139. Brand

Paul Boag

On this week’s show we’re joined by Ryan Carson to discuss building an online brand. We look at promoting your site with minimal budget and Marcus shares his views on working in an office.

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News and events

Understanding progressive enhancement

Its funny how we spend our whole lives telling clients to avoid jargon and yet web design has more jargon than most. Every few months we seem to make up some new term that is thrown around like everybody knows it.

In reality some we have never heard certain terms, while others seems so similar to one another that the difference escapes us. Take for example ‘graceful degradation’ and ‘progressive enhancement’. Have you heard of them? Could you tell me the difference?

I have to be honest, I couldn’t. In fact in a few weeks you will hear an interview I recorded with Paul Annett from clear:left where I make a comment about graceful degradation and he said ‘no its more like progressive enhancement’. I had no clue why one was right and the other was wrong and I am supposedly a web design expert. Does that make me thick? Possibly. However, more likely I just missed the memo on that one.

The trouble is we are all too busy looking intelligent to clearly communicate with one another.

I have to some extent criticised A List Apart (among others) in the past for perpetuating this kind of ‘in the know mentality’. However, I am now being forced to eat my words (gratefully so) as they published an excellent article on Progressive Enhancement and why you should care about it.

Now if only somebody could explain what Web 2.0. really is.

A free conference (kind of)

I realise that some of the advice I give on this show is unrealistic for some. For example, I talk about the importance of attending conferences. However, when a conference can cost hundreds of pounds it is not always possible.

One alternative is to listen to the podcasts that most conferences published. Unfortunately, they are slow to appear and are hard to follow without being able to see the slides.

Fortunately, the FOWA in London has significantly raised the bar and other conferences will be forced to follow suit.

FOWA has released video of most talks. These appeared within hours of the speaker taking the stage, and are beautifully done including both speaker and screen.

There are also ‘highlights reels’ for most talks. These are a cut down version of the presentation, ideal if you are too busy to watch the whole thing.

With some of the most influential people in web design taking the stage, this is an invaluable resource and Carsonified should be congratulated for making it freely available.

Design Float

Talking of useful resources check out Design Float. Design Float is basically a Digg clone. However it is a clone aimed at designers.

I have to say I don’t like sites that rip off Digg. I have huge respect for what people like Daniel Burka and Joe Stump are doing at Digg. I hate to see people directly ripping off their work (normally badly).

However, Digg does have one flaw. It doesn’t serve the niche very well. Even Kevin Rose recently said: "We don’t really do a good job of servicing the long tail of content." And he is right.

As a web designer, categories such as technology or design are just too broad for me to bother following Digg regularly. Until this problem is resolved, Design Float is an alternative.

Design Float allows me to only see stories relating to web design and although the smaller community means that stories are posted less regularly, what is posted is pretty good.

I recommend checking it out. However, if you are a designer don’t just limit yourself to web design posts. Also look at the other design posts. There is some pretty inspiring stuff there.

Can we stop supporting text scaling?

Finally today, a post by Dave Shea in which he discusses page zooming.

Most modern browsers now support page zooming. The only exception is Safari and that will soon change. This allows users to zoom an entire page, not just the text. Obviously this is beneficial to those with visual impairments. However, is also exciting for web site owners and designers.

Traditionally websites have been forced to support text resizing. This significantly increased development time as well as making design integrity challenging. As text scales, designs often breakdown especially when fixed sized images are involved.

With page zooming these problems go away. It provides the designer with more control and reduces the costs of development. A cost normally passed on to the website owner.

Dave asks whether it is time to support page zoom rather than text resizing. As can be seem from the comments, there is no wrong or right answer. Nevertheless it is an interesting question and one you might want to start considering for your own site.

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Interview: Ryan Carson on Building an Online Brand

Paul: So I’m really excited to have joining me today Ryan Carson from Carsonified. Good to speak to you Ryan.

Ryan: Thanks for having me Paul. Good to be here.

Paul: It seems that we are crossing paths more and more often with me doing various things with Future Of conferences and you guys kindly giving discounts to my listeners, so it’s good to finally actually have you on the show.

Ryan: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Paul: So the reason I have asked Ryan on to the show today is to talk a little bit about building an online brand. Carsonified have got lots of different brand identities going on with obviously Carsonified itself and then Future Of and ThinkVitamin and various other things. Ryan’s a bit of an expert really, or he comes across like that anyway, at building an online brand and I wanted to talk to him about how he’s gone about doing that. But before we get into that, Ryan, tell us a little bit about the background of Carsonified. How did it come into being, so to speak? How did it end up being what it is today?

Ryan: Well, it was kind of born four years ago. It started off basically as just me in our top bedroom. I used to be a developer in a web design studio and when Jill and I, my wife and I, got married four years ago we just decided to start our own company. At that point it was just me and I was trying to build web apps and attempting to make money and didn’t really do a great job of it. Then I kind of slowly moved into doing sort of more workshops and things and then we built our first proper web app, which was DropSend, and then we just kept growing and growing and doing more web apps and more websites, for ourself not for clients, and then we launched a couple big conferences, Future Of Web Apps and Future Of Web Design, and all of a sudden now we’re about eleven people. Located in Bath and just love what we do and are really excited to be part of the web industry. So that’s us kind of in a nutshell.

Paul: It’s quite interesting, the approach that you’ve taken. You’ve come from the same background as the vast majority of us yet your business has gone in a completely different direction. You haven’t gone down the road of delivering solutions to clients but you’ve done this quite eclectic thing of a bit of web apps here, conferences here. Was that an intentional thing or has it just kind of naturally evolved that way?

Ryan: It kind of naturally evolved but my mother, and your mom always knows you best, she always said there’s a vein that’s been running through my life for a long time, which is just connecting people. I don’t know, for whatever reason I just get a lot of joy out of connecting people and physical events are just a great way to do that. I’m passionate about the web and therefore it’s kind of like, well, connecting people in the web industry, in the technology sector is just kind of made sense. It did start off with this thing called BD4D which you probably don’t remember, By Designers For Designers. A friend and I did that and it was bd4d.com which is now gone but the idea was we got together designers for free just at a bar and people showed their work. It was in London originally and it kind of took off and I think then it was always just a for fun thing. We called it the Creative Fight Club. I think that was kind of the genesis of our events career. We don’t really see ourself as an events company we see ourselves very much as lovers of the web and technology and we just kind of happen to connect people at events so, it just kind of worked that way. I’m also not a big fan of working for clients because it’s just so hard. I really respect what you guys at Headscape and any web designer web developer because constantly doing work for clients is really hard work and it’s fun but it’s hard and because we run our own conferences and build our own web apps thankfully we’re our own client which gives us a bit more freedom. So that’s kind of how we ended up there.

Paul: It depends on how you look at it Ryan because from my point of view you’ve got thousands of clients while I only have one at a time because you have all those users of your apps and the people who come to your conferences. You’ve got far more trouble in my opinion.

Ryan: I guess you could look at it like that but they tend to be less demanding. They’re not paying us thousands of pounds each so it kind of. But you could look at it like that. We try to treat all of you who come to our show with the same respect as clients, it’s just a shorter term, lower economic value relationship.

Paul: OK, so let’s talk about brand a little bit and profile and stuff like that. Carsonified has kind of built quite a significant online profile and I’m just quite interested in some of the techniques that you’ve used to achieve that. You know, how have you made that happen?

Ryan: OK, well I think underlying everything we do is genuineness. I think that we care very much about honesty and being genuine and being kind and friendly and that sounds a bit fuzzy and happy but that’s just kind of, I don’t know, the way we are. And I think that’s been the key to our success, that when we do things people know that we’re not trying to pull the wool over their eyes or secretly sell them something. We have a genuine interest in the web and the tech industry and so when we do things people kind of know there’s real people that are behind this, we’re not some company. And I think we’ve always been very personal and very human and very transparent and I think that at least set the stage for being successful, but obviously we just follow through with pumping out tons of hopefully valuable content. We see building a brand as basically building friends and I think that on our blogs and through our tweets and at our events and through our communications we try to treat everybody as friends and that’s kind of, I think, a little bit of the key to our success.

Paul: I like that idea of talking about treating people as friends. I think that’s a good way. Too many people treat people as potential customers in preference to actually having any real interest in them as human beings I guess. So it’s good.

Ryan: Well yeah. I just kind of think about who do you like being around? I mean, It’s your friends and there’s a reason for that. I think why does business have to be different? Of course there’s an element of professionality but when you go to the pub and you relax it’s because you feel comfortable with people and I think that whole idea should permeate business. You know with your friends you just buy them a beer, but with your customers there’s significant money being exchanged I think that should involve even more trust than friendship. Hopefully our customers, our attendees and our sponsors really believe that we’re doing the right thing for them. You guys probably do something very similar when you work with your clients. You want them to know that you care about them. That this isn’t just about money that you actually are trying to build something beautiful and worthwhile for them.

Paul: Yeah. I mean it’s interesting. You talking about friends reminds me a little bit of the Innocent smoothie guys that I heard talking at Fuel, which is obviously one of your conferences, where they were talking about how they refer to their customers as family, don’t they? And I always thought was quite a. It sounds naff when you say out loud, referring to your customers as family but if you kind of treat them with that kind of respect, I don’t know, it’s good but it depends on how you get on with your family I guess.

Ryan: Yeah. It could be good or bad but the problem is that would never work if you didn’t actually think Innocent cared about you. If you looked on their bottle and there was E numbers and preservatives and stuff you’d think, “Well, they talk this stuff, but they don’t really seem that committed to doing this.” So I think it really needs to be backed up with a sincere and real effort to support. I mean, we’ve been talking about accessibility, this is a good example, at Carsonified for years. You know, “Yeah we care about accessibility and it’s a great thing,” but we don’t actually know what we’re doing and so we just met with AbilityNet yesterday with Robin and we said we want to get serious about this. I know that you guys are really good at accessibility and sort of putting our money where our mouth is. We want people with disabilities to be able to attend our shows and to use our websites. Let’s actually spend some money on that and get serious about it so at the bottom of each page we’re going to put a little thumbs up symbol that will go to a site that explains why accessibility is important to us and what we’ve done to move towards that with also sort of some tips and hints for people who are disabled like how can you use this site better and get more out of it so trying to put our money where our mouth is really.

Paul: Yeah. I tell you one of my favorite moments I ever had at one of your conferences was, I can’t even remember who the speaker was but the question that came out for the panel was about promoting your business and can you do that outside of San Francisco and California and this guy said you had to be in California you had to be at San Francisco if you wanted to launch a web app and you stood up afterwards and you completely laid into this guy and you said, “No no no, that’s not the case, blah blah blah.” But it does strike me, you know, you’re a Bath-based company and Bath isn’t exactly the beating heart of the web design world and I’m quite interested as to whether you feel that that’s been a barrier to you in any way, being based where you are.

Ryan: That’s a great question. It makes it harder, for sure. You know, we have to go to London to have meetings to go to drink, parties, to network, blah blah blah, but the way we make up for that, and I think a lot of your listeners won’t be in London necessarily or New York or Silicon Valley so this is applicable to all of you out there. It’s all about being visible on the web. And you guys do a good job of this as well. You just have to get yourself out there. So we blog as much as we can, we tweet as much as we can. We try to gather a community around us and that’s the way we make up for the fact that we’re not in London or Silicon Valley. I was going to say another important thing about building a brand, and this fits into that, you need to have an opinion in order to be heard, and that means that you have to be comfortable with the fact that people will completely disagree with you sometimes. You know I think in a way I’ve been successful at building a brand because I’m willing to say something that pisses people off really. You know and I think it’s only interesting to hear from someone who has an opinion. When Paul Graham said that “You know you need to be in the startup hub,” it just really made me angry, because he was basically saying to every one of us, well, you know you’re just kind of screwed, and I just thought, “You know what? That’s just not true, and it makes mad and I’m gonna sort of put my reputation on the line by going on stage and disagreeing with you, a well known entrepreneur.” And if I kind of was afraid to do that you know, not so many people know about et cetera. So yeah, get out there, blog, be as controversial as you can, you know as long as you’re being genuine and be ready for people to say mean things about you really.

Paul: Talking about mean things and people say mean things about you. You’ve come under some criticism for being somewhat pushy in your self-promotion. Do you think that’s kind of justified in any way? Do you think maybe there’s a cultural difference there, the fact that you’re American and are us English more uncomfortable with marketing and promoting ourselves?

Ryan: Yes, I think there is a cultural difference. But I’m also kind of, I like to think I’m friendly but I am sort of a brash person. I’m not afraid to tell you my opinion and do what I think I need to do. While being kind, I don’t want to sort of hurt anybody, but I think there is a cultural difference and I do think that, I mean my wife is English so I’m obviously very familiar with English culture now and British culture and I think there is kind of a slight uncomfortableness with getting on stage and blowing your own horn. I think that in the UK we need to get over that. Not change our culture here but be willing to admit that in the UK if we don’t start to step up to the plate and start talking about ourselves, the rest of the world’s just gonna carry on in the tech space. Mike Harrington, he’s not going to shut up. You know and unless we really start to kind of compete with that and start talk about all of the great things that are going on in the UK and really kind of get out there I think unfortunately it means that the startups and the web designers and web developers that are British are going to start to fall behind in the world stage. For instance, I was trying to think, who are the rock star developers in the UK? Who can you name? I mean I can name a couple but who do you think?

Paul: It’s hard. It’s hard to say. I think there are more rock star designers than there are developers. You know you can think of people like Rachel Andrew, and Drew. Two that spring to mind. Jeremy Keith is kind of a developer but maybe not really.

Ryan: Matt Biddle. You know, there’s a few but it’s just. It’s not the plethora that are sort of being spoken about, in the US particularly, but I have no doubt there’s just as many talented people here. It’s just that, that hesitancy to say, “I’m going to do my own startup. I’ve got a good idea. I’ve got what it takes. I’m gonna start talking about it.” It’s just less common over here. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and that everyone here should change but I think if you want to build a brand in the web space you just need to admit that I’ve got to get out there. You know I had an interesting conversation with Alex Hunter who is sort of really big in Virgin, The Virgin Group, he’s high up and he’s met Richard Branson a bunch of times. And you know what was crazy? He said that Richard was really shy. And I was like, “Really?” That’s a great example I think of a guy, he’s obviously driven and I don’t think everyone should be like Richard Branson but he’s obviously driven and he understands that in order to get Virgin talked about, to build a brand he’s got to be kind of crazy and get out there. He’s always hanging from helicopters or you know flying spaceships and you know, that’s why people talk about him.

Paul: I think there’s also a little bit within the web design community here in the UK of kind of almost false modesty and a little bit of trying to persuade the world that we’re being very altruistic in what we’re doing and not being up front. I receive criticism for the fact that I’m very open about the fact that Boagworld is a marketing tool and that we make money out of it.

Ryan: But it’s the truth.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. So I think I prefer to be up front about those things, than kind of hide them behind a façade of false modesty to be honest.

Ryan: Well yeah and that kind of goes back to my thing I said earlier about being genuine. I think you’ll always be better off if you’re genuine. And of course we’re sort of painting with broad brushstrokes here, but there’s some very talented people here and I just think, let’s get on our soap boxes and sort of shouting back at the Americans really. And people are doing it, I just think there should be more of it.

Paul: Talking about effective marketing tools, ThinkVitamin, let’s talk about that for a little bit. ThinkVitamin is a website that you run which is basically web design related and web app related kind of articles and stuff like that. I’m guessing that was set up as a marketing tool. Tell me a little bit about why it exists and how you came about setting it up and what its aim is for you.

Ryan: Yes. So thinkvitamin.com has two purposes. It’s to build good will and to give back to the community but it’s also a marketing tool and those things are actually very related. If we pump out great content we give away for free it will be valuable, but those of you who read thinkvitamin.com will also probably come to our shows. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We’re very happy to do that. There is a little bit of altruism there, we do actually want to provide good content and give it away for free but we also realize we needed a platform to talk about our shows. We kind of kept calling in favors like, “Do you mind blogging about Future Of Web Apps?” and “Can you mention it?” We just thought we need to build a big site that people go to so we can tell them about that and we’re fortunate to have great connections. We know people like you and Molly Holzschlag and Kevin Rose and just big Internet people and they all agreed to be on the advisory board and really that’s just a group of people that we trust that occasionally write for us but we’re actually taking ThinkVitamin in a new direction where we want it to pretty much become it’s own little business. So we’ve hired a full time Editor named Simon Mackie and he was really high up at SitePoint actually. And he’s come over and he’s taken the reigns and we’re gonna, yeah we’re gonna basically grow that team and expand that out into its own little business.

Paul: That’s interesting.

Ryan: It’ll be better for the readers. It kind of was dying. The publishing schedule was going down and I think we realized, “Man this is so valuable we have over 50,000 RSS subscribers, closer to 70 if you count the news feed,” and we thought, “This is great, we should grow it.”

Paul: Yeah. I mean it’s interesting in some ways you’ve kind of taken the same approach that we have at Headscape using ThinkVitamin that you could have created a blog on the Futures Of website and you could have put this content there. There’s actually a value in separating it out and making it a standalone thing. It feels less salesy I guess. The same way as I could have posted my Boagworld stuff on the Headscape site. You know it could be the Headscape podcast instead of the Boagworld one. All the rest of it. It just comes on a bit too strong if you do that I guess.

Ryan: I totally agree. And it’s interesting because I had a good conversation with Mike at FreshBooks, and freshbooks.com for those of you who don’t know is an app that helps you send out invoices. He had this blog and he was really slogging his guts out on it and at freshbooks.com/blog or something and he said, “I don’t get it. No one’s really reading it,” and to me it was obvious for that reason you just said. Well it’s clear that this is just a marketing tool. Why would you put a blog on your company’s site, on your product’s site? It’s just kind of obvious and that’s exactly why we haven’t done it for our events, you know we put occasional updates there but it’s hard. As much as I like Web 2.0 Expo or something I would never read a blog from Web 2.0 Expo. It’s just too blech, you know what I mean?

Paul: Yeah totally. It’s interesting that the other thing that you’ve done, which again is something that I do, which is that you haven’t just relied on people coming into your sites, whether it be ThinkVitamin or the Futures Of sites or even the Carsonified site. You’ve made a big deal of kind of going out there and using tools like Twitter and Qik and YouTube. I’m just interested as how effective you’ve found those things.

Ryan: I find Qik to be really effective, or Qik, however the heck you say it qik.com and I was really shocked as soon as I started broadcasting was that just tons of people were interacting and I almost couldn’t wait to do the next one. Annoyingly 3G is kind of spotty in Bath so it makes the quality a little bit bad but I’d highly recommend Qik or any other comparable service. It’s so fun you just take your phone with you, I had to get a kind of crappy Nokia phone or something, because I use my iPhone for normal business but just grabbed it from the 3 store, got a plan I think it’s 20 pounds a month that gives you unlimited data which you’ll need if you’re streaming live video from a phone, and whenever I’d walk to Starbucks or something I’d just turn it on and start talking and people would show up because the way Qik works for people who don’t know is you actually see comments live on the phone screen.

Paul: That’s very cool.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s great for interaction and any tool you can use to interact with your fans will increase your connection and that friendship. It will show you want to be real and you want to connect with people and I think hopefully we’ve achieved that where people think, “Gosh you know Carsonified we know who’s there we know it’s not a company it’s really these people that are there and they’re interested in hearing from me and talking to me,” so that’s been good. YouTube has been amazing, I mean I hate YouTube, it’s ugly, it’s a bit crude you know but man there’s just a lot of people on it. I used this cruddy little video camera, filmed myself giving some tips about business, threw it in iMovie, put some music to it and popped it on YouTube and I think I can’t remember the figures it’s up to, it’s up to like 10 or 15,000 views in literally like two hours work.

Paul: Yeah, I keep meaning to get around to that myself and I’ve never quite managed it.

Ryan: Now you can use a Flip camera. Flip is just a type of camera, you just record and then it’s got a USB dongle built right into it. You pop it in and it actually automatically uploads it to YouTube.

Paul: That’s nice.

Ryan: There’s a couple tools you can use to make it easier. And then Facebook, I’ve been using Facebook a lot just to connect with people and remember people’s birthdays and say hello and just be a friend to them. The more connections you can have to people the better, which builds your brand and I feel that, like a mercenary when I say that, and I don’t like it, like I do believe it’s just a better way to live to connect with people and it happens to build your brand which is great and I like that as well, but I think it’s important that you need to be genuine and actually care about people for this to connect.

Paul: What about Twitter? How have you got on with that? Have you found that a useful tool?

Ryan: I love Twitter. And it’s been probably the best way I think for me to communicate I’ve got I think around 4,200 followers now and I don’t know why people follow me. I don’t think I’m particularly interesting but I do whenever I tweet I try to imagine if I was somebody else and I was reading it if I would find it interesting. I think with Twitter don’t tweet too much, maybe a couple times a day max. If you tweet too much people unsubscribe.

Paul: That will explain my problem then, I tweet too much.

Ryan: I still follow you so it’s not too bad. But you know Evan Williams had a good tip he said you should tweet things every so often that you’re not quite sure if you should tweet because they’re a bit too personal or a bit too blech, because that’s the type of stuff that’s actually fun and interesting to read. Initially we had a twitter account for Carsonified and we deleted it. I think we decided that that was kind of exactly what not to do. People don’t really want to hear from a company, they want to hear from you.

Paul: That’s almost the same as having a blog on your own corporate website isn’t it? Having a kind of corporate Twitter account. After saying that we have set one up for GetSignoff but more as a for announcements. If something goes down with the service or if we’ve done some bug fixes or stuff like that. By far the majority I do via the Boagworld Twitter account which is just me talking about my life. I agree with what you’re saying about putting personal stuff there as well that people seem to like to know what’s going on with each other’s lives. I like to know how Jackson’s doing. People like to know, I don’t know. Making it personal, it’s about that personal connection again isn’t it really?

Ryan: Definitely. And I think that that’s the future, you know just in general. Humankind you know it’s just kind of being personal and not hiding anymore behind companies or brands or policies or terms and conditions. It’s about, “Hey, how can I help you and how can I take care of you?” and that’s just a better way to live and it will massively benefit your company which is great. What’s interesting though is that everybody, including us, continues to look at the Signal vs. Noise blog from 37signals and kind of scratch our heads it’s like, it’s the one blog where it is a company blog, I mean yes it’s called Signal vs. Noise, but it’s on their domain, and yet they have over 90,000 subscribers. It’s funny because I think everyone is kind of, “How do you do that? I want to replicate that.” In the end I think you know, they were kind of first. You can’t have that many of those type of blogs and I think most of us are gonna have to be happy with just doing a good blog that is real and personal whether, and I mean ours is carsonified.com and it seems to work and we have about 4,000 subscribers and for us that’s a pretty good number. We should post more but that’s something I haven’t quite figured out yet and I’d be interested to hear from your listeners what they think about that. Is it possible to have a company blog that people care about or is it just not possible? I don’t know.

Paul: I think what you said there about being first is quite significant. I think originality goes a long way. I mean even with the Boagworld podcast. Simply the fact that I was the first web design podcast it seems to give it a momentum that keeps things going, you know because you keep delivering the goods so to speak which obviously the guys at 37signals really have done. I think there is a momentum in being first in something.

Ryan: Yes and that’s probably the secret sauce.

Paul: OK, So let’s wrap this up with kind of a last question which is: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs seeking to increase their profile? Let’s have some kind of top tips if you’ve got some.

Ryan: OK. The first tip I give is to start connecting with people that you feel are influential. You know, spend some time and try to get out and physically meet these people, get to know them and to not be creepy about it, but to get out there, to get in front of them and to get to know them. See if you can do something to help them out, to get on their radar, and I think building sort of a group of friends that trusts you but is also influential is just instantly valuable. So I’d do that and you can use all the tools we talked about for that: Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. but physical meeting is always the best. I mean you want to have a beer with people.

Paul: And you say you do that by trying to help them out in some way? Because that’s always the difficult thing. It’s all well and good to say, “Get to know influential people,” but how you do that’s the tricky part isn’t it?

Ryan: Well my dad always did something that worked. If it was someone he really respected or cared about and wanted to get on their radar he would find an article about them in a magazine and he’d actually go to a framer and have it framed and then write them a personal note and just kind of say and send it to them and say, “You know, I bet you haven’t had time to actually frame a picture of your article so I thought you might want this for your wall.”

Paul: What a genius idea. I love it.

Ryan: And it’s genuine. I’m not trying to get anything out of you but I respect you and here you go. It’s very subtle. You have to be very careful to not try to sort of bribe people. If you come across that way it’s exactly what you don’t want to do. If you feel, and kind of think deep down, “Do I actually want to be friends with this person or am I trying to use them?” I think you should steer very clear of a person if you just think actually I don’t really like this person I’m just trying to get something out of them. But if you think there’s some synergy there, that’s a great way to do it. Remember people’s birthdays, it’s just a nice thing to do. Stuff like that is a great way. Most people’s friends don’t even do that for them. I’ve had people send me stuff and you know it just makes me smile and I’ll always take their call or answer their email now. So I think that’s a good idea.

Paul: Any others?

Ryan: Um, other tips. Um, probably put a real emphasis on customer service and build a real base of caring in your company. Not just for your customers but for your own team. I think that your team will never be able to treat your customers well if they don’t think that they’re treated well. So I think as entrepreneurs grow and they start to hire people I think it’s important to remember to take care of your staff first and then your customers second. And a really great resource for that is what zappos.com does. Zappos.com has an amazing company culture. They have this book called the Culture Book and every year it comes out and you can buy it and it’s basically a bunch of testimonials, thousands of them from the Zappos employees about why they love their job. And it’s just packed full of ideas of how to take care of your team and it’s a great inspirational resource. I think you can either get it on eBay or Amazon or you can buy it straight from Zappos. A couple hopefully useful tips?

Paul: Yeah that’s excellent. Ryan thank you so much for coming on the show, it’s been really good to get you on and I think there’s some really good useful advice there for anybody looking to kind of build an online brand so thank you very much and no doubt we will have you back again soon.

Ryan: Thank you, it’s an honor.

Thanks goes to Todd Dietrich for transcribing this interview.

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Listeners feedback:

Site promotion with minimal budget

Our first question is from Adam in the boagworld forum:

I have got a site that needs an awful lot of promotion to work, and have got very little budget to do it with. I could probably spend a little bit on Google AdWords but on nothing else. So, how can I promote my site for little money?

Adam went on to tell me it was a charity website. This makes it challenging. As Adam said…

There are thousands of Charity sites, and many better funded, and just altogether bigger.

In this situation search engine optimisation or Adwords is going to be tough. The competition is fierce and so it will be expensive to be highly ranked.

The other problem with a charity site is that unless it is niche (e.g. bird protection) the potential audience is open ended. However, with limited resources there is little point in targeting ‘the general public’. You will have no impact on such a broad audience.

Target a specific group as it will be easier to gain momentum within a smaller audience. For example, there are Christian charities who do general humanitarian aid. Even though anybody could be a potential supporter, they instead target other christians. Therefore they are well known in that circle. Better to have a lot of support from a niche audience than a small amount of support across the general populous.

Once you have picked the audience use three techniques to reach them:

  • Offline promotion – Engage with your audience offline as well as on. Attend conferences, produce offline promotional material and target magazines your audience reads. As web designers we often forget to power of offline marketing.
  • Social marketing – Identify the social sites your audience You should be wherever your audience is interacting. Finally, seek out key figures who your audience admire and respect. See if you can get them on board and encourage them to promote your site.
  • Editorial promotion – Find out if your audience reads online blogs or magazines. Offer to write articles for these sites. Do not overtly promote your charity but instead write content which will be of interest to the audience. Failing that make use of comments to join in the discussions and increase your sites profile among that audience.

However, be careful. In your haste to promote your site do not spam. The key is to offer something of value. You must earn the right to promote your site.

Sitepoint has an excellent article entitled ‘10 rules for driving traffic using forums‘. Although it is focused on forums, its advice is applicable to most forms of online promotion.

Office Or Not

This from Brad:

A question from Canada! I’m a long-time listener of the show, and I thank you both for your entertainment and inspiration.

A little bit of background first… Two years ago I co-founded a small web development company, and to date we have not yet invested in office space. As we slowly move on to ‘higher profile’ clients, we find it increasingly important to have someone in-house, to answered the phones, do the books, etc, etc, so we can focus on growing the business.

That said, I’m obviously touching on a huge spectrum of possible questions, so I’ll try to narrow it down. I don’t think this is something you have covered specifically on the show before…

Is office space really important for a creative business? If so, what steps would you recommend. And if not, are there better areas to spend $2000 / month?

If I had been asked this question only two years or so ago I would have said that office working for a web team is not important at all. If anything, I would have said that home working was better. The following extract from Paul’s blog, written in 2005, underlines this:

The benefits of a virtual company

By virtual company, I mean we do not have a central office. Each member of staff works from home and we communicate and file share with tools such as Skype, CVS and Groove.

People are often curious about an entire company home working and ask how well it works in reality. My answer is usually that it is brilliant. From the employee perspective, you do not have to commute and you can see a lot more of your family. For example, if I were still working for IBM when I used to commute an hour and a half everyday, I would only see my 2-year-old son at weekends. As an employer, I love it because my staff tend to work the hours they would commute and generally home working is seen as a big bonus that keeps people at the company longer. Not to mention the savings made on premises.

Communication really is not a big problem. There are so many tools out there these days that help, and broadband means that even telephone conversations are now free.

Paul goes on to say that the only drawback of home working is that it lacks the social aspects of working in an office.

Not true I’m afraid. Though of course home working does give you an environment to ‘get your head down’ without interruption, what it really lacks, that phone/email/IM cannot replace, is creative collaboration. People simply do not bounce ideas around like they do if they work together.

Our current office is open plan and there’s nowhere to hide yourself away. This has meant that I haven’t really frequented it that often – I need ‘calm’ to write. However, watching particularly our development team grow and work really effectively together underlined to all of us the value of working together.

So much so that we are about to move into our ‘dream’ offices where there will be a mixture of open plan spaces and areas where we can work quietly.

So (finally!), in answer to Brad’s question, I think that office working is better for the business in the long run and I would say warrants the additional associated cost (though beware the costs, they can mount up – another podcast topic I think). That said, we have managed for nearly seven years before doing it properly (i.e. pretty much all of us will be in together most of the time) so it won’t necessarily damage you if you leave it awhile.

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