This Week In Business

Some Of My Favorite Motivational Videos

I spend a lot of time watching online video. More than I should probably admit.

Sometimes, these videos distract me. These are usually animal videos.

But other videos kind of give me some inspiration to work hard and do more. Here are three of my favorites:

Productivity from Randy Pausch

This video is about productivity and achieving dreams from a very smart charismatic professor who happens to be dying. If you want some general productivity ideas or just a kick in the pants, this will do it. Everyone from high school students to someone about to retire will get something out of this lecture.

Negotiation from Ramit Sethi

This is the only business ‘class’ I ever paid for. While aimed at freelancers, Ramit Sethi will teach you the scripts you need to negotiate. (If I’ve used any of these on you, sorry.) These series of videos are part of that course and can give you some useful tips on raising your rates, negotiating with providers, and other useful stuff.

Goal Setting With Marie Forleo

If you have a big dream you want to tackle, Marie will break down the process of brainstorming into steps you can implement. This half hour video, if you do the exercises, will give you a goal and ways to work towards it. Since I can’t embed it from her site, here’s the link: http://www.marieforleo.com/htgayw/

Do you have any productivity/educational/business-y videos you like to watch? Share the links in the comments!

 

Some Thoughts On Being A Female Run Business In A Male Dominated Industry

The last conference I went to had a record number of women… 23%.  This was a statistic that people were impressed with (as in ‘Wow, there’s a lot of women here!’) but, as even the author has acknowledged, we have a long way to go.

female-symbolIt’s true that 78% of web developers are men and I know that women in male dominated fields like science and engineering can also identify with me: It can be a little hard not seeing a lot of people ‘like you’ out there.

I’m annoyed that, in 2013 as an established professional, I am still dealing with sexism. I can think of the prospective client who said after I asked if he’d sign a work agreement ‘Do you have brothers? Because you seem really aggressive.’ (I ‘lost’ his email.) Men (yes plural) have commented on my looks during a video conference. My weight and whether it has gone up or down has been discussed… in front of me.

Sometimes the sexism is a little more hidden. As the only woman on a conference call, I am asked to take notes. A man will find wonder out loud if I am able to ‘handle’ a certain kind of technical project.

What I really want to say to all this is, “Would this be happening to me if I was a dude?” but I don’t.  Because I am supposed to be sweet after all.

I will say that most of this is thankfully by older men. Over time, there will be less of them to contend with. (OK, maybe that last comment wasn’t so sweet.)

I will also mention that there are plenty of people (both men and women) who are completely respectful of my skills and expertise. But here are a few rules I play by:

I can’t be arrogant. 
I can’t say I’m ‘the best’ at something without people thinking I am cocky. This trait is rewarded in men but humble is my only way to play the game. One of my clients wanted to say he was ‘the best’ at something. I told him it was gutsy but really what I meant was, ‘I can’t get away with saying anything like that.’

I can’t nag.
When men do it, it’s called ‘following up’ or being aggressive. I have to get what I need from someone very carefully if I need to ask for it repeatedly or else I will remind them of their wives, girlfriends, or any other female who has asked them for something over and over.

I can’t show any lack of knowledge.
If I admit I don’t know something, I see people’s confidence falter. I feel like if a man admits the same thing, he is being ‘honest’. Because of this, I overprepare for every meeting and overresearch every decision.

I’ve wanted to bid on a few web projects as ‘Nick’ just to see what would happen… but I think instead I will chose to work with people who don’t mind working with a girl. 🙂

Women in male dominated industries, are you playing by unspoken rules too? Men, have you accidentally been sexist without realizing it? Everyone, am I overly sensitive to this divide? I’d love your thoughts about all this!

The post that inspired this: http://choycedesign.com/2013/02/04/women-wordpress-the-web/

 

 

 

Project Management Software

asanalogoIt seems like it would be pretty easy to run a two person business with a few subcontractors, right?

Well increasingly, it wasn’t easy. Emails get lost or misfiled… that and I can’t easily look at my email and know a project status if Alice is working on a design or Matt’s working on fixing a functionality issue for it.

Matt found Asana in his travels and we’ve been using it really successfully over the last three months. Every client is a ‘project’ and we can assign tasks to each other with due dates, easily attaching notes, comments, and actual files if we wanted to. Then if a client calls or emails, any of us can check on the project status and let them know what is going on. It’s integration with Google Apps made it an easy choice for us… oh, and it’s free.

In addition to the business side of Asana, there is also a ‘Personal Projects’ section which no one else on the team can see but you. You can put reminders to ‘bring back library books’ or ‘make bedroom curtains’ which can have subtasks associated (ex: buy fabric, measure windows, etc.). There is also the same ability to set due dates.

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What the Asana interface looks like. From http://allthingsd.com

What are Asana’s weaknesses?

  • There is no way to locally download (ie download onto a computer) the file. In other words, not being able to back up ourselves means we are a little vulnerable (But with Dropbox and Foursquare also using it, we feel in good company).
  • Asana emails you when others in your team make changes with no way to control the amount of email you get.
  • There is no Android app. Since we are an entirely an iPhone company at the moment, this isn’t a problem yet but as we grow it might become one.

Now, no project management software will ever be perfect. You’ll probably need to try out a few to find one you like. I would suggest doing this by yourself or in a small group before making your company use it. Nothing like making people learn a software they will never use to lower company morale and make people not tolerate other changes in the future. In your shopping around here are some questions you may want to ask:

On your network or web based?

The first big decision is whether you are ok with your system being ‘in the cloud’ or you want it on your local computer network. Clearly, I am pro-cloud (hence using Asana, which lives online and can be accessed in any web browser or on my iPhone) but if you aren’t there are systems out there you can install on your computer network for internal use only if you feel like you want the system to be more insular.

Do you need full CRM capabilities?

Basecamp and other software like it is pretty full featured… and at $50+/month, you’d expect it to be. But we don’t need a full CRM where clients can log in and other bells and whistles related to that so we are forgoing it. What you don’t need is as important as what you need in terms of making any software decision. It could save you money… or simply a steep learning curve.

How can tasks be organized?

Sometimes you may feel limited by how a project management system categorizes. Maybe you can make subtasks but can’t assign deadlines to those like you want. Maybe you want the search box to search for content words within project notes and it won’t. You’ll only know if you like how your project management software organizes things if you organize a few separate projects in it.

Do you need other features (time tracking, live chat, etc.) or can these be accomplished elsewhere?

We use spreadsheets for hours/billing and Google chat for chatting so we weren’t looking to have these functions… but you might be. Make a list of ‘dream’  integrations (Time tracking to Quickbooks, client login with their Gmail, etc. dream big!) and prioritize each one and you’ll be more likely to end up with something that’ll work within your company.

But if you are looking for some relatively simple software to make you more efficient, we love Asana and think you might too. Let us know what you end up finding/trying so we can get to know other options out there!

Why You Give (Some) Information For Free

“It seems like a lot of social media people give information for free.” one of my friends mentioned today. The implied question being, why is that?

Giving some free stuff away doesn't mean your company won't make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

Giving some free stuff away doesn’t mean your company won’t make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

As people in the information business, we know it’s important to give some of our product for free in the way of blog entries, white papers, etc. Here’s why people give away something for free that they didn’t necessarily get for free:

Information builds credibility.

Does this person know what they are talking about? Do they seem like the kind of person I want to do business with? This is information people will want to figure out before contacting you.

Having free information out there for them to peruse allows them to see for themselves 1) This person is legit and 2) I may even like them as a person. These are both infinitely important in the service industry since the people you hire to provide services tend to be the people you spend time with. Information let’s people get to know you… and giving it away some for free means you are not some money hungry jerkface who’s only in it for the paycheck.

Information builds value.

You know who the best customers are in some of my experience? People who have tried to do it themselves. In trying to build a website or run a social media campaign, people will contact us saying that doing the job well is harder than they expected. They realize there is a lot to know and do, and that they need our help.

It may feel weird to think about giving away something you figured out but guess what happens when someone tries to do it? Some either succeed and love what they get out of it, becoming loyal potential customers. Others attempt and fail… but guess who the first person they think of to call is when they do?

It may seem counter intuitive but put information out there about your services or products. Having an understanding of what goes into either will show your potential customers what’s so valuable… and why they can get that value from you.

Information gives part of the story… and leaves people wanting more. 

Let’s say you read my article about Twitter hashtags (the most popular blog post I’ve ever written for no apparent reason). While it is helpful, it’s really like I’m reading you page 59 out of a book of things I know. Sure there is a topic but does reading it make you understand how to use Twitter entirely? Of course not. What someone with a deep knowledge on a topic can give you are tips and tricks but knowing that information in a context is infinitely more valuable.

What you know about what you do is more than you could write in 855 blog posts (you’re reading post 856 of this blog right now, and there are plenty more topics to cover, trust me!). And the more people know, the more they’ll want to know… if they are interested of course. But guess who buys stuff? Interested people.

Social media people are not silly people with gobs of free time on their hands. They know if they put out information, free information even, it’ll be good for their business. At least I think they are. 🙂

The Two Things You Need To Work From Home

Does working from home mean you are suddenly relaxed and attractive? Stock photography seems to think so. Check out istockphoto.com for more hilariously inaccurate gems like this.

Does working from home mean you are suddenly relaxed and attractive? Stock photography seems to think so. Check out istockphoto.com for more hilariously inaccurate gems like this.

‘It must be so nice to be in your pajamas all day.’

‘You can do whatever you want- that’s so cool!’

People think a lot of things about working from home, like somehow those who do have some magical gig where they get paid to watch reality television and eat Lucky Charms.

I wish.

For the first three years of Breaking Even, when it was only me, I worked from home. I read the usual tips about working from home. The ideas typically include things like putting on ‘real’ clothes and starting at a set time. In other words, treat it like a normal workday where you’d leave and go work elsewhere. I am completely behind this concept.

For awhile, I did this badly. But then I figured out the two secrets to working at home. You need:

1) transition ritual where you transition into work and out of work. For most people, that’s what their commute does for them.

2) discipline to train others and yourself not to distract you. Because how other people react with reinforce (or undermine) what you are trying to do.

Transition Rituals

My former office at home. Cute but having to have it in my living room meant I had to create my own work-life boundaries. You can too.

My former office at home. Cute but having to have it in my living room meant I had to create my own work-life boundaries. You can too.

My transition ritual into work involved taking a shower, drinking french press coffee, and walking my dog. I would then feed my dog, feed myself and then start work by 9 am. Yes, even in my 220 square foot studio apartment with a three step commute from my bed to my desk, I needed a ritual. For the start of the day, I recommend a combination of getting things done, eating breakfast, and anything you need to do that involves feeling like you are ‘waking up’.

My transition ritual out of work usually involved doing something moderately mindless like some data entry while watching a 20ish minute television show on Hulu. This way I was able to eek out an extra few minutes of productivity while getting into relax mode.  To end your work day, I recommend doing something that needs to get done businesswise but is kind of tedious (like putting in payments into Quickbooks or updating your email Contacts list) while feeling like you are ‘relaxing’.

These are my recommendations. Experiment and see what works for you!

Ask other people how they do it and read other people’s experiences and you may find something you haven’t thought of. Some people’s rituals will fascinate you. I once read about someone who got dressed, got in their car, drove around the block, parked in their driveway again, and walked back in the house to start their work at home day.  The only thing that matters is finding an into work and out of work ritual that work for you. Even if they are a little insane.

Training Yourself And Others

If your significant other comes to your house at the end of the day and comments about how you haven’t done the dishes, set that crap straight.

If your friends try to Facebook chat with you, ignore them.

If you find yourself starting to think about cleaning your bathroom or rearranging your closet by color, put the idea on a list to get it out of your brain and keep working.

The temptations of being at home are numerous. Sometimes you have a noble purpose of wanting to be productive so your family will wow at how you juggle both work and home in an effortless way. Sometimes you are trying to procrastinate and you feel like a naughty kid getting away with something when you do it. Or it could be that your friends have worked with other people all day and the only conversation you’ve had is with the mailman and you are a touch lonely. These are all valid. But these temptations trying to pass off  as needs can not be met during your workday.

In terms of being good to yourself, give yourself a break, one in the morning and one in the afternoon just like legally they’d have to give you if you worked at a job outside your house. I used to keep a kitchen timer on my desk at home and when it went off, I could stop working and take a break (usually after 2 hours). Use your break time to do some dishes (if you really want) or chat with people on Facebook (if you really want). Thing is it’s your break so do something that feels like a break. It is up to you but I recommend getting away from the computer if you can for it to truly feel ‘breaky’.

In terms of other people, it may take a few months to set expectations. People who aren’t in your situation aren’t trying to be jerky, they just don’t understand. So take some time and let them know you can’t talk because you are in the middle of something. Follow discussions up with behavior that is consistent with what you are saying: don’t answer personal phone calls during the work day, keep chats under five minutes that aren’t work related, and let people know they can’t just stop in because you may have a conference call or other time sensitive activity scheduled. The interruptions will die down and people will respect that you are working when they see that you aren’t doing fun stuff between 9 to 5. Or whatever set time you’ve established. ‘I don’t call you during the day anymore because I know you’re working.’ one of my friends said to me a few days ago, completely unsolicited. Exactly.

On the same level, I keep work stuff separate too. I don’t answer work calls during non work hours. If something is urgent, people will leave a voicemail and I can call them back. I try to take one full day off from the computer every week (usually Sunday). Because while you don’t want life to interfere with work, you also don’t want work to interfere with life.

Will you seem like a hardened drill sargent by enforcing this boundary? To some maybe. But this is your life we’re talking about and anyone who needs you to be available to them 24-7 with no regard to your needs or sanity is not someone you want to be buddy buddy with anyway. The enforcement stage usually is only a couple months until people get used to your schedule. And as they respect it, you’ll find yourself starting to respect it more too.

Working from home? It’s not that difficult but it takes a certain kind of person to do it well. Be that person.

Hosting A Better Event

No matter what kind of business your in, chances are you’ve had to host an event. Or will at some point.

Most of us like the actual event more than the stuff leading up to it, myself included. After hosting at least 20 workshops, here are some high and low tech ideas we’ve learned to make hosting your next event less painful.

Put event information everywhere.
For our last workshop, we created a Facebook event on our business Facebook page, put a snippet on the ‘Events’ page of our website, sent out a press release, emailed the local Chambers of Commerce to promote it, tweeted out the registration link a few times, and sent out notice of it in our last two email newsletters. (We still got messages about people not hearing about it, and you will too. You can’t win them all!) But put all the information for the event in every place you chose to advertise it you can so that people can note the day, time, location, etc. from wherever they first find the information. Because while it doesn’t make your life easy, it makes theirs easier.

Send an information email to who is going before the event.
People like having a lot of information, myself included. Sending an email (blind copy all the recipients) with directions, the internet password at the venue, etc. will save you at least a dozen emails or phone calls to answer. Bonus is the people in the know can forward it on or tell the people who don’t know, meaning you won’t have to have those conversations either.

If you want people to show up and pay, let them pay online.
You know what’s not fun? Managing 100 checks, trying to note who paid and who didn’t while you try to set up for your event. Having online payment/registration means less day of event headaches and gives you a fairly firm head count. We use Eventbrite and even though they take 3% of ticket sales, the lack of hassle is well worth it.

Create a hashtag for your event.
If you are at an event with social media types, at the beginning let everyone know they can use a specific hashtag so you can follow Twitter, Instagram, and other event related shares. For example, at the Joomla World Conference, we all used #jwc12 so we were able to follow what was going on with different speakers, when lunch was being served, and other important information. Even if the conference isn’t big, hashtags can let you follow the conversation and questions during the event.

If your event participants aren’t social media savvy, consider text messaging.
The makers of Mailchimp have a mass texting app called Gather. (Thanks to Matt at Svaha LLC for that find!) Attendees of your event can get text alerts related to your event (sudden location change or weather cancellations for example) at a very low cost to you.

Cohost the event.
Having an event cohost means you get double the exposure while doing the same amount of work. Find an event partner that makes sense. For the last workshop for example, we partnered with the Maine Crafts Guild who promoted the workshop to their email newsletter recipients and Facebook fans. We were then able to gear the workshop towards artists, so it was a win-win. We got a full room and they got a workshop specifically for them.

Don’t overlook the little things.
Nametags help shy people talk to each other. Coffee and treats make people happy. Good background music as people come in can set a tone. Comfy chairs mean people will sit a little happier for two hours. Think about the little things that don’t cost a lot that you can provide to make your attendees have a bit more fun.

So while we aren’t the perfect event hosts, a mixture of internet and in person efforts, you can fearlessly host your next event.

What are your favorite event hosting tricks?