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Year-End Review

Reflection of Two Thousand Sixteen

December 31, 2016
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It’s that slow and steady haul right before the first of the year where Father Time swoops in and swallows yet another year. His beard a lick longer, his scythe a bit sharper, his hourglass tipping with that final and futile droplet of sand. The old relinquishes its title to the new. And that finishing sun sets its last declining ray…as we all fade against the backdrop of a year less forgotten.

F*@K!! That’s depressing!!

Cheer up, yo! It’s a new dawn and time for my year-end review—Reflection of Two Thousand Sixteen—where I try to capture lessons learned about life, business, tech, and all that goodie good stuff! For the 3rd year running, here is my reflection of this particular year—2016.

Quick Reflection of Twenty-Sixteen

Being somewhat introspective and also extrospective (pretty sure that’s a word), I realize this year didn’t go well for a lot of people. There were definitely some ups-and-downs, rights-and-lefts, holy-shits and WTF’s, goddams and oh-no’s, haha’s, hehe’s and Aha’s. Just a mangled mesh of mashable moments…ya know?

We lost some cool people like Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman. But I think it’s safe to say we probably gained some cool people too. America has a new president, and for all of you who don’t know my political views, I can’t say I’m jumping up and down with excitement about this one. But, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel…then again, there might not. Brexit happened. Yup…that happened. Not much to say there except I feel like this has been year of exclusion and inclusion.

Exclusion. The word by itself is not negative, nor is it positive. But when you couple it with algorithms and social feeds, it can be downright scary. Inclusion. The word by itself doesn’t reflect good or bad. It’s only when you attach another filter or variable to it that these words start to take shape.

Context is Everything

If there’s only one lesson I want you to learn that spans life, business, and tech, it’s this… context shapes everything. Whatever that thing may be.

There’s been a big push in the tech space for context aware design. Mobile phones have had context-aware computing for a few years now. Smartphones can sort of adapt to their environments and act accordingly. Humans have built context-aware computing because we know it’s important.

Context doesn’t only shape everything, it is everything. Without it, we couldn’t communicate with each other, we couldn’t sense things. So be aware of it. It’s not that hard to do. Just listen to yourself, your environment, and those around you…and act accordingly. Please.

Lessons Learned

Breaking from tradition with my prior years’ reflections, I’m lumping both business and life lessons together. Usually I break them out into two separate categories, but I feel this year has been a roller coaster of lessons that can be equally applied to both life and business.

  1. TALK TO STRANGERS:
    • I listened to an awesome TED Talk about talking to strangers. Disrupt peoples’ lives (in a positive way) and your life might be disrupted too…again, in a positive way! That cute girl that works at the local pet store – say hi! That old man that you sit next to at the bus stop – give him a high-five. That guy at the gym that smiles as you walk by, ask him what he does for a living. The older we get, the less people we interact with – and that just sucks! So go talk to people you don’t know, and maybe you’ll find your next best friend! Or your next big sale because you just ran into John Doe-see-dough on the train and he’s looking for a solid web guy.
  2. LISTEN TO YOUR GUT:
    • I’m not sure how to articulate this, but you know that funny feeling you get sometimes and thentiny buddha you go and do the thing you felt funny about anyway. Yeah, that. Stop doing that. Listen to your gut. I know it’s hard to do because our minds are saying “well, it can’t be that bad” or “no, no this is on the up and up.” Your gut is a wise tiny buddha, and it sits with all the crappy shit you do anyway (e.g. eating gluten, drinking Bulleit Rye) and it still looks out for you. So, respect it and start giving it a little recognition.
  3. DO THAT ONE THING:
    • I’m not going to sit here and give you a big speech about how you should do all the things you want to do because…let’s face it…I don’t do the stuff I want to do. Not all the time, at least. But go do that ONE thing you want to do. Maybe it’s take a trip to the Motherland, or parachute out of a single-engine Cessna, or learn how to speak Japanese fluently. I’ve always wanted to start a podcast. Guess what, I’m doing that one thing! And it feels phenomenal. When you don’t do at least something for yourself, then what have you really got? A life lived for others…and that’s not cool!
  4. DON’T PANIC:
    • It’s taken me a while to learn this lesson, but seriously, don’t panic. Maybe a better way to put this is to just stay calm. Things are hard enough already without you pushing the panic button, so when you do it’s like an overloading explosion of franticness. No one wants to be around that. When faced with a tough situation in your personal life or professional one, respond to it, don’t react. When you let things sit, even for just a couple of seconds, you let your mind process things properly. You can see different angles. You also might be able to see the “other-side” that we are always so blind to.
  5. IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS, MAN!:
    • What do you think you’ll be thinking about when you’re on your deathbed? Morbid question, right? I know, but I still give this one thought from time to time and this is the reality: all that really matters are the relationships you have, that’s it. No big secret there. If you have people you care about and who care about you, you’re doing pretty well! Sure…work can matter, projects can matter, but not as much as your relationships. Be in them, explore them, be kind to them, hell…scrutinize them, make sure they right for you. Life is so much better with awesome relationships. Be there for your people and don’t forget to say I love you.
  6. CHOOSE INCLUSION AND EXCLUSION:
    • Going back to what I was talking about earlier, this year has been a year of inclusion and exclusion. I choose to include myself in cool communities like YLC, NIM, and WordPress because they’re filled with good people and we discuss topics I care about. I also choose to exclude myself from being around naysayers, elitists, or pessimistic people. I choose to not live in my social media bubble all the time because I know it feeds me more of “the same” than diversifying content. Choose exclusion or inclusion, just make sure it’s good for you.

In the right context, anyone can shine. And in the wrong context, anyone of us could falter. Choose your groups, your friends, and your relationships wisely. Ask yourself if you want to thrive, be challenged, and feel good about yourself. Or not?

I guess I kinda knew all these things anyway, but for some reason these lessons were amplified this year. Just remember, context is everything. You can help it or you can hurt it. You can neglect it or you can learn from it. You can choose to make a difference in your life and in the lives of others. You can choose to run your life, you can choose to feed your relationships. The operative phrase is “you can choose.”

Wrapping up 2016

If this wasn’t your year, then forget about it. Or take the things you want to take and realize that tomorrow is a new day, a new month, and yes…a whole new year.

I’ll leave you as I do every year…with an inspirational quote. I sincerely hope 2017 is your year!

“Let this coming year be better than all the others. Vow to do some of the things you have always wanted to do but could not find the time. Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. Vow not to make a promise you do not think you can keep. Walk tall, and smile more. You will look 10 years younger. Do not be afraid to say, I love you. Say it again. They are the sweetest words in the world.” – Ann Landers

2017 new year

If you’re interested in seeing the progression, feel free to check out my Reflection of 2015 or my Reflection of 2014 posts.

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!

Well, it’s the end of the year! We are all heading into 2015 and, hopefully with some reinvigorated purpose of ourselves and our lives!

I’d like to take this time to kind of reflect on this past year, where I was and where I am now. I’m proud to say it’s been one of the best years of my life! I work for an incredible company, I have a wonderful family, great friends, and I’m still constantly learning.  I think I’ve learned more in this past year than I have my entire four years of high school – sad, isn’t it? Over the last year I did a lot of freelance, worked for a small web agency and now work for a big web agency. I’ve got a pretty good idea on how much certain web projects cost and how long things should take. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over this last year, the good, the bad, the whole bunch!

Lessons-Learned-GreenChalkboard

Business lessons learned this past year:

  1. In order to have successful projects, a company needs project managers
    • There is no two ways about this, someone managing clients and the team need to be between those two entities. A good PM can handle several different projects at once while simultaneously communicating to both the client and the developers. A great PM can do all that plus still find time to teach, luckily, I have a few at my company!
  2. SEO and Analytics is on everyone’s mind
    • In the world of web and everything digital, it pays to know about SEO and Analytics – Google Analytics, WebTrends, ChartBeat, Moz Tools, etc. One can make good money having certifications/knowledge in these areas. Take a little time just to learn the basics and you’ll thank yourself. Knowing about this stuff has been a great sales tool as well!
  3. It’s better to say you don’t know than to lie, especially to a client
    • This just sets you and your company up for failure. If you tell a client you have a developer that can do something (like build something you’re not sure your developer can build) and then you can’t deliver, that’s a huge problem. If a client asks you about some technology you’ve never heard of, it’s better to say “I’m not sure” than to B.S. It’ll make you look smarter in the long run.
  4. Enterprise level companies follow their own set of rules
    • If you’re lucky enough to be in the arena of premium brand names and deal with them on a daily/weekly/or even
      Crazy Bananamonthly basis, then you should be familiar with this. Whether it’s invoicing at certain times or special terminology, each enterprise brings its own bag of crazy – which, honestly, isn’t that difficult to navigate and can be fun half of the time.
  5. Qualify correctly
    • This can make all the difference and save a hell of a lot of time. Ask prospects questions – right questions. Like what their process is for vendor selection and get budgets/timelines/business objectives. The more you do this, the easier it’ll get. The deeper you dig with a prospect is the best way to find out what they need and if you can provide it for them.
  6. Proposals take time
    • The first proposal I wrote in response to an RFP I received wasn’t that great, but the more I learned the better I got. Now I write some pretty awesome proposals, but they’re still difficult and they probably always will be. Why? Because each RFP or project you come into contact with will be different. Some will be similar, but no two are exactly the same. We aren’t the type of company that just churns out proposals, we take the time to write them correctly. I spend a minimum of 40 hours putting together the correct solution to a web challenge.
  7. Tech is easy, business is hard
    • In the words of the great DM (you know who you are), “tech is easy, business is hard.” Tech is the easy part, any company can hire a digital agency to do the WordPress install or build a plugin. It’s the business part that’s challenging. Strategy is an integral part of any digital agency, so hiring developers are great, but you also need strategists.

Now onto non-business lessons learned this past year

  1. Take pride in doing things right
    • This does relate to business, but there are many opportunities to cut corners. Honestly, I always feel better when I don’t. And spending that time doing things correctly, whether it’s writing a proposal or blog post, it’s worth it.
  2. Be friendly, be nice, and be available
    • Don’t go into work with a frown. Place all your problems on that tree that’s standing right outside your office because it’ll be there when you go home for the day – I know this is hard to do, but nobody likes a grump. Get to know your coworkers, they’re cool people. And be there (by there, I mean present in mind as well as body) when someone asks you a question, listen, and respond accordingly.
  3. The clothes people wear are never indicative of wealth
    • Believe or not, the guy in the 3-piece suit usually doesn’t have much money. It’s the guy who wears jeans, boat shoes,
      BusinessManMoney-2014Reflectionand a flannel jacket that’s the loaded one! The general rule of thumb is that the guy who dresses like he doesn’t care, doesn’t care because he doesn’t need to impress, generally because he’s got money – if that makes sense. It’s the guys who dress to impress that need to try to impress. I know, I’ve been that guy!
  4. Developers keep their own hours
    • This one is pretty common, no matter what company you’re with. Coders usually come in late and leave early, but they work hard and are often on the computer cleaning things up at 2am, so back off and give them some space. This is tech not rocket science!
  5. Let things roll off your back
    • This is something I should have learned a long long time ago. Don’t let things get to you. Often times people will totally ignore your emails or requests and the bottom line is, you have no idea why that is. We would all like to suspect that it’s because they’re too embarrassed that you did a whole bunch of work and they’re not going with your company, but you don’t really know. So, let it go, it doesn’t matter and there’s more people out there who need your services.
  6. Walk around
    • Seriously, get up and walk around. Blood flow is essentially to healthy living, so get up from your desk and get some movement in your veins. Stretch, do jumping jacks, and think about getting an exercise ball for a desk chair. One of my coworkers sits on one and it really keeps your back straight. It’s on my to-do list!
  7. Take mental breaks
    • Everyone needs time away, even if that means daydreaming for five minutes a day. Take a break, mentally, for a little while. It resets your brain and helps you focus better. I used to work construction and my body would ache when I got home. Now, my brain hurts when I get home. Those mental vacations during the day help tremendously.

2014 has been an incredible year! With the holidays down and 2015 two days away, I can’t wait to start the new year. I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope 2015 brings as much joy to you as I’m sure it will to me. Cheers!!!