This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Donovan Hutchinson to talk about marketing and building your personal brand.
Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul Boag and joining me this week is Marcus as always and Donovan! Donovan Hutchinson, hello Sir!
Donovan: Hello Paul. Thank you for having me on the show.
Paul: It’s really nice to have you on. Now Marcus, you haven’t met Donovan?
Marcus: No. I don’t know who you are or what you do.
Paul: Oh well, there you go. There’s a brilliant opening for you Donovan, tell us how amazing you are.
Donovan: I am just a guy, you know.
Paul: We’re supposed to be talking about marketing today so you are supposed to be like ‘yeah and here’s my elevator picture, and exactly who I am and what I do’.
So we met a while back, didn’t we Donovan, and had a little chat for a while?
Donovan: We did.
Paul: Because your background and experience, well you are multi-talented obviously in particularly doing a lot with CSS animation.
Donovan: That’s right. At the moment I am very into CSS animation and teaching what I know about CSS animation and building up a bit of a website around that as a theme, a side project I am working on right now.
Paul: A very cool side project. Now, I can’t remember from the conversation we had previously, do you work for yourself or do you work for someone else? I can’t remember what the set up was.
Donovan: I’m employed. I work full time for a company called Kitman Labs. And we provide software for avoiding injury in professional atheletes.
Paul: Oh well that sounds… dull.
Marcus: I was thinking that sounds interesting, but there you go.
Paul: See different perspectives, Marcus. It mentioned the word ‘athlete’ and I began to doze off.
Marcus: You don’t fit in that bracket do you Paul?
Paul: No, I thought ‘that doesn’t apply to me’. I tell you what it did make me think is that just reinforces what I have always believed – that exercise is bad for you. If there has to be a company dedicated to injuries for athletes it just says that doing athletic things is bad for you.
Donovan: I guess so, but if you look at how many people die just putting their trousers on, I think maybe we should put a certain company for that as well.
Marcus: Trouser Labs.
Paul: That would be awesome. Now that would be a company that I could get enthusiastic about.
Donovan: Well we’ve all got to put trousers on sometimes.
Paul: And one of the most common ways to die, is on the toilet as well. See again… British…bring it back to toilet humour.
Marcus: See I am looking at Kitman Labs now, and I am wondering whether you work in California or Ireland. I reckon I can guess.
Paul: You could never guess from his accent, could you?
Donovan: Well actually we are an Irish company, we started off here in Ireland. But we’ve been expanding into the US this year. So a bit of both.
Paul: So Donovan, tell us about your CSS animation stuff? Where can people follow you and learn about the cool things you are doing?
Donovan: This is a side project that I’m very excited about. It’s something that started this year. I’ve been blogging for a few years, but over the while of a few years I’ve discovered various topics I have enjoyed blogging about and they mostly have come down to CSS and making cool things with CSS. So I set up a site this year to focus just on the animation side and the URL for it is cssanimation.rocks.
It’s kind of fun. I go for the literal meaning of that by actually having rocks on the site.
Paul: Oh see, I like that.
Donovan: So that’s a vehicle for me to blog and share interesting stuff about CSS animation and practice how to teach it and write about it as well as improving my own skills in CSS.
Marcus: Smiley rocks with googly eyes.
Donovan: That’s right.
Paul: You can’t go wrong with googly eyes, can you really? I said that to my wife last night. I said ‘when I die and you cremate me and they give you that jar, you know when you normally scatter ashes, I don’t want that. I want them to draw a smiley face and put googly eyes on the jar and leave me on the mantelpiece’. That’s what I hope will be done with my remains.
Marcus: These are the thoughts that fill your day aren’t they Paul?
Paul: Seriously. I consider my own death quite a lot. That’s probably a cry for help isn’t it?
Donovan: It’s very zen or something…
Paul: Either zen, dark, or something. Yes.
Anyway, right, yes. So the reason that I wanted Donovan on the show, Marcus, was because we did a consultancy clinic a while back because he was asking some advice about—I don’t know how much of this I can share Donovan, I am just going to go ahead and be completely indiscreet—he wanted some advice about he had this idea about CSS animation, he was thinking about doing a book and all of this kind of stuff and so we were chatting about the idea of building a brand, a personal brand and marketing that and all of those kind of things. So I gave him a little bit of advice and he went away and basically I think, ignored it all. And did something far, far cooler. So that’s why I wanted him on the show because he’s been doing some really interesting stuff and when we get into talking about the marketing, he’s been doing a lot around CSS animation. So that’s the kind of logic.
Donovan: Well it was a great boost to me, you down play it yourself, but it was actually a fantastic idea to get in touch with you just to start it off. It’s helped to really focus the idea more than anything else, boiled it down to being a smaller idea than I was thinking. I was going to write about CSS in general. Boiling it down to animation was a good step.
Paul: Yes, that was one of the things we will get into in the discussion part of it as well. But I thought it was quite important to get Donovan, or someone like Donovan on the show Marcus, because I know how terrible you are at marketing.
Marcus: I am a salesman Paul, not a marketer.
Paul: No you’re not are you. When was the last time Headscape blogged?
Marcus: Oh that would be a couple of weeks ago.
Paul: That soon? I am impressed.
Marcus: Two or three..
Paul: Four or five…
Marcus: Well we were really good and blogged once a week for about two months, maybe three months. Then we got lots of work in.
Paul: This is exactly the problem with marketing. People don’t understand how you have to keep going. Because otherwise you get into this boom/bust cycle of ‘Oh we are really busy so we’re not going to do any marketing’ which means that we don’t get work through the door because we are not marketing and then we have got nothing to do, so we do loads of marketing!
Marcus: It’s not a conscious decision not to do it though, I am constantly thinking ‘I should be doing this, I should be doing that’. We have had two major launches of websites that still aren’t case studies! I know that’s maybe not… well it is marketing, but that’s an obvious sales thing to do, but we’ve been too busy.
Paul: Don’t give me that, just look at Donovan. Donovan is going to be my golden boy for this show, right?
Marcus: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: He’s got a full time job AND does this as well.
Donovan: And two kids.
Paul: And two kids!
Marcus: Wow. Little ones?
Donovan: They are small, yeah. Four and two.
Marcus: Hard work then?
Paul: So now Marcus, what is your excuse?
Marcus: I have no excuse.
Paul: I like this Donovan. Keep going on how busy you are, this is good!
Marcus: Ok alright. I am innately lazy and all this hard work is taking its toll. And I am old. I am about to be a Grandad, so there.
Donovan: Actually in fairness, I am innately lazy too, and the easiest thing to do is to cast this stuff as hard work and then becomes one of those things that you just don’t want to do. And then it becomes a hassle and it just doesn’t happen. Then you feel guilty and it’s a cycle there as well.
Marcus: Got to break my cycle.
Paul: You’ve just got to decide it’s fun Marcus. That’s what you are doing wrong.
Donovan: I love marketing!
Paul: It’s the best!
Marcus: To be honest, writing blog posts, things like that, they probably are one of the more enjoyable aspects of my job. But when you’ve been—I am not going to keep making references to hard work—but I like to sit down and think ‘what am I going to write about?’, spend a bit of time thinking about what I want to write, not ‘well you’ve got an hour – sit down and write stuff!’. I can compare it to doing music type things. ‘You have 9.30am to 10.30am to do music stuff’. You’ve got to feel like doing it, I think.
More excuses I admit it, but that’s where my head is. That I don’t see it as something that I can, like writing a proposal, that’s work. But writing a blog, I want to enjoy it a bit more, so I see it as a different thing.
Paul: You sound like a Prim donna. ‘Oh I can only write when the muses takes me’
Donovan: I think music is a good idea though. There are two ways you can do music, you can practice once in a while when the mood takes you or like a professional musician needs to practice every day, to build up the muscle and get better at it, so that when the need comes along, you’re primed and ready to do it.
Paul: I like this. I like Donovan. I think that’s a really, really good point. Marcus, don’t you think that’s a really good point?
Marcus: I used to practice every day.
Donovan: I got out of the habit recently, I had a great couple of months there. I subscribed to 750 words, the website and get up each morning and write 750 random words and got it flowing and got some content out of it.
Paul: Did you really? I haven’t heard of this site. What’s this site?
Donovan: It’s amazing. It’s an amazing business model if nothing else. It’s a site that lets you type 750 words or more and encourages you to do that every day by giving you a score, like every day you get an extra point. And you pay them a service for letting you put text into a box that they don’t keep. It’s just gone.
Paul: That is superb! They are geniuses!
Donovan: Yes, I love it.
Paul: But actually I can totally understand what you are saying. Because that goes back to the ‘if you do it all the time, you get better at it. It becomes easier, it becomes intuitive’.
Donovan: And you start seeing results too if you start seeing an effect of that, maybe an increased number of viewers, increased number of sales or conversions, that could be encouraging too, to keep it up.
Paul: Now actually to be fair, I now have the site in front of me. It actually gives you some really good stats as you are doing it, about how well you’ve done on it and how you feel about it and what your mind set was and that kind of stuff. And so it is a bit more than giving you a text box.
Donovan: It’s what I use it for really, I put random stuff in there and a few blog posts came out along the way.
Paul: That’s brilliant. Do you know what? Let’s hang on a minute, because we’ve leapt straight into the subject. We’re supposed to be talking about things like the weather.
Donovan: I’m sorry.
Paul: No! Don’t apologise! ‘Oh I am so sorry, I have come on this show and talked about what I am supposed to be talking about’.
Donovan: I got really excited about marketing I guess.
Paul: But we are supposed to be talking about things like the British weather and waffle-y. Because that’s what we do at the beginning of the show but I am going to skip that and go straight to the sponsors instead, as we’ve already spent ten minutes before we’ve actually started the show.
Discussion around marketing your business
As we’re talking about marketing, it makes sense that we talk about our sponsors. And the first sponsor I want to talk about it Template Monster. Template Monster is a community that provide a lot of the questions that we are going to cover in this show, but if you don’t know Template Monster also have got a huge range of design templates that you can use on those projects where your design time is limited and you want to get up and running very, very quickly. They have the largest template gallery on the web and there are opportunities to try them before you buy, so you can see how easy it is to integrate their templates and get them up and running and customise them and all that kind of stuff. They have 24/7 support helping you to get that up and running, which is really great. They’ve got some amazing prices, I think they are incredibly good value for what it is they are providing you with. But there’s also certain times in the year where they are even cheaper because they have various sales and things going on, so keep an eye out for those and it’s worth signing up for their newsletter to be the first to be notified about that kind of stuff. And they also throw in free-license stock photography which makes them sound even cheaper and even better in my opinion. So check them out at Boagworld.com/TemplateMonster. So that’s them. Thank you very much guys for supporting the show and in particular paying for the transcriptions which enable us to reach a bigger audience as possible which is always good because that enables us to market the show even more. Back on topic again! Did you see how well I did that?
Marcus: You’re a pro, Paul.
Donovan: It’s amazing.
Paul: Ahh well, I don’t know… I am just incredible. So anyway, what were we talking about? I’ve completely forgotten. Oh practicing and doing stuff every day and the idea of blogging. So how much do you blog Donovan, as obviously that’s a key component in building your reputation?
Donovan: Yes, it’s basically the main driver for the traffic on the site, is regular blog posts. I’ve had a great run earlier in the year but it was interrupted because I switched gears for a while, but for the first couple of months I would write once every week and spend the best part of the week planning what the next post would be and prepare it over the weekend. And then have it live Monday or Tuesday and I found that by doing that, it was definitely a cumulative effect. The first post might get a spike of traffic and it would die back down again, to next to nothing, and then the second would spike but then build on the first one. And over the couple of months, it definitely built up a baseline of traffic that definitely came back every day. And I would see that as the long term approach to building up a more solid base for the traffic on a site.
Paul: Are we talking about the posts on the CSS animation site or do you write stuff elsewhere as well?
Donovan: I write sometimes on a site called hop.ie, it’s actually my personal blog. I started originally writing about CSS there but I’ve since moved onto more specific sites. Recently I’ve been sharing what I’ve learnt about this kind of stuff, trying to build an audience and how it went to having a blog that was just a blog to a blog that was a paid product. There is a lot I think in there in terms of learning how this stuff works and I like to share as I learn.
Paul: That is, I think, such a good part and another benefit of blogging beyond the marketing aspects of it. If you’re blogging about stuff that you are learning as you are learning it, it helps formulate it in a stronger way in your mind, bringing those thoughts into focus.
Donovan: Absolutely. And not just blogging, an example a couple of years ago, somebody volunteered me on my behalf to give a talk at a local meet-up.
Paul: That’s nice of them!
Donovan: Was my boss at the time. But I had three weeks to prepare for the talk and it was about Angular as a front-end framework. I kind of new a bit about Angular before, I read about it, but had never used it. So I spent the weeks actually using it, and I made sure I understood it enough to answer questions when it came to the presentation. That’s one way to make yourself definitely learn.
Paul: Absolutely. But it sounds like you put… I mean I am looking through some of the articles you have got on CSS animation, it looks like you put a lot of work into these. It must take you for ever to produce them, doesn’t it?
Donovan: Sometimes they are quicker than others. The actual demos usually take most of the time, finding out how they work. Having said that, that’s usually the most fun part, experimenting with the CSS and making something move and building it. But then writing it, I’ve been practicing it for a while now, the sequence involved in setting out how to introduce the topic and how to set some goals for it, how to teach in the post and then break it down into steps. And that’s not usually too bad. I can get through that in a couple of hours in terms of writing it up.
Paul: Really? That’s good. At the moment, I am looking at your www.dc2015 CSS logo animation thing . And I am having trouble looking away from the screen, because it’s kind of hypnotising me.
Donovan: It’s pretty hypnotic.
Paul: It is! Now we are talking about CSS animation, but who cares? That’s all done with CSS animation?
Donovan: 100% CSS there, there’s no images, no SGV’s or anything apart from the Apple part – the Apple logo.
Paul: Well yes. That is incredible.
Marcus: Yes it’s lovely.
Donovan: Haha, makes for good listening.
Marcus: I like the clock as well. The clock is brilliant.
Paul: Oh I haven’t looked at the clock one, let me have a look. This is totally off topic isn’t it. Oh I see. Oh crikey!
That is wonderful.
Donovan: One thing I like about this stuff is that a while back we used to do this stuff in Flash, or whatever particular animation tool. And it was always an extra layer on top of the web, an extra thing to download, was really slow. You had to use animated .gif’s or .jif’s. And the file size then was generally pretty big but we can do this with CSS now and it’s so much faster. As soon as you load the page there is maybe 10kb of extra CSS for a lot of complicated animation.
Paul: Yeah! What I like is that you’ve got the demos for each of these here where you click on the demo button and you get it full screen. But actually the headers on each of the pages are really impressive too. Because it enables you to see how these things could be fitted in within context and that kind of stuff. I mean the activity wheel that comes up…. Oh it’s just nice. Like it.
Donovan: Thank you.
Paul: Anyway, that’s not what this podcast is about.
Donovan: If anything is listening and wonders what’s going on, go across to cssanimation.rocks and see what’s going on.
Paul: Yes you’ve got to see this really. It doesn’t work well on a podcast! Which is why we are not talking about CSS animation. We are talking about marketing. I need to stop clicking into these posts, it’s completely distracting me.
Right. So one of the things that we talked about, because when we had a phone call, you were talking about building your personal brand weren’t you. And one of the pieces of advice I gave you was the importance of being specific and focusing down on one particular thing and become known as the person for a particular area. Like you said, you were doing a lot of CSS stuff and I encouraged to focus a little bit more. Was that a good guess on my part? Has it worked out for you?
Donovan: Absolutely. It’s really helped focus in terms of the kinds of posts I am writing. The change between last year and this year was that I had created a site called ‘learnsome’ with the idea being that it would be the place to learn something – to learn some CSS or learn some web design – different topics. But that was a huge thing to take on in terms of structuring it. And even just choosing a topic was pretty tough because there was so much to choose from. Whereas with CSS animation, I can start with that as a premise and think ‘Well what’s cool with CSS animation?’ It’s much neater than a targeted list of things to write about.
Paul: The other thing I wanted to ask you—we will get onto listener questions in a minute, but just to provide a bit of context—when I last talked to you when we had that original conversation, you were talking about doing a book, now that’s turned into something different. Which is what you have been marketing. So do you want to tell people a little bit about what you have done instead?
Donovan: Yes, absolutely. I made a New Year’s Resolution this year, perhaps foolishly, to write a book on the subject of CSS animation. And I might get there yet, but I quickly discovered that it was a big step to go from zero to a complete book in one go. And even though I did know how to blog, and I knew how to write about it, blogs and books are so different. So I looked for something in between. And a year and a half ago I took part in a course called ‘Write On’ by Reilly Baker.
Paul: Oh yes?
Donovan: And this was a terrific month long course where you sign up and then every day for the month you get an email. The email talks about how to choose a topic, or set a tone, or find out about your audience or how to structure writing in a way that you’ll do it. And it guided you through the process of how to be a better writer. I thought it was a great idea so I shamelessly ripped that off and decided to something like that myself. But instead of writing, I focused on CSS animation as an introductory course. So for weeks, one email each weekday I cover topics from introducing the idea of animation and why you would want to animate and then get down into the details about what actual transitions are and how you combine them and use timing functions and then bring in the fun stuff around animations and key frames. And by the end of the last week we put them all together, make some practical examples. And scattered throughout there are loads of demos showing each step of the process and how these CSS rules actually work with each other.
It’s a lot to take on and it’s far too much for one blog post, but it’s also maybe not enough for a book, so it fit in well in terms of a four-week lightweight course.
Paul: And I guess as well it’s about picking the right medium. I mean to some degree I think books that teach technical stuff like that aren’t necessarily always the best approach. And something where you can sit down in front of your computer and go through this stuff is almost more useful in a way, isn’t it?
Donovan: I do find myself, it’s hard to stick with a book sometimes if it’s too technical. Abstract from the web that I am working on at the time. And it’s definitely an advantage of having email in that I can put animated images into the post. I could like out to our live demos and say go to this URL and see it actually happening in the browser. It’s quicker and easier to see the context.
Paul: Ok, so you settled on this product that I presume you’d created in advance. But it seems to have taken off hugely. People are willing to part with money for this. It’s not a free thing that you’ve given away. So it’s been quite a thing that you’ve achieved. What do you think you’ve done from a marketing perspective that has made this happen?
Donovan: In retrospect I think taking the time to build up an audience through the blogging has been a good start. It helps me improve the way I write but also it has set people’s expectations of me in terms of knowing that I can write this stuff and that it’s quality. So I think sharing has been the biggest driver in terms of sharing what I know as I learn it. There was a big transition really. It was a little experiment actually going into having a paid project. I always felt I had wanted to but taking that actual step was a bit of a big deal for me to actually do. And I didn’t know what to expect. I had very low expectations in terms of sales. I thought if I got ten people to sign up and take part in this it would be fine. In the first week sixty people paid to take part and then by the end of the first month it was one hundred and twenty people taking part in the first course. Which was way in excess of my expectations and a fantastic start.
Paul: I look through, looking down at your product site now and I am seeing you’ve got some great testimonials from people like Andy Clarke who was on this show a few weeks ago. You’ve got people like Ian Yates, the guy behind Tuts+ and various other big names.
Were these people you’d already built relationships with?
Paul: Ahh all right, ok.
Donovan: Yes, that’s just part of getting involved in a community and maybe doing more than just blogging. I wrote some articles for Tuts+ and found my way in through that. Over the past couple of years I’ve written articles for Smashing magazine and a few different places. And by doing that I’ve connected with lots of people which has brought fantastic results in terms of the people’s willingness to reach out and help and actually give the course a nudge as well when I started it. I’ve spoken to Andy at a few conferences and taken part in his workshops as well. That’s all part of marketing, it’s reaching out and getting to know people.
Paul: Yes, absolutely. It’s not just expecting people to turn up at your blog the whole time, but go where people are as well, which I think is a really big part of it. So anyway, let’s do some of the listener questions. Because we’ve spent way too long… I am just really interested because you are doing something a little bit different than I am. I don’t sell a product like that, I am selling my Consultancy services, which is why I am interested in the marketing behind it.
Right ok. So here’s question number one: ‘I’ve always relied on word of mouth to win work, but I feel I should be more proactive. Where should I begin?’
That’s a really good one. I like that one. Marcus. Do you feel you should be more proactive?
Marcus: That’s a loaded question. Yes I do, Paul.
Paul: Good answer.
Marcus: I think if you have been doing something for a long time, like I have and you’ve been working with many different people over the years, even people who you may not have worked with for a long time are worth keeping in touch with now and then. You have a Newsletter Paul, but I just phone people up every now and again. Or fire them an email and say ‘We’ve just finished a project and you might be interested in what we’ve done on this’. It is marketing, it’s more of a sales thing, but this question is more sales related than a marketing type thing. So yes, keep in contact with people to let them know what you are up to, I think is certainly more proactive than just waiting for people to knock on your door. Definitely.
Paul: I actually think what you are describing is marketing. It’s almost like there are two types of marketing in a way. And Donovan’s experience strikes me as being like this as well. There’s the mass marketing in the sense of I’ve written blog posts, I do podcasts, I tweet where I am talking to large numbers of people at the same time. But then these days, it’s so important that networking and relationship marketing which goes back to what Donovan was saying about already knowing Andy Clarke and Ian Yates and a few people like that who were willing to stick their neck out to help him when he needed it. And you talking about reaching out to people, keeping in contact and those relationships. I think relationship marketing is quite an important area at the moment.
Donovan: I would imagine they both feed into each other as well. If you are writing and sharing what you know as you learn it, then that is the way to get to meet people and connect with them and they would have heard about you through some of the work and then they tell friends so the word of mouth thing could even follow from that.
Paul: I tell you another question I quite like. Because for me, things like committing to blog regularly, nurturing your network of people, keeping in touch with them, saying hello to them, things like being committed to social media and contributing to that. Not just once or twice every couple of days, but literally multiple times a day. We were talking about this earlier – one of our clients think they are doing quite well on social media, but my definition of well and theirs are a world apart. So doing those kind of things is incredibly important and these days I think good marketing is built around relationships and it’s built around, as you said Donovan, earlier, it’s built around sharing. Sharing what you know. But then there is a kind of flip side to that, which is our second question.
Which is: ‘Are there any marketing channels and approaches that we should avoic?’
Did you try anything Donovan, that didn’t work?
Donovan: I have tried lots of things that haven’t worked. I think my main mistake usually is putting money down for something, but not really understanding how it’s going to be used in terms of marketing. This may be something as simple as setting up some Google ads, if it’s not done right it could just burn the money very quickly in a handful of clicks. It could work, it’s not necessarily something to avoid, but at the same time, to understand how the marketing is done would maybe a better approach, avoiding things outright. Maybe it’s to do with finding the audience. If you are going to put time and money into something that’s not going to align with where your audience is, then I’d avoid that. I wouldn’t sponsor the SuperBowl for CSS animation.
Paul: Good choice.
Donovan: You’d probably meet loads of people, but would be a very poor return on investment.
Marcus: If you think that whatever it is that you are going to spend money on or potentially put some effort into, basically if it seems too easy then chances are it isn’t going to work. That’s what it’s down to really, isn’t it. Using pay-per-click advertising on the term web deisgn, that’s easy. Boom. Done. We’ll get loads of work. Of course you’re not going to get loads of work off of that, you’re just going to spend loads of money. If you are willing to do the work properly then probably most forms of advertising or marketing channels will work for you. But if you just expect it to be easy then they won’t work.
Paul: I think it’s about targeting isn’t it. It’s about targeting specifically enough. In Donovan’s case, if he advertised on the SuperBowl, a tiny fraction of the percentage of the people that watch SuperBowl might be interested in CSS animation. But the vast huge majority are not. So that’s not an appropriate approach for him. Even with what you were saying about pay-per-click advertising. If you are too broad – if you are not specific enough in your targeting as when we did it when we did it in the early days and gave it a go when it wasn’t horrendously expensive like it is now. We were getting leads through, sure, but they were too small for us. We didn’t target correctly.
Marcus: Yes, basically. We also paid money for print advertising and sent out DMs and all sorts of things. Complete waste of money! But there you go. I think it was marketing week or design…
Paul: Ahh yes, ‘A New Media Age’
Marcus: People reading that weren’t interested in our services. They might be now, but not twelve years ago when we decided to spend loads of money on it. I think that was just an example of ‘Let’s spend some money here and get loads of work from it’. And then you realise that actually yes, we really didn’t think about it, and therefore magic doesn’t happen.
Paul: I am just not a fan of shout-y marketing for want of a better word. I am sure there is a proper marketing term for this and it’s not shout-y marketing. But when you just broadcast your message at people. Which is very traditional broadcast marketing isn’t it. For me, that doesn’t, and the kind of services we offer and the kind of things we do, it doesn’t work particularly well. You have to build a rapport with people. You have got to build some form or relationship. For me it’s giving away stuff. It’s putting their needs first and what they are interested in. And then know that if I keep doing that for long enough eventually they are going to come back to me and pay me for something.
Donovan: It’s the longer approach, taking time to build up that image and be known for it.
Paul: Yes and the trouble is, going back to Marcus’s point about time, and quick wins. Is that that isn’t a quick win, is it? It can take years to do that.
Marcus: Yes. We made the decision ten years ago that you should spend the majority of your time to do this sort of work, Paul to help market our company. At that time you were probably working four days a week on design type work and then you went and flipped it the other way to doing that one day a week and then four days doing marketing.
Paul: And then I left, after you had invested all that in me!
Paul: What a bastard.
Marcus: You said it.
Donovan: Is it your job Marcus, to do all the writing now? All the marketing?
Marcus: I made it everyone in the company’s job, which kind of worked for a while. It’s because I feel I have to lead from the front that I can’t bang the drum too hard, why haven’t you done this, when I haven’t done it. So it’s slipped a bit at the moment, as I said earlier. I was dug into somewhat over it, but we have gone from having quite a lot of time on our hands to having no time on our hands, and this isn’t an excuse, but that’s why it’s fallen off a bit lately. It hasn’t gone from our minds. But yes, I am aware we need to get back on that wagon.
Paul: It is hard. I teased you earlier. But it is really hard to make that happen when you get busier. I remember when I first started doing things like the podcast and blogging. I just did it in the evening, like Donovan does. And you can’t always do that. You don’t always have the energy to do that. And then what was great about my time at Headscape was that was primarily my job. That was what I was doing, and other stuff fitted in around that. Which made it easier to ring fence it. I often think this is true, how many times I said to clients how important it is, commercial clients, and clients like the ones Headscape works with. I’ve said how important it is to have dedicated people to digital and dedicated people to those kinds of areas. As a digital company, we need dedicated marketing time. A lot of the people that I speak to at other Agencies and individuals, I am telling them to set aside a little bit of time every week where you do not book a lot of stuff in – Friday afternoon I always think is a good one. But it’s hard to stick to that.
Marcus: I recall a podcast on Friday afternoon.
Paul: So in some senses, you do do marketing.
Marcus: Yes, of course I do.
Paul: You do it every week. This is your marketing.
Marcus: Well I could do more.
Paul: Would you like to say how great Headscape is at this point?
Marcus: Oh I don’t need to – everybody knows. Oh I do! This is marketing.
Paul: You’re marketing by giving away valuable information. See exactly what I was saying earlier. You provide value to your customers and they will come back to you. I sound as though I know what I am talking about.
Oh look, we’ve answered the next one although it’s not actually a question. ‘I don’t really have time for marketing, I am too busy doing client work’. Marcus, did you send a question in?
Marcus: No I didn’t, honestly.
Paul: Well it goes back to that boom/bust cycle for me. That’s what keeps me marketing. I am really quite excited at the moment and I’ve been in business for how many months? When did I start? February wasn’t it. So five months. And works just appeared. And I am now booked up through to September and you could get ‘oh great, that’s wonderful, I don’t need to worry about marketing’. But I’ve learnt over the years that you cannot let up on the marketing. Because as soon as you do, then you begin to go through a dry patch. And not as much stuff comes in, the leads dry up etc, etc and then you go through a frenzy of marketing again. Win a load of work and get really busy and take the foot off again. And things slow down again. And you go through this boom/bust which is painful isn’t it.
Donovan here’s a question. You might now completely contradict me. Has that been your experience? Because you said to me that you’ve taken the foot off a little bit with the blogging because you’ve been doing other stuff. Have you noticed a consequence to that?
Paul: Oh good. Oh phew!
Donovan: I can’t contradict you on that one. If you look at the spikes along the way of the traffic and the way it builds up, I took time to make sure the course went through smoothly the first time and during that month I didn’t have much time for blogging. And that was basically a full month and I may be posted one post in that time. I don’t think I am actually quite back into the rhythm yet, even now, a few months later. It’s just that one month off essentially from blogging has been really hard to recover from. It’s almost like exercise in a way. If you are running a couple of times a week—I try to get out and run every once in a while—if you are sick for a few weeks, just getting back into it takes so much longer. So it’s worth doing regularly and keeping that moment up all the time.
Paul: Yes, absolutely.
Marcus: What do you mean ‘yeah’ you don’t know that!
Paul: I went to the gym three days a week for at least two years…
Marcus: I compare it to drinking.
Paul: Ok then, I associate with that, go for it Marcus, give us your drinking analogy.
Marcus: If you were regularly drinking then you can take your alcohol. But using the sick analogy, if you are sick for a couple of weeks and don’t drink at all then you can’t drink as well.
Paul: So you are basically encouraging people to drink regularly?
Paul: So this next question is a good one for you Donovan. ‘I can’t spend much time marketing—and that must be true for you with two young kids and a full time job—what then, should people focus on?’
Donovan: Well I think the way you think about marketing in general, but also in my case, blogging or whatever your choice of poison happens to be. Looking at it as something you can’t not do helps a lot in terms of making yourself want to find time to do it. For example. It’s not a burden to me to think ‘Oh I need to write a blog post for CSS animation’. In fact I really want to do it. It’s something I enjoy and I know I will be really satisfied with the results. The challenge then just becomes finding the time. And it’s not the challenge of both finding the time and making myself do the blog post. But taking one of those out of the equation I then carve out time when I can. So just as an example for myself, I commute to work, so in the mornings I am on a bus for the best part of an hour and it has Wi-Fi and so most days in the bus I open up the laptop and then other days I listen to Boagworld, but when I am not listening to Boagworld I do stuff on the computer on the way in.
Paul: I like the way you dropped that in. Thank you.
Marcus: You’ve done it once?
Donovan: And then in an evening time, when the kids are in bed I would often sit back and watch an episode on Netflix and that’s another hour in which I could have the laptop there and not necessarily always make myself do work, like it’s a burden, but just have it available so that if I am inspired to write something, then I have that time.
And there have been weeks where I have done something every evening and maybe most mornings. And then sometimes take a break and just do one every couple of days so I don’t get burned out but at least keep some momentum up and chip away at it a little bit at a time.
Paul: This isn’t a user’s question, but something that’s just popped into my head. You talked about how your primary marketing method is your blogging. But there’s almost a need to market your blogs as well if that makes sense. You can write, but if no one reads them…. Is it really there? No. Sorry. How do you go about promoting your blog posts?
Donovan: I have a few tricks I‘ve evolved over the years, that I’ve just stumbled across really. The first that I’ve found to be incredibly effective is to find people that run Newsletters. And particularly Newsletters that are appropriate to your niche.
Paul: Can you give me that list, please?
Don’t say it on the podcast, because I don’t want other people stealing them, but just email them to me.
Donovan: But it depends about what you do. If you have a blog about knitting, then you are not going to care about my list of newsletters. It’s finding ways that make people talk about it. Some people maybe blog a lot and share what other people are doing, so you might want to get in with them and say ‘Hey I’ve written something, you might want to have a look at this’. The same with Newsletters, each time I do a post I would send out a few emails to people that I am familiar with, but I also know they like certain types of content and say ‘Here’s something you might like’.
Another way is to talk, speak, get in front of people and actually say ‘This is me, this is what I do and this is a topic I am interested in’. And that’s a secondary effect I guess that people might want to know more and go back to your site.
Paul: What about things like you said you’d written for Smashing Magazine and things like that. Obviously I write a lot for Smashing Magazine as well, but do you think that actually helps attract people to your own blog? Or is it more just of a reputation building thing?
Donovan: I’d say it tends towards the second, in my experience. It doesn’t send a huge amount of traffic directly through, like a newsletter might. But it’s definitely valuable. And I think it all adds up. Getting your name in front of people, whatever the means is always a good thing.
As well as the Newsletters and writing for other people there are essentially blogs that like to blog about topics. Things like the Tympanus – the Codrops Collective. It surprised me just how many people used that. I hadn’t even used these services yet and thousands upon thousands of people seem to find them brilliant. And then lastly one big surprise that came around really in the past few weeks was getting articles translated into different languages. That’s something I’ve been really surprised by it. I wrote an article on the principles of animation for the web, based on Disney’s Illusion of Life, but applied to some web concepts. And a very generous chap, a news person decided to re-write it in Japanese on his blog and then I republished that back onto my own as a separate page. And through tweeting about it—I went on holiday and set up a load of buffer tweets, to tweet about the twelve principles as a way to keep the account working—and a few very prominent Japanese bloggers picked up on it and mentioned it and the next thing I know, the entire twitter stream was full of Japanese stuff. I had no idea what they were saying, whether it was good or bad. It certainly got lots of people visiting.
Paul: Now that’s interesting, I have people contact me every now and again saying ‘can I translate your article’. And I always say ‘yeah, go ahead, feel free to do it’. But what I don’t do is ask them to come back to me and republish that myself or mention it or anything like that. Perhaps I am missing a trick there. That’s good.
Donovan: I think there is value in that. What I try to do is give credit so when someone does translate it, I will set up a separate version linked from the main article and say we have a Polish version, Japanese, Chinese has been submitted. And then on that have a link saying ‘this is the English version’ translation thanks to… and then say their name.
Paul: Of course you’ve no actual idea whether they have really translated your article. Because it could just be a load of obscenities. And the reason it’s gone viral is because everybody is joking and laughing about how you were silly enough to publish it.
Donovan: I run it through google translate, so at least I have some idea.
Paul: See you check! That’s impressive! That’s one of the things I like about the tweet-bot app. I was speaking at a conference in Brussels last week. Of course loads of people posted stuff in various foreign languages after it and tweet-bot has a translation feature in it so you know what they are saying.
Donovan: Oh I didn’t know that.
Paul: So yes, the next question, well we’ve kind of done the next one. ‘How do you stand out from the crowd when there are so many web designers out there?’ And that’s what you have done so well, which is find your niche. Find the thing that you are going to be known for.
Donovan: Yes, I think also a huge number of designers are great at their work, but not so great at sharing the process by which they get to the end result. I imagine if you just actually blog or talk about that in some way you’d stand out in the top few percent of designers straight away just for sharing that information.
Paul: That’s a really good point, actually. Because it amazes me, which brings us onto the final question that I wanted to talk about which is: ‘I know I should market myself but I am worried looking like an idiot or getting criticized. How do I get over that?’ And it’s so true, isn’t it. So many people who are afraid to step out and say stuff. They either think ‘Oh well, someone else has already said it’. Yes, but someone else has said everything on the internet. You can’t have an original thought.
I recently wrote a post for Smashing magazine and I was really pleased with it. It had taken me a long time, I put a lot of thought into it and one of the comments said ‘This is pretty much straight out of this book’. And it was like… oh for crying out loud. Now they are thinking I’ve just plagiarised the book.
You’ve kind of got to let that go haven’t you?
Donovan: As designers we are all about empathy in terms of approaching our work. So we are vulnerable to feeling this when it happens, in terms of people feeling a bit harsh with their comments. I think we can use that empathy also the other way, to understand that not everyone knows what’s in our heads or our intent when we wrote something. And maybe they’ve had a bad day themselves or just misinterpreted what was being written. And most times when I’ve had someone write something not great about something I’ve done, it’s usually because either they’ve skimmed it, they’ve only read the heading line and it’s very rare I’ve actually run across someone who really meant to be really nasty.
Paul: Yes, I mean, once somebody called me the ‘C’ word about something that I had written and I went back to him and challenged him over it, very gently. I didn’t have a go back. I said ‘Well that’s a bit harsh?’ And he immediately said ‘Look I just had a really bad day and I vented at you’. And so often times what we take as a really personal attack really doesn’t have a lot to do with you really.
Marcus, you were going to say something?
Marcus: I’ve been joking for many years about the fact that we constantly repeat ourselves on this show, and we do. But that’s because our audience changes and there’s nothing wrong with repeating—obviously not totally repeating—but revisiting certain aspects of the work we do, because a) it’s changed in the last 5–10 years and b) different people are listening to and reading you.
Paul: Also there is an element of ok, Donovan might have written an article on CSS animation, ok and then I come in and write a similar article, but the way that I write it, I’ve got a different style of explaining stuff that Donovan has. And not everyone’s going to like Donovan’s style and not everyone’s going to like mine, but we’ve got our own different audiences. And also you are likely to pitch it at different levels. Because another big thing people worry about is ‘Oh well I don’t have as much experience as Donovan in CSS Animation’. But the truth is, sometimes, that experience can sometimes come back and bite you. You can presume or know too much. So perhaps somebody starting out, you might do it over their heads, while you who are not as experienced might pitch it at a better level for those people. So you really can’t let other people hold you back. Although obviously Donovan’s articles are perfect.
Donovan: Of course, yes. It’s like music maybe. If we are only allowed to sing every song once, then there wouldn’t be any songs left to sing at this point. People have their own voice, their own ideas, their own ways of approaching things and there is plenty of space to share and to join in.
Paul: Absolutely. That is a really good analogy. Because you get some covers of songs that feel almost like a completely different song. Because one day somebody is going to cover Hands to Heaven, aren’t they Marcus? And then you are going to sit back on a big wad of cash and retire.
Marcus: Many people have covered it Paul.
Paul: Alright. But not enough.
Marcus: Not very good versions… oh I shouldn’t say that! Fantastic versions, but not the original.
Paul: Simon Cowell has said he’s going to use it at some point, hasn’t he?
Marcus: He has! The guy that won, it wasn’t X factor, but it was this young opera singer (*Transctiptor edit: A guy called Rhydian who took part in the X factor show in 2007 and sang this version who was one of Cowell’s programs that I never watch. He didn’t win it, he came second or something like that. Anyway, he released it.
Paul: Oh right.
Marcus: A couple of years ago.
Paul: I didn’t know that. See you kept that secret – you are sitting on a big pile of cash now.
Marcus: Huge pile of cash. I am going out on the yacht this evening.
Paul: I am so envious of you and your rock and roll lifestyle.
Paul: Hey look, we’ve won out of time. Let’s do our other sponsor because I want to mention Lynda.com as well, because they are a great bunch that have been wonderful in supporting the show and I really appreciate it. They are supporting the whole season – that’s commitment. I wonder whether they listen to it to be honest, to commit that much to our show I think is insane, but good for them.
They’ve got over three thousand on demand video courses, on business, creativity and technical skill. You know what I’ve got to do now. Lynda.com. Let’s have a look. This is going to be interesting.
Marcus: CSS Animation?
Paul: That’s what I am typing in. CSS Animation. Yep they’ve got courses on CSS Animation. Obviously they are not as good as Donovan’s courses….
Donovan: I am sure they are brilliant. Lynda is a good service, I do like it.
Paul: Yeah. So there you go. You can go learn more about CSS Animation there. I tell you another thing. You can learn loads about marketing as well. They’ve got marketing courses, thousands of streaming video courses on demand where you can learn at your own schedule. They’ve got courses on marketing fundamentals, email marketing, social media, and blogging – the whole works so you can go and check them out there. So it supports this show really well. You can learn at your own pace, courses are structured so you can watch them from start to finish, or you can consume them in bite size chunks. They have this little table of content beside each course, where you can watch any particular part of the course and many of those little bits are free as well, so you can try it out and see what you think of it. So definitely check that out. I absolutely love them as a service. You can get all of this unlimited for a flat fee, they have also got a ten day free trial that you can use to get yourself up and running and just to see whether you like what you see in there. And you can get that by going to Lynda.com/Boagworld.
Marcus. Are you going to end with a fabulous joke?
Marcus: This is one by Paul Winter, who I don’t think has sent me a joke before.
Paul: Oh have we got a new listener?
Marcus: Yes, he said he loves the pods. So there.
Paul: He must be a new listener, he can’t have listened to many of them if he still loves them.
Marcus: Anyway, I quite like this.
A restaurant owner hears an intruder in his kitchen and ends up throwing salt and pepper into the intruder’s eyes before he runs away.
Police are looking for a seasoned criminal.
Paul: See now Donovan has got exactly the right, perfectly pitched laugh. In fact Marcus, can you edit that out for me so I can play that back every episode when you tell us a joke? That was just the perfect reaction to one of your jokes!
Donovan: I hear it a lot.
Paul: Yes, you listen to the podcast, so therefore you’ve made that noise many a time.
Donovan: Well as a Dad I hear it from my kids…. I am used to being on the other side of it.
Paul: Have you descended into Dad joke territory have you?
Donovan: Absolutely. I have devoted myself to it.
Paul: Just wait until they are a little bit older as well and they get past that ‘Daddy is perfect and a hero and I want to grow up to be like Daddy’.
Donovan: Then they will be properly embarrassed.
Paul: Exactly. My son is about to turn into a teenager and I see so much potential in my future to humiliate him in every way possible. Lucky child.
Anyway, Donovan, thank you so much for coming on this week. It’s been great to have you.
Donovan: My pleasure. Really enjoyed it.
Paul: This series could not get any better. I am excited about the podcast again. It’s really cool. Because I have someone else other than Marcus to talk to which is always nice. So thank you for joining us on this week’s show, Donovan, and thank you for listening to this show. And even thank Marcus. I got to see you didn’t I for the first time in months this morning.
Marcus: Yes in person.
Paul: And it made me realise how much I miss you.
Paul: I know, it really did as well. I’ve gone all gooey. Anyway thank you for listening, and talk to you again next week. Goodbye.
Links mentioned in the show
- Donovan Hutchinson
- Kitman Labs
- 750 words
- Andy Clarke
- Ian Yates
- Smashing magazine
- Tympanus – the Codrops Collective
- Hands to Heaven, as sung by Rhydian