Monthly Archives: June 2008

Friends and Family, and Becoming the Business

You finally decided what you want to do, and you are all excited about it. You tell your family, and they may get excited at first, or not, but even if they do, they seem to forget all about it right away. You rarely get an enthusiastic or supportive response from them unless one of them is going in with you on it.

This is puzzling to people, they don’t understand why the people who ought to believe in them don’t. And it isn’t that at all – they are just waiting to see if it is really important to you, and if you are really going to do it.

I’ve been a web designer for more than 8 years, and yet it has only been in the last few years that I can talk about “my business” to some family members and have them even remember what it is that I do!  Some friends have been the same way – waiting to see if I AM the business, before they believe that I HAVE a business.

To get them to take you seriously, you have to get over the hump and take yourself seriously! Business owners reach a point that I call “being the business”. When the business becomes part of who they are, not just something they are trying on for size. It weaves into their life, they carry business cards anywhere, they think about business on and off through everything, in the same way they do their kids, house, car, garden, etc. It is just part of the whole person, instead of something they turn on and off.

When you get to that point, your friends and family KNOW you have a business, because it is there in front of them all the time. They come to visit and you are working and sometimes you can take time off, sometimes you have a deadline, and they have to wait. They call, and you have only a little time before you have to get back to work. They see your car, and it is branded with your business. They go somewhere with you and see you in conversation with a prospect. They attend the local fair and see you at your booth. It takes all those repetitions of things they see as being “serious” before they believe YOU are serious.

So first, BE serious about it, long term. Then the acknowledgment, and eventually, the support will come.

A Little Rant About Joomla

Joomla is a content management system – hereafter called, a “CMS”, in the grand tradition of techie acronyms which confuse the uninitiated. It is a “fork” of Mambo – another CMS. The codebase (like the foundation on a house) for Mambo, was older, and built before coders had figured out that there were ways to do it that made it more sustainable (again, like a house built before there was such a thing as a building code).

So the Joomla team fairly quickly realized they’d have to rebuild a good deal of the codebase if they wanted to continue to improve the CMS in ways that users needed to have it improved. They worked on this for years, and last January, they released Joomla 1.5 to the community at large.

I’m somewhat puzzled by the response of many within the community. There are now two versions of Joomla – 1.5, and the older 1.0. There are people who cling to 1.0 as though it has a future. Yet anyone could see, the minute Joomla 1.5 was released, that it sounded the death knell for Joomla 1.0. At that point, it was no longer wise to build a new site in 1.0 – why do so when you’d just have to rebuilt in a year or so when 1.0 became unsustainable? Not a good choice to make for myself, or on behalf of a client. (We ended up starting over on two contracts in order to put them into 1.5, and will be migrating the ones that were too far along at the time to rebuild easily.)

Yet we still have people building new sites in 1.0, clinging stubbornly to the past. There are a few RARE instances where the necessary new components are not yet ready, but for the most part, there is now as much available for 1.5 as for 1.0, and many things available for 1.5 that are not available for 1.0.

The best templates are compatible only with 1.5. Some of the best new extensions are available for 1.5 exclusively.

We went out on a limb with a few contracts, building in 1.5, on the expectation that the extensions we needed would be available by the time we needed them. This has proven to be the case – all have been updated in time for us to use them with 1.5, or we have been able to locate alternates.

Most extensions (except a few rare ones) are now either compatible with 1.5, or being rewritten to be compatible with 1.5. Most coders have abandoned further progress for 1.0. The majority of new sites have been built in 1.5 for the last several months, and smart designers are migrating sites on a consistent basis. A few coders have delayed releasing versions that were compatible with 1.5, and new coders have come in to fill their place with 1.5 compatible alternatives.

What I do not understand is why the holdouts did not see this coming. Why they still foolishly cling to a system that will no longer be improved, instead of rebuilding their sites in 1.5 and moving forward. Yes, I know a few have compatibility issues, and I am fully aware of the issues in moving a very large site. I’ve done it – not once, but about 5 times now. Each site took between 2 and 20 hours, depending on the complexity of the site. I did a lot of hand database recoding on sites that could not be migrated using the migration tool. Even with it, I had additional work to do to get it right in 1.5.

I didn’t really want to move forward in this way either. It is a pain in the nether regions to have to rebuild a large site. But it is preferable to do it on my time now, than to be forced to on someone else’s schedule later. And I just cannot see saddling a client with the cost of building now, an rebuilding later, when a little wisdom on my part would eliminate the need for a rebuild.

There is no room in technology for standing still. Sure, you don’t have to use it all, but when you depend on a structure like Joomla, and it is clear that one option has a future, and the other does not, it is time to get on board and learn to work in the future instead of the past.

Sometimes it Makes Me Want to Cry

The opportunity was a good one. It would mean a lot of business coming our way. There was only one problem with it. I couldn’t do it.

Just three weeks before I had been railing at the cruelty of prospective clients who cannot see our potential to be more than what our average client wants – they look at our average sites, and assume we cannot do anything but average, when in fact, we can. We do a lot of $500 websites. A $500 website is not the same thing as a $1500 website, or a $4000 website, though we can do those too. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that we cannot do a $10,000 website (except in certain circumstances). Certainly, something within that scope would require that we do something that we are not qualified to do.

The opportunity was potentially in the $10,000 category (not price-wise… more like expectation-wise). A lot of potential $10,000 opportunities. To which I had to say, “I don’t think I can do this.” That made me want to cry.

It has to do with expectations. I can build a $10,000 website. In fact, I can build a better website for $10,000 than what many designers can build for $15,000. But someone who pays $10,000 for a website generally wants something different than someone who pays $500 for a website. Oh, there are clients who NEED a $10,000 website that is exactly what I usually build, only with more function. We aren’t talking about them. We are talking about the ones who need that extra value in just a few specific areas – either high end graphics, optimized to the teeth, or high security (comparatively). Those are things I cannot do. I can do all of those things up to about a 5 on the scale of 1-10. Most of our clients only need a 2.

But our clients expect to live in the realm of compromise. LOTS of compromise. They need it to WORK, but they know that if the positioning of that tiny thing, or the name of the item on that form, or the appearance of the admin area of the site isn’t appealing to them, that they can live with it. That the site is going to work anyway. They are content with the 10% of everything that gets them 90% of the results because they know that is what they can afford, it is what they need, and they are getting higher value than they can get anywhere else.

Expectations for higher end clients are different. They want those tiny details attended to, even if those tiny details are just preference issues, even if those tiny details don’t affect customer conversions, and even if those tiny details cost more to fix. They want perfection. They pay for the right to expect it. They REQUIRE it in some areas that I don’t have the training to be able to deliver.

If I did decide to learn to do those jobs, I’d lose my ability to deliver what I specialize in now. I don’t want to get out of that box. Oh, I do want to push the envelope sometimes – to get a client now and again that isn’t having to pinch every penny so tightly that it leaves a dent. Not a lot, just one or two here and there. Just a little dessert with the bread and butter.

So I told them my limits, even though it almost hurt to tell them that. I told them that they’d probably be better off with someone who could do it all for them, and how it would probably work best. Within minutes, the reply came – at least the first opportunity was within our skillset. They wanted us on the job.

I don’t have to cry this time. I may cry in a few weeks when the first big challenge hits, but today, I’m singing, because an impossibility became an opportunity that I’d been asking for.

Business, The Lord’s Way

There are few startup owners that I can really speak openly to, about the best way to choose a home business option, because I am not certain of whether they will accept a religious take on it. But this is my first advice, to anyone who is open to receiving it:

Look around you, and find a need for something that you know the Lord will approve of. Ask Him to help you find the need that He wants you to fill. Business is always about meeting needs when it is done right, and when you go about meeting the needs that the Lord desires for you to meet, it takes care of YOU, too. If you ask that, then you don’t need to choose based on feasibility or earnings potential, or skills, or anything else. You choose based on what He inspires you to choose. THEN you go back and ask Him how to make it feasible, how to develop a revenue generation plan that works, how to hone your skills to do it, etc. He can move mountains, He can also help us get the right thing, and then help us work out the necessary practical details to make it work.

I can’t tell you if you should start a business. But I do know that if the Lord desires for you to do something, it is His wisdom that you do it, even if it looks like you don’t need it. I felt inspired to seriously build our business just six months before Kevin (husband) was laid off. Anyone looking at us from the outside would have said that for Kevin to go into this business was absurd, and that it would never work. But I knew it was inspired, so we did it. Only now is the wisdom of that inspiration coming to light – as Kevin is finally able to pull out skills that he did not know he had, and that he has fought for so long.

I chose based on my existing talents, which pointed me in a direction that helps other people. See, it isn’t about marketing a business. I didn’t look around and say, “Oh gee, the world needs another web designer!”.  It is about helping a business owner succeed so they can care for their family. In this day, when it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive, and to afford to care for children, my purpose is to enable families to live. THAT is the purpose of helping businesses. I chose web design because it looked like there was a need for one that specialized in helping people in the low end, by offering more affordable options within a specialization that did not exist until we created it. We help them succeed in their business, but we also help keep them from being cheated, and my business allows me to learn how to teach others to spot scams, and to teach ethics and honesty in my profession. Those are all things the Lord approves of. It isn’t about web design. Web design is a skill, which allows me to help others.

Where is the hole in the lives of people around you, that is not being met by existing businesses?

You may not be able to answer that for some time, you may need some additional business exposure first. But if you are inspired to follow this kind of course, a thought will begin growing, and you’ll put the pieces of reason together into something that fills a great need, and that reaches beyond just a goal of learning and earning.

I know that when you seek not just a business, but a means of serving the Lord IN the business, a miracle happens, and a niche forms, and a wondrous thing comes of it.

The Monday Mire

Ok, so its Tuesday. Monday is generally a mire of weekend catch up. Most clients discover problems, or think to contact us about the next step, or want the report for the week before, on Monday. And that is when any procrastination from the week before catches up with us too!

I rarely get everything done that I plan on Mondays. Blogging gets shoved aside if I have not blogged ahead. That is why I am writing about the Monday Mire, on Tuesday!

I recently discovered a great task manager, which is perfect for MicroBusinesses, and this Monday was a little better organized due to that task manager. But it was still a bit hectic – I added a lot of new tasks!

I can deal with Mondays being hectic, as long as I have my Sundays. The worst weeks are those in which emergencies occur on Sundays. I then hit Mondays half-charged. No fun! God was pretty smart when He commanded us to take a day of rest – though I find it ironic that He had to COMMAND us to do something so helpful!

Monday is past for this week, and tomorrow, I’m sure, will be Friday, and I’ll wonder where Wednesday and Thursday went!

Thinking Outside the Box – Then Being Locked Inside

You can get a great idea for something outside the box, and then find yourself locked inside it because other people simply cannot think outside their own expectations enough to understand that you provide something that is better than what they expect.

We developed a trade association. We wanted to operated it on totally new rules, with offerings in it that are completely unique. We found that as we set out to do that, the biggest obstacle we encountered was the expectation people had. They simply would not operate in a way outside the shabby and substandard way they’d expected such associations to operate online. You could explain, and it was like they did not even hear the words, because they filtered them through the fog of their own familiarity  and watered them so far down that they had no meaning by the time they were done.

We’ve found that with several businesses. If you are innovative, it doesn’t necessarily help, if other people are not. Sometimes the world may not be ready for your great idea, and you’ll have to conform to what they are ready for.

It can be very discouraging, because it limits progress for everybody when they require you to become like the others before they’ll accept what you offer, even when what you offer is markedly superior.

Sometimes you have to implement great ideas in stages instead of all at once. People cannot accept things that are too far from their realm of familiarity, and sometimes their expectations get in the way of your ability to exceed them.

If My Kid Works for You

If my kid works for you, I hope you won’t be too easy on them. Not because I am a cruel mom, to the contrary. I am a mom that wants her kids to know how to work well enough to be WORTH hiring.

When you are hiring my kid to work for you, you are not just being nice to a kid and paying them so they’ll have some money. You are training a worker. If you do not expect them to get the job right, then they won’t learn to get it right. I’d like you to be firm with them, and expect high, but reasonable performance from them.

I do not appreciate people who take advantage of my kids, like the woman who had them shovel the snow off a very large deck and driveway, and paid them $2. But I don’t want you to pay them when they didn’t do the job correctly either. I want them to understand that I am not the only person who expects them to do their best.

I want you to help me teach them the concept of value given for value received. I want you to help me encourage them to feel good about hard work done well. I want them to understand that an employer expects certain things of them, and that the employer has every right to expect it!

If you are too easy on them, you won’t want to have them come back and work again. So letting them go, and paying them, when the job isn’t done, is not kind to them at all. Instead, it guarantees that you won’t want to hire them again, and that they won’t have the chance to earn from you again.

If you teach them what you expect, and encourage them to get it right, and pay them fairly when it is done, then you’ll want to invite them back again. And they’ll want to come. It will help you both.

I teach them as well as I can. But unless other people reinforce what I am teaching them, they won’t listen to me for very long! If my kid works for you, I hope you’ll help me teach them to work well, and to be a good employee.

Networking with Old Faithful

Old Faithful really isn’t faithful! If you ask most people why it is named as it is, they will say, “Because it erupts regularly.” And actually, it doesn’t!

Old Faithful erupts frequently, compared to most geisers. But the eruptions are irregularly spaced, from 30 minutes to 90 minutes or so. It isn’t regular at all!

Because Old Faithful is frequent enough that nobody has to wait very long for it to show up, even if it isn’t there all the time, every time, it is predictable enough that people BELIEVE it is regular.

There’s a lesson there. In networking, you have to show up. You don’t have to be there every time, but you have to be there the majority of the time. You don’t have to be on time every time, but you do have to get there nearly every time.

If you do, people will think you are Old Faithful. They will believe you are always there, even when you aren’t! They will think you are reliable, and they’ll assume that your business is too.

So just keep trying. If you get it 90% of the time, people will be willing to believe that you got it the other 10% also.

That’s a powerful networking advantage.

The Promise of the Blossom

When our apple trees burst into bloom this year, the sight was so lovely I begged Kevin to go get pictures. He obliged, and I made them into greeting cards.

A blossom is a promise of fruit. But it takes a lot of work to get a blossom, and then more work to get fruit. And a lot of time and unexpected happenings can occur in between.

When you plant a tree, you expect to have to nourish it and protect it and care for it for a couple of years, just to get it to show blossoms. And then they are few. Often the first ones do not result in fruit. Maybe the next ones do though.

The blossoms appear, and they look lovely. We always get exited when we see them, because they mean spring is here, and summer is on its way. Summer always seems easier to handle than winter!

But then the blossoms wither, fall off, and sit there looking ugly for weeks, until you can finally see that fruit IS going to develop.

The first sign of fruit is small, green, unappetizing things, unfit for consumption. They take more care to get them to the point where they are even edible, and even more to get to the point where you’d want to share them, or enjoy them!

How like that our business is. So much work just to see an indication that it will work, and more work while things look ugly and we forget the promise of the blossom.

Even after a harvest, we may have times when the business dies back – and we wonder if we’ll see blossoms again next season. The same sense of excitement comes when the blossoms finally do appear.

Biblically, the Lord uses the alegories of planting, tending, and harvesting to teach. They still apply.

Ethics Within a Company

Someone asked recently whether companies had a responsibility to set ethics for their employees. I have to say, resoundingly, YES! But you have to do more than just SAY it.

As a business owner, you are responsible to lead, and that happens largely by example, but also happens when you choose to respond, or not respond, to employee issues.

One of our friends owns a business and is constantly having employee problems. He does set a good example, but he does not enforce his standards, or require the employees to abide by good work and behavior standards on the job. He does not want to have to reprimand, or to even say that he will. I learned a lot from him about how to run a business. But unhappily, I also learned a lot from him about how NOT to run one.

It has to be more than, “I do this because of who I am.” It also has to include, “You must do this as my employee, because of who WE, as a COMPANY are.” If you fail in that second part, nobody will bother to follow your example – there is no compelling reason for them to do so. They’ll walk all over you and abuse your good nature if you do not require ethical behavior from your employees.

I select clients with good ethics. I won’t work with one that is dishonest or pushes the boundaries of good integrity. I select subcontractors with the same standards. I require that kind of behavior from every person within our business. Good ethics are not just a matter of choice in our business, they are a requirement, and must stay so, or it will cease to have meaning.

I have found that when I do this, many problems fail to develop. I still have to enforce now and again. But I rarely have to do it often, or more than once with any individual. I operate several forums, and I have found that by stating an ethics and integrity policy up front, we weed out all but the most aggressive abusers – and those are detected on their first post, and removed from the group. Others respond to the invitation, respect the requirement, and we have little problem with attracting people with high ethics.

As a leader, it is your responsibility.

Breaking the Hourly Rate Barrier

They make it sound so easy – just create an info-product, or a replicatable product.

The reality is much harder.

The problem is, if you sell services, or products that have to be set up, you lock yourself into an hourly rate barrier – you can only do so much in the hours of the day, and if you have an hourly rate, you cap out when the working hours are filled. You hit the styrofoam ceiling.

So you need to find a way around it. Take on more clients simultaneously, automate part of the process, package a do it yourself version, create informational or training packets, etc.

But doing that creates its own set of issues:

  • You now have to work to create the resources for the automation, package, or informational product. And you don’t get paid for that right away, so if you are already maxed out on time and money, where are you going to fit in product development?
  • Creating each one is a lot more work than it looks like – you have to create the product, the packaging, the marketing, and the instructions. A LOT of work!
  • Selling it isn’t as easy as it sounds either. Everybody and their dog has a training packet or membership site, or something exactly like what you are trying to develop. It takes smart marketing, persistence, and time to get them to sell.
  • You have to differentiate them. Because everybody and their dog has one, yours has to be different, or all the marketing in the world won’t help. Making it different and desirable means you have to approach it creatively. Often more difficult than it sounds.

Still, if you can get it developed in a creative manner, and start marketing it well, there are potentials to use automation to deliver surprisingly sophisticated services, or to assist you in adding an extra layer of personalization to what would otherwise be just another book spread out across a lesson platform, or another dime a dozen training pack.

It is worth considering this early on in your business – then you can begin assembling materials as you go along, instead of having to create them cold when you suddenly realize that the day in which you’ll hit the ceiling is closer than you thought.

The right website can be a huge asset in all of this – both in providing the creative approach, and in delivering it in a unique and effective way. We are learning that just about anything is possible, and for far less than anyone would have ever thought just a year ago.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.