors company name – If you know of multiple companies that do the same thing, keep an eye on what they are doing in terms of marketing, sales, news, products etc – useful for new ideas.
- Your co-working freelancers company names – the same as above
- Your dream and hobby subjects – Be if for travel, photography, fashion or food, there is life outside of work. Keep up to date on new sites and news.
A quick one from me on a internet service I have just discovered – Meetup.com
If you have an interest (be it a hobby, interest, desire, need or even a business aspiration), there will be a group of people out there in your local area who meet on a regular basis to explore and share that interest.
Meetup.com is a free service which allows you to connect to these groups, and attend the meet-ups for a nominal administration charge (typically £1 to £2 per event).
For personal activities, I attend interesting photography events (I have a passion for photography, and the meetups are always at great locations with great subjects) and personal growth events. But I also attend London based business mentoring meet ups as well, where small business owners give each over advice, review each others plans, and allow people to sanity check their ideas.
If you are into business networking, there will also be multiple networking groups in your local area as well.
Meetup allows you to search in your area (or any other specific areas) and you can set a geographical range for meet-ups.
Once you have identified interesting groups, you can join groups to take part in on-line discussions and to be notified of new face to face meet-ups. If a meetup strikes your interest, just RSVP and you will be sent details of the event by email.
As I say, a very useful resource for finding other business (or personal interest) groups for…. as the name suggests…. meeting up.
Have you ever visited an office where they have placed a large TV against the wall, and it is busy displaying all kinds of impressive information? I have seen this where companies show number of incidents, share prices, weather, turnover and lots of other information. This trend started in call centres, where it was used to show how many calls were being processed, how many callers were waiting and other such information. It kept the telephone operators mind on getting through those calls.
Some of the companies I work for ask me to produce such screens – they give them all kinds of nice flashy sounding names such as dashboards, or alert boards or KPI boards. All do the same thing – take information critical to the success of the company, and boil it down into a few graphs and alerts showing a clear picture of if the company is doing well or badly.
As freelancers and small business owners, we all have our own critical information – web hits, turnover, subscribers to our social feeds, maybe number of support calls, maybe number of todo tasks. I would guess that if you are anything like me, you visit these numbers everyday and wish there was a way to pull it all together.
Well, a new web service has been introduced called Geckoboard. As the image suggests, you can include lots of information on a single screen via widgets which you can configure. There are all kinds of display widgets including text, charts, tables, gauges and up/down pointers. It can pick up from a wide range of data sources using either the standard widgets they provide (such as links to BaseCamp, FreeAgent, Google Analytics, Twitter, etc) or you can create your own, pointing it to an XML data feed.
You can define multiple pages which auto rotate, and if you sign up for a premium account, you can then start tweaking the look, feel and colours using modified CSS (I am not so keen on the black background as a default). The configuration is very easy, and the refresh times are very rapid.
Whilst the board is designed for the big monitors/TV’s on the corporate wall, it works very well either as a new home page for your web browser, or to run on that spare monitor you have.
Geckoboard is currently in free beta testing – and so far it’s unclear how the service will be funded – it may become chargeable as the service evolves, or (as I hope) will become Freemeium. But if you want to get serious about your business metrics, you can do no better than Geckoboard.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I am massive fan of business automation. Any tool, technique or process that I can use which makes doing business easier makes me happy – the more automated my processes, the less time I spend on them and the more time I have for doing productive (chargeable) work.
One of the newest tools I have found is called Watchy (or Watchyapp if you use the twitter tag). Watchy is another Freeagent bolt-on web based application, and deals with timesheet reporting. Whilst Freeagent itself allows the recording of time spent on projects (and subsequent billing to customers for the time and associated expenses), it does not provide any form of customer portal to view the timesheets. That’s where Watchy comes in.
Once connected to the Freeagent system, Watchy will connect to your Freeagent account on a regular basis and will pull in timesheet and invoice details and then organise the information into project views. You can then create customer accounts so that customers can login to their own dashboard to view invoices, expenses and time spent on their project.
Watchy is still in beta development, so there is currently restricted access to beta testers, but full public access is scheduled for the next few weeks. They are also busy making amendments, changes and improvements, so I am sure this will develop to become the perfect customer time and billing portal as the product evolves and matures. I hope this will include timesheet authorisation and different reporting views.
As a freelancer or small business, it is very common to be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement, confidential disclosure agreement (CDA), proprietary information agreement (PIA), or secrecy agreement, is a legal contract between at least two parties that outlines confidential material, knowledge, or information that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes, but wish to restrict access to by third parties.
When you are working for or on behalf of a client, they will generally want to protect the data, processes, and systems they have in place. The NDA is the most common way of doing this, and as long as you read through what you are signing, you should be generally happy to agree to and sign such documents.
However, what happens when you hand out work to somebody else? What happens when you outsource some of your work, or work with a virtual assistant (VA), a graphical designer or any other professional? Should you yourself use an NDA agreement? The answer is.. when in doubt, use an NDA.
As a freebie, you will find below the NDA that I use for most situations. Its all been legally checked and verified, and is a nice neat version of a 2-way NDA. That means, it protects you as somebody who is supplying the requirement, and also protects the person providing the service. Please feel free to view, print, download and use.
Normally, I enjoy posting tips on small business techniques and tools which have worked for me in the hope of helping others. Generally, if something does not work, well I just let it go and move on, or don’t mention the resource. But today, I thought I would share a project I outsourced recently which went very wrong, in a hope that other small companies and freelancers avoid the same mistake.
The failed project was all to do with a new web site I launched. When you are looking to drive web traffic to a web site, it’s all about links. The more inbound quality links you have, the more Google rates your web pages, and higher up you appear in search results, which then of course leads to more traffic. Having done some research, I had seen that there was a lot of discussion about positive links which could be obtained through links in articles published in web based article repositories.
Having a full schedule, I decided to outsource the creation of the articles and the linkage to an SEO company. So using Freelancer.com, I created a project for 50 high quality permanent links into my web site, and as you would expect, received a lot of interest and a wide range of bids. Whilst I didn’t specifically mention link through articles in my project scope, all the responses I received indicated that this is the way that the freelancers would generate the links.
After careful consideration of the reviews the freelancers had received for previous projects, I made a selection – a mid price response with good feedback. In fact, the selected freelancer promised more than my requested 50 links – they promised me 200 links.
The freelancer started work, and 1 month later, the work was complete. I received a nice report of all the sites the articles were published on, and a promise that in 2-3 months Google would have finished the indexing and the links round be in place. But 4 months after project completion, the number of links generated equalled…. just six. Six, out of a promised 200.
After speaking to some SEO consultants, it now becomes clear that the problem is not down to lack of work by the selected freelancer, but by the technique used. The concept of links through articles is being done to death, with new articles being published so frequently that by the time Google revisits the article directories, the new articles are on pages 10 and beyond, so Google does not reach them, hence they are not added.
I have learnt my lesson, and I am moving on ($200 lighter in pocket), and creating links to my project myself, using the best method that never fails – manual hard work.
Yesterday, I was shocked to hear that the owners of Xmarks, the fabulous browser bookmark synchronisation tool have decided to throw in the towel. If you have never heard of Xmarks (.com), let me explain that the tool syncs your bookmarks between all major browsers, both PC and mobile devices, keeping all your bookmarks in sync across browsers and machines. It’s a great tool which I use on a daily basis, and that I have recommended in the past.
The Xmarks service was started some 4 years ago. In that time, its support has grown, the number of different browsers it works with has grown, and the number of users has grown. To date, almost 2.5 million users are registered on the Xmarks service. Yet despite that, they have decided to call it a day and close up shop, with 90 days notice for users to find an alternative service.
The reason for this is because they cannot find sponsorship, or a finance model that works. With 2.5 million users, and with minimal costs (the software exists, so its just support staffing costs and of course hosting), they cannot find a finance model that makes sense. This is really food for thought for small business.
In the official blog post which talks about the reasons for closing down Xmarks, many hundreds of the currently free users say that would happily pay $1, $10 or even more to use the system. So multiply this up by 2.5million users, and that’s a lot of cash. So why hasn’t xmarks simply created a ‘subscribe’ button? I suspect the answer is because there is a big difference between somebody saying ‘happy to pay’ and actually logging into their paypal account to send the money.
Lets say xmarks did create a subscription service – what should they charge? One dollar – sounds great, generates $2.5m a year, but it’s also very cheap – the $1 would be eaten up by admin charges, processing fees, etc. So how about the $10 suggestion? That generates $25m a year, which clearly would be enough to keep things running.
BUT, 2.5million people would not pay $10. They are used to a free service, and suddenly to be charged money to use the service would make then look for alternatives (just in case) – and there are plenty. None of them quite as good as xmarks, but a lot of them are free (including the new firefox sync tool).
The people at xmarks are not stupid. They know the numbers that would actually pay $1, or $10, and it still does not make sense. I suspect their possible sponsor (who pulled out at the last moment) also did the maths, and came to the same conclusion.
At the end of the day, if you start free, and there are other free alternatives available, why would enough people pay to make your venture work?
We all have a limited number of attention units; things we can think about at any time. Trying to keep everything in your head robs you of attention units, which means you have less units to invest in completing your basic daily tasks.
Jack Canfield, US Self Improvement Coach
Ask my wife, she will tell you – I am a master of the lists. I create To Do for packing for holidays, To Do lists for shopping, lists for holidays, project plans with associated ToDo lists for any home projects such as new kitchens or updating the bathroom, and of course I run a To Do list for my small business activities.
Its fairly safe to say, I have tried and used most To Do lists systems around, and all have left me wanting for something more….. flexible and powerful.
A couple of months ago, I was reading a blog on Freelancer, and an item sparked my interest on a web (cloud) based To Do management system called ToodleDo (yes, the name didn’t sell it to me either). As I read more and did my own research, I found how wonderfully connected the system is. So may I present, my guide to the ultimate List and To Do tracking system…
The heart of the ToodleDo system is the web based ToodleDo To Do list manager. The web site provides two forms of membership – free (which I currently use) and premium, which allows sub-tasks and goal links. The web site allows a fairly basic setup of To Do items divided into folders (projects, customers, home areas, etc) and goals, with each To Do list items having (optionally) a title, description, notes, priority, star (favourite), folder, goal, estimated duration, start date/time, due date/time and links.
Email and Twitter Links
The ToodleDo engine allows you to create To Do items by emailing a predefined email address or forwarding tweets onto a specific twitter address. These will then be added to your To Do list. Perfect.
ToodleDo browser Plug Ins
Depending on your web browser, there are a range of web browser plug ins that let you view and work on your todo list within your browser (without having to go to the Toodledo web site), add new To Do items, and clip web site text/pictures to turn them into To Do items.
Mobile Phone Links
Because ToodleDo puts your To Do list in the cloud, mobile versions have been developed which allow you to view, update, mark as done and refine your To Do list on your mobile device, with the changes synchronised to your ToodleDo account, so everything remains in sync. For the iPhone (and iPAD), there are many such applications including the official ToodleDo app. On android (the device I use), I can recommend the Got To Do application – a free and premium version is available as per the paid and free ToodleDo account options.
So far, this combination of Free tools is the best To Do management system I have used. RECOMMENDED!
After 127 freelance and small business posts in this blog, and as it’s the start of a new week (when this gets posted), I hope you will forgive me with this ‘out there’ entry. But following on from my last entry on how to deal with business problems, I wanted to share with you my own personal way of moving forward through problem or idea walls.
Have you ever heard of a floatation tank? In case you haven’t, a flotation tank is a big box, fall of salt warm water at body temperature, which you lie in, float, and then the lid of the box is closed. You float there, your head back in the water, the water in your ears, in the total darkness. It may sound scary, but the idea is with no external stimulation, everything goes inwards, and you find solutions to all your problems. I know how it sounds – Just stay with me on this for a moment… ok?
Clearly I am not going to suggest installing a floatation tank in your house. But I recreate the idea as much as possible at home in my bath. When I get really stuck, I have a long hot bath, and recreate the floatation tank experience as much as possible by blocking out light from windows and doors to make the bathroom as dark as possible. I don’t use salt water, but I ease down on anything perfumed in the water – so it’s as neutral as possible. Then I just lay back, head in the water, let the water in my ears – and close my eyes and relax. All I can see is black, all I can hear is my own heartbeat in my ears, and all I can feel is the water.
Ok, this sounds all kind of new wave and hippy – I know. Really, I do. When I first heard and tried this, I thought the same. But the trick is once you are relaxed, think of a business problem (lack of customers, money issues, whatever) and then let the thought go, don’t think of it any more – just recline there, try to keep your mind blank. You may feel daft for 5 minutes, feel the need to switch on the light or grab a book after another 5 – but stick with it. I promise, with nothing else to stimulate the brain, something spooky will happen after fifteen or twenty minutes – suddenly ideas will start popping.
And when I say ideas will pop, they will come thick and fast – solution after solution, idea after idea – think and fast, lots of ideas to resolve your problem. For me, this technique never ever fails. But, there is a tricky part to this – the ideas are really fleeting – get them down on paper or tape otherwise they will evaporate – don’t try to remember them all, after the 3rd one the 1st will be lost. I keep a pen and paper by the bath, and then write them down (in the dark, sometimes its hard to read afterwards) – turning on the light breaks the cycle and the ideas will stop flowing.
As I say, I know how it sounds, I really do. But trust me, it works.
Have you ever thought about what money is? If I look on a note in my wallet (it’s a British £10 note), it says “The Bank of England promises to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £10”. USA, Canadian, and the Euro notes say something very similar. So money, the cash we use is really an “I Owe you”. It’s an IOU from somebody you do work for, and you give it to somebody else for the product or work that they do. We are just passing IOU notes around. And IOU’s are just a projection of the barter system.
Barter is the original form of trade – from the dark old stone or bronze ages. Barter worked when one person said “You look after my sheep, and in return I will catch you some fish”. Barter was a trade of skills. The money came from this, allowing people to exchange the IOU work notes – and a way to put value against things that they exchanges.
Projecting this forward to today, and the question is, should Freelancers, Contractors and other Small Business Owners barter and trade skills instead of payments? If cash is short, it may be tempting to do some technical work for say another freelancer who can provide marketing copy if you can in return, give them some web site coding (or visa-versa).
There are Pro’s and Con’s for the barter system in business:
- No money changes hands, therefore no taxes to pay
- If you have free time, it’s a handy way to get outside skills into your set-up without having to hit the bottom line
- It generates working relationships which can then be extended into other work by creating working partnerships
- Exchange of work can lead to additional publicity (additions to portfolio, web sites posted, credits etc)
- When work is hard to find, a skill exchange keeps you busy, active and in work mode
- Money is not involved, and if you need money, it may not help your business
- There is a lot of trust that both parties will carry out the agreed work
- There may be some discussion of the relative values of different work and skills (is 1 page of copy text worth an hour of coding or page of web site design?)
- The barter system is deemed out of date by some freelancers.
What do you think? Are there other freelancers you can barter or do a work exchange with?