Monthly Archives: January 2009

Answering My Associate’s Question

She’s launching a new service (quite a good one actually). She wanted to know if she should set a cap on how many she would take on. Each client pays $25 per month for a specific service. This was my answer to her:

No, do not set a cap, but do some planning instead:

It is good to figure out how many you can handle, BUT… beyond that, your task is not to LIMIT it, but to figure out what would be needed at the next level.

  • At what point would you need help?
  • What things could you systemize to speed up and thereby increase the workload? This is the first resort usually because it is free, just takes smarts.
  • What things could you automate? This is the second option if it costs to do it, first if it can be done without additional cost.
  • What would you outsource? This entails a breakdown of the tasks involved in the whole service, and figuring out which ones you WANT to do, which ones you COULD outsource easily, etc. Remember, outsourcing is the THIRD choice!
  • Whom would you outsource to?
  • How much could you afford to pay them per task, and still profit?

It is good to do some calculations on that now, so that you know what your direction is when you get there, and so that you can start laying groundwork for this as you get 10, then 20, then 30 clients.

If you want to grow your business, as my associate does, then planning when you outline a new service, can help you know where it can go, and help you avoid overwhelming yourself at a later point. You’ll know when you need to adjust, and HOW you need to adjust, so that growth happens more smoothly and service delivery continues consistently.

Norwex Sites Go Public

This past fall, a delightful lady from Canada contacted us about creating “replicated websites” for her downline. We told her we could do much better than that, and provide them with a site they could make changes to themselves, so they’d get indexed by the search engines. We moved forward, and have since sold several of the sites to her downline.

The sites are now going public – so anybody can purchase one if they are a Norwex rep. We provide custom design and help with the most technical parts of the site personalization, so we don’t do as much for the sites as we do for a full site build. That keeps the pricing lower than our normal websites.

We’ve felt pretty good about this, because it was an opportunity to do something we’d known we could do for a long time, but finding the right client was difficult. Our programmer is finishing the auto-install script for them, which will make the process even faster for us, and keep the pricing stable for the site owners.

This has been one of those pivotal contracts for our business. One that has opened all kinds of doors, and has caused me to think about business differently. It laid the groundwork for our Kit websites, and for our franchise. Before this, I didn’t really have a good concept in my head of the kind of value and training we coudl provide with our franchise, or whether we could offer work referrals. With this project rolling forward, all of those things became clear, and possible.

It has also got me thinking differently about coding our own solutions, and customizing existing solutions. There are more possiblities now, and they are more affordable because our resources are more fluid.

Often, when an opportunity presents, we don’t see at the time where it can take us. This one felt like a good thing, and I knew it was a key to growth. But I could not have predicted the way in which it would open my mind, and how it would change our business to open up more possibilities that I had not yet thought of, or thought possible. Thing is, I had this kind of contract partially thought out three years ago. Then I put the final pieces together about a year ago. It took time after that for it to bear fruit, but when it did, the payoff was well worth the wait. I find that many things that we do are that way. It takes a good deal of time to bring them to a point where they pay, but it is worth it when they do. Often the benefits are broad spread and unexpectedly good.

From that, I encourage you to stick to it. Keep working on the details until you get it right. Move on to other things, but keep it open and alive in the background if it does not yield results right away. Often some things just take time to “ferment”, and when they do, the results are incredible.

Details about the sites are in the sidebar, under the Downline Sites website link.

What it REALLY Means to Think Outside the Box

There is some misunderstanding of this concept. Recently I have heard two people condemn the phrase, one calling it “silly”, another calling it “dangerous”. These people will never be innovators or true entrepreneurs, because they have completely missed the point, and changed the meaning from what it really is.

When you think outside the box, it does not mean you do not apply common sense, or that you do not abide by necessary limitations that affect safety or legality.

It simply means that you do not let preconceived ideas, or the “rules” imposed by other people, which do NOT apply, constrain you from thinking creatively.

We do that… We assume that because 90% of people in the US send their kids to public school, and because we have done it that way for generations, that somehow it must be better. We assume that if the SBA teaches people to start a business and tells them that they have to have heaps of money to do it, and that they must have a business plan that conforms to bank requirements in order to get that funding, that this is how it must be done. We think that if we have been taught to do things a certain way, that we must do it that way, even when that way may not make sense for our particular situation.

Innovators and true entrepreneurs are not held back by limitations that do NOT affect safety or legality. They are able to see beyond the preconceived ideas and methods that others are constrained by.

In the web world, things are done on an enterprise scale, and taught for that scale, and nobody ever really stops to think that they simply do not scale well for small business, or how different the needs might be. They assume that you must do this, you must do that, and if you do not, that your website won’t perform. They do not stop to think that on a micro-scale, the things they require won’t make ANY difference at all, but will increase costs, and that perhaps they should be done at a later time when it WILL matter. Our “out of the box” thinking was to simply analyze those factors, and make decisions based on reality instead of assumption or dogma.

That is all it means to Think Outside the Box. To approach things from a new direction, and to consider new ideas in a productive way.

If you intend to go somewhere new, you can’t do it by following other people. You take the wisdom of others and learn from it, then you formulate a new plan that still fits the wisdom, but which does not incorporate the ideas that do not apply just because everyone else does it that way. If you want to LEAD, you have to get out ahead and try something nobody else is doing. If you want to succeed at it, you cannot compromise known safety or legality factors, the things you risk are just yourself.

It isn’t silly, and it isn’t dangerous. It is bold, and the path to true success.

Communication Deal Breakers

We’ve had very few dissatisfied clients. That isn’t bragging, just a fact. We’ve had three that have come to a point of non-workability. In every case, the same issue was at the heart of the dissatisfaction. I felt them going south long before the client complained.

The issue was poor communication. Many of our clients are not really good at emailing, but they’ll at least give us enough info to go forward with, and the job gets done. These three could not communicate at all.

  • If we asked for information, they would not give it until we had asked multiple times, if at all.
  • If we asked for an opinion on a design, they’d say, “oh, that isn’t right.” And they’d offer nothing more helpful than that, leaving us stabbing in the dark for a new direction in spite of pointed questions which were never answered.
  • When instructions or explanations of processes were given to them, they were simply ignored. Explanations would be given in simple terms one day, and complaints lodged the following day about the same thing that was explained the day before.
  • They typically wanted things in a hurry, but did not want to communicate the needed information until the deadline had passed, and then they’d wonder why we didn’t have it done within hours of when they turned in days worth of work. Explanations of how much time things took were misinterpreted or ignored.

I’ve learned to recognize some of them ahead of time, but sometimes I fail to spot them until we are a few tasks in. By that time we have enough invested that we have to try to at least make it work until the initial contract is done. Somewhere along in there you can see it coming though, the meltdown from which there is no recovery.

I’ve also learned that when things reach a certain point, a quick refund is the best solution. Fault ceases to mean anything, and it is worth letting it go just to move on and not have to worry about which thing will go wrong next because of inadequate info or lack of clarity in instructions.

There are other types of problem clients – some waste your time, some do not know what they want, others expect far more than they have paid for. But I’d take any one of them and make it work before I’ll knowingly choose to work with a client who refuses to communicate required information and then blames for not getting what they want.

It always leaves me feeling down. I always look for something I could have done better, something I should have done to prevent it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a webmaster, and apologized to a lot of clients. These three are the ones that I gave more than could have ever been reasonably expected, and still could not rescuse from disaster. I think it is because I gave so much that I felt so discouraged when it did not help. And while I am on the alert for this kind of client, and prefer to avoid them now, I would do the same again if I discover that I’m in the middle of another – I’d still give everything I felt I could to try to salvage it, even knowing it probably would not work.

Because the one thing worse than having a client leave through no fault of your own, is having a client leave while you wonder whether there was something more you could have done. I get past it a lot faster when I know that I did my absolute best.

How to Make People Think You Are a Coding Genius

A friend of ours is a Perl coder. He said that much of the time, he gets calls when something isn’t working, and the person on the other end of the line says, “There’s an error, it says there is a problem on line (number) in file (filepath)”. He goes in, fixes the problem that the error message told him to fix, and they think he is brilliant.

I’ve run into the same thing. Problem is, I am NOT a coder. I’m not even close! But I have learned that there are some simple rules that can make me do a lot of things in code. I just pay attention to a few things:

1. Patterns. Code is like a puzzle, and there are patterns to it. If something doesn’t fit a pattern, it may be the source of a problem.

2. Error messages often state exactly what the problem is, and where it is. Ok, so some error messages are a bit cryptic, but usually, if you look around, and apply the pattern rule, you can find something out of whack. Browser error messages often tell you precisely where to look for the problem also, but sometimes you have to load it in a different browser to see a helpful message – different browsers spit out different messages when they encounter a problem, and some are more useful than others.

3. Spelling errors count. Code likes things a certain way. Misspellings in either the code language, or in file names, will make things not work.

The funny thing is, if I tell someone I’m not a coding genius, and they come to me with a problem, and I fix it, they think I am. I can’t write code to save my life. But I can run software pretty well.

Troubleshooting anything is like that. Once you understand the patterns of normality, you can recognize what isn’t normal, and fix it. People who like solving puzzles or mysteries are sometimes very good at troubleshooting because the elements are the same – look for what doesn’t fit, and follow the trail until you find the origination of the problem.

I used to think you had to be a genius for people to appreciate your skills. Not so. You just have to be able to get results. You don’t have to know everything to get results. You just have to know enough to track down the problem, and return it to the state it was in before the problem occurred.

But I must confess, having people think you are a genius is sort of fun!

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.