Connect with Customers: sign up for Microsoft’s mini-summit

Connect with Customers: Microsoft mini summit

Connect with Customers – the latest event in our Microsoft business mini-summit series – is almost here. Small businesses far and wide: take note and sign up today.

The basics

Why you should attend

Looking to grow your business? Connect with new customers? Join us for an informal networking opportunity, roundtable discussion and expert insight from Microsoft, GoDaddy and Articulate Marketing.

In the third event in this popular series, we’re focusing on sales and marketing.

If you are a small business looking for expert tips and advice to help your business, this event is for you.  After attending this event myself, I came away with loads of ideas and advice both from the presenters and the other attendees to enable my business to progress to the next level. – David Wright, UK Small business owner, AllCloud Networks Limited.

About you

These events are ideal for owners and managers from small and medium-sized companies in any sector.

About us

We are working with Microsoft to help them expand the role they can play in supporting UK small businesses. This means getting to know more about their customers. But don’t worry, this isn’t a market research event and we’re not going to try to sell you anything. We just want to learn about what makes entrepreneurs tick and capture your expertise and share it with our colleagues at Microsoft and with other small business owners.

Agenda

  • Keynote presentation: ten ways to get closer to customers
  • Roundtable discussion about sales and marketing
  • Coffee and hands-on technology demos
  • Presentation: technology for marketing – CRM, social media, advertising
  • Presentation: building trust and presence online
  • Panel discussion / Q&A about technology, sales and marketing

Sign up today for ‘Connect with Customers’

It’s simple, just follow the link to our Eventbrite page and secure your free place.

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How we work: open book project management

open book project management: bright 'honest' sign

At Articulate we strive to be approachable, responsive and ‘no drama’, which often equates to being honest to the point of transparency with our clients. This is why our project management process is totally open.

We work collaboratively and write in pairs, but we are also a virtual company so it’s important we keep everyone in the loop about what we’re doing and when. Transparency makes sense to us.

By transparency we mean using open book project management so everything within a project is available and viewable for everyone, colleagues and clients alike. Here’s how we do it.

What we use

Basecamp.

We manage all our projects using Basecamp. It suits our remote work style and we can invite clients onto our projects too, so they can see our progress for themselves.

How we use it

We don’t hide.

When we start a project we encourage our clients to use Basecamp (if they don’t already) and we invite them onto our project for the work they’ve commissioned. This gives them pretty much the same access to what goes into that project as we have.

Basecamp gives the option to hide discussions or files from clients. This isn’t an option we use much. On the occasions we do, it’s not for the reasons you might think.

We use it mainly for streamlining. Some projects require a bit of internal communication which would be irrelevant (and probably uninteresting) to someone not directly involved in the writing process. To avoid spamming clients’ inboxes with stuff they don’t want or need to see, we sometimes keep our internal conversations private.

Another notable example is interview notes. Interviews are private, even when the interviewee is a customer of our client. We really benefit from having more than one set of interview notes, though, so typically all writers who were present for an interview upload their notes to Basecamp, which we keep private in the interest of the interviewee’s privacy.

Aside from these two examples we put everything out there for the client to see. If we do 60 drafts before we’re happy to submit an official first draft to them, they can see them all.

Why we do it

Not only does being open book give our clients a sense of security and comfort, knowing they can monitor our progress and make direct contact easily; it also aids us with the delivery and feedback process.

Basecamp provides a direct line for communication. We can deliver the work in Basecamp itself, with all the context around it and it provides our clients with one platform to give us feedback, edits or redraft info.

Everyone that’s working on the project will get all the messages (unless the sender chooses otherwise), so it’s simple and easy to move a project forward or tie it up.

What we get out of it

  • It sets the tone. When we’re open and honest with clients they extend us the same courtesy. This can mean the difference between briefs and expectations that are thorough and fair and those that perhaps aren’t so much.
  • More eyes on a problem, more brains applied to it. People can view a project’s progress, ourselves included, through all stages of the project. Problems can be picked out early and briefs re-established – everyone can add to it so time needn’t be wasted due to misunderstandings or miscommunications.
  • Constructive communication. We document everything (important) on Basecamp, so everyone has all the information they need in one place.
  • Trust. People trust people who are honest with them. Enough said.

What our clients get out of it

  • Empowerment. Being open with our clients empowers them to get involved with our process. They have a direct line of contact with us during the writing process and emails are sent whenever a project is updated, so it’s easy for clients to see what’s going on and get involved if they want to.
  • An education. With such an insight into how we work, our clients get a better idea of our time frames, how we communicate with each other and what information we use and discuss. All of this provides them with a clearer idea of how to approach work with us in future.

Making headway

Our process, as far as open book project management goes, is still a work-in-progress. We’re still learning how best to get our clients on board with Basecamp and how best to encourage them to engage with it.

We’re also working out what to explain, how and to whom. What elements of Basecamp need explaining? Is it worth providing guidelines for working with us through Basecamp? If we did would we give them to all clients or perhaps just those who are likely to be long-term?

These are all questions we’ll be working through as we hone our process in pursuit of a perfectly productive, transparent project management process.

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The 8 best lists of all time: why lists work and how to do them better

shutterstock_47498311

The listicle – an article built around a list – is a hugely successful format. For example, alongside ‘how-to’ articles, they are the most popular form on Bad Language.

It’s not just a blogging thing, either. Historically, lists have been very popular. In no particular order here are a few that have worked:

  1. The four noble truths
  2. The ten commandments
  3. Seven deadly sins
  4. Seven wonders of the world
  5. The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
  6. The noble eightfold path
  7. Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues
  8. Ummm, Craigslist

This got me thinking. Why do lists work?

Others have also observed that list posts work. As Niccolò Brogi says: just Google ‘25 ways’. Psychologically, lists just ‘feel better’ with a clear promise and an easy-to-absorb format. They’re concise and scannable. Readers like them because you can measure your progress and stop or start whenever you want. Certainly, for writers, they’re easier to create: just start with a numbered list and fill in the blanks.

Here are the top ten ‘top tens’ on Bad Language:

  1. Top ten tips for top ten lists (a very good place to start)
  2. Ten tips for better emails
  3. 10 ways to slim down obese copy (my favourite headline on Bad Language)
  4. How I trained myself to get up earlier
  5. 10 provocative questions that will bend and blow your mind
  6. Seven website mock-up tools
  7. 10 things I wish I knew before I redesigned my website
  8. 9 essential marketing insights about typography
  9. 10 surprisingly simple tips for better headlines
  10. 62 ways to improve your press releases (a BIG list but this led to a trip to Sweden and a new client so lists really do pay)

But one thing we’ve learned at Articulate when using lists in client copy is that you can’t just end on the list. You need a close with a kick too. Readers probably won’t finish your article, according to Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, but your editor and your client definitely will.

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Why stories sell and feature lists don’t

Selling points and stories: Teddy telly story to girl in rocking chair

We’ve said it before and we’re going to say it again: features don’t sell, benefits do.

Your product might have the fastest gigahoozit, or your service might rank number one in the Totally Amazing awards, but none of that means a thing to your potential customers.

Customers don’t care what you have or what you’ve done. Like everyone else, they’re only really interested in stories – most often their own.

Stories sell

Keith Queensbury of Johns Hopkins conducted an analysis of 108 Super Bowl adverts. He found that, ‘regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success.’ In other words, telling a story was better than listing features (or anything else for that matter).

Freytag's pyramid

‘Freytags pyramid’. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The more complete the story being told in the ad, the more successful the ad. In fact, the more of the five elements of the traditional dramatic structure, shown in Freytag’s pyramid, that were included, the better the ad did.

This five-act storytelling structure dates back to Aristotle and is exemplified in Shakespeare’s plays. It might not be new, but it remains as effective as ever.

So, well-told stories sell, but why? As Harrison Monarch argues in the HBR, ‘A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act.’

Storytelling’s secret

Human beings are natural storytellers.

We instinctively build a narrative: whether it’s of our lives, what’s happening outside our window or even the dramatic encounters of geometric shapes on a screen.  As Frank Rose explains:

Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature — a face, a figure, a flower — and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning.

Not only do stories help us link points of information together and create cause and effect explanations of the world around us, they also trigger something important in our experience.

‘The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated,’ says Annie Murphy Paul. When someone describes kicking a ball, our motor cortex lights up. When someone describes a singer as having a ‘velvety voice’ our sensory cortex lights up. And so on.

So when we listen to a bunch of bullet points, we hear a load of language. When we listen to a story, we live it.

Selling your selling points with stories

So a story lights up our brain and inspires us to action. How does that link to sales? Well there’s a little more to the story…as it were.

Research at Princeton, led by Uri Hasson, has found that the brains of a person telling a story and a person listening to that story can synchronise:

When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized.  When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too.  When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.

Alongside this ability to influence is that fact that people automatically link stories to their own experiences in order to make them more relatable.

This means you can build your selling points into a story that tells the tale of a frustration or problem that the listener can associate with their own experience. You can then ‘plant’ your business as the happy resolution to that story. Once you’ve planted that idea, the listener will continue with the narrative of their own experience and ‘come up’ with the idea of using your product or service to solve their issue.

Even better, if you tell your story with positive sensory descriptions then your selling points will elicit those positive experiences for your listener too.

So rather than:

  • My widget speeds up data processing by 20 percent

You say,

I was struggling for time, constantly running and feeling the pressure of clients demanding data I simply didn’t have ready. So I decided to do something about it. I developed this widget, which processes the data 20 percent faster, and all of a sudden I had time to breath and my clients were praising me rather than hounding me.

You need more than a good yarn

What makes a good story, great though? Is just telling a story enough? Why do some stories catch our collective attention while others make us shrug with indifference?

‘Good stories are strange…Good stories are startling…The narrative excitement of the great scientific theories, far from residing in their reassuring simplicity, lies in their similarly radical exclusions, their shocks,’ argues Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker.

Take the image at the top of this article: it immediately makes you want to know the story behind it. It contains familiar elements, but rearranged in a startling way. It makes the idea of being held captive by a story tangible and of course, the outcome isn’t obvious.

And as the Super Bowl ads and Shakespeare prove, you also need your five acts, (as shown above). Don’t ruin the story by skipping directly to the happy ending: good stories require controlled suspense. That’s what keeps us engaged.

Personas make it personal

Personas have come up quite a lot on Bad Language lately and with good reason. They’re really important for figuring out not just who your audience is, but what exactly it is they want to hear.

When you pitch your product you have to make it seem as though you are weaving it into every reader’s personal story. Trying to appeal to everyone with a general story, however, will resonate with no one. Personas let you be specific to an audience: general to a particular group as it were.

Personas help you hone in on the problems your typical customers face and common objections they throw up. They also tell you a little about their likes and dislikes, lifestyles and personalities. This gives you a clue as to how to shock and startle and what tensions will resonate best with the people most likely to buy from you.

A final word of caution

Storytelling is eternally effective; but how we tell stories changes.

Research suggests that overused phrases, even if they contain an action or feeling, don’t light up any part of the brain other than the language processor. They use the example of having ‘a rough day’, however there are plenty of other clichés and stock metaphors out there that you should avoid.

Keep your storytelling fresh: and as you tell the tale of your selling points make your audience feel as though they are biting into a juicy, tart raspberry rather than munching on some stale, flat pancakes.

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Why does marketing pitch the wrong product?

Apple and orange for Why does marketing pitch the wrong product

There is a disconnect between what marketing is telling potential customers and what you and your sales team are actually trying to sell.

So why does marketing pitch the wrong product? And are you definitely pitching the right product?

The answers lie in the gaping chasm between the two departments.

Two sides to every story

Marketing isn’t intentionally pitching the wrong product. They simply have a different focus than sales.

Marketing is focused on the benefits of a product that attract buyers to your brand. Their campaigns are directed at buyer personas, which represent your company’s customers, not one specific customer account.

Meanwhile, your sales team speaks to customers one-on-one. You discuss specific features and performance based on what that customer needs in a product. But this can lead to short-sightedness about the possibilities of up and cross sell, that a wider marketing campaign encompasses.

A separation of duties

Marketing needs to do what they do and create campaigns while sales needs to make sure they are talking about the product that will turn leads into customers. There is nothing wrong with the focus of each department.

But a lack of communication between the two departments is what leads to frustration for your sales team.

How this plays out on the sales floor

If your sales team is looking to meet a goal on a product, for example, a certain tablet, you may know that this tablet has features which are perfect in a small business setting. However, you see a marketing campaign aimed at small business owners pitching a different tablet.

It’s not that the tablet in the campaign is a bad product, but it’s not what you would recommend to the small business owner over the phone. You end up spending time redirecting the potential buyer’s attention to the right tablet.

A leaky sales funnel

The negative impact of pitching different products to the same audience affects both marketing and sales.

First, if marketing is pitching the wrong product, they may be creating case studies or whitepapers, even whole campaigns about this product with the wrong audience in mind.

Second, customers can sense misalignment. If a customer hears different things from marketing and sales, they can disengage from your brand and look elsewhere for a similar product.

Fixing the funnel

Making the sale, converting the lead, whatever you want to call it, marketing and sales have the same goal: attracting leads and moving them through the sales funnel. You have to help each other out by opening the lines of communication.

What to tell marketing. Let marketing know what products you need to sell to make goals and which of their buyer personas each product caters to most. You can also tell them which questions or insights you get from which customers so they can develop the personas further.

What to ask for in return. Ask for specific materials (ie: case studies or whitepapers) to back up the products you’re offering to certain customers, ask to be copied in on all email blasts or relevant content that may prompt customer contact and make sure you get complete information on every lead.

Knowing what to say to marketing and having consistent meetings to keep the lines of communication open can align the efforts of marketing and sales even if each is focused on their own thing.

Presenting a united front

If marketing and sales are aligned when it comes to the products pitched, the different focus of each department is a benefit. As potential customers move through the buyer process, they get a consistent experience with the company’s brand.

If they hear about the benefits of the right product from marketing, the customer can transition flawlessly to your sales team to discuss the details and features of the product that will suit their needs.

With transparency and communication, sales can help marketing pitch the right product to the benefit of both departments and the customer.

(Hat tip to TheBusyBrain for the photo)

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Tools for writing: Microsoft OneNote

 

Microsoft OneNote on different devices

Microsoft OneNote, the underdog pretender to Evernote’s crown, is a growing part of my life. I’ve used the digital notebook application, on and off, for many years. I tried switching to Evernote a couple of times but always came back, like the prodigal son. (Full disclosure: Microsoft is a client of Articulate’s but this is just my own personal review.)

Indeed, there are many things to like about OneNote:

  • Hierarchical structure. You have notebooks, tabs, pages and sub-pages. For a tidy-minded person like me, this works better than using tags to categorise notes.
  • Encryption. You can password-protect and encrypt whole sections of your notes.
  • Familiar interface. It looks and feels a lot like Microsoft Word, which is where I spend most of my life. Evernote’s roots are more HTML and sometimes that shows in the limited formatting options.
  • Multiple elements. It’s easy to embed and scale multiple pictures, add diagrams and handwritten notes and mix up multiple text boxes on the same page. It feels like a digital notebook should feel – flexible.

But until recently, it fell short of its potential. That’s changing. Here’s why:

  • Solid multi-platform support. I can – and do – use OneNote on my PC, Mac, web browser, iPhone, iPad and Android. Notebooks synchronise smoothly across all the devices.
  • Price. It’s free on all platforms and you can use it with a free OneDrive subscription or, as I do, with an Office 365 account and OneDrive for Business.
  • Pen support. I don’t have a pen-equipped Microsoft Surface but my Samsung Galaxy Note has a pen and OneNote works well with it.
  • Sharing. It’s easy to share notebooks with colleagues. For example, I just created one where we can archive useful sources and web pages.
  • Change highlighting. When someone changes something in a shared notebook, the changes are nicely highlighted when you log in. I think this is going to be an increasingly important feature.
  • Integrations. It works with Feedly, my RSS-reader of choice and IFTTT. More integrations are happening.
  • Capture. There’s a screen clipping app and a web page grabber that drops new content straight into OneNote pages, where you can annotate them.

Overall, I’m finding that I’m spending more time in OneNote and I can see it becoming a useful tool for me and my colleagues at Articulate.

What do you think? How does it compare with Evernote?

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10 tricks to encourage colleagues to contribute to the company blog

Work desk for 10 tricks to encourage colleagues to contribute to the company blog

Most companies are aware of the effect and therefore the need for a content marketing strategy to boost their online presence, but the number of US companies blogging for marketing purposes is only around 40 percent.

The reality is that keeping up with a blog can be a lot of work. Consistency requires commitment to a full editorial calendar. Going outside the bounds of your company’s marketing team and getting colleagues to contribute is a good way to generate plenty of content.

But not all of your colleagues are writers and convincing people to voluntarily add to their workload is not easy.

A reason to bother your colleagues

People look online to get a first impression of a company, and the blog is often the best place to look for the real voice of the company. People want to see an overview of who you are, what you think and what you do but your marketing team doesn’t have time to become experts in every department.

To publish a range of content that’s specific and knowledgeable, you need:

  • Sales people writing on how they help customers
  • Research and development on what’s coming up in new products
  • The CEO on the mission and outlook of the company (and maybe the industry as a whole)
  • The customer service reps to answer common customer questions

Your colleagues are the key, but they may be reluctant to get on board. These tips will turn them around and get them enthusiastically contributing to the company blog.

1. Mandatory participation

Requiring a realistic level of contributions guarantees the blog calendar stays current. Of course, mandatory is not the same as encouraged participation, but sometimes making something a requirement is the extra push needed. Try to get managers on board to help you enforce your plan.

2. Early incentive

Early on, you can initiate a gamified system. Create incentives to reward colleagues for participation. Implement levels of achievement for things like sharing posts, commenting on blogs or the number of posts written to engage colleagues in the whole marketing process.

3. Give them the numbers

Telling colleagues why you want them to contribute is a big motivation. Show them content marketing stats like:

  • Companies with active blogs can generate 67 percent more leads
  • Businesses blogging more than 20 times a month get five times more traffic

Motivate people by tying the blog’s goals into their departmental objectives. Quality content has a big impact on incoming customers, and getting more customers is in everyone’s interests.

4. Give them more numbers

Once you’ve got a string of contributions, post marketing metrics, whether essential or non-essential. People will enjoy seeing the comments and shares on their own work and seeing the engagement from customers and other colleagues and it will motivate them to contribute more.

5. Detailed briefs

Even with incentives and good reasons to blog, you’ll still have reluctant writers. If you want colleagues to contribute, a detailed brief which pinpoints the topic and outlines the main points will encourage employees by giving them a clear structure to work with.

6. Questions to answer

Another way to give colleagues a starting point is to give them a question to answer. Every single one of your colleagues is an expert in what they do and they get questions. So, turn those questions into a blog article. They already know how to answer – they just have to write it down.

7. Flexibility in format

Don’t limit assignments to written blogs. Promoting a content culture means allowing for creativity. If the sales team wants to create a video series or the owner has an idea for a podcast, let it happen.

8. Offer editing

For people uncomfortable with writing, knowing someone will take a look before the publish button is pressed acts as a safety net. For some of us, writing is work and you push through. For your colleagues who only write for your blog, knowing help will be there allows them to relax and write.

9. Hire writers

Interviews and ghost writers take the pressure off those expert colleagues who just don’t have the time or ability to write. Find writers that know how to extract the important information and can create blogs in interview format or write on your colleagues’ behalf. For your colleagues, a short amount of time spent sharing expertise equals quality content from experts in writing.

10. Spread the responsibility

People will be more enthusiastic if the added workload is minimal. The more colleagues that contribute, the lighter the load. In a company of 50, if everyone contributed, you’d only have to write a post once every two months to fill a post-a-day editorial calendar. That said, sometimes it’s best nurturing the most enthusiastic and talented to do a little more, rather than battling the most belligerent.

Success for all

A successful blog has to be consistent, give voice to the entire company and target the buyers looking to get an impression of what the business behind the blog is all about.

Make the blog a team effort from CEO down to intern and encourage colleagues to contribute to the company blog so that is becomes an accurate representation of who your business is and why customers should buy from you.

(Hat tip to Jim Winstead for the photo)

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Tools for writers: Taco for to-do lists

Screenshot of Taco showing simple to-do list view

I’m really learning to love Taco. Really love it.

It does two important things.

All your tasks on one screen

First, it pulls in tasks and to-dos from all the apps I already use and displays them in one place.

It supports a ton of apps. I use it with Basecamp, Zendesk, Office 365 and Salesforce. So, instead of four open windows, I have one for all my tasks.

Apps supported by Taco

Priority and focus

The second, and in many ways more important, thing that Taco does is make it easy to prioritise your tasks and focus only on the few tasks that matter today.

It has two columns: ‘for later’ and ‘up next’. You can drag items from one column to another and up and down within the columns. Hide the ‘for later’ column for a short list of the stuff that matters now.

This is the answer to task-anxiety. Instead of drowning in dozens or hundreds of tasks, now you know that you have all of them in sight and that you’re focusing on the top priorities (and temporarily hiding the rest).

Taco Screenshot

If you use more than one app to store tasks and you have more tasks than time to do them, then you need Taco.

(Full disclosure, I was a modest early investor in their initial Kickstarter campaign but only enough to pay for my subscription. I have no axe to grind except the one that helps me get through my work faster.)

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Offshore development for beginners

Offshore development: Diagram with a world map, tablets and phones plus networked icons of people

We talk about marketing for start-ups and tech companies but did you know that we are talking from experience? We drink our own champagne: Turbine is a software start-up and a subsidiary of my marketing company, Articulate.

Although Turbine is based in London, England, we built the application using outsourced, mostly offshore talent. The main development was done by a company in Ukraine called Anadea. We also used testers in Romania, web developers in Argentina and AdWords consultants in Austria, among others.

For the most part, it worked very well. But I learned a lot and this article outlines some of those lessons for anyone thinking of going down the same road.

Offshore is good

Fundamentally, there is no difference between a programmer (or a designer or a tester) based in an office in London and one in another part of the world. They’re either good or bad, talented or useless, collaborative or ego-centric.

What does change is that they are often cheaper and you get access to a much wider pool of talent. This is why I’ve said before that Turbine wouldn’t have been possible without it. Going offshore is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, most of the applications you use every day were built ‘offshore’.

Your job is the same whether you work with people in the same building or people on the same planet: find the right developers, brief them properly and manage the project well.

Finding developers

In my time, I’ve interviewed hundreds of programmers. There are three secrets to hiring a great developer every time but nobody knows what they are. However, there is already some good advice on the web that will help you reduce the risk of hiring a terrible one:

My experience suggests that when working with offshore developers (and programmers in general), there are a few traits to look out for:

  • Communication. An ability to communicate clearly about technical issues in a language you understand. For example, they explain the pros and cons of different approaches.
  • Context. They see the project as a whole instead of focusing on some obscure technical detail or vanity project or intellectual obsession. For example, they talk about pieces of programming in terms of the improvements they deliver to users.
  • Methodology. The right approach to programming is critical. When I was interviewing for Turbine initially, most developers wanted a very detailed specification and approached projects in a ‘you-asked-for-it, you-got-it’ way. I preferred a more agile approach.
  • Prototype. You should plan on building a prototype with them – a minimum viable product that takes less than a month to build – before committing to a long term relationship. They should welcome this. Plan on throwing it away and starting again, with them or with someone else.
  • Pricing. They may not be able to give you a fixed price but they should give you a very clear idea of what their prices are, how they will charge and how you will pay them. If they quote a price per hour or per day, find out how long that price will be in effect. It’s no point signing up at $40 an hour and then they double the prices on you three months later.
  • Team. If you’re working with an outsourcing provider rather than hiring individuals, you should aim for a certain amount of team stability. Who is working on your project? For how long? Can you meet them (virtually or otherwise) before you commit?
  • Project management. They should have a good story to tell about how they will track and manage the implementation. What tools do they use? What methodology do they follow? What do they expect from you?

Getting the brief right

The initial specification for your product is the constitution and foundation of your relationship with software developers. It’s important for what it says but it is also important because of the way you say it.

Looking back, I think the original Turbine specific was too detailed and too comprehensive. It was 22 pages and should have been five pages. We could have easily launched the application with a quarter of the functionality we had at launch. That would have allowed us to launch sooner, get feedback faster and focus our work on features that mattered to users.

As I’ve said before, non-existent code doesn’t crash. It also doesn’t cost anything to write.

My top tip: once you’ve written a specification or brief for a developer, go through it line by line and delete everything that is not absolutely necessary. Less is definitely more.

It’s better to work collaboratively with your developers to figure out the best way to implement and design functionality. Your job is to be the champion of the compelling, unique features of your app and the guardian against gold-plating.

37 Signals’ Getting Real is essential reading before you start this process. As is Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. I read them both but, looking back, I don’t think I really paid enough attention. So, my advice is to read them twice!

Managing remote developers

I’ve written before about project management in general but here are some of the things that worked for us doing offshore development on Turbine:

  • Seeing is believing. After a rough patch in the relationship, we started doing video conferences using Skype and then Google Hangouts. This made a huge improvement in the quality of the relationship – we were more communicative and trusting once we started using video. Aim to have at least one video conference a week.
  • Talk about the weather. Seriously. Make a bit of small talk. Treat one another as human beings. It builds up a reservoir of mutual understanding.
  • Emails. Have the developers send you a daily wrap-up email. What were they working on, what problems did they have, what do they need etc. It shouldn’t be a formal report. A short, friendly email is very helpful for keeping the channels open.
  • Address problems early. Distance amplifies stress. If you feel like there’s a problem, address it as soon as possible, preferably on the phone or via video conference not via email.
  • Use export English. You should be working with developers who can speak and write English to a reasonable standard but remember to speak slowly, use simple words and avoid idiomatic language if you want to be clearly understood.
  • Put it in writing. Verbal communications should also be captured in writing, ideally using a project management tool like Basecamp or Pivotal Tracker or a bug tracking tool like Lighthouse.
  • Don’t interrupt. Programmers need to concentrate so avoid interrupting them. Use the tools they prefer for communication. Generally, IM and email are better than an unscheduled phone or video call.

Let’s compare notes. Comment here or contact us with your feedback. If you’re working on an app, drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on.

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Impatience is a virtue and six other essential attitudes for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs: NASA coffee cup with a launch in the foam

Get a cup of coffee and prepare for launch. Rome wasn’t built in a day but it should have been. The status quo is obsolete. Best practice is someone else’s idea of what you should do. Good enough isn’t.

Impatience – the fierce hunger for progress – is one of the defining characteristics of an entrepreneur. For them (for us), impatience is a virtue.

If you want to understand what your boss is thinking, remember that she is probably frustrated that things aren’t changing fast enough.

Attitude adjustment

Clare gave me this title – ‘impatience is a virtue’ – to work with and it sparked more reflections on the right attitude for an entrepreneur:

  • Don’t believe the hype. Lots of people, me included, will tell you about their shining success and how they achieved it. Just look at all the business biographies next time you’re in an airport book shop. Four-hour Work Week! Hah! Overnight success is a myth. Listen to Alex Blumberg’s painfully-honest and charming StartUp podcast for a dash of reality.
  • Failure is good for you. You don’t learn much from success. This is why so many mega-hits are followed by lousy sequels. Matrix Revolutions anyone? Failure is a better teacher: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ (Samuel Beckett)
  • Taking a break is work. Getting up insanely early is the latest fad recommendation for entrepreneurs. In fact, how I trained myself to get up earlier is the most popular post on this blog, so I’m not immune from giving this advice. (But I wrote my piece in 2006, before it became fashionable. Ahem.) But the truth is you have to find your own pace, your own sleep and work patterns. Sometimes taking a short break or a long walk is more important.
  • Time is precious. Waste it. Your time is more valuable than diamonds. An hour spent solving an important problem, closing a great deal or writing an awesome blog post adds more value to your business than an hour wasted on email or pointless meetings. But your personal time is also precious. As Bertrand Russell said, ‘time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time.’ There are three essential skills: delegation, prioritisation and saying ‘no’.
  • Habits trump passion. Passion has no place in business and there are too many myths about productivity. Willpower is not a lengthy visitor. I find that I need to turn it into something sustainable and the one thing that consistently helps is to form a new habit. Leo Babauta’s Zenhabits blog and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit are the definitive sources on this point.
  • Love and respect are business assets. I’m not a ‘take what you want, give nothing back’ type of boss. I strongly believe that running a business is an engine for progress, a noble calling, a Good Thing. It is an expression of creativity and an opportunity to show respect to people, no less so than any other calling. Work is love made visible.

What do you think? What works for you?

(Image hat tip: NASA, io9)

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