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The Theory of Strategy Entanglement

November 27, 2016
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I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners. Strategy entanglement image

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I am in the process of creating a PDF document called Strategy in Context. It will outline the delayering of strategy. If you think about the complexity of strategy entanglement, it’s almost too much to fathom. So, I’m creating a document that will break down each piece of what I wrote about in this post. But remember, it won’t be linear. Strategy is not a linear process, even though many people think it can be. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.

How many people out there have a specific morning routine that consists of keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your market, your industry, and your competitive landscape? I do! And for those of you in business, you probably do too. Well, what if you could shorten that routine? When I started in the web industry, I knew keeping up to date with the pulse of the technological community was something that just had to be done. Hence, my morning business review! I built something that really helped me shorten the time I spend online listening to the heartbeat of the industry, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

When I moved from freelance and contract web development work to business development, a whole new ballgame took shape. It wasn’t about div’s, stylesheets, includes, and semantic markup anymore; it was about competition, leads, emerging technologies, concepts, and timing. Being seen as the expert was a must, even though the experts were behind the scenes working on the solution. You have to know what’s new, what’s changed, what’s worth taking a look at, and what’s worth talking about. So, what did I do? I started going to good sources to get information. Moz Blog, Mashable, TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and more.

The chaos of a morning routine…

I began by viewing the industry blogs, business reviews, industry leaders’ tweets, Linkedin streams, and so on. But hopping from one source to another online takes time. I would start my morning routine for work before I got into the office. I would get up early, usually at 5am. Drink my morning coffee while watching the morning news. Then I’d hop online and look at these different blogs, go to Twitter and see what people were talking about. As I grew in my craft, I started to look at alternate sources like AMEX Open Forum and Smashing Mag, but I also looked at what agencies were talking about. It was (is) important to know what the competition is up to.

I would go to the gym around 6:30am, get to the office around quarter to 8, then continue with my search. There’s so much information out there for business development people, that it’s exhausting just thinking about which sources to read, to believe, to leverage. It also got to be a lot of running around online. I needed a place where I could bring all these different sources together, compile information, and make that information work for me as I continued to build relationships and sell web projects.

Bringing ideas to life…

So, I had this crazy idea! What if I could build a website that pulls in all the sources I look at in one easy-to-access place? Wouldn’t that shorten the time I spent in the morning? Of course it would! So, I started fleshing it out.

The first thing I did was put up a quick website under the name TheWebward.com – think forward or westward. I used WordPress, the open-source, awesomely easy application to build websites with. Even though I did front-end development, I knew bringing in RSS feeds wasn’t going to be easy, so I looked for a plugin. And I found one—WP RSS Aggregator. It did exactly what I needed it too. I ended up with a little over 50 RSS feeds that I pulled into this website. Then I separated them by pulling them into different pages — Agency, Design, Sales, Strategy, Tech, WordPress, and so on. I had all my blogs and sources in one location, and categorized accordingly.

Screenshot of WP RSS aggregator plugin in dashboard

Check out the WP RSS Aggregator plugin – it’s super easy to pull in the feed, all you need is the feeds URL, and you can choose how many previous articles you want it to pull in. Then use a shortcode to get it to display on the front-end. I ended up doing the past 5 articles because I look at the feeds often, and that was plenty for me!

Screenshot of the Webward.com

All my design RSS feeds pulled into one single page!

Continuing to add more features…

But well-known blogs weren’t the only sources I went to during my morning business review. I also went to social media, company postings, groups, and more. So, I used a few different plugins for this feature:

  1. Easy Twitter Feed Widget — which allows you to display Twitter feeds on your website.
  2. Custom Facebook Feed Plugin — which allows you to display completely customizable Facebook feeds of any public page or group. *Note – it cannot pull in private groups.

Working with these two plugins was super easy. The hard part was working it out with the respective social channels. For the Easy Twitter Feed, I had to go into Twitter and create all the widgets with the person’s (or company’s) Twitter handle to get the Twitter ID, which allowed me to pull the feed into my morning business review website.

Twitter Widgets

Now, I’m sure there’s probably an easier way to do this instead of creating dozens of widgets, but I need to get more familiar with Twitter’s API and their developer documentation (which I’m in the process of doing), so as soon as I come up with a better way to do, I’ll let you know!

It was kind of the same thing with the Facebook groups and pages. FB no longer adds the page/group ID to the end of the URL, so I had to look at the source code for the page, find their ID, and pull it into my morning business review.

Source code for FB group to find group ID

Then it was just adding a shortcode on the back-end page to get a display like this on the front-end:

Facebook Groups on The Webward

And this:

Easy Twitter Feed Widget front-end display

I aptly named this area of TheWebward — The SocialSphere.

The SocialSphere on TheWebward
The SocialSphere

Making my morning business review even better…

For a long time that was what my morning business review consisted of; Daily RSS Feeds and The SocialSphere. But I always thought about how I could make it better. I’m pulling in all this information. Some articles I like and some seem like they’d be super helpful. Others I couldn’t read right way. So, I created a reading list! I use the “Press This” button that comes with WordPress and allows you to capture articles that you want to share. When I find an article that I like or that I think might be useful, I save it. I’ll also put it in one (or two) categories, and attach tags to it like “analytics,” “strategy,” or “mobile.” This helps me class certain articles to fit with certain personas (I’ll explain later!).

The reading list eventually turned into the Article Library which separates interesting and useful articles into different subsections. My train of thought behind this was simple: as a biz dev guy I’m engaged with different types of people (or personas) and they are interested in different things. Some like content, others like education, or marketing tips. But I knew I was going to create personas and eventually attach articles to them to be used as a starter kit for my sales “toolbag” — pretty neat, eh?

Building buyer personas and developing a sales toolbag…

If you’re in business development, then you know what buyer personas are. They are a representation of the types of people you engage with to buy your product or service. Buyer personas list out their demographics, communication preference, major goals, pain points, etc. And this essentially helps you market your message and your sales pitch to them. So, I created a few buyer personas as Custom Post Types, which actually isn’t that difficult to do in WP. I also created custom taxonomies for my buyer personas that reflected the industry they were in, the role that they played, and their affect or emotional mood. Then I used Advanced Custom Fields to add more fields where I could put in their age, location, pain points, challenges, and so on.

How cool is that? Let’s look at the Tech CEO (one of my buyer personas):

Tech CEO Buyer Persona


As you can see all these different fields are on the backend like so:

Back-end Custom Post Type Buyer Persona

I also made a few spots to attach useful PDF’s, articles, and areas of interests (tags) that were already a part of the reading list.

Tech CEO Buyer Persona

If I’m engaged with a Tech CEO and I’m trying build rapport or trust with them, I can always come to my morning business review and pick an article or two they might be interested in. Or if I need talking points, I can just look at the “areas of interest” and choose a topic. It’s really just a way for me to use all the information that I’m pulling in to my website.

This is going to be different for you because we all work in different industries and we all have different buyer personas. But I wanted to show what’s possible when you start fleshing out ideas! WordPress helps because it’s super easy to use and easy to integrate with other mediums.

Adding some good vibes…

Because this was the site that I visited first thing in the morning, I needed to make it feel like home, or be inspirational. I added a big slider with nice images of the sunrise, skylines I like, and more to put me in the right frame of mind. I added an image of a “virtual high-five” to get some daps for when I needed to get pumped-up (fist bump!). Then I also used the Quote of the Day plugin by QuoteTab to pull in a new quote everyday.

Homepage of TheWebward.com
Today’s ‘Good Morning’ Quote!

This gave me inspiration. I pulled in Morning quotes, Happy quotes, Leadership quotes, Motivational quotes, Life quotes, and the list goes on. So, everyday I wake up, I go to TheWebward.com and the homepage consists of inspirational quotes, messages, and sliders that just give me good vibes. Then I hop over to my Daily Feeds page and see what’s new! It’s pretty awesome!

What’s next for my morning business review?

That’s a great question and I have a few avenues I’d like to explore. That’s why I have a Sandbox on the website! But I’ve recently put a calendar (courtesy of The Events Calendar Plugin) on it where I enter in my usually meetups, NIM groups, and WordCamps/DrupalCamps. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to integrate that with the WordPress.com WordCamp calendar. There might me, but I’ll have to do some digging. Here are the big ideas that I have (and in the name of sales):

  • Business Intelligence Engine — I know, sounds fancy, right? Well, it probably is and it may be a little outside my development wheelhouse. But I think it would be really cool to be able to set certain metrics on the site, like pulling in quantitative results and figuring out when the best time to reach out to a certain company would be. I’ll have to do a lot more digging here, but if anyone knows of open-source business intelligence software, give me a shout!
  • Case Studies — I’d eventually like to add a field for Case Studies because these are an oh so important tool in the salesmen’s toolkit!
  • Company Profiles — I’d have to do some research here too, but what’s one of the things biz dev people need? Lists, right? Everyone hates cold-calling, but if I could pull in company profiles and figure a way to attach the people I know to those companies, I might be able to do something with that. I’ll have to look more into LinkedIn’s developer documentation, and other sources like Data.com
Turning a chaotic morning into a well-oil business machine…

Yeah, that’s right! My morning business review, TheWebward.com, really ups my game in keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the technology space! I love it! Without it, I’d still be hopping from one source to another to yet another. It literally cut my morning routine by about half the time. I can spend more time reading articles, developing cool new features, or putting in a little extra time at the gym!

So, if you’re in the business development world, I highly recommend building something like this! It’ll make your job easier and it’ll free up more time for your personal stuff! If you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out! And, if you read the stuff I read, and follow the people I follow, then by all means, use away!

The Many Faces of Business Development

July 9, 2016
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Every time I tell someone what I do, they always reply with the same question — “what exactly is that?” What they’re asking is — what is business development? It’s sales, right? Or it’s about growing a business, right? Well…if you think about it, business development has many different faces. Numerous flocks of people think that biz dev is simply sales. It is not, I assure you. Sales is a part of it, but…not everything! Now if you scour the internet and Google “what is business development” – you’re bound to get different answers on every result you click on.

When you work for a services firm, business development is a process. Now I touch on services agencies because I believe building strategies for business development working for a web services company is different than web products. Why? Because products, often times, are tangible. Not in the sense that you can pick it up and touch it, but there’s a known feature that usually solves a client’s problem. Web services are intangible, and it’s challenging, at times, to get a client to see the value as you would a web product. Therefore, the process of developing business is slightly different.

The business development process is a continual cycle…

Biz dev needs to be cared for, looked after…you can’t wing your business development. Business development is not just sales, it consists of the following:

  1. Service or offering — what do you provide? How do you articulate this? This is why you are in business.
  2. Marketing — letting the world know that you have this service or offering.
  3. Sales — selling your offer and building your client list, as well as expanding on your current client accounts.
  4. Client advocacy & management — being there for your client and delivering what you promised you’d deliver. This helps retain clients and you can use that to your advantage to get more clients. Happy clients make for great references!
  5. Partnerships — teaming up with other firms that are complimentary to yours, not in direct competition.
  6. Networking — going to events, meeting industry people, building a network.
  7. Getting feedback — from your clients, from the prospects that you didn’t close, from your team and yourself.

This is an on-going process, and one that you’ll cycle through and tweak as time goes on, but let’s hop into it and talk about the many faces of business development.

Articulating your offer…

Why would a prospect want your service over another agency’s service? Let’s face it, there are thousands of web agencies out there that probably do exactly what you do. So, how do you differentiate? This is where business development starts. Articulating your offer is the first thing that needs to be done, it is the basis for which we build our business development plan. Now, the offer can (and probably will) 3d stick figure articulating the offerchange as time goes on, but fine-tuning what you already have is the quickest route to success.

Focus is the name of the game. Customers and prospects want an agency that has a deep understanding of one or a few things. Strategy, Web Design, Web Development. If you look at the agencies that have been in business for a while and are thriving (not just surviving), you’ll see that they have focus in one or two areas and companies specifically seek them out to do business with.

Articulating your offer is no easy feat, and for every agency out there, it’s going to be different. What makes you unique? Are they your services, do you have a deep and narrow focus in one area that beats out your competition? Maybe it’s your values? Your crew? Or maybe it’s a vertical that you know inside and out. Whatever it is, you need your audience to have only one response to it — “That’s what you do? I’d love to know more about that.” — Every time you tell someone what you do, you want them to be intrigued enough to ask you questions about it. This gets the conversation going.

I know, this is a tall order, but that’s why you have a team. Get their input, ask them how they articulate what they do. You can also look at the marketplace and how your competition is articulating their offer. My previous agency Oomph “crafts digital experiences with passion and purpose.” 10up, a WordPress digital agency, “makes content management easy, maybe even fun.” The agency my sister works for, Liberty Concepts, they are “building engaged communities and influencing conversations taking place online.” Now, these probably don’t get everyone they reach to say “really, tell me more…” but they do speak to their specific audience. And remember, your offer-articulation will change as time goes on as businesses and markets shift.

Marketing to the world…(or maybe just your users)

Marketing is the next crucial step and one, for a long time, that went overlooked in the business world. Sales was always the front runner, but ever since the dawn of the inbound versus outbound debate, marketing has got its fair shake. Of course, the reality is — is that sales and marketing are two very different disciplines and two very different mindsets. But they do work together, not in opposition like the long cold war it has been of the late (late) 20th century.

Marketing can either aid or handicap your sales team. You can have sales-focused marketing, it behaves as a function to grab those potential customers who are considering whether or not to buy. If you look at an entire client cycle from initial contact to the final launch of a project, you have a progression that goes something like this:

  1. Project idea
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one)
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list)
  4. Get a proposal and presentation
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign
  6. Kickoff the project
  7. Delivery of the project (completed)
  8. Evaluate the end product
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be)

So, with all that in mind and looking at it from the shoes of your customer, what are the things your customer needs from an information standpoint to make solid decisions? What questions will they have? And at each of these stages, what are your customers thinking about?

Customer’s thought-process
  1. Project idea — This is going to be a lot of fun or this is not going to be a lot of fun, either way, how do I get this project started? I need to find a web agency. Where do I look?
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one) — what firms have what I’m looking for? Who do they work with, what do they specialize in? What verticals do they work in?
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list) — which agencies impressed me the most? What case studies would I like to show my boss? Which firm do I get a good vibe from? Have they done really awesome work? Do they have good references?
  4. Get a proposal and presentation — how hard will this process be? What will I need to get them, what will they want from me? Will their proposal/presentation address my challenge?
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign — ugh, contracts! I know they’re necessary, need to get sign-off.
  6. Kickoff the project — what should I expect? Who will they need from my team? What information do I need to put together?
  7. Delivery of the project (completed) — will this go smoothly? Will there be any unforeseen obstacles? Will we get along with everyone, will I like what they build and design for us?
  8. Evaluate the end product — is this what I expected? Do I feel we got our money’s worth?
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be) – the last project went awesome, can’t wait to do it again. Or, the last project was awful, I don’t want to go through this process again.

Answering questions like these will help your sales team close more business. Now, obviously, marketing isn’t all sales-oriented. Marketing is also about brand reputation (which…will ultimately help with sales) that gets people to like you. And these are people that you may not even do business with, but they could become brand fans. And brand fans can be really good for business. They can advocate for your agency or a project you worked on that was super cool. Marketing can always reach a much wider audience than sales, you can use social media channels, automation and other technologies to get your value and brand out to the rest of the world. And remember, people and companies that are interested in buying from you will always research you first online and make assumptions and judgments without even speaking to you first — and that’s why marketing is uber important!

Sales — the cowboys of the business world…

I’ve written a few posts on sales and I’m sure to write more because sales its own special snowflake…and there’s a lot to it. Sales is demanding, very demanding. And if you’re not careful in business development, sales can eat up the majority of your time, because let’s face it — it’s the driver of more revenue. So what should we be focusing on in sales? Good question!

First, you need to look at the marketplace, what choices are out there that a prospect could potential make, what solutions are available to sell? Then you need to get serious about targeting your ideal client, who are they and what position do they hold, what types of companies/organizations do they work for? What problems or pain points can you solve for your customers? Who are your competitors and how might you lose to them?

Then the next step is establishing a sales process or refining the one you have now. You can be a sales cowboy, but even cowboys have a code. Don’t go out there and play things by ear, or ride the bullwanted: sales cowboy until you fall off. Get yourself focused on funneling prospects through a process that progresses the sale. Now, you may be progressing the sale to a ”no” but that’s ok. Rejection happens, but you have a process in place to make progress. The process won’t guarantee that you’ll close business, but it will guarantee that you get the “no’s” out of the way quicker, and get a better understanding of how your getting the “yes’s”

Look at how the sales process naturally goes, something like this:

  1. Lead generation / Prospecting
  2. Qualifying
  3. Scoping
  4. Proposals / Presentations
  5. Negotiations
  6. Contract signing / Closing

What are the things that you need to do in each of these stages in order to progress to the next one? What’s the requirement of each stage, what is the purpose of each stage, which team member will be a part of each stage, and what resources will I use for each stage? I have a table that outlines all these things, see below:

The stages of the buying process and their essentials

Having something outlined like this will help you on a couple different levels. The first one is obvious, it follows the stages of the buying process. When you have a legitimate lead and you know they are going to buy (maybe not from you, but hopefully), then you can progress the sale by getting the prospect to hit the requirement for each stage. The second level is that prospects will come to you at different stages of the buying cycle. They may be dealing with another agency and then something went wrong. Maybe there was a conflict of interest and they went searching for a new agency and found you. But, that prospect has already been though the qualifying stage with another agency and wants to hop right into scoping. Well, you just need to know if they meet the requirement to hop on in to scoping. Use this table as a guide or make your own so you don’t have to think about the next step, you can concentrate on your prospect.

Customer satisfaction and delivering on your promise…

During the sales process, the sales cowboy always makes promises. Make sure those are communicated properly to the project team. If a client is expecting one thing, and the project team doesn’t deliver on it, then that makes for an unhappy client and bad word of mouth. Which, in the world of small business, goes a long way!

Good communication and continuing to build client intimacy and advocacy will have a drastic affect on your customer base. Clients want to feel like they are the only client, so when your account managers or project managers connect with the client, there needs to be cohesion from the sales team. The sales people have been dealing with these customers and then once a sale is made, they hand the customer off to the project team. Make sure there’s continuity there that usually comes in the form of a project handoff meeting between the sales team, PM, and the new client.

But as a business development person, you’ll want to check back in with the client to make sure things are running smoothly, that the client is getting value out of the process and project, and you need to look for more opportunities. Relationships are a huge part of agency business. Don’t be afraid to leverage those relationships, even if that means getting a case study out of it. At the most, you can get more business through other projects within that customer’s company, or good referrals for other organizations that might have a project in mind. When you’re in the midst of a project, the focus is on delivering great work, but you still can’t neglect finding opportunities, or being oblivious to them.

Navigating the world of good partnerships…

There are different types of partnerships out there; formal ones, informal ones, referral partnerships, hand-shake partnerships, ones that have contracts and ones that don’t. The only thing I’d really like to touch on with partnerships is this: In today’s business world and with the ever-growing list of customer needs — partnerships help with being able to give a client a full experience.

Your agency is really good at a few things, right? Like web strategy and design. Another firm specializes in custom web development and the templates you design need to be developed with custom code. That makes for a decent partnership. Where the waters can get muddied is in ownership. Who owns the client? How will meetings be handled? This is all something that you’ll have to work out with the other 3d stick figure partnerships putting puzzle pieces togetheragency to see what the best experience is for the customer. Maybe the customer only wants to deal with one entity. If that’s the case, you can communicate things through from your partner agency.

Partnerships are also good to reach a wider audience for leads. This is why you’ll see many hosting providers like WP Engine, Pantheon, Acquia, etc. have many partners. In essence, they all help each other out. Now, a lot of these bigger hosting companies require that you pay a certain amount of money each year to be a partner. That’s not right for every agency, but it may be right for you, it all depends on revenue, growth, and the ROI you think you’ll get from being a preferred partner.

As a biz dev person, you need to seek out, research, and evaluate different partnerships. Partnerships should add to your business and your partner’s business, they should be mutually beneficial. If they aren’t, then it really isn’t a partnership.

Network…don’t business develop with business development

Networking has been around for a very long time, but they didn’t always call it networking. It’s been called schmoozing, rubbing elbows, social climbing, mingling, and many other names. But networking plays a big role in business development. It’s meeting people, it’s being seen, it’s playing the game.

But there are a few things I want to point out about networking. The first is that it isn’t about the company, it’s about the individual. As a business development professional you attend events to network, but you need to network wisely. When I first started out, I was the guy that would hand out my business card to everyone, and that just doesn’t work. Nobody wants to talk to the guy who wants to talk to everyone.

And when I first started out, I didn’t have much of a network. I only had my friends, and that’s where I started. I asked them to connect me with someone they knew who was in my line of work that I could get advice from. People love giving advice, so go talk to people. Listen to people. When you go to an event, go there to meet one or two people, but make solid connections. Learn what they do, have good networkingconversations, have impactful conversations. Make impactful impressions by making strong connections.

The other thing I want to touch on is the trap of networking. Don’t go out there and attend every event that you can, you’ll get burned out on that, quickly. The thing you’ll notice as you start to go to more networking events is that there are soooo many business development professionals at these events. And most are there because they want to sell something. Pick out the events that are focused on a certain vertical, like say your agency works in the healthcare field. Search for healthcare/digital events — I know you can find plenty. And pick the ones that have an expert speaker in that particular industry. There are usually a lot of industry (remember, healthcare) people there that can either connect you to the right people in there company or are the right people. But you don’t go there to sell them anything. There’s nothing people dislike more than being at an industry event to learn something and a salesman walks up to them to try and earn their business, it’s a turn-off. So, when you’re at these events, listen to what the speakers are saying, learn about the subject, and tell your prospect (or whoever you meet) that you are there because you have an interest in the subject matter. Have organic conversations, don’t push a solution down someone’s throat at an event, it hardly ever works.

Networking is about consistency, the more you go to industry events, the more you’ll be recognized as someone in that community. And then when prospects at those events have a project they need done, if you’ve left a good impression and made an impactful connection, they’ll remember where they put your business card and give you a call.

Feedback improves the process…

I can’t stress the need to get feedback from your clients. It will really help you improve the process. You’ll also want to try and get feedback from the prospects you lost during the sales cycle, that will help you improve your sales process.

With prospects you lost, think about putting together a quick Google form and sending out a survey that has 5 to 10 questions with input fields. It’s hard enough to get people to give you feedback, let alone someone you didn’t sign as a client, so don’t make it too daunting. But if you ask nicely and tell them it would improve your process, many will comply. Certain questions could be:

  • Did you understand the solution we recommended implementing?
  • Was there any part of the process that confused you?
  • What was your favorite part of the process?
  • What did our competitors do better than us?
  • What was the ultimate deciding factor for choosing / not choosing us?

Remember, you can give these to anyone who went through your sales process to better that particular process.

For clients that you did work for, they’ll go through a different feedback review and it should include sitting down with your client to get feedback. Put aside 30 to 45 minutes, a week or so after the project is all finished and review the project. And just listen to their answers. Certain questions could be:

  • How would you say the overall project flow went?
  • Was there any part of the project process that you didn’t like?
  • Do you feel like everything was communicated to you properly?
  • How would you describe your feeling toward the end product?
  • And many more….

And remember, just listen, don’t offer excuses or argue with them, just listen. Get the feedback to the team and the leadership, and tweak the process if it needs tweaking (which…it always will!).

Then, if appropriate, ask for testimonials or case studies. Ask if you can use them as a reference. I can’t point out the importance of having a number of references on hand. When a biz dev guy is in the middle of selling something and the prospect asks for a reference, it’s nice to be able to pull from a pool of happy clients. And then also, look for future opportunities. Communicate with your clients after the project is finished, check in with them and keep that relationship strong.

Wrapping up business development…

Let’s cycle back to the beginning, what is business development? Well, it’s all of these things — you’ll wear the marketing face, the sales face, networking and partnership face, and the customer advocacy face, all the while trying to articulate your offer just right and getting feedback throughout the process.

If you look up the exact definition of business development, it probably goes something like this:

The process of experiencing growth through acquiring more profitable clients and expanding existing customer accounts.

– which, if you think about it, encompasses many things, many faces. Business development is a discipline and one that should be given the proper time to work for your agency. Believe me, it will take time. The role of business development is a jack of all trades, but still a master of one. Kudos to all the biz dev people out there — the unsung heroes of the business world!

Performing Keyword Research

June 27, 2016
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Google only loves you when everyone else does.

I forget who said it, but it’s true, Google takes notice when everyone starts to love you. SEO has been around ever since search engine rank pages (SERPs) have gotten more and more competitive. And as the world wide web continues to scale, I imagine seeing results off of your SEO efforts will become harder and harder to recognize. The reason I’m interested in SEO is because it’s kind of like a game of chess. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at it or how much you sweet-talk it, good SEO is a long and strategic game. And good SEO implementation always starts with one thing — research. Specifically, keyword research.

Keyword research is the foundation to any good SEO campaign. Now for those of you new to the tech world and SEO, it stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a methodology of strategies, techniques, and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to your website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results of a SERP. You don’t have to be born of royal blood to have good SEO, you don’t need to be the daughter of a hip-hop mogul; you just need to outsmart the competition.

Search terms to search for…

To start, you’ll want to have a keyword in mind. A keyword that you’ll want your website or your web page/post to rank for. Let’s start with an easy example:

My father blogs about wine at TheWitIsOut.com and he wants to rank for terms like “red wine” and “best wine” — only issue is that these search terms are extremely hard to rank for. Why? Because they are considered ‘head’ terms or terms that are most frequently searched which usually carries with it some steep competition. But head terms can also be ambiguous and not as relevant as other terms. When deciding what keywords you’d like your site to rank for, you want to look at 3 different areas:

  1. Relevance: the keyword needs to accurately reflect the nature of your product, services, or offerings
  2. Volume: the number of searches per month for a particular keyword
  3. Competition: the number of websites or web pages competing for a particular keyword or search term

Ideally, you’d like to find a keyword or search term that has a high number of searches (volume) and a low number of competing websites (competition), and is highly pertinent to your offering (relevance) — if we can just find that keyword, we’ll be all set – LOL!

Tools for searching for search terms…

Although SEO can be a bit of trial and error because search engines (and their algorithms) constantly change, Google does offer some really cool tools to aid in our keyword research. Remember earlier when I talked about head terms and how they are the more frequent terms that are searched. Keywords like ‘red wine,’ ‘car’ and ‘Mac’ – Well, there are also terms called long-tail terms, these are the terms that we’ll be looking at.

Head vs. Long-tail

  • ‘red wine’ —— ‘2003 red wine cabernet’
  • ‘car’ —— ‘2013 Hyundai Accent’
  • ‘Mac’ —— ‘ used Macbook Pro’

Just a few examples – but we can test all these examples for volume and competition with a little tool called the Keyword Planner. Now, you’ll need to sign up for an account with Google Adwords, but don’t fret, you don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to. The thing that we’re interested in are the tools.

The Keyword Planner will ask you where you’d like to start, and just click on the “search for new keywords” which will pop open a form that looks like this:

Keyword Planner form

Now, if you’ll notice at the top you can enter in certain phrases or keywords. You can also select a product category. Or target a certain region or state or city, and you can change filters to show only closely related keywords or broadly related keywords. Let’s type in ‘red wine’ and see what comes back.

Keyword Planner results for 'red wine' search term

 

As you can see, the average monthly search is about 110k searches. In the graph, we can see that December is the month with the most searches (most likely because of the holiday season) and surprisingly the competition is only at a medium right now, not high! So, that’s interesting. But it does give us a number of other keyword ideas that could potentially help in our SEO efforts.

Keyword Planner keyword research ideas

The Keyword Planner suggests different keywords for us. Look at the first one in the list ‘best red wine’ – this one has got a lot of volume (which is good), but it’s also got a boat ton of competition (which is not so good!). But let’s go down to ‘types of red wine’ – this volume is also pretty high at 12k average monthly searches, but the competition is pretty low. You can download this list into an Excel or Google sheet to get more accurate information. Let’s do that.

Keyword Planner Google Sheet keyword research

As you can see, we get a complete list of recommended search terms and actual numbers to go with their competition, not just a level of high, medium, or low. Now if we look at ‘types of red wine’ we’ll see that the average monthly searches is still at 12k, but the competition is .04 – that’s super low! Super low! So, before you go and use this as your keyword, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your user (or the searcher). Would this search term be good for my dad to use on his blog? I’m not quite sure yet. I always get a little weary when the search term seems relevant and there’s a high number of searches (volume), but the competition is really low. So let’s dive deeper.

My dad blogs about wine; wineries, vintage wine, wine reviews, wine ratings and the like. His ideal visitor is someone who is interested in wine and wants to get good recommendations, but also someone who is just starting to get interested in wine—the novice wine taster. If you put yourself in the shoes of the person searching for ‘types of red wine’ what do you think they are looking for? Probably types of red wine – lol! But the issue is this — we don’t know their intent. Maybe they are searching for types of red wine because they want to buy some, or maybe they just want to learn what types of red wine are out there. If you look at the next search term down ‘benefits of red wine’ – it’s the same thing (high volume, low competition) but my guess is that people searching for that term are concerned about the dietary or health aspects of wine. But still, it could be a good term to try and rank for if you have a wine blog. Either way, I think both of those would be good for my father’s site.

Another tool you can use is Google Trends. Google Trends will show you how often a particular search term is entered and compare it to search volume across various regions of the world and will compare it to different search terms as well. One thing I like to do is singular vs. plural. In the example ‘types of red wine’ we can see if the keyword phrase ‘type of red wine’ is searched more often. Let’s take a look:

Google Trends comparison

As we can see, ‘types of red wine’ are searched more often than ‘type of red wine’ — so I think it’s safe to say that we can go with ‘types of red wine’ as our keyword phrase.

Keyword distribution…

You’ll want to distribute your keywords appropriately across your website and the easiest way to do that is in a spreadsheet. Ugh, not another spreadsheet! Yup! Map out your entire site and list these categories:

  • Pages
  • Keywords
  • URLs
  • Titles (preferably under 65 characters)
  • Meta-descriptions (preferably under 65 characters) – these don’t so much help with SEO anymore, but they will help with your click-thru rate. And being under 65 characters, you can be sure the search engine won’t truncate any of the text that’s viewed to the user
  • H1’s (the biggest header on your page or post)

You can populate a spreadsheet with your existing content, this’ll make it easy to spot duplicates. Search engines want unique and relevant information. Unique and relevant…

Things to remember with keyword research…

Remember, you have to look at the keyword attributes of relevance, volume, and competition. Relevant keywords are much more likely to drive conversions on your site, than ones that are broadly related. Volume is the number of average monthly searches and you can find this using Google Adwords Keyword Planner, as well as the competition, which is the number of other sites trying to rank or compete for the same keyword phrase. You can download the Keyword Planner results to a spreadsheet which give you a much better reflection of the competition in numeric results.

The other thing you need to remember is that SEO is an on-going process. It’s a long and strategic game. So, you need to evaluate your SEO and keyword research continually. The industry changes constantly, the market changes constantly, the competition changes constantly. You need to be able to adapt to the change as well, so evaluate your keywords on a quarterly basis, see if traffic or conversions on your site are going up or down and re-adjust. More to come on the topic of SEO.

The Frustration with Website Security

May 1, 2016
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People just expect their websites to be secure!

People just expect their sites to be safe, and I’ll admit, I did for the longest time too! But that’s a far cry from reality and one that’s hard to sell.

I work for Sucuri, one of the best website security companies on the market today (probably the best – and yes, I am biased!). But I sell web products to agencies and enterprise level clients. It’s not so difficult to sell them on our products. Sucuri’s products, they just work and very well at that! What I need to sell people on is website security as a whole, which is much more difficult than you may realize.

Let me break things down.

There are all these moving pieces to the web, correct? Yes, there are. Even more so at a granular level when you look at company’s servers or hosting environments, file structures and setups, their clients and others who have access to these sites, the sites themselves and all their vulnerabilities. Not to mention the hackers, who rarely leave a trace and rarely get caught and rarely get punished for it.

Let’s start with different environments. There’s a great analogy I use for shared hosting, VPS, and dedicated accounts.

  1. Shared hosting – this, essentially, means that you are sharing resources with everyone else in that environment, like CPU time or memory space. It’s like living in an apartment complex and sharing the pool, laundry, and parking lot with your neighbors. You still have your own place, but if the laundry is tied up, you’ve got to wait!
  2. VPS (Virtual Private Server) – this is like living in a condo, because you’re still sharing resources that are outside of your condo, like parking space, but you’re ultimately responsible for things inside your condo. So, in a VPS environment, there are still shared resources, but portions of those resources are dedicated to each individual VPS.
  3. Dedicated server – this is like owning your own home. You’re responsible for the upkeep, but you also have access to all the resources, and no one shares them with you.

So, this is a very simplified version of server environments. Nowadays, people use the term ‘server’ and the term ‘hosting’ in somewhat the same way. Years ago, when someone said we host internally, it usually meant that they had physical servers inside their offices where they would manage them and actually host their sites on those servers. And for those of you who don’t know, a server is just a computer, with a little different hardware on it (even though, a desktop computer could run a server) – I know, confusing!!!

Hosting is done by a number of different providers like WP Engine, 1and1, GoDaddy, Pantheon, and so on. They have the hardware and resources to handle many different types of platforms (or a specific one), and they also make things easy for people to manage their environments through something called a C-Panel or Control Panel. It’ll give you access to your domains (if you’ve pointed them from your registrar or used the hosting company to buy the domain) and let you change the directory path and DNS settings, things like that.

Now with most servers, there will be server-level firewalls set up with the infrastructure, but that means that it’ll still let in web traffic, which is what we need a lot of protection from. Port 80 (HTTP) and port 443 (HTTPS) traffic can let in a lot of different activity (good and bad).  This is how your visitors reach your site, through one of those two ports depending on whether or not you have an SSL certificate. So, there are many different ways a website can get compromised.

  • Software vulnerabilities
  • XSS (Cross-site scripting)
  • Backdoor Injections
  • SQL Injections
  • SEO Spam
  • DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Attacks
  • Brute Force Attempts

And the list goes on…and on…and on…

But you have to be aware of this stuff, and keep in mind that a lot of these attacks are automated. Some may be done manually by a bored teenager sitting at home in front of his computer. But for the most part, they’re automated attacks. And keep in mind there are attacks of opportunity (which we are all susceptible to) and targeted attacks, which are usually for the bigger brands and companies, but make no mistake if you engage in controversial content on your website (like religion or politics), you can very well be targeted too!

There are a few different reasons why someone would want to attack your site or gain access to it. It’s not just money, but that can be part of it.

  1. Revenue – and I’m not talking about people trying to steal credit card info (although, that happens all the time), but if you don’t do anything with e-commerce, hackers can still profit off of your website. Imagine a hacker injects your site with malware and then your mom visits your website. She unwittingly downloads something that your site told her to download (because she trusts you and what you put on your website) and then four hours later she has no money in her bank account. BOOM!! Oops… That’s what I’m talking about. And there’s also SEO spam. Hackers who use your site to redirect traffic to their pages to make money by inserting links, or keyword stuff your site (which will send your rankings through the floor – and it’s hard to recover from) to get better rankings in the short term and make money off of your audience.
  2. Resources – this is another big one. Maybe the hackers don’t want money, but they may want your resources. Things like bandwidth or CPU. They can build a network off of your system and lease it to others. Now hackers can take your resources and use them to attack other unknowing parties, without YOU (the website owner) even realizing it. Scary, right??
  3. Lulz – yup, that’s right, lulz!! What is that you ask? Well…it’s just for the hell of it! Fuck it, let’s try it! I want to see if I can do this. Again, it could be some bored teenager just sitting around chatting on the security forums. Someone tells them about a tool to drop scripts in a website via a contact form, and they want to see if they can do it and gain access. Then once they do, who knows what could happen!! Be careful of this, because this is really hard to mitigate against. Get a WAF (website application firewall).

We have to be careful of things like Ransomware (holding a website owner’s site hostage) or Cyber CrimeMalvertisements (malicious ads) and there’s no one right way to do this. It really starts with education, so if you’re reading this post, kudos!

Some thoughts on general security

In order to keep your site (and your visitors) safe, you’ll need to explore general website security. Starting with monitoring and a firewall. Sucuri offers an awesome monitor/firewall package, our Website Security Stack. But if you can’t afford that, then look at all the free stuff out there.

You can use our Sitecheck to see if there is malware on your site. But keep in mind this only scans remotely, it can’t check the database.

You can learn how to harden WordPress. Which is basically locking a few things down like access, having containment, certain configurations.

Or you can take a look at OWASP and ModSecurity – which are open source and free to use, you just have to configure the firewall yourself, and that can get confusing!!

The Frustration of Website Security

And this is the frustration of website security—is that there is no 100% solution out there. I don’t think there ever will be! Ever! The reality is is that the landscape of websites and their environments change so frequently that once a solution had been produced, hackers have already found a solution of their own to beat it. And that’s the continual cycle.

So educate yourself and the people around you. If you own a website, you not only have a responsibility to it, but to your audience, and the web in general.

More to come on this topic…..

 

Top 5 TV Show List – The 1990’s

April 27, 2016
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A new series on my favorite TV shows, aww yeah!!

*Disclaimer: Friends will not be on this list*

Hahahaha – I can’t stop laughing!! Why didn’t I think of this sooner! I’m not sure, I guess my first love has always been movies. What you can’t wrap up in an hour and a half, shouldn’t be filmed, ya know? Wrong!! There are some really great TV shows that I remember growing up. They carried me through my childhood, were my best friends, also my worst enemies, and at times my most non-judgmental babysitter. They are my top 5 TV shows – The 90’s – yup, that’s right!

MUPPET BABIES, 1984-1991
Muppet Babies!

But let me clarify – I’m going to call out TV shows between the years 1990 and 1999 with a grace period of 2 years – because let’s face it…if I do shows pre-1988, well…I was 7 (and younger), I’d most likely reference shows like Thundercats, He-man, and the Muppet Babies. Which, mind you, were all great TV shows, but maybe that’s a post for another day—my Top 5 TV Show List – The Toddler Years.

So, moving on to the list! And let me start by saying there were some real contenders here. My So-Called Life, Dawson’s Creek, The Wonder Years, Party of Five, Martin, Quantum Leap, the list goes on. I had to dig deep, way back to the fringes of my pop-cultured subconscious to come up with this list. Read on, my friends, and prosper. Let the journey begin.

Drum roll…..please….no particular order.

The Top 5 TV Shows:

The 1990’s
  1. Seinfeld (1989-1998): Could you not see this coming? Well, you should have! It’s a show about nothing, so how could it not be the best? Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Some of the most sincere people I ever had the pleasure of watching from the outside. I mean, these guys are really pitiful. They complain, they nitpick, they can’t settle down, they push kids and old ladies out of the way when the kitchen’s on fire. They are, in essence, all of us…..well, maybe that’s harsh. But they’re most of us, and man are they right on!seinfeld crewSo – here is the whole crew, in their own craziness, but by God, I love them. Each and everyone of them! For those of you who don’t know, they all end up in prison for one year for violating the Good Samaritan law (they taped a fat guy getting robbed by another guy with his hand in his pocket, while making fun of the guy who was getting robbed). Seinfeld, hands down, one of the best TV sitcoms ever!
  2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1991 – 1995): ….In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days…I pulled up to a house about 7 or 8 and I yelled to the cabbie “yo, holmes, smell ya later..” Man, I could sing that song all day. And I did…and it drove my mom crazy! But here was a show that caught me right between my adolescence and early teenage years. I wanted to be Will, I was in love with Hilary, Uncle Phil was cool in his own way. There were two Aunt Vivian’s, which I always thought was weird, but that wasn’t really the focal point, was it? No! It was Carlton, the whitest white person ever! Just kiddin’! Overall, this show was full of laughter and joy and comedy. But there were some serious ones. Like the episode when Will got shot and Carlton started packing, but it was still kinda funny! Also the episode where Will’s dad comes back and then doesn’t take him on the road trip. I think this has been classified as one of the saddest Fresh Prince scenes ever!
    But it was still a great TV show, great show! And I’ll still haven’t stopped singing the theme song!
  3. The X-Files (1993 – who knows): The X-FilesDo—doo—do—doo—do—dooo (*insert whistling). Scully and Mulder are so hot right now! Yeah, buddy! I always knew they would bring this show back. It was just too good to let go. Aliens, the supernatural, El Chupacabra, more aliens, weird stuff, more weird stuff, this show was (is) awesome! With a capital AWE!! On every episode some mystical, unexplainable thing would take place, it would usually start with a murder or an abduction – Fox would come up some crazy theory on how it actually happened (and he’d be right!), then Scully would defunct it with her own scientific train of thought (which would be bullshit!). Now, on top of the cool, mysterious episodes there was this overarching storyline of Mulder’s sister who was abducted by aliens, but….well now that I think of it, I can’t remember what happened. There was a guy who smoked a lot, I know that! Ah… who cares—cause it’s back now! Sah-weet!!!
  4. Home Improvement (1991 – 1999): Tim “The Toolman” Taylor and his grunt (Ooo, oough, ough) was the only reason to watch this show because, let’s face it, he was a man’s man! Tim has Tim "The Toolman" Taylor and Alhis own home improvement show within the sitcom. Kind of like a show within a show. He would try to fix things, break stuff, and then Al would come to the rescue! Al was cool too, but in a square kinda way. And Mr. Wilson (I think his name was Wilson Wilson) who would solve all of Tim’s problems, but we would never see his face! And there was Jill, played by Patricia Richardson, she was an intelligent woman and we have no idea what she was doing with Tim (well…that’s not true, he was the man and he had his own show called “Tool Time”). The show dealt with all types of issues especially surrounding the 3 children. I stopped watching this show like halfway through the series because I got to a point where I feel like I out grew it, but from about 91 to 95, I totally dug it! And I think it won some awards, like Golden Globes. I wonder where the kids are now!
  5. Ally McBeal (1997 – 2002): I watched this show in my high school years, there was something other worldly about this show. Something…special. It was out there, if you know what I mean? Ally, she was this young lawyer working at the Boston law firm, Cage and Fish. On her first day of work she finds out that she’ll be working with her ex-boyfriend (who she’s still in love with) and that he has a fiancé who is also a lawyer! Oh boy!! But there was weird stuff going on in this TV show like a unisex bathroom (weird, right?), Ally fainting when she met people, the fantasy sequences, and then the endless romance and dating of everyone in the firm, man!! But when I was 17, I loved it! Absolutely loved it, and then in walks Lucy Liu – and I still love her, to this very day (can’t get enough of Elementary). Ling Woo was apparently not only a breakout role for Liu, but it signified the beginning of a strong Asian woman in television, so that’s cool!Cast of Ally McBealEither way, the show was enjoyable to watch and different than anything I had seen on TV up until that point. If you haven’t had a chance to check this show out, see if Netflix is streaming it!

So, all in all, those are the top 5 TV shows I remember from the 90’s. You may not like anyone of these, and that’s okay! Some of you may like every single one of them, and that’s okay too! But, on another note, it was difficult to whittle down this list, so I think this will be a series like I said in the beginning. Greatest TV shows – The Toddler Years. Top TV shows on Netflix streaming, etc. – I can do a lot there!

Peace out!

 

 

The Cost of Doing Business with a Web Agency

March 3, 2016
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I got asked a really great question last weekend and figure I would expand on it in a blog post. The question was “what’s the difference between a $2,500 project/website and a $15,000 project/website?” This, believe it or not, is one of the most probing questions I’ve ever been asked. Hence, the need to write a blog post on it.

So…what is the difference?

I’ll tell you as I see it, and I want to preface this by saying, my word is not absolute. This is completely my opinion and my thoughts that stem from the experiences I have working at a small agency and a larger one. The smaller agency charged anywhere from $2k – $20k per project and the larger agency charged anywhere from $50k – $250k per project. I would love to say that the difference is level of effort, but that’s not necessarily true. I think what we have to do first, is look at the variances of what we’re talking about. There are many, many variances in agency types or tiers, types of projects or websites, and variances within those projects.

So what kind of an agency is right for your business, what are the pro’s and con’s of each?

Types of Agencies

In the design and development world there are all types of designers and developers ranging from freelancers to mega-web agencies, small design shops to professional engineering firms. There are marketing agencies, social media agencies, and SEO agencies. For the sake of this post, I’m going to concentrate on the different types of website design/development agencies, the ones that do strategy, design, and development. This will be mostly for people or companies looking to get a website designed and built.

  1. Freelancers: These are the hardest ones to put in a category, because like agencies, freelancers can range a great deal. There are the novice freelancers, many of them do projects for next to nothing, sometimes they actually charge nothing. They’re just starting out and want to grow their portfolios. But then, there are other freelancers out there who are phenomenal. Usually these freelancers are expensive and don’t take on many projects because their plate is already full. You can usually find freelancers ranging from the novice to the expert on sites like Upwork or Elance, just make sure to check out their ratings and reviews.
    • Advantages: One person owns the project from start to finish (not being shuffled between people); Almost always less expensive than agencies; Can usually get the job done very quickly
    • Disadvantages: One person owns the project from start to finish (so, stability could be an issue depending on the freelancer), if they run into a speed bump that could mean the end of the project; Skill set is usually limited to one area like development or design, not both — unless you find that unicorn freelancer, they are out there!
  2. Small ‘Everywhere’ Web Agency (2 – 10 employees): These agencies are very common and popping up everywhere (hence, the ‘everywhere’), and like freelancers, they can range a great deal. Most small web agencies don’t have a focus in terms of industry. They’ll work with a lot of companies ranging from lawyers to restaurants to local businesses. The owners often times act as project/account managers and the staff is limited in their experience. That’s not to say that these agencies aren’t good, there are good ones out there, but they mostly do simple marketing redesigns, blogs, and brochure-style websites.
    • Advantages: Prices can range, but usually it’s within a small businesses’ budget. Often times you can get redesigns done for $2k to $10k; These agencies are friendly and will treat you like family, and they’ll go the extra mile to keep you as a client.
    • Disadvantages: They sometimes use templates for design, so you’ll see many clients that have the same navigation bar or search box style; Sometimes they’ll modify themes instead of making custom ones; And often times they don’t have an in-depth process when it comes to the strategy surrounding the project.
  3. Boutique Web Agency (5 – 25 employees): These agencies are the ones that usually have sharp focus in a niche industry, like “we only work with non-profits,” which makes them really great in that one (or two ) specific vertical(s). Their process is somewhat refined and they have a small team. They usually have top-tier talent (one or two rockstars) and project or account managers. They work with medium-sized business and most likely have a few enterprise level clients.
    • Advantages: Focused verticals, know the specific industry inside and out; Refined strategy processes; Top-tier development and/or design talent; Most likely have good project management skills
    • Disadvantages: They have small teams that are most likely working on a number of different projects; May push out the start date depending on workload; Often times rely on the top-tier talent to take the bulk of the projects
  4. Professional Web Firm (25 – 75 employees): These firms are the ones that have focus in a few different industries and market themselves that way, but they’ll also push their own boundaries and take on projects outside their industries (not all the time!). They usually have a sales department (or sales guy) and marketing team. They’ll have dedicated project teams and a handful of project managers. They’ll also have a solid leadership team to motivate and corral the team members when needed. They have processes set in place and incrementally improve them. They consider strategy a big part of the web game and use it to deliver solid projects. They have full day discovery workshops and probably do user testing to confirm hypotheses. They work with big companies and enterprise brands, but still have a few small to medium businesses that they got when they were starting out.
    • Advantages: Custom work, you’ll get a unique website that’s built for your users (hopefully!); There will be an outlined process; Roles and responsibilities will be defined; Strategic thinkers that will use data to make informed decisions; Will assign a dedicated project manager; Top-tier talent
    • Disadvantages: They’re expensive; And they’re not the quickest on project timelines, they plan and plan, and that takes time; Often times they overload their team because of client demands
  5. Mega Web Agency (100+ employees): These are the large agencies that take on a number of different verticals, they almost always have distributed teams and work on some really big projects. They’ll have every type of agency person including user experience designers, digital strategists, marketers, software engineers, strategy partners, and a large leadership team with dozens of years of combined experience. They usually don’t take on projects for less than $250k (I know some that start at $500k or even above!). They work with brand names (think Google) and they’ll do mostly (if not only) custom work.
    • Advantages: Super custom work tailored to your users; Strategy will be the biggest part of the project; They’ll usually work in sprints and test at the end of each sprint to verify concepts and prototypes; Quality Assurance will be meticulous
    • Disadvantages: You need to be a huge company to work with these guys, because they are expensive; There might be a waiting list to work with them; There will most likely be a number of people in on the project at different phases/stages of the project, so you’ll meet new people constantly

What about agencies with 75 to 100 employees?

Good question! Well, this is by no means a complete list. I’ve noticed the farther I go in web services (or just web in general) there are soooo many types of agencies out there. There’s also the Digital Body Shop which usually has anywhere from 50 – 100 employees, and they do a bunch of different projects in different verticals and work with a myriad of industries.

Just remember, this stems from my own experiences and the people I’ve talked with.

Let’s get into project type and what their average costs are with the different agencies.

Types of Projects / Types of Websites

Like agencies, there are definitely a myriad of different projects and websites that can be created, designed, and built. Some are simple, and some are super complex. So, I’ll list out the most common projects most people are likely to encounter and most agencies and/or freelancers would take on. To limit things (because this is already a long post!!), I’m going to just do pricing for the 3 web agencies in the middle: Small Agency, Boutique Agency, and Professional Agency. Please keep in mind, these are averages (prices all depend on the scope) and can realistically range from $1,000 to millions!

  1. Blog: This is perhaps the simplest type of site which mainly consists of a content management system (like WordPress) and updated content coming out on a regular basis.
    • Price:
      • Small: $1,000 – $5,000
      • Boutique: $3,000 – $15,000
      • Professional: $10,000 – $35,000
  2. Microsites: These can be deceiving. Just the term ‘microsite’ sounds small, but I assure you they can be the opposite of that! Microsites are usually when a company wants to promote an event or showcase a certain branch or department of their company. Often times there is video or images, CTA’s (calls-to-action) prompting the user to do something like signup for a service or check out certain resources. They can be cool ways to get more awareness.
    • Price:
      • Small: $2,000 – $8,000
      • Boutique: $5,000 – $25,000
      • Professional: $25,000 – $75,000
  3. Marketing Site: These are called different things, sometimes Informational sites, or Brochure-style sites, but essentially these sites just market your company or cause or whatever! They can be a little trickier than blogs because often times they require implementation of ad-serving, email newsletters, videos, or image galleries. I’ve seen these sites range anywhere from $5,000 to $80k, depending on what’s involved with them.
    • Price:
      • Small: $2,000 – $10,000
      • Boutique: $10,000 – $50,000
      • Professional: $35,000 – $100,000
  4. Site/Application Build: These are a little trickier to price because they almost always involve doing some type of integration with another system. Like integrating with a booking engine or an events registration system. These builds can be complex and should be handled by top-tier talent. Be careful to go with a price that’s too low (there is such a thing!) because they should be priced accordingly – they are hard projects to work on!
    • Price:
      • Small: $8,000 – $20,000
      • Boutique: $35,000 – $120,000
      • Professional: $75,000 – $250,000
  5. Membership Portals / Member-Based Sites: These can be fun projects and if done right can come out really well. With WordPress there are some default membership properties like Editor, Author, Subscriber, etc. But a good agency can do almost anything with these and other CMS’s, like Drupal, let you customize your user roles. But because the needs of a client can vary a great deal depending on what they want their membership site experience to be like can determine how much the project will cost.
    • Price:
      • Small: $5,000 – $25,000
      • Boutique: $30,000 – $150,000
      • Professional: $75,000 – $300,000
  6. Ongoing Support: Obviously this all depends on the size/scope/scale of your digital property and what your needs are, but usually prices start at the following amounts.
    • Price:
      • Small: starting at $100 per month
      • Boutique: starting at $500 per month
      • Professional: starting at $1,000 per month

Again, this is not a complete list. There really are multiple (sometimes endless) types of sites that you could potentially do. You could also have a hybrid of sites, like a Microsite within a Membership-Based Site, oh the possibilities!!

I guess that’s what I like about the web, the possibilities, they are endless!

But I hope this sheds a little light on what types of agencies are out there, what they typically charge for web projects, and what to expect from them if you ever need their services.

So, to answer the original question, I’m not sure what the difference between a $2,500 website and a $15,000 website is. I would say there are different types of agencies that price projects out differently depending on their market size, location, and client type. But with that being said, I really hope that a $100,000 project from a professional agency comes out better than a $10,000 project from a small agency,  but I tell people it’s like buying a car – “You can get a Hyundai Accent for $15k and you could get a Lamborghini for $250k (is the Lambo better? Maybe..) but they’ll both get you from point A to point B!”

The Wonderful World of Hacking

February 9, 2016
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I’ve always been fascinated by hackers ever since I saw the movie Hackers, which I now know does NOT accurately portray what being a hacker consists of. Hackers are an interesting bunch. Why? Because their reasons for doing what they do can vary the full length of the spectrum.

Let me explain

Back before computer systems and the internet got to be wildly popular, the term “hacker” was used to embody the tinkerers of software or electronic systems. These hackers enjoyed learning (and exploring) all they could about computers and the way they operated. In the beginning, hacker was a term that was used to describe a person who was really awesome at working with computers.

Now…it’s taken on a slightly different and somewhat complex meaning.

When you hear the term hacker, you automatically think of someone who tries to gain entry to a website or system to do something malicious, whether that be stealing information, defacing a website, etc. The term hacker now refers to someone who maliciously breaks into systems for personal gain. But the key phrase within that sentence is personal gain. What is personal gain? Well…it could be just about anything.

SOME OF THE REASONS WHY HACKERS HACK:
  1. Profit – this could be money or this could be web traffic.
  2. Notoriety – some hackers like to hack for the esteem it brings them in the hacking community.
  3. Hacktivism – hackers try to disseminate political or social messages and campaigns to raise awareness surrounding a certain issue or issues.
  4. Hobby – others do it because they want to see what they can break into, how hard it is, and so on.
  5. Because they can – yup, some do it just because they can.

Now, just like hackers hack for varied reasons, there are also several types of hackers out there and their motivations are varied as well.

TYPES OF HACKERS:
  1. Script Kiddies – these hackers are considered (in the hacking world) to be novices. They take advantage of hacker tools and upload scripts to different places (often times, without knowing what that script will do or how damaging it’ll be) for the fun of it. Hence the name, Script kiddies.
  2. Hackers for Hire – these hackers are the mercenaries of the cyber world. People will enlist their services for money.
  3. Cyberterrorists – usually they attack government networks or power/utility grids. These hackers will crash systems and steal government top secrets (aliens, UFO’s, stuff like that!). Very dangerous hackers, very dangerous!
  4. Criminal Hackers – often a part of an organization of hackers, they are very skilled in breaking into systems (often times, without a trace) and either stealing credit card info or personal identification information.
  5. Security Researchers – these guys are the good guys, the ones who find flaws in companies and organizations’ systems and bring them to light without causing harm. They’re also the ones who develop the tools to use against malicious hackers.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the different categories of hackers, they can all be described by colors. I know, pretty cool, huh?

CATEGORIES OF HACKERS:
  1. White Hat Hacker — the good guys!
  2. Black Hat Hacker — the bad guys!
  3. Grey Hat Hacker — kinda the in-betweeners, sometimes for good, other times, not so much.
  4. Blue Hat Hacker — the ones who get paid to uncover vulnerabilities (I feel like these guys should be called the green hat hackers, but that’s just me).

So, now that you have an idea of what types of hackers are out there, and before we get into what types of security threats are out there, let’s take a look at why it’s getting increasingly easier to hack systems and websites.

  • Networks, nowadays, are extremely widespread and we are all connected
  • Lots of hacking tools available
  • Many and many wifi networks that are open
  • Applications have complex codebases
  • Generations of our kids are getting super smart when it comes to computers
  • Anonymity

There are sooo many things that people should be concerned with if they are on the internet, have a website that they manage, pay for products online, or have personal identifiable information online.computer keyboard If you don’t participate in any of the preceding things, then you are a hermit and stop reading this post. Ha!

But hacking happens every single day. Every. Single. Day. Every. Single. Hour. Wrap your head around that! It does happen and if you have not been hacked, then you’re lucky, but it will eventually happen to you unless you take proper action, which I’ll write about in an upcoming post. But (and this list is by no means complete) here are different ways hackers can mess with you or your systems.

TYPES OF ATTACKS:
  1. Brute Force – these attacks are when a hacker keeps on trying to gain access to your login credentials on any number of password protected sites, by continually trying different password combinations. Almost like a guy trying to break down your door. When ramming his foot into it doesn’t work, he’ll try a battering ram, when that doesn’t work, maybe he’ll try to pick the lock. Hence, brute force. These happen on my WordPress sites everyday.
  2. DoS / DDoS – ahh, the infamous Denial of Service or Distributed Denial of Service. This is an attack that’s designed to flood a website or network with traffic overload to render it inoperable. The group Anonymous (which is a network of hackers that primarily hack to bring certain issues to light) is well-known for a series of public DDoS attacks. Interesting group and I would never want to do anything to upset them, that’s for sure!
  3. SQL Injection – SQL stands for Structured Query Language, which is used for communicating with databases. The injections are attacks that “inject” (obviously) malicious code into a database to gain access to that database.
  4. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) – this is a vulnerability which allows hackers to insert client-side (meaning executed by a user’s web browser) scripts into pages on a website or application. Then they can go on and do anything malicious or see certain activity, etc.
  5. Cross-Site Contamination – this is when hackers gain access to a “secure” site by infiltrating it from a site that’s not secure, but on the same server. We see this a lot when people have outdated CMS installs on the same server they have the updated ones on.
  6. Phishing Emails – have you ever gotten an email asking you to update your profile on Facebook, but it looks a little off? That’s because it probably is! Phishing emails are exactly that, they’re when hackers are fishing for information. You’ll get an email that looks a lot like it came from Facebook (the good phishing emails are the ones where you can’t tell the difference) asking you to put in your password or personal information. Hackers are able to log what you do on these sites/emails, so don’t ever click anything in an email unless you absolutely trust the source, but even then you can’t be 100%, be careful!
  7. Social Engineering – this is a method many hackers use that relies on interacting with humans. It’s basically getting a person to be relaxed enough to offer up information they normally wouldn’t give out. So, if you’re ever on the phone with someone (a person you don’t know, like someone claiming to be from the post office or some other government agency) and they ask you what your mother’s maiden name is, don’t give it out unless you are absolutely positive you’re speaking to the proper person.

Again, this is by no means a complete list, but these are some of the common things hackers will try. The best way to protect yourself is by getting a service like Sucuri’s AntiVirus or Firewall plans, making sure to keep your systems updated, and by being informed. Make yourself aware when you’re online and be cognizant of what you are clicking on and activity in general. And luckily, you won’t be another statistic of getting hacked!

Honorable Mentions: More Good Movies

January 31, 2016
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As you all may know, I am a huge fan of movies. From comedies to dramas, action flicks to super scary horror flicks, RomComs to film noir, documentaries to featured box-office motion pictures. I wrote a post on my Top 5 Movies of all time, which readers seemed to like. So, I promised to do an encore of the honorable mentions. I’ve given this some serious thought, went back through my movie mind rolodex and came out with some good ones that didn’t quite break the top 5 spots, but came just outside.

And the award goes to…

  1. Scent of a Woman: Hoo-hah! This unique drama unfolds in one of the greatest cities in the world — New York. But it starts in New Hampshire at an all-boys boarding school known as ‘The Baird School’ — super prestigious for young-uns to attend. Especially Charlie (played by Chris O’Donnell way before NCIS: Los Angeles), because Charlie is unlike the other boys and actually needs to find himself work over the Thanksgiving break and in walks Al Pacino.Scent-of-a-Woman-1992-Tango-scent-of-a-woman-3350187-600-900 One of his finest performances—he won an oscar for this role—Lt. Colonel Frank Slade. He’s not a nice guy, he’s totally blind, likes to drink Jack Daniels, loves woman, and is on a mission to kill himself. I know, kinda morbid, right? Throughout the movie the two become intertwined, each teaching the other something different. They go on “a tour, of sorts.” But all in all, Charlie shows the Colonel a different side of life and Frank teaches Charlie about life! There are a few really awesome scenes in this move: The Tango Dance, Driving a Lamborghini, Frank’s brother’s Thanksgiving dinner, and the end scene when the Colonel sticks up for Charlie at his school hearing.

    “If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a flamethrower to this place!”

    If you haven’t seen it, watch it, you’ll like it!

  2. Candyman: I have been on a mission since I can remember to find that one horror flick that really scares the sh!t out of me. Needless to say, I have yet to find one, but this next honorable mention comes super close. Candyman.. Candyman.. Candyman.. Candyman… not gonna say it again! This is a borderline B-movie, but it’s creepily eerie and fantastically frightening. It’s based in Chicago in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. This educated woman (played by Virginia Madsen) is doing a thesis on urban myths and legends (go figure) and she’s heard of the Candyman. As the movie goes on we learn that Candyman was a black artist, in love with a white woman, and was lynched because of it. He has a hook for a hand, a deep dark voice, and he’s followed by bees. candyman-hookThey call him Candyman because of the way he was lynched. Apparently, his killers spread honey on him and he was stung by a boat ton of bees, not a good way to go!! So, he wreaks havoc on anyone who doubts his existence, and obviously, there’s plenty of those people. Oh yeah, and the score for this film just adds to the eeriness, the music is like this orchestral deep string symphony, it’s super freaky! You want a good scare – watch Candyman. But don’t say his name 5 times in a mirror….because he’ll get you too!
  3. Groundhog Day: Bill Murray at his finest, I mean, really! His. Finest.

    “Ok, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties cause it’s cooold out there today.”

    There are soooo many good lines in this movie. Mostly all of them are spoken by Bill Murray. And the concept of the movie is just whimsical. Imagine living the same day over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. I don’t know if that would be completely awesome or completely awful.Bill Murray - Groundhog Day But Phil (Bill Murray) starts the movie off as kind of a dick. He’s a reporter and people don’t really like him in person. Then he travels to Pawxatuney, Philadelphia (I think it’s a fake place, but I could be wrong) where he covers the ‘Groundhog seeing his shadow’ story. The only problem is, he wakes up day after day to the same day. “What if there is no tomorrow, there wasn’t one today.” Then, in true Murray fashion, he finally realizes that he’s been a dick and changes. He lives the day as best he can, but after a bunch a days where he tries all this hilarious stuff. Comedy ensues, he kidnaps a groundhog, and then finally falls in love. And finally moves on from Groundhog Day.

  4. Full Metal Jacket: This is actually the first R-rated movie I ever saw! I remember thinking “wow, there sure are a lot of swears in this movie,” but man, what a flick! I don’t think this list would be compete without having a military movie in the mix. Full Metal Jacket is about the nitty gritty Marine training bootcamp and then the subsequent Vietnam War. It was pretty gruesome. The Marines pick on this one soldier (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) aptly named Sergeant Pyle. FullMetalJacketHe’s not carrying his weight and they throw him a ‘shower’ party, which is where the take soap wrapped in their socks, wrap him in a blanket so he can’t get up, and beat him senseless with the soap. There are really two acts to this movie. One, the bootcamp part. I think it gives a really accurate glimpse of what bootcamp was like in the 60’s. The Drill Sergeant (played by R. Lee Ermey) was phenomenal. He really captures the essence of the world’s most badass drill sergeant. And then Sergeant Pyle offs him with his Full. Metal. Jacket. Then he offs himself, which is hard-core to watch! Then there’s the Vietnam War (Act Two) which follows Joker (one of the other soldiers) on his journey through Vietnam. It’s a pretty long movie, but if you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend that you do! It’s well worth the watch.
  5. The Never-Ending Story: This is a story within a story. This movie actually starts off with a little boy named Bastian, he’s running from his bullying classmates and hides in a bookstore. There’s an old man with a really old looking book. He tells Bastian that it’s magical
    Never Ending Story Book
    Really old looking book

    and not to take it, but the kid takes it anyway. He hides up in an attic and starts reading, the neverending story begins. It’s about Atreyu, a warrior, in a far off fantasy world that’s run by a princess. The ‘Nothingness’ is destroying everything there, eating it up and spitting it out. So, Atreyu, along with this horse—Artax, they try to defeat the Nothingness through a long journey to the heart of it. They meet all these different characters and creatures. There’s a flying dragon—Falcor, sneezing giant turtles, the swamps of sadness, and this crazy scary wolf that embodies the Nothingness. Atreyu and the Wolf duke it out in the end. But the princess needs Bastian’s (coming full circle) help. Obviously, he helps. Then that cool dragon comes to “the real world” and scares off Bastian’s classmates. I loved this movie when I was a kid, love it! And if you haven’t checked it out, you’re never too old to watch it. That’s why it’s called ‘never-ending.’

There are many many more movies that belong in this list, but to make it more manageable for me, I’ll have to segment in groups of five. I think that’s fair!

Anyways, hope you enjoyed the breakdown of my honorable mentions. There will definitely be more to come.

Reflection of Two Thousand Fifteen

December 28, 2015
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At last, those pensive and pondering days between the joyous perpetuated giving of Christmas and the long-anticipated celebration of New Years is here. It’s those few days of the year that seem to slow and people start to search inward, outward, and every which way they can. Maybe it’s because of the cherished time spent with family or the apprehension of having to choose (and stick with) a resolution, but the week between these two festive holidays is a subjective span of soul-searching and self-analysis. It’s time for the masses to re-examine life, love, career, health, passion, and overall purpose – and I am no exception.

Last year, my Reflection of Two Thousand Fourteen post, getting over 100 views (which, for those in tech, is a tiny spec of traffic in the blogging world), seemed to be well-received. So, being a couple of years into the tech/web industry and still continuing to learn and grow, I wanted to share my thoughts. “We are standing on the precipice of a whole new precipice” (props to those who know what movie line that is!), but it’s time for my reflection of two thousand fifteen, and let me tell you – a lot can happen in a year!

I’ll start with business, industries, verticals and all that jazz….

Being in the business of tech opens you up to a realm of possibilities. The very essence of technology is possibility. If you think about the great things technology has enabled like connecting doctors with patients and teachers to students, digitizing records and activities for faster and more streamlined processes, being able to check the weather or traffic conditions before you actually go outside – technology has improved most peoples’ lives. And obviously, there are negative affects of technology, like the lack of social bonds and social skills, poor sleep habits, cyberspace bullying, etc. – but I believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. All in all, I’ve compiled a few business lessons I’ve learned over the last year.

BUSINESS LESSONS OF 2015…

  1. Know your audience
    • Whether you’re selling a product (analytics tools, firewall, etc.) or web services (redesigns, migrations, etc.), you absolutely need to know WHO you are selling to. Create user personas—fictionalized character representations of your target audience members so you know how to market your product or service. It will allow you to concentrate on the right types of consumers.
  2. A ‘yes’ doesn’t mean yes all the time, it can mean ‘maybe,’ ‘not now,’ or even ‘no’
    • Maybe a better way to say this is that contracts equal a ‘yes’! I have had people tell me that they can’t wait to do business with me, but then never sign the contract. So, I’ve learned not to celebrate a win until the contracts are signed. Bottom line—nothing is guaranteed until contracts are signed. And even then things could change…
  3. Be clear on scope
    • For those in tech, you know what scope is. For those who don’t know, the scope of a project is determining what features, functions, and deliverables will be included in that project . Usually written in an SOW (Statement of Work or Scope of Work), it states that the agency will perform the following activities and/or tasks and XYZ will get done. When it comes to things like systems integrations, website redesigns, or site builds, you have to be very clear on what you will actually do – be specific to the point of overkill. The clearer you are on scope, the happier the PM’s will be. The happier the PM’s are, the healthier the project will likely be. The healthier the project….well…you get the point.
  4. One person can do a lot, but a team can do more
    • I’ve always been a self-starter. And if I can be completely honest, I absolutely hated group projects in college. My theory was that I could probably do it better if I did it myself. In business, there’s a different train of thought and it’s around disciplines. You’re very good at one (or a few) things, another person on your team is great at something else..and so on. Pooling your resources and working with your team results in better quality deliverables. So, embrace your strengths and embrace the strengths of others, you’ll produce better stuff!
  5. Value, value, value 
    • And I’m not talking about a value proposition. In fact, I hate the term value proposition! It makes me want to vomit, seriously! I’m talking about actual value. If you get an inquiry from a prospect and they’re asking for a migration to Magento (and that’s not something you do), refer them to someone else. This is called value relevancy; make sure your services or product is relevant to your prospects’ needs. Value perception is the value that your prospect perceives they’re going to get from you—make sure this is accurate as well. You can do that through something called: value diagnosis. Work with your prospect to diagnose their problem and if your service or product can solve their problem, your diagnosis will have value, if done correctly (which is a whole other post that I’ll write in 2016!).
  6. Sales is like chess
    • Everyone thinks they can play, many know the basics, but few are really phenomenal at it. Top salesmen are considered masters. It takes a certain type of person to do sales, specifically tech sales. Why? Because tech sales is an enduring and strategic game. My average sales cycle is about two months. It takes a while to get people to sign on with you, especially in web services. There’s qualifying and vetting on both sides. Then there’s the lengthy, grueling challenge of trying to outbid, outsmart, and outplay your competitors. Sales people have to be decisive yet patient, crafty yet sophisticated, and the industry continues to evolve. I’m not saying I’m a top salesman (I’m not), but I’m better than a lot and I can work my way around a chess board without getting beat in three moves. It takes a lifetime to master this profession….as it does chess.
  7. Business relationships are built on trust
    • Successful business relationships are built on trust. They usually start with a connection—like “I know this guy who can help if you need your website redesigned, I’ll introduce you to him.” But then it buds and blossoms because we (myself and my company) build trust. Big companies and organizations usually hire their web vendors because they’ve met someone in that company that they have begun to trust. They stay with those companies because that trust grows and increases. And it’s not built on one phone call, it may start there, but it’s continually constructing a relationship predicated on confidence, reliance, and certainty. It’s pretty straight forward—do what you promise you’ll do (rinse and repeat), communicate clearly, and always have your clients best interest in mind.
  8. “Talk the talk” even if you can’t “walk the walk”
    • In the world of open source technology, there are many different roles ranging from coders to biz dev guys, designers to engineers, marketers, and so on. And obviously knowing your discipline is good, right? Right! But being able to talk in all disciplines in the “native” tongue, will get you farther than you think. I go to a lot of these open source tech conferences and I meet all types and I can talk to all types. I may not know how to write a recursive function, but I know what one is. I may not be able to move the needle on revenue through search visibility, but I can comment with some sympathetic banter to showcase my comprehension. Take the time to learn the language, but understand it good enough to use it in an analogy, because it can backfire and you’ll end up looking like a fool. I’m still not sure what a fizzbang algorithm is!!

Continuing with other lessons, some essential, some…not so much.

This year has probably been one of the most exhilarating years of my life (even though I know I said this last year), but things are going really well. I still have an awesome job/career. My family still loves me (and likes to have me around) and I feel like I’ve made a lot more friends. I’m involved in the community and a member of the Young Leaders Circle (YLC), which is a young professionals group of the United Way of Rhode Island. We volunteer and organize some really great events. I’m an advisory board member for Newport Interactive Marketers (NIM), a 1000+ group of small business owners, agency people, and solo-preneurs. And I’ve spoken at a number of events and conferences on sales and solutions consulting. It’s been a good year, so here’s a few of the things I’ve learned that relate more to life than to business, but they’re not mutually exclusive.

NON-BUSINESS LESSONS OF 2015…

  1. Sitting is the new smoking
    • If you sit behind a desk for your job (for 8+ hours a day), it doesn’t matter how much you exercise, you are living a sedentary lifestyle. That is not healthy!! I recently got myself a standup desk, which took about a week to get used to, but my back feels better and I’m not hunching over anymore. I’m thinking about getting a treadmill desk, I’ve heard good things!
  2. Meditation is cool
    • Over the summer, I went on this silent 3 day retreat with my sister. It was, to say the least, interesting and, to say the most, very very difficult to sit with myself and be consumed by my thoughts. We’re too dependent on technology and we need breaks. Treat yourself to yourself. I get into the office super early and I do walking meditation (because just sitting there sucks!) before I take on my day. It’s calming and makes you aware, which is important in life. I wrote a post about that experience here.
  3. Get involved with your community
    • Go be a part of something. I don’t really care what it is (as long as you’re not hurting anybody), it could be a community center, the Red Cross, YMCA, whatever. If you are fortunate enough to have a job where you can live alone and support yourself, then you’re already doing better than half the people out there. So, go get involved in your community. And I’m not saying to donate money, but you can definitely donate your time and your knowledge. In my opinion, those two things are more valuable than money and there are people out there who will appreciate both. Give it a try, it’ll make you feel good! Which kind of leads into my next lesson, which surrounds money…
  4. Money isn’t an indicator of success
    • I pretty much knew this before this year, but throughout this last year especially, I’ve met a lot of different people. Some who have a boat ton of money and others who don’t. And what I’ve noticed is that people who are doing the things that get them closer to their goals are projecting (to me, at least) that they’re more successful. I don’t think success is wealth of money, but wealth of accomplishment. And obviously, accomplishment can vary from person to person. This leads me into my next lesson…
  5. Write down your goals
    • This is something I used to do a long long time ago and have recently started doing it again this past year. Write down your goals, it can be anything. You want to learn a new language, jot it down. You want to become a black belt, put it on paper. Then, go through them and start numbering them to see which ones you can get done quickly, which ones might take a year, or five, and so on. You can get closer to your goals if they are visually in front of your face.
  6. They’ve done away with Generation Y
    • Seriously, this really bothered me!! Apparently, the generation experts call Generation Y Millennials. That’s horse crap! I’m a GenY-er, have been most of my life, but I guess they have done away with Generation Y and it goes from Generation X straight to Millennials. I wrote a post on this too – Xennials – because I do not identify with being a GenX-er or a Millennial. I know many of you feel the same!
  7. Feed your happy health

    • Yes, I coined this phrase (I think…). It’s not being happy with your health (although, that’s definitely important). Happy Health is the state of being free from worry, sadness, stress, and self-doubt. Find yours and feed it! I used to play music to make me happy. I lost that for awhile, but now I have a guitar in my office and I play when I need a good dose of happy health. Try not to lose or forget the things that make you happy. And visit those things once a day if only for a short while.
  8. It’s never hard to make the right decision
    • For those of you who know me, you know I haven’t always made the right decisions. But over this last year, I’ve realized you don’t have to be talked into making the right ones, you just kinda know which one is the right decision. I like to call them adult decisions. When I started making adult decisions, my life got easier, way way easier.

That about sums it up for this year…

I hope you’ve found something in here that you can relate to or learn from because the way I view it is we are all in this together. We might be on separate paths and we might never run into each other, but we’re here all the same.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year—I’ll leave you with a quote:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” — Neil Gaiman

GO DO SOMETHING!! And enjoy 2016!!

Peace!