Show 95: In honour of the the RAF

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Paul shares some techniques for selling your services through your online profile. Marcus discusses project time scales and Ben Hunt talks about marketing your web business.

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News and events | Project time scales | Social networking for sales | Ben Hunt on marketing a web business

News and events

The Rissington Podcast

For over 2 years now we have been doing this podcast and in that entire time we have reigned supreme. There have been other web design podcasts but lets be frank they have been shit ;) Obviously out of politeness I have pretended they had their place but I think it was obvious to all that only boagworld was really worth listening to.

However, like all great empires sooner or later they crumble and fall to a new rising star and I fear that maybe true with Boagworld. There is a new kid on the block called the Rissington Podcast. Not only is it hosted by two web design guru’s in the form of John Oxton and Jon Hicks but it is also professionally put together and at times really funny.

This rambling, question based show shares some great advice on web design in an entertaining and friendly manner. Definitely check it out, we promise not to cry. After all, it is even more British than us!

Net Promoter Score

On last weeks .net magazine podcast we got talking about how to measure the improvements we make to the user experience in order to prove their value to a client. Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path mentioned something called the Net Promoter Score which I have confess I had never heard of.

Fortunately I wasn’t alone in my ignorance because Andy Budd had not come across the term either. However, unlike me he took the time do some research into the Net Promoter Score and post his findings online…

To calculate your Net Promoters Score, you ask your customers “how likely they would be to recommend you to a friend”, and get them to grade their answers on a scale of zero to ten. Zero would be extremely unlikely while ten would be highly likely. Those who answer nine or ten are considered promoters, and are the most likely people to evangelise your services. Those who answer between zero and six are considered detractors and are the type of people who will spread negative views about your services.

To work out your Net Promoters Score, you simply subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. A good score would be in the range of 50-80%, while an average score would be 5-10%. A poor score would be in the negatives…

Andy then goes on to explain how this basic question can be used to assess the value of your service. I can see why Peter brought this up on the show as it would seem an excellent way of assessing improvements made to the user experience. By testing before and after a site redesign it would be easy to measure improvements in the experience.

Try it on your next project.

15 Excellent Examples of Web Typography

This is a bit of a random news story but I really wanted to mention it. I am excited to see that the movement towards better typography on the web continues to build momentum and I am constantly amazed at just what is possible with a bit of determination.

Typography can me an incredibly powerful tool in our design arsenal, as I have no doubt said many times before. However, if you still need convincing then check out these 15 superb examples of web typography which I came across this week. There really is some inspiring stuff in here and it should be enough to get even the most jaded web designer playing with type again.

Social net offers new perspective

Talking of being inspired, my last news story of today is a post by Bill Thompson on the BBC technology site. I am not sure it is directly to do with web design but it certainly went a long way to re-energising me about the work I do on the web.

The article focuses on how the social side of the web is transforming not just the way we interact online but also our world as a whole. While other journalists seem to be hammering the social net as a haven for child predators and terrorist trainers, Bill talks about how it is uniting cultures and making the news we see on TV real again.

Bill writes:

What will happen when these people (referring to online friends we have made) start dying in famines or wars, or when the climate changes caused by global warming lead to floods and droughts and natural disasters?

What happens when the photos on Facebook and Flickr show devastated crops and starving families – and these people are not just faces on the television but old friends, people whose likes and dislikes and reading habits and favourite films we know and share?

The world is different when it’s the people you know, and I do not think we will be able to resist the forces of change when our friends are dying on screen, in front of us, and we know that we could do something but have decided not to.

The article really grasps the power of the social web, a power I personally am all too well aware of. Running and developing an online community is a strange thing. Many perceive social networks as a numbers game (a way of attracting traffic). However at its heart are real people and real relationships. I will never forget a woman called Crystal whom I became friends with back in 1997 when I ran a virtual community. Crystal was dying of cancer and was housebound. For such a long time she was the heart of our community until one day she died. The grief that we felt was just as real even though none of us had ever met her face to face. She was a real friend to me, a real person.

I think that is why many online communities fail. They fail because they don’t grasp that communities are about people and relationship rather than features and technology.

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Marcus’ bit: Project timescales

I have often rambled on about the importance of contracts on this podcast and, within those the contracts, the need for a detailed spec, a detailed task list and associated timescales and milestones.

I still think all of those things are important but I do think that often (me included) people go into a land of fantasy when it comes a) when they can start a project and b) how long each one of those tasks will take.

Clients are guilty of this too.

This is what usually happens:

  • The client, not knowing how long the project will take, picks a date for project completion because they don’t want it left open. Let’s call it ‘date x’.
  • Unless it’s patently impossible to achieve, agencies will agree to this deadline because they don’t want to adversely affect their bid.
  • A certain amount of back and forth over the delivery date happens because, for example, it takes longer than expected to agree on a contract, or maybe the scope has extended a little, etc. But the agency can’t really move the date to somewhere comfortable because they have already agreed to ‘date x’. So, all parties then agree to ‘date x plus 1 month’ or similar.
  • The project then slips and both parties start blaming each other for it – the agency feels that the client is overly pushy and, worse, the client thinks that the agency is unprofessional, inattentive etc.

Be honest from the start

Seriously, do it. I was just having a conversation this morning with a potential client (hi Graham) who is looking for a new site. He has an unrealistic delivery deadline of the end of October. With Headscape’s current workload, I felt that we could deliver the project, at best, by the end of January. This blew our chances completely but –

a) Graham appreciated the honesty and, who knows, may want to work with us again or recommend us to others;

b) If I had underestimated – a favourite at this time of year is to say ‘we can do it by Christmas’ – then I would have become very unpopular internally and also with the client when we failed to deliver.

Don’t forget you have other clients

It is so easy to think ‘standard CMS site redesign equals 10 weeks’ and then go and quote a date for completion 10 weeks from now! Don’t forget the following:

  • It usually takes at least 2 weeks to sign a contract
  • Do you have the resources to start straight away?
  • What other projects are imminent?
  • Staff holidays

Educate

I think the problems I am referring to relate to the fact that, even now, we are working in a relatively ‘young’ industry. This means that many clients simply don’t have an understanding of how long projects, and the tasks within those projects, can take.

This used to be a problem with pricing and still is in some cases. However, client expectations of cost seem to be a lot more in line with each other than they were, say 3 years ago.

If we can explain what we do and how long it takes right from the start with a potential client, then hopefully client expectations of project length will also balance out.

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Paul’s corner: Social networking for sales

From time to time I get questions about how to build your reputation in the field of web design. How do you become well known so that you can attract more work in? Its a fair question and one that inspired an article I wrote recently called The Geeks Alternative To Golf.

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Ask the expert: Ben Hunt on marketing a web business

Ben:

Ill be talking about marketing a web business. And the things that I cover will apply particularly to small web businesses, little shops, web designers. But, the principles that we will be going over will apply to the whole of web design and in fact the design of any site at all.

What I am going to be talking about I guess comes under headology, psychology. It will be stuff like: self perception, posture, attitude, and brand – which are really central things.

So, starting with brand… what is brand? Well, brand is how people perceive you. What do you offer, what can you do for them. And what differentiates you from alternatives. Differentiation is absolutely vital and you must not ever underestimate it. There is a couple of books that have been really influential in hammering this point home to me.

The first one I would like to mention is called Purple Cow. It is written by Seth Godin, the kind of godfather of marketing. And the core premise of Purple Cow is… whatever you do, you have got to stand out 241 you’ve got to be memorable. In the 22st century just fitting in with people’s general expectations, fitting in with the crowd simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

The second book that I really loved is called Zag and it is written by a guy called Martin Neumeier. And it comes at the same kind of thing, but from a different angle. It says, “When everybody zigs, zag.” You go in the other direction. What ever is going on around you, do whatever it takes to stand out, to be noticeable and to go against the flow. Zag is also full of brilliant examples that explain why and also how you can go about it.

So what I am going to be covering is broadly three steps that will help you to get into a really winning mindset. Okay, so let’s dive in.

These days so much to choose from that we are surrounded by so many brands and so many messages all of the time. What drives our decisions and our choices as clients and what drives our client’s choices. And I find that it really really helps me if I try and get into the head of my potential customers. So the first thing to note, which is really often overlooked, I cannot stress this enough is people who land on your website (generally speaking) want you to be the one.

No one really enjoys trolling search engine results. People say to you, “Oh you know, you competitors are only a click away.” And I would like to say to these doom-and-gloom merchants, “So what!”. You know, when somebody is on my website, we are half-way there. We are over the first hurdle.

And these people are going to fall into two categories. They are either going to be someone who is looking for what we do and if they are fantastic! All we need to do then is to communicate that, quickly and cleanly to them, without giving them any reason to click back to the Google search results. And if this people is in the other category of people who aren’t looking for what we offer, no problem! We have got nothing to lose. We’re unlikely to be able to turn them around at this point and they are probably looking for something else.

But what we might hope to do, is leave a positive impression so that one day when they are sitting there at there desk going, “Do you know what we really need is someone who does expert site reviews, or somebody who specializes in Web 2.0 design.” You might hope that hey remember you.

It is really important to get your head around this reality that people who are visiting your sites are your friends and they want you to be right, so all you have to do is not bugger-it all up.

Okay, so let’s take it for granted that your honored site visitor is in the first camp. They are here because they are looking for what you offer; they want you to be the agency for them. Moving on to step two… How to let them make a positive decision.

Now here my advice is, work out who they really are. Who are your real customers? I see a lot of small agencies and free lancers, who on their websites they try and betray themselves as something they’re not – either bigger or broader or more capable. We don’t need to do that. The absolute core of this whole blurb I am spatting at is don’t pretend to be a big corp megabucks agency, if you’re not. Yeah…

The whole trick is to be who you are, and portray that in a strong way that people love; that people connect with. I mean, you’ve seen all this stuff where people say, “We this and we that.”. You know, all over their website. When it is clearly one guy sitting in his bedroom. And there is nothing wrong with being one guy sitting in your bedroom doing work; there is a market for that kind of thing. And the other kind of stuff you find is people say is that, “Oh, we do work for clients ranging from 50-quid jobs (for small local businesses) up to mega-gazillion jobs for international blah-blah-blah…”. And you sit there going, you don’t do those kinds of jobs.

So who are you trying to win? Are you trying to win BMW and SONY and Disney? Do you think they… those guys are going to come along to your website and fall for this stuff? Let’s say they did.

Let’s go on a flight of fancy and say that the VP of Marketing for Disney lands on your website cause they just happens to find himself between web agencies, looking for a new one, and he goes, “Oh wow! These people seem to have a team although I can’t see them because there are no names and there is not much of a portfolio. And they say that they work with companies just like mine, a massive global conglomerate.” Let’s say you caught him on a bad day and he accidentally picks up the phone and calls you. How long is he going to be on the phone for, one minute 241 two minutes, before he realizes that you can’t possibly give him the security that he as a big-massive client needs. So we just need to accept that these aren’t the guys who will be paying your wage.

So think, “Who are the real people who want what you offer?” And then, we brand ourselves, we pitch ourselves for those people uniquely. There is no point in pretending to be what you are not. What you need to do is present what you are, in the best light possible, which brings us onto step three… How to show who you are in a way that wins customers.

So the trick is to examine all the aspects of what you are, what you do, and how you work whether you perceive it as positive or negative. And build those things into a brand, into a whole impression, that really delivers for you. So let’s get back into our customers head.

Who are they, first of all? So they are not BMW and Disney and all of these guys. They aren’t going to be paying your bills. Who is going to be paying your bills? Who needs what you have? This is a two-way match between supply and demand. You can’t just be what you are not. You can only offer what you can offer. You can’t sell to people who need something else.

Let’s start with the givens. Let’s start with what you are and what your capabilities are, what you can do. And then, picture a market for that. But the trick here is to select what to show that might make you memorable and create a connection.

Often the things that you might perceive as weakness… for example if you are stuck in that mindset of thinking, “You need to pretend to be a massive full service agency.”… the things that you think are weaknesses may in fact be real strengths if you can spin them right, if you can present them in a right way. But, fundamentally this is all about getting your head around it.

Branding isn’t about pretending to be something that you are not. Branding is about working out who you are and what you really do and then standing there and saying it with confidence in a way that really impacts people.

Okay, so let’s look at a few things. Ah, you might be thinking, “We are not based in central London.” Great! You’re nearer to your local customers. You’re nearer your local small businesses who want somebody around the corner. They don’t want a big kind of so-ho agency.

So you are thinking, “We are just one person.” Fantastic! You have no huge wage bills and that keeps the cost down. And very often, your clients can know that they can pickup the phone, and might even have your mobile number, and they can pickup the phone and speak to you. And that is worth an awful lot to a lot of clients, knowing who is going to be on the other end of the phone.

“What about if you haven’t got an office?” Who cares if you haven’t got an office? You go to your clients and meet at their premises. It also keeps the fees down. Your local clients will respect that.

“You don’t know everything about web technology.” Who does? You might be a specialist in PHP or CSS. Or you might have a particular passion for religious organizations or green issues or whatever it is, whatever really floats your boat is whatever you want to do. Let’s do that.

Nobody knows everything. So if you are a small scale agency, we talk about this a lot, everyone has a network of other professionals and amateurs in your area, or around the world, who can help. And even the big agencies do that – everybody does that.

So what we are talking about is, say what you are really about. Lots of people make a positive decision to work with my agency, after reading our ethical policy that we publish on our website. And that works great for us because the kind of clients that we love to work for are actually attracted by reading that stuff and the other clients who are in industries that we don’t do, they don’t bother to get in touch. Which saves everybody time and effort. So now you are getting your brand together. We need to build in, what your audience wants.

So if you are really suited to dealing with other local small businesses, say. Think about what signs, what signals they are looking for to be able to make a positive decision to take the next step.

There are two important things to remember here. Remember the customer in on your side. They want you to be the one. And also, here’s a new one, you don’t have to close a sale on your website.

They job of the website is to get a qualified visitor from the point of first initial contact, knowing nothing about you, to the point of taking the next step. That’s it. So focus your efforts on giving the right kind of visitor, the right kind of signals, that you probably right for them. That is all that you need to do.

Now generally, you’ll be looking to reinforce just a few points and I always think of these as like check boxes in somebody’s mind. I like to picture somebody; think of what they look like, where they’re working, sitting at their computer typing something into a search engine and clicking on some results. And thinking, “What are the check boxes, what are the three or four check boxes (there are not usually more that that), in this person’s mind that I need to tick-off?”

And if you can tick-off those check boxes without upsetting the person, or giving them any reason to go away, and not believe in you then you’ve probably done your job. Then what you do is, you say (here is a call to action)… “If you want to talk about this more, that is fantastic, pickup the phone and call me and I would love to speak with you!”

Let’s imagine, depending on the market you are talking to, what kind of check boxes might be in somebody’s head. I think very often that they are things like, “I can trust these guys.” or “They are not going to be too expensive and will fit my budget.” or “They like working with companies like mine.”

So they are looking for evidence of all of those things. And it might be like what we said before; “I can get somebody on the phone if I need help.” And clients aren’t necessarily super confident in their requirements. You know, if it is an engineering company, and they don’t really know anything about media or marketing in particular, then there is no reason to think that they are sitting there being really really cynical. What they looking for is a friend, they are looking for someone to be on their side and to help them through this process.

All we need to do is get them effectively to feel good about you 241 is really what we are saying. We have to get them from first finding you, to coming to a point where they have no reason to think you are not the right agency for them, then you give them a call to action and you say, “Let’s get together and let’s talk about we can do for you.”

The thing I would add here is to do with focus. You need to plan the steps from the home page through to that call to action. Now you know your website might only be one page. You might only need one page to do that. You don’t have to have a news section. You might not have news to give. Don’t put a news section on because it will be a dead pit.

You should put on your website only the things that you need to get that person from A through to B. And you need to be very very focused about it. So don’t put in more pages than you need. Don’t put in more images than you need. Don’t put in more blurb-bump-from-rhubarb, the more blurb-bump-from-rhubarb you put on your website the more you’re going to be watering down your message.

Get all of these steps right, you have done your job and you should see the difference in your bottom line.

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