Posts Tagged ‘review’
This scene appears in a wide range of movies (pick from Brazil, the Fifth Element, Hudsucker Proxy, Secret of My Success or a dozen more).
The scene it shows is of alpha-boss type character walking down a (normally grey and dim) corridor. Running behind them, trying to keep up are 3 to 12 YES MEN – all waving pieces of paper. Whatever the boss wants, whatever the question, whatever the need – the answer is YES. (The photo shown as an illustration is Rudy Rhods ‘yes men’ waiting for Korban Dallas to give an answer from the movie, the Fifth Element).
So what’s the point of this movie scene, and how does it relate to freelancing?
Permies are Afraid to Give Bad News
When you are a permanent employee, the perception is that the boss is asking for confirmation. They are asking for you to confirm their decision, agree with their strategies, underline their thinking. In a nutshell, they are asking you to say Yes. After all, the boss is the person who can grant you pay rises or can turn your working day into a living hell.
But as a Freelancer or Contractor, we are brought in to give expert advice. Sometimes, this means saying No. Sometimes it means giving bad news.
The Art of Giving Bad News
But, there is an art to giving bad news. Even when somebody is paying you to review a system or help make an executive decision, bad news and No is not an answer that they will want to hear. At least, not only bad news.
I have years of experience of delivering bad news to customers and senior managers. For whatever reason, the last 2 or 3 months for me has seen a major increase of review projects, where the news was not going to make the manager a happy person.
So I present my suggested steps for delivering bad news to anyone who is paying you to deliver good news:
- Nobody likes surprises. Before delivering the No or bad news, hint in a side chat that the news may not be so good (but you need some more time to review). Allow them some time to adjust to the idea.
- Be specific on your reasons. Don’t just deliver the bad news – say why you have come to your decision – but don’t go overboard either. One or two strong reasons will be sufficient
- Don’t deliver a problem – nobody likes the bearer of bad news. Give the bad news, but follow up immediately with suggestions to change the situation (“I have reviewed your processes and they don’t work. BUT, we can turn this around by…..”)
- When you make suggestions – give 2 or 3 options, and make a recommendation on which you would select. Don’t go overboard on the number of suggestions, this will just add confusion.
- If possible, deliver the bad news in person, but have a supporting document with the recommendations to leave behind for them to think about.
- Don’t be afraid to charge to make the suggested improvements. If you were being paid for a review, it’s just the review and suggestions you are being paid to deliver. Give them ways out with a price tag.
- Don’t go overboard on the selling of the turn-around options – otherwise it could appear as you are delivering bad news just to up-sell. Sometimes, it is prudent to deliver possible solutions on the basis that “Anybody could make these improvements – but if you would like, I would be happy to quote for them, or you could make the changes yourself”
- If it’s down to an individual in the company, don’t name names or point fingers (unless explicitly asked to do so). Normally, just highlighting the problem allows managers to see the department or person responsible.
- Keep to the facts, and don’t turn into a doom sayer. Using big disaster type words (catastrophe, calamity, cataclysm, disaster, worthless, etc) will just make people throw up defences.
- If it’s your fault (something you have done in the past), admit it. Don’t try to hide the fact or blame others. Offer to make the suggested corrections or improvements at your own cost.
One year ago today, I evaluated a number of cloud based project management systems to help reduce my administration effort for my customer projects. In the end, I boiled this down to 2 strong candidates (having discounted such products as BaseCamp as being very light on features for a typical freelancer or small business), and finally selected TeamworkPM as the solution I would use.
Having used this system for a year now, I thought it would be useful to re-review TeamworkPM, and explain why it has transformed my business.
Providing a Customer Project Portal
Initially, my main requirement was to introduce a cloud based project system which in turn would provide an easy to use method where my company and my customers could communicate whilst working on projects. I wanted a system which would allow my customers to keep track of their deliveries, to be able to track progress, communicate any design/time issues and so ultimately reduce the amount of administration I would need to provide. I thought such savings should lead to reduced management time, therefore reduce any risks and associated costs.
Whilst a number of project management systems provided a customer portal, I initially selected TeamworkPM as my preferred solution because not only did it tick all my client portal boxes, but the use of the client portal was crystal clear and could be fully branded with my company domain, colour scheme, logo and titles. As far as my customers are concerned, the project portal is part of my own web site. I even provide a link to my branded TeamworkPM login screen as part of my main company web site.
All of the customers who have used the portal have commented how easy it is to use, how clear the information is, and how they can find the information they need. Most of these comments were given to me generally as part of a project wrap up process. For customers to report this to me as part of general project meetings proves to me that TeamworkPM most definitely is an asset to my communication with my customers.
Clarity, Focus and Time Saving
Beyond my initial requirements, I have continued to find more and more uses for TeamworkPM when working both on internal projects (I have a marketing project in TeamworkPM) and with my customers projects.
Whilst initially intending to use it only for external customer projects, I found that the reporting, alerts and screens were so clear, it was actually easier to use TeamworkPM for tracking other internal projects within my business. The whole process of having a clear list of tasks, with tracking, alerts if not completed, and a central associated file store ( for specs, designs, scripts, delivery files, etc) brings clarity and focus. It really helps when juggling multiple projects at the same time.
Whilst I initially hoped that TeamworkPM would help reduce the amount of project updates my company would need to produce, I am happy to report that it virtually eliminated project based discussions. In my last four fairly complex projects, once the project was defined and included in the portal, I cannot recall a single email or phone call regarding dates, status updates, slippage or next actions. All communication could therefore be focused on the design and delivery, so administration time and costs associated with running the projects virtually vanished. Customers could simply log into the portal and see for themselves what was being delivered, when, and what the current status was.
We also ended up using the TeamworkPM file storage system for delivery of all files associated with the project (designs, source and run-time). All of my customers loved the fact that they were automatically notified when files were available, and that they could retrieve them at their leisure. They also loved the fact that all previous versions of files were retained, and so they could go back to older versions should they be needed.
The only feature currently missing from TeamworkPM in regard to using it as a file store for projects is the ability to see when a customer downloads a file. This would be a nice feature, but having checked, none of the other cloud based project management systems I originally looked at recorded or audited this information.
There has been no doubt that using TeamworkPM has been a real boost to my company. In terms of reduced administration for project management, it is equivalent to having an additional member of staff who is running the projects for me. Certainly, the reduction of time spent updating customers on project status or emailing files has meant that TeamworkPM has paid for itself many times over.
But in addition to the time and money that has been saved, it has made my company look more professional and has made the flow of information between my company and my customers virtually seamless. I cannot praise TeamworkPM in this regard high enough.
TeamworkPM is a near perfect cloud based project management administration system. I say near perfect, as there are still a few options which I would like to see introduced. Whilst it produces lots of nice reports and gantt views for project overviews, it still lacks project task gantt views – but this is only a small consideration as the task list works well enough and standard MS project files can be uploaded and viewed. As I say, I would also like to see a flag (or get an email) to say that a customer had downloaded or viewed attached files – but that is just me being picky.
I am very glad that I took the plunge a year ago to start using a cloud based project management system. I dare say that one of the others would have done the job equally as well, but TeamworkPM has proved itself to be the right choice for me.
In fact, two of my customers who used TeamworkPM to track the projects I did for them have now adopted it as their own project management system for their own customers.
If you or your business runs any form of projects, I can really recommend using a cloud based project management system. And whilst there are many products out there, I can highly recommend TeamworkPM.
I have just finished reading the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book by Dee Blick. Actually, that’s not true. The fact is, I have just finished reading the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book for the third time – and I only got the book a couple of weeks ago.
My method of reading a business book is that as I read the book, if there are tips and advice I think I can apply to my business, I turn a page corner over. Then when I am done – I go through the turned page and turn them into ToDo tasks which I action over the course of a few months or weeks. However, when I got to the end of Dee Blicks book, I found that the majority of pages were turned over. So I re-read it, trying to find the key elements which I can apply. You know what? I didn’t know where to start, there were that many.
The fact is, this is one of the best Business Books I have read. From the very first page (and I mean the first page – before all the copyright and print edition nonsense), its all good stuff. Everything you need to know about marketing, selling, branding, and growing a small business.
Subjects include a Marketing Master class (what you are selling, why, pricing), using strong sales words in documents and proposals, Sales letters (including lumpy sales letters), newsletters, turning bin-able sales correspondence into must keep and respond items, branding, blogging, on-line promotion, exhibitions, and lots more – it’s all covered. On every page there are ideas, backed up with examples of what won’t work, what will, and what will work in different situations. There are hints, tips, tricks, examples and more advice than you could possibly imagine is in one book.
Which leads me to a problem. With most books, I have between 1 and 20 ideas to improve and grow my business – easy to add to my Do list. After reading this book, I have at least 100 (if not more) – so where to start?!? So I am going to re-read it slowly, a page a week, and I am going to implement all the ideas I have highlighted, one at a time. I have no doubt that these improvements will drive my business forward and generate even more sales.
If you need just one marketing book that covers it all, buy this book.
But if you can only buy one business book which will help grow your business, you should still buy this book: the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book by Dee Blick.
Customer Service – two words which may strike either fear into you, or more likely, a sense of apathy. If you are a small business or a one man band, what has Customer Service got to do with you? But haven’t we all been victims of bad customer service? Whether is the never ending of security questions you are forced to go through when you call your bank, through to the teenager at the checkout who is too busy talking about last nights party to serve you. Bad customer service may not win you any new clients, but it is sure a good reason why existing customers stop using your services.
Of course, the internet now also means that bad service (and products, and staff, and stupid rules) is now visible to all. Specialist sites have popped up allowing Joe Public to vent their wrath about your service, and if somebody is viewing this and needs to pick a company to use, it may turn a prospect into a lost sale. I for one constantly use review sites such as TripAdvisor to check what people are saying about hotels, restaurants and other establishments before I make a booking.
Somebody who knows social media, the internet and customer service is Peter Shankman. Peter looks at customer service in his book, Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World. The book is a look at how we are all failing at customer service and how to improve our outlook and embrace social media. The advice Shankman gives is 100% implementable and really doesn’t take much effort. From case studies to travel tips, this book has it all. Social Media is everywhere and this book really shows us how to harness new media to give our customers and clients a better experience.
Pete Shankman isn’t someone who talks about social media and leads expensive motivational seminars, but instead uses Social Media and is immanently successful at it. Through use of personal and industry anecdotes, Shankman lays the ground work for business owners to see the value of Social Media and more importantly, the risks of not getting involved in it for servicing customers. The fact is that Social Media impacts every brand and industry, the only question becomes the degree and your impact.
The book assumes a basic understanding of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter and specifically applies them to serving your customers and potential customers. If you are already doing customer service via Social Media, you’ll find this book more of a review of what you already do whilst providing a few specific insights and jumping points for new ideas and expansion.
Even if you think your customer service is great, or customer service is not part of your current business, the book will show you how it can be, how you can add value, and how you can retain customers leading to future repeat business.
During December of last year, I noticed something odd. Whilst I received 6 or 7 enquiries a month for new work, throughout the whole of December not a single web based enquiry came in. I put this down to the time of the year, with the Christmas madness. After all, checking my Adwords stats showed that people were still clicking through to my web site – so I guess people were just book-marking to come back in the new year, or my services were just not what they needed. Right? WRONG!!
What had happened was that my web hosting company were having problems, and as a result they had decided to change the IP address of my SMTP (email) server on their side which meant that when somebody completed an enquiry form – the email went…. nowhere. The SMTP script did not connect with the SMTP server, and the problem was written to an error log. The prospect got a nice web page saying that we would be in contact, but of course nobody contacted them because the enquiry was never received. I have web monitoring on all of my sites, but this is not something that the monitoring would have picked up.
Now I could have put in all kinds of fancy checking, and auditing, and error logging, and error pickup and notifications – but you know what? It’s just easier, quicker and more robust to perform a step through.
So now, every Monday morning I do a run through. Starting with one of my search terms in Google, I click through one of my ads (which checks that Adwords is running and the adverts look OK), check that my web page appears when I click the advert, I then click through to the contact me form, and fill it out, to check that the email arrives.
Ok, it costs me £2 a week for the wasted ad-word click, and 2 minutes of my time every Monday. But if one of those December click-throughs might have been a sale, that very small amount and that 2 minutes could be an awfully large amount of wasted money.
So how often do you check all of your flow throughs?
During a recent Business strategy meeting I attended, one of the other participants (thank you Paul) recommended a book to us – the 4 hour work week by Timothy Ferriss. Based on how this book was described, ordering a copy from Amazon was the first thing I did when I returned back to my desk.
One of my strong beliefs is the growth of a freelancing or contracting IT business through the creation of revenue and wealth generating assets that do not rely on you being around (after all, there is only so much work you can do in a day). This book is all about the generation and the use of such assets for a small business.
The book is actually separated into two halves. In the first half, the author provides a step by step action plan for eliminating non-essential work, outsourcing a lot of the remaining work, and giving a detailed blueprint for designing, test-running and developing one or more ‘automated’ on-line businesses. The author describes the use of products, services or assets which can be performed by outsourced companies, hence it is scaleable and allows the owner to keep only a very light hand on the tiller, through weekly or monthly reporting by the outsourcers. The ideas in the book are excellent and have added more fuel to my asset generating fire.
The second part of the book is focused on what you should do with all the free time that you have managed to create and ideas for filling the gaps in a working day. Whilst this section was less relevant to me (more free time equals more time to work to generate more cash), it does have some useful aspects regarding time management.
If you are looking for ideas for generating more wealth and money, allowing you more freedom either for more free time, or simply allowing you to build other areas of your business whilst generating wealth with only a minimum of input of your time, this book is RECOMMENDED.
One of the themes I like to discuss is the creation of revenue generating assets – web sites, tools, products and services which can generate revenue without my involvement, that will generate revenue whilst I sleep, or whilst I am busy working on other projects. Its one of the best ways to grow a contracting, consulting or freelance business.
Yesterday I covered the creation of assets through a plug and play technique using open source solutions. However, this will only get you so far – technical development of some form will be required, and if you do not have the skills yourself, or the resource is cheaper elsewhere, then the following sites are great for finding other coders, writers, testers, graphic designers.
99 designs is a graphical resource site, with a difference. If you need any graphical work done, logos designed, web pages, etc, you post a contest with a prize (say $200) and people submit their entries. You pick from the graphics you like, the winner gets the prize, you get the artwork. With this, you get many, many choices of artwork to pick from. Most, of a very high standard of quality.
Where technical creation work is required (build a web site, create an application, build some java code, or whatever), rentacoder allows you to create an advert for the work and coders can bid for the work. All development, payment and communication is done via the site. Typically, your coder will be from India or Asia (where the rates are so cheap), so the quality can be a little so-so, but make your requirements as clear as possible (I use specs with clear screen shots, what the errors must say, etc) and you will get products developed dirt cheap.
Works the same as rentacoder (see above), but this is for testers. It can be web testers, app testers, security testers, process testers etc. You can use both rentacoder for the development, and the testers to test the product, and the two can communicate to ensure a good product. Tends to be a little on the pricey side compared to the development, but still a lot cheaper than taking on a person full time.
Get A Freelancer
Again, as with rent a tester and rent a coder, this works for any other freelance work you may require to gain assistance or outsource work to. Useful for fidning people to create manuals, user guides, marketing material, etc.
People Per Hour
The same as Get a freelancer, allows you to advertise for assistance on projects, and receive bids. Covers anything and everything technical, from specifications, design, production, coding, testing and delivery.
If you are looking to create a new web site (blog, application, control area), this is a good place to start, with thousands of pretty and functional web site templates from around $20USD. If there is one that you want tweaking, or one that you want created to meet your needs, these can be requested as well.
Despite all our best efforts, there will be times when you have to work at a remote office, a customer’s site or whilst on the move from one location to another (train, plane or in a cab). The following tools when used together provide the ultimate resource for ensuring information is easy synchronised between all your different working locations:
For copying bookmarks – Xmarks
Xmarks originated as a Firefox only add on, but is now available for all major search engines including mobile platforms and on-line enquiry, and is used to synchronise bookmarks between locations. Bookmark a useful web resource at home or whilst working off site, and the same bookmark magically appears on all other computers you login to.
For copying snippets – Evernote
Whether its snippets of source code, pictures, text for documents, technical information or any other form of document, Evernote provides a snippet synchronisation tool. Snippet is actually a bad description as each snippet can be many pages in length. Any snippet captured will be available in your on-line catalogue, and will be downloaded to all other computers you use next time they are switched on. Evernote provides clever searching and categorisation facilities, links into mobile devices (iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile etc) for mobile searching and capturing (including photos), and will even perform text recognition (OCR) on text within photos for searching – very useful for taking photos of somebody’s business card. Capturing can be from Windows, Mac or most web browsers.
For easy access to files – Dropbox
Dropbox is designed to be a chargeable product, but as long as you stay within the file sizes and total content limits (1 to 2Gb depending on file types), it provides a free service for synchronising your important files into a secure location on the cloud. Interface is with Windows File explorer (or mac) and appears as a logical directory on your computer – copy the files to the new directory, and the files are then easily accessible to any other computer. Copy shortcuts, and any changes to your local copy of the files are also copied into the cloud.
The Freelance folder provides a news feed which will be useful for IT contractors and freelancers looking for tips on productivity, growing their customer base, working smarter and promoting their business services.
Guerrilla Freelancing is a website news feed dedicated to helping every freelancer still in the trenches, working as hard as they can to build up a solid freelance business. It’s main objective is to be a voice for those who have not “made it” and provide straight to the point advice and tips for the guerrilla freelancer.
This is a community of freelance professionals from around the world, spanning all manner of fields. As well as providing a very good podcast, this news and information feed covers a large range of useful freelancing and contracting tips, which will prove useful for any small business owners working in or around IT.
The calculator website is a great resource for working out tax rates, how much to charge customers, day rates, and a host of other contracting tools. The RSS feed provides finance and tax tips for IT freelancers, contractors and other small business owners.
Life can be complex, but it gets even more difficult when you are running a small business. As a manager, owner and revenue generator, you can end up wearing so many hats and doing so many things that everything can end up as a big blurred unstructured mess. Sometimes you can get into a muddle and you need guidance or help in seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Over the years, one resource that I can rely on time and time again is an individual by the name of Jack Canfield. Jack is an American peak performance guru, but before you close this article and move on, bear with me and I will explain why and how he can help in your small Business.
Amongst the various books, podcasts, audio CDs and other material that Jack Canfield makes available, is a great book called the Success Principles. There are always 3 or 4 books on my home office desk at arm’s reach that I can dip into when I need them, and the Success Principles is one of these books.
The content is pretty similar to most other self-help guides to high achievement, but it does manage to pack in an awful lot of ideas and advice into fewer than 500 pages. The basic premise of the book is that in order to achieve success in our business and personal lives, it is our persistence in applying positive steps that gets results.
The Success Principles provides 70 tried and tested steps or actions which you can use to generate success. Some of these are mental shifts to change the way you think about achieving success (such as the realisation that a small setback is not the end of the world, and is just a way of realising your on the wrong track so need to change something to move back into the right direction), and some are practical changes you can make (such as finding a support group to discuss business ideas with).
There are lots of ‘self help’ books available on a wide and vast array of subjects. However, the Success Principles combines the best parts of multiple sources, provides a massive array of actions you can take to move your life and business forward, and at the price that Amazon are currently charging, this is a wonderful bargain.
I challenge anybody to read this book, follow some of the actions and principles defined, and not see an instant improvement in both their personal lives and business.