This week on the Boagworld show we are joined by Carson Pierce to discuss digital investment and the evolving nature of the digital skills we all need.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show, the podcast about user experience, digital strategy and a whole lot more. In fact, this season we are talking was exclusively about digital management issues. Joining us this week as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus!
Marcus: Hello Paul. How are you?
Paul: I’m very well as I always am on a Friday afternoon.
Marcus: Exactly. We are nearly done, unlike our guest.
Paul: Yes. Well, no, we are also being joined by Carson Pearce today who is from Canada and its Canada Day or something today isn’t it?
Carson: Yes its Canada Day, I should have the day off but I’m here talking to you.
Paul: Ahh, you make me feel so special. See you were recommended as an exciting, intelligent, witty and engaging guest by Sam Barnes.
Carson: That man is a liar.
Paul: But apparently, according to you when we were talking just before the show, we actually already know each other, which is massively embarrassing on my part. When did we meet then?
Carson: I don’t know if you could say we know each other, but I have met you. I had to dig a little bit but it was in 2009 at SXSW and you guys were recording your live show there.
Paul: Oh yeah? We do that guy who stripped of all his clothes run naked across the back?
Carson: No that was not me although I kind of wish it was. No, I was a fan of the show before and I really wanted to see the live taping and meet you guys. I remember I was running late and ripping through this hotel where you guys were holding it and I wasn’t sure of where the room was and I was frantically running around and burst through these doors and on the other side of the door was an interview with Geoffrey Tambor who is an American actor who is on Arrested Development and Transparent and stuff, and I totally interrupted his live interview with somebody. He was facing me and he just glared, and if you know what he looks like, he looks somewhat scary, so I ran out of there and got back in time see your show. I think I sat in the front row and we chatted a little bit afterwards.
Paul: Ahh, so you were the guy with a slightly panicked look.
Carson: Probably, yes.
Paul: That’s a very long time ago. I have trouble remembering last week let alone 2009.
Marcus: We did two shows at SXSW. Was that the one that was in the really posh hotel? The old-fashioned one?
Carson: Yes it had a fancy name, that was the one.
Paul: I don’t even remember the hotel, let alone the people that were there. I have got such an awful memory. Although I must confess I have also spent most of the afternoon in the beer garden.
Marcus: Oh nice.
Paul: So I may not be responsible to drive a podcast right now.
Carson: This should go well.
Paul: It will be fine. It’s been funny as this week I’ve been listening to some other shows. Some people are just so professional and it’s like, ‘Hi and welcome to whatever our show is’ and they have this fancy music, not the kind of crap that Marcus puts on at the beginning.
Marcus: You know how to hurt, don’t you? You’d prefer music that they bought off the shelf when you have home-made music on hours?
Paul: Yes, actually I really like the current music I have to confess. But I’m only saying that because I’m drunk and I love you Marcus. But anyway they are so professional and so slick, and then there is us. ‘Hi, I’ve been drinking too much’.
Carson: You have longevity on your side though, right? I was thinking the other day, you must be one of the few pod casts that started that early and that is still around.
Paul: Yes, I think we just don’t know when to stop. Most people would have gone, no people aren’t interested in this, and they would have stopped before some reason we don’t seem to be able to do that.
Marcus: Is also the fact that we have no memory as we have proved the hotel. Or the ability to find it on the Internet, you think be up to do that wouldn’t you? Maybe not looking at Austin?
Paul: We just repeat the same thing endlessly, that seems to work for us. I was supposed to be spending today writing my new book but instead I have literally just spent it in the beer garden, surrounded by retired people. I think basically mentally I have already retired which is a bit unfortunate at the age of 44.
Marcus: Yes, that’s not going to happen Paul. It’s called the Driscoll, that hotel.
Carson: Yes, that’s the one.
Paul: Oh, the Driscoll, yes. No I have no memory of it whatsoever.
Marcus: We never stayed in it.
Paul: So talking of retiring and what we do with what we don’t do, Carson what is it that you do? Do you work at an agency or what are you up to these days?
Carson: I’m a senior project manager at DDB Canada. So DDB is an international advertising agency, said there are about 200 offices around the world. I think over in your area there is Adam and Eve DDB which is in London, ours is one of four offices in Canada. The Canadian offices work pretty close together so I handle the web projects and the rest of the agency’s doing media buys and TV commercials and print materials and that sort of thing. When it comes to the digital side, I focus mostly on web projects and I work with the team in Vancouver to make all that happen.
Paul: And you’re based in Toronto?
Carson: I am actually based in Edmonton which is between Vancouver and Toronto and a little bit north.
Paul: So your slap bang in the middle of Canada somewhere are you?
Carson: A little bit more to the west. We are not too far from the Rockies.
Paul: I was going to say, because I don’t think anybody lived in the middle of Canada.
Carson: Not many. About six of seven people I think.
Marcus: One day there may be as many people in the middle of Canada as we have listeners. We might make it to 11.
Paul: The other thing to say, is that I think there might be a lot more people in Canada as I for one since Brexit, are thinking of moving to Canada. I think if I was going to move anywhere be either Ireland or Canada.
Marcus: Both too cold.
Paul: What, Ireland?
Carson: Yes, on the ride on the elevator up to the office this morning, they play the news on this little screen and one of the new stories was about how many enquiries there has been from British people to come to Canada.
Paul: Absolutely. I’m not joking, my wife, since we got married, in fact before we got married, my wife has always wanted to live in Canada and she actually got a placement at University in Canada but she chose not to do it because of meeting me and our relationship got serious. So obviously, ever since I’ve been blamed for that and we went to Canada for our honeymoon and I thought that might shut her up, but no. Now, it’s actually a consideration on our part. But of course, we need to move quick otherwise all the spaces going to be taken up in November by all the Americans moving up to Canada when Trump get selected.
Carson: That’s true. We’ve got lots of space though.
Paul: That’s true. Very true. But yes, you work for a big ad agency doing their web projects and you do a lot of remote working one presumes then?
Carson: Yes, it’s funny because part of the reason why I want to move into this agency was previously I had been doing remote work, completely remote. I was working for a company called Lullabot who does Drupal work and their team is 100% distributed. So the team I was working with, they have people in England and South America and Asia and all across Canada and the United States. What I learned from that experience is that I couldn’t stand working remotely myself. Just like being alone in my basement office day after day and tied to the phone because I was managing so many meetings at that time, it drove me crazy and so I said, no. I can’t do it anymore. I am 100% insisting that I give in to an office with people surrounding me. So that’s what I did and then just as it turns out, almost my entire team is in a different office and in a different city and so I’m still surrounded by people which is good but I do have to still work with that remote mindset of having people not face-to-face.
Paul: I’m immediately going to throw out everything we planned because I’m really interested in that, this idea of remote working because I got a couple of clients at the moment and pick on one in particular. One of the clients that I work with is in Hull, now for those people that are outside Britain, Hull is not exactly the centre of the universe. It’s hard to get to, it’s not the sexiest of cities. And Marcus has gone very quiet at this point because I am going to offend everybody who’s lived in Hull.
Marcus: This client is also our client.
Paul: Yes, but it’s okay if this is in no way a reflection on you Marcus. I need to put a disclaimer, anything Paul says does not reflect on Headscape in any way. So yes, there in a really tricky situation where they are trying to build up a digital team they are based in somewhere where nobody wants to move to a nobody wants to work in. I’m talking to them a lot about building a remote team and I’ve been doing this with a number of different clients and it’s amazing how much resistance there still is to that kind of mentality. I’m interested in your experience of doing it. Have you found it to be something that has been particularly problematic? And I being naive thinking that remote working can work just as well?
Carson: I think the unique situation to find myself in is that my team is all remote but the team itself is altogether in Vancouver in one officer they have the advantage of being able to turn to each other and working through development of design issues but I’m project managing it from afar which has worked pretty well. I think a situation in Edmonton is similar to what you are describing in Hull which is that everything is little bit more remote, a little bit smaller and colder and so it’s little tricky to say, you’re a top end designer and developer, do you want to move to Edmonton. It just doesn’t happen very often, so it’s certainly very easy for us to find those qualified people living in Vancouver and I think the advantage of finding those really strong people has offset the fact of any inefficiencies we have had working remotely.
Paul: What inefficiencies do you see? Register the problems lie?
Carson: Just in terms of ambient communication. If people around you and they can see what you’re working on, they can look over your shoulder and that kind of thing, that means so much more that you think it would of. We try to do everything in BaseCamp and Jeera and things like that but a lot of that communication just gets lost.
Paul: So how big is the team that you’re working with then?
Carson: We have a fairly small team, there is 3 to 5 people in my office here in Edmonton but the team that I work with in Vancouver is a regular group of 10 people. If we need a specialist, we just keep on reaching out until we find someone so there are a few people in Toronto that we work with if we need a social media expert or an analytics expert. If we get really, really tricky about things that we can branch off to any of the other 200 offices and find someone that has that one particular piece of knowledge.
Paul: So it works by you being assigned project and you bring the team together for that particular project? Or do you always work the same people?
Carson: It’s pretty much the same group of people, we have a few different front end developers or backend developers so depends on how busy everybody is as to who I get, but generally speaking is the same group.
Paul: Okay, that makes sense. That’s a massive tangent, all of that. I was just interested in the background. So what kind of projects do you do? Are we talking about straight web build projects or e-commerce sites or specific sectors, what are you up to?
Carson: Until recently I would have described most of what we do as marketing websites so essentially running a campaign with a micro-site that goes with that or something along those lines that fits in smoothly with an ad agency. More recently we’ve been taking on a lot of bigger projects. The one we just wrapped up has turned into almost software development than just a straight forward website, so we’re definitely branching out. Not so much e-commerce but definitely getting more complex as we go.
Paul: So how did you get into this? Has your background always been project management or were you a designer?
Carson: My first job was actually as a developer, this was back in the early days of content management systems. WordPress might have existed, I do remember going to a client meeting client saying, we need to update our website and I kept nodding my head and say yes we can do that, we can do that and then running to the bookstore afterwards and finding a book about PHP and filling out how good put off. Sit back then I had written my own content management system things which were very simple but they worked and from there I left that agency and which started my own company. We did that for five or seven years and as the company grew, from two of us and we grew and hired more people, and you hired more people that were smarter than you, all of a sudden you find out you’re not doing any work anymore, you’re just overseeing other people’s work and doing sales. I think that was how I slid into project management. I then sold my agency to another agency and they took me on as part of that purchase and it was like, what do you do? I wasn’t owning the company, I wasn’t running the company but I wasn’t actually doing hands-on work, so running their project management seemed to make the most sense anything that’s when I really settled into that role.
Paul: How did you find moving from being your own boss to having bosses again?
Carson: Everyone talks about how it would be basically impossible. You have the entrepreneur mindset and then you’re going to work for someone else but at the time but I made that move I was rather sick of doing my own thing and not running the business of a loved making those decisions and finding business and that kind of thing but paying the bills and payroll and HR issues and all that kind stuff was just wearing me down I have no interest in maths so I’m just lucky in that when the company that bought mine brought me in I didn’t have to worry about payroll and HR, but I still got to be involved in some of the high-level things I love to do. Was a pretty smooth transition for me.
Paul: Oh that sounds good, very good. It’s interesting you talking about the early days and the content management systems going to try and work out how you going to build that website. Marcus you remember when we first started Town Pages where I designed a content management system in the car driving back from a client meeting?
Marcus: It was Headscape actually. Very early days of Headscape.
Paul: Yes you are right.
Marcus: It was for the Association of National Park Authorities and weirdly that’s come full circle because we recently done a redesign for National Parks UK which they been renamed.
Paul: How weird.
Marcus: Yes, but I do remember it well. In my old banger of a car, driving back from Cardiff.
Paul: After telling the client, yes, yes of course we can do that, there’s no problem at all. And then driving back going, oh shit how we going to do this?
Marcus: That’s exactly it.
Carson: Did it work?
Paul: Yes, it did. It was very successful and they used it for an obscenely long length of time didn’t they?
Marcus: I was on the way back machine the other day looking at a lot of our old sites and that was there. They are all very tiny though, little tiny sites.
Paul: Yes, all those fixed width, tiny sites. Ahh those were the days. Anyway we’ve just spent the best part of 20 minutes waffling about nothing that whispers to be talking about whatsoever, but very interesting. Especially that whole transition into project management and selling your company and stuff like that, I’m fascinated by that kind of thing.
Let’s talk about one of our sponsors before we get onto the questions that were going to discuss today. It’s a great sponsor, which is Invision who have been supporting us through the whole of this season, which is amazing. Thank you guys so much for doing that. They support lots of community events which is wonderful.
So they got this amazing suite of prototyping and design tools that people use in all kinds of organisations, big organisations, start-ups, agencies, you name it all seem to use their amazing prototyping tools. They’ve also got some great free plug-ins for sketch and photo shop that I am absolutely addicted to and use all the time. This also got some really good team collaboration tools, talking about remote working as we were minute ago. Very useful for multiple people working on prototypes simultaneously across multiple locations, for example you can sync files between team members which is a great way of ensuring that everybody is working on the same stuff that doesn’t overlap. You can easily share design assets, styles and that kind of thing and they’ve also got a built-in version of a control system which prevents one team member overwriting another, see can always get stuff back if somebody does something stupid.
Anyway so Invision has loads of stuff for free, you can try out their core stuff absolutely free of charge but if you use the code INV-BOAG you can get three free months of unlimited prototypes and mobile user testing, all the boards and stuff, all the stuff that have the bells and whistles that they offer. And you can get that by going to boagworld/invision.
So, that is Invision – check them out!
Discussion with Carson
Paul: Okay, we need to now move on to the various discussion points. You’ve been great, sending through loads of questions and you got some really good stuff. Please, please keep them coming because we’ve still got a lot of show to go in the season, so we’re going to need a lot of questions so keep them coming in. The first of all talk about our first which is from Austin. He writes, ‘are we seeing the commoditisation of the web where we no longer need highly skilled, highly technical cutting-edge people or have the tools involved digital projects can be run without the traditional web developers that have been around for years?’
This is actually really good question for you Carlton, going back to the fact that you spend a lot of your time making marketing websites which are fairly simple websites to build. Do you actually need traditional web developers on that anymore?
Carson: Pretty much everything we do has a pretty high level of customisation so even if it’s pretty standard, without doing anything terribly complex with it, the client still wants an extra level of design or splash to it that isn’t going to come out of the box. So even on those websites we need to have at least a really good front-end developer who can make it pop little bit.
Paul: Make it pop! I love that kind of terminology, that’s something that client would say and the designer sits there and goes, what you mean by that? What does make it pop mean? Or perhaps it’s because I spent too much of my time on the, yes, you work for an ad agency. They are used to making things pop!
Carson: It’s a little different perspective from our side.
Paul: Yes, when people say, make it pop I have no idea what they mean.
Carson: Usually the client doesn’t either we just have to try it.
Paul: Will make it up until they go, yes I like that? Marcus, what about from Headscape’s perspective? Good quality server side developers are still really important to us aren’t they? This hasn’t gone away?
Marcus: Massively. I’m going to reference what Chris Scott has been talking about regarding wire framing prototyping lately. We found that we need to have front-end and back-end developers even when we are doing prototyping work. It works better if you got a back-end developer working on a CMS, so you’re developing the prototype on a CMS, you can create a better prototype and you can also test how the backend is going to work as well. You can’t do that without a back-end developer.
I am sure there are certain products you can do without somebody skilled encoding, but none that we do.
Paul: It almost reminds me of computing. Bear with me, this is going somewhere as I try to marshal my thoughts. So, I recently bought my son a new computer, a top end gaming computer, because I’m that good dad and interestingly a top end gaming computer now costs pretty much the same as a top end gaming computer when I was into gaming back in the late 90s. But you get a lot more for the same money, it’s a much more sophisticated machine obviously, today. I almost think it’s the same when it comes to digital and to websites and things like that. Clients have X budget and they will always have X budget that they want to spend. It’s just what you can get for that budget, is now significantly more. Sure, a website that you may have needed, well going back to that content management task that we were talking about at the beginning, years back you would have to build a content management system from scratch. Now, you can install one in five minutes. So in that sense, you don’t need a fancy developer any more to have a content management system, but you still need a fancy developer to do what clients now expect for the same money. Do you see what I mean? It’s expectations that have shifted.
Carson: I think it’s really evolutionary, so exactly what is said but the key point of Austin’s question is the term, cutting-edge, so back then CMS’s were cutting-edge now is something you just pull out of the box and everything works. But the things, as you said clients are looking for now, if it’s cutting-edge it hasn’t been put into the box yet so somebody has to develop that from scratch every time.
So yes, there is commoditisation of some aspects of the web but I think there’s always going to be new things that we need to call web developers for.
Right, showing we want the next question? Okay, next question is from Steve. He says, ‘beyond core technical and design skills, what attributes do you most value in your digital project team?’ In other words what you looking for in the team with which you work?
Carson you talked about how you would bring in specialists sometimes to help you out, so beyond their ability to deliver those specific things that you need, what else do you look for in people?
Carson: Well especially working with remote teams, communication is a huge one. I think that is like the obvious answer that anyone would say, having that strong communication skillset. It’s a little bit different with a remote team because it’s not just being able to articulate ideas, it’s like, do they speak up when they need help, do they ask questions that sort of thing. Because you’re not face-to-face you don’t get to see that and it becomes really important. Some of the things I’ve learned over time working with a lot of different teams, that I also look for are accountability. Whether you are remote or not this is a big one, people who are responsible for their own work has been massive for what we try to do. Seeing the big picture is another one, and that’s not just the big picture in terms of the project but the big picture in terms of what that person is doing vs what everybody else is doing around them and how they all fit together. So a front-end developer could look at the design and understand what the designer is trying to communicate and how they need to work with that and how that also ties in with back-end development. Being a team player I think is another one that ties straight in with that and as I run through this list start to realise something about myself which is the way that I like to run projects is that I do not like to micromanage. I don’t want to be standing beside someone telling them what to do every minute of the day was of those skills enable me to set the direction and check-in that let them be the experts let them do what they do best.
Paul: Yes, so is having those people that are self-motivated and self-driven isn’t it?
Carson: Yes, someone who can identify what they need to do and then is action orientated enough to jump in and do it.
Paul: How do you encourage that approach within your team? In terms of encouraging good communication, encouraging proactiveness?
Carson: I think for the proactiveness part it’s how you set the tone for a project. I think I make it pretty obvious early on in my projects that I am not going to be doing a whole lot of handholding, I expect the team to speak up when they have something to contribute and get their work done. So I think that just sets the culture of them being responsible for their own work. The most part, if they are good at their jobs and fortunately most of people that I work with are, they want that. They don’t want someone telling them how to do their job so I think it worked out pretty well all around.
Paul: Marcus, I’m thinking about some of the contractors that we’ve got in over the years and there have been some fairly horrendous examples of people that may technically have the skills they need but just don’t have that proactive drive really?
Marcus: The things I want most from the people that I work with, and I’m setting myself up for large amounts of sarcasm probably from the rest of the team, is positivity. Not positivity with no skill as that would be really annoying but I personally struggle with people who are, I got the job done and that’s it.
Paul: The moaners?
Marcus: Yes, I don’t work well with moaners. I like people who are up for it and keen and I hope that comes across as I am up for it and keen and like to work with people who are similar.
Carson: I think that ties into another thing that I like, which is people who are problem solvers. I remember working with a guy once and we ran into a big problem with the project and we were trying to explore options. I went to this one developer who was a really smart guy and very technically orientated and said, here is the situation what we do? And his response in all seriousness was, give up. That’s no good! But you are right drugs done the whole project when you have to work with people like that.
Paul: Oh dear, that’s painful isn’t it? I don’t mind a bit of moaning; everybody enjoys a bit of moaning but it’s people that sap the energy from a team isn’t it that so difficult. I’m sitting here thinking of a guy, and I hope that Chris Scott doesn’t listen to this podcast, Chris Scott is the guy that me and Marcus founded Headscape with. He is a very dour Scotsman that focuses on the negative and problems and details and stuff but he’s not a moaner. He’s not got that about him. He’s a slightly different thing, he still positive even though he will pick apart every detail and every bit of a project.
Marcus: He’s a little bit glass half full. If he thinks is going to go wrong it almost certainly will, but he isn’t one of life’s, I can’t be bothered people. It’s that, I’m good at what I do and I will get it done you may not like it, attitude, that’s what I can’t abide.
Paul: Let’s say a client turn around and through a massive spanner into a project, which often happens, the swoop and poop approach. You get some people that will just pitch and moan and complain about how awful the world is that it’s so unfair and we should drop the project and then there are other people that go, all right, this isn’t good let’s acknowledge this is a bad thing, but how can we work around that? It’s the people that don’t look for a solution, but give up basically. I’m not a fan of people give up.
Carson: I think that something that is related to what you’re talking about earlier is that people who have a sense of humour is important. That doesn’t mean joking around all the time but when something does get thrown in there and something goes completely sideways, instead of being upset about it, just to be to laugh about it a little bit and see the humour in the situation, that makes things so much easier.
Paul: Yes it does, absolutely. Okay let’s look at our third question for the day, which is a question from Rob. Rob says, ‘how do we convince clients that their web site should not be seen as a capital purchase but as an ongoing investment when they refuse to see it in that way?’
You must come across this all the time where you’re working on a marketing and advertising campaign and they want to build a website for the campaign but they’re not thinking about that website’s ongoing evolution, maintenance, support, those kind of things.
Carson: In some cases that it is exactly what they need and that’s fine. It’s a campaign that runs for three months and then we throw the website away. That’s fine but I think the key for us avoiding the situations when it shouldn’t be that way is just to make it really obvious upfront that this is not a one-time thing. That comes right in by the statement of work and the estimates. Instead of saying its X amount of dollars for a website, we talking about, here’s how much is gonna cost to build the website, here’s how much hosting is gonna cost, here’s how much we going to do the regular SEO maintenance and writing services and social media and all that. There are a lot of things that are ongoing and I think right away we set the tone of, this is not just something we handoff and walk away from. This is a living thing that has a lifespan that we have to take care of.
Paul: It’s all about going in and presenting it in the right way, right at the beginning really isn’t it?
Carson: I think if you don’t do that and you get the end, see launching the project and then all of a sudden you’re saying, do you want to pay for CMS upgrades and updates to your content that sort of thing? Is going to throw the client offers they didn’t budget for that. How this best deal with it? That becomes a tricky situation.
Paul: The problem is with that is that one of the issues that I often find is that by the time the client comes to you, they’ve written a brief, they’ve assigned a budget to that, they’ve got expectations of when this project is completed and they see it. They have a mentality that they think it is a finite project, that it’s a redesign project or a rebuild project or whatever else. So in some ways, by that point it’s almost a little bit late to then turn around and say, this website isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. That joke means nothing does it, to anybody outside of the UK? Do you have the thing of the dog isn’t just Christmas, it’s for life?
Carson: No, but it makes perfect sense.
Paul: That’s fine. You’ve humoured me, that’s fine. So they do have this mentality and by the time you get to engage with them is almost too late I find. Marcus, is that shifting in your engagement?
Marcus: Yes and no. I think how you just described how a project comes about is true and it’s still the case. What I think is changing is that we start working with companies who have internal staff that are able to look after the website ongoing, so it is part of their thinking that the fact that they got these people. That said, most companies that we work with don’t have enough people although that can often mean that we end up getting more work going forward. So I think people do still see something like a website redesign as a major project that will have an end where they can maybe stand down a bit once it goes live. But equally I think that the idea of having a digital team that looks after your staff ongoing is certainly something that there is more now than there was two or three years ago.
Paul: Going back to Carson situation with an advertising agency, is really quite interesting isn’t it because we’ve lifted so much from the advertising world in terms of digital on the web it is quite common within the advertising world for a company to go and say, our yearly advertising spend is going to be X amount, you Mr advertising agency go away and spend that money over a year. It is more like a retainer arrangement, yet many web design companies don’t operate in that way at all. They operate for a series of finite projects with a beginning, a middle, and an end find that quite an interesting evolution really.
Carson: I think there are a lot of companies that don’t want to do any of that stuff. They want to be able to handoff a project and then wash their hands but never think about it again because it’s not the fun part of the project to deal with, maintenance and CMS upgrades in that sort of thing. So I think that kind of thing eats into it a little bit. We are pretty full service here so we will often offer hosting and social media management and that sort of thing. We have a little bit of a different mind-set but from the client perspective if they’ve worked with companies before where that is all they do, give your website and had it off, they probably learnt that that is what to expect.
Paul: What’s quite interesting in Rob’s question is that he talks about that they refuse to see it that way. I think if someone refuses then there’s nothing much you can do about it. I think probably the problem is that it can smell of, you’re trying to sell me a load of extra shit basically, because you’re saying you need ongoing hosting arrangements, social media and this and that. It feels like when you are buying a car and they try and sell you all this extra crap around it. So I think the approach that I would take really in Rob situation is asking questions. Who is going to look after this once the website goes live?
Marcus: Exactly that. You can explain that this content needs to change to go forward. Most people wouldn’t disagree with that statement and then you can ask them who is going to do that? If that person doesn’t exist, then you are in a position where you can say that you can help them out.
Paul: I think the other big thing to communicate with them is that I think if you run the project in the right way, will naturally become obvious, is that as you go into a web project, you don’t really know what users need or what will encourage them to complete a call to action or whatever else. Sure, you can run some usability testing and that will help inform what you are doing. Yes, you can do use interviews and user research and all that sort of thing but essentially until a website goes live, until people are naturally interacting with that website, you are not really going to know what works and what doesn’t. There is no guarantee that what you put live on day one is actually going to be the best solution, is going to be the thing that works most effectively. And so there really needs to be a programme of monitoring essentially, on the website. Where are the big drop-off points on the website? How many people actually completing a call to action, what pages are they looking for and for how long?
So I think if you defined the beginning of a project, a set of key performance indicators in terms of how you’re going to measure the success of the project then it becomes more obvious to monitor that when the website goes live and to look for ways of improving those key performance indicators. The restart doing that is by looking at your Google analytics to see where the drop-off points are, maybe try out some of the session recorder tools like Full Story that actually lets you look at a user session as they go on but they also start to introduce things like multi variants testing to say, okay we don’t know which approach is going to be better, so let’s try a couple. You can do that in the development process and actually it works quite well in the development process because one client says, I don’t like the green can we change it to blue? And another says I like the blue, so what you do is say, let’s code up both of those two different colours, push them both live and see which performs better. Yes, it might take a little bit longer to do that in the build but it gets them into the mind-set of, just because we’ve launched the website doesn’t mean we are done.
Actually that makes me think of something else. Inevitably when you run projects, the client sooner or later will turn round and go, I’ve had this great idea. We want this on the website and it will be outside of scope, so what’s quite a good way of approaching things is to actually have a wish list of stuff for phase 2. So when a client comes up with something out of scope, instead of having to turn around and go, that’s outside of scope and I won’t do it, what you do is get enthusiastic about it and say yes, that’s a really great idea, let’s add it on to our phase II wish list. Actually, and this may be a bit devious of me, but one good thing that I’ve taken to doing is in the project, in the initial project quite near the beginning, I make sure I am the first one to come up with something that is out of scope. So that I can introduce the idea of having a wish list. That means when they start coming up with ideas out of scope, I’ve already set the precedent of what we do with ideas that out of scope.
Carson: I like that.
Marcus: The words phase II normally kick-off meetings and workshops fairly quickly.
Paul: You’ve got to thinking that way and that will encourage them to think in that way too.
Marcus: We’ve provided more strategic and proactive advice for certain clients over the years and that has worked a lot better than just saying, here’s a maintenance contract, call us when you need us. Because then you are mentioning about having key performance indicators but just looking at the stats on a weekly or monthly basis, we will be providing a service to you and we can make recommendations that you might want to go with or you might not, but if you got a relationship like that it really helps and it certainly helps clients understand that a website is something that is an ongoing project and not a finite one.
Paul: Do you charge a client for that kind monitoring we do see it as a sales cost for Chris to have a look through the analytics once in a while?
Marcus: No, that’s definitely a chargeable piece of work. People are hiring Chris for his excellent skills in that area.
Paul: I remember in the past that there have been occasions where we say to clients, after the project goes live we will point out the latest innovations to you what’s going on which stuff you might want to pay attention to. We never really charge for that kind of service did we?
Marcus: The analytics thing is clear to see that is a chargeable piece of work and is also part of the, ‘we will provide proactive advice on one day a month for the next 12 months’ so it would be part of an ongoing contract anyway. That’s not to say we maybe won’t make suggestions to a client for phase 3 work later on down the line. Wouldn’t it be great if you did this, or we did this for you? That would be a sale -related thing where you effectively just making a suggestion that you hope people might run with. So depends on what it is.
Paul: Carson do you guys do a lot of key performance indicators? I would have thought if you are talking about marketing sites, it must be pretty important?
Carson: Yes, especially with campaign work. Everything is measured and we have to report on results so we try to build that into our website context or maintenance contracts at the very beginning. After we launched the site here is what we’re going to do for you. We’re going to be checking your analytics on a monthly basis and that helps us have those more sales conversations without it being a hard sell because as part of our service, where we are going in and saying hey, this particular thing is not working for you, you should move your efforts into this thing, whether it’s a media campaign for something functional on the website. That way they are expecting that information to come to them and are expecting that we’re going to suggest things that poverty and have their own price tags on them.
Paul: It’s quite tricky mine though because I could imagine a client turning around and saying, what do you mean this isn’t working? I paid you to create something that works. Is quite hard to say that, we had our best guess at it because essentially it is a guess isn’t it? It’s an informed guess as to what would work and what will engage people but until it’s out there you can’t be 100% sure.
Carson: I think even if you don’t when your projects in an agile way, I think there is an agile mind-set that comes with the long-term lifespan of a project. We’ve got a project which are starting right now where we talked about all the requirements of to build for the launch of the website already starting to talk about that we don’t know what could happen with this particular thing. In this case the client wanted to do AB testing with their blogs and I went into the analytics and I said, we could set up AB testing for your blogs now but right now you’re only getting 30 visits a month to your blog. AB testing isn’t going to tell us very much. We need to build up the traffic and then revisit that later and that explanation helped them to understand that that’s a step two of phase 2 thing for later. There was always going to be things that we need to do now and that should be pushed to little bit later. And once you build up that lowercase agile mind-set of how things evolve, it makes lot easier to have those conversations.
Paul: Okay, well I think will leave our questions there at this point. Carson is really interesting to hear a more advertising agency based perspective on things and the differences that come with that. That’s a very different world that me and Marcus work in.
Carson: It’s not the world that I’ve started over the last year and a half or so it’s been pretty new to me.
Paul: Okay, that’s interesting because it was Lullabot before, you said?
Carson: Lullabot and then another agency which was putting much a development agency as well, so this is new and interesting.
Paul: How are you getting on with it? I find it’s a bit of a culture shock?
Carson: It definitely was a culture shock. The ad agency world is a very different one to the web shop. There are lots of moving parts that I had no idea about. One example would be deadlines, so working in a web development shop where the website was, we just want to launch a website at some time, and so the deadlines were always a little bit fuzzy, whereas in the ad world everything is tied to a campaign. The campaign is launching on July 14 and we don’t have the website up for July 14, there is major, major problems. So that sort of thing is a little bit of a shift, so it’s been fun and interesting.
Paul: I’ve always imagined as well that there is a much higher value placed on branding and aesthetics then usability and accessibility and that side of things?
Carson: Ultimately it’s design but ultimately it comes down to results so that’s when we go back to the analytics. If this many people do not see and react to whatever trying to do then that’s the biggest measurement of all.
Paul: I’d like that you know? A lot of the websites that I’ve worked in over the years haven’t had those kind of concrete KPIs. That’s why I love working on charity websites because they do. That kind of concrete analytics, I find much more enjoying personally because you know them with you done a good job or not.
Carson: Case studies are definitely different from case studies I’ve worked on in the past in other agencies. In agencies the case study was all about what problem did we solve? Here is not just the problem but it’s about what results did we get. Ultimately I think that’s what matters most and so that’s pretty rewarding.
Paul: Interesting talking about the idea of KPIs and having solid analytics to track around in e-commerce sites as it brings me nicely onto the other sponsor that I want to talk about this week which is Shopify.
Shopify is software as a service platform for building e-commerce sites and it’s got a really good partner program so if like me you feel the need to work on more of those kinds of sites, sites where you can be 100% sure they’ve increased sales and whatever else then Shopify is worth taking a look at if you’re going to pursue more e-commerce work. It’s got a great partner program for designers, developers, freelancers, consultants or agencies or anybody that wants to build an e-commerce website.
Also you receive a dedicated partner manager if you are going to start working with them and using them as a platform, someone you can contact any time to get support and help. As a developer or designer, you can make really quite good money through Shopify’s partner program because they’ve got this revenue sharing scheme that’s worth checking out and obviously you earn money by referring clients, building stores, building themes or apps that work with Shopify as well so it’s a great way of generating some passive income and some regular income. You know what it’s like when you’re working as a developer or a designer, how income goes through peaks and troughs sometimes you have busy times, sometimes you have not so much and Shopify actually brings in some opportunity to have a continual revenue stream. They are definitely worth checking out.
I’ve realised a minor incident have any information about where to check them out which is absolutely useless, so let me just flip over and see if I can find out that information.
Marcus: I can briefly ask Carson if he knows a guy that used to work at DDB?
Carson: Probably not.
Marcus: It was just that classic, do you know someone in Toronto or Vancouver called Dave?
Paul: Not very likely though is it? And we thank you Marcus are covering for me there. You can find out more about shopper fibre going to boag.world/shopify and that will take you through to their partner program section which has got all the information about how to partner with them but also a stack load of really good and useful free resources as well.
Okay, Marcus. Carson you said you listen to the show for many years so you know what’s gonna happen next
Carson: I know, this is the part that I skip. I’m joking, I’m joking!
Paul: Just meet your headphones and it will be over soon.
Marcus: This one is from Aslan on the boagworld slack channel.
Paul: Oh Aslan? Hello Aslan I haven’t seen you for ages.
Marcus: No I haven’t seen Aslan for ages either but I’ve got his little thumbnail pics staring at me.
Paul: Still the coolest name ever. Isn’t he also some prints of some island somewhere? He’s got a very interesting background has Aslan. I think is actually royalty, which is actually just hilarious. He could of course be bullshitting me.
Marcus: Anyway, joke.
A chemist walks into his shop after a short break and sees a man leaning against the wall. What’s wrong with him he asks his assistant?
He came in for cough syrup but I couldn’t find any so I gave him an entire bottle of laxatives, replied the assistant.
You idiot! Exclaimed the chemist. You can’t treat a cough with the laxatives?
Of course you can, replies the assistant, look at him, he’s too scared to cough.
Paul: That was a good one. I saw that one on slack but your delivery made me laugh all over again Marcus.
So Carson, thank you so much for coming in to join us today. Where can people find a little bit more about you?
Carson: Well, I have my own personal blog at carsonpierce.com and I am on Twitter @carsonpierce.
Paul: So check out Carson, he has Sam Barnes’s seal of approval so he must be amazing. It was great to talk to you today Carson. Thank you all for listening and don’t forget to send us through some more questions which you can post as comments at boagworld/questions or just email me at Paul@boagworld.com, otherwise I will see next week when we are going to be joined by Rachel Gurtz.
Carson: She’s a good friend of mine is going to be brilliant and she’s great.
Paul: Excellent, so join us next week and listen to her mangle her name next week as that’s what I do. Thanks very much for listening and talk to you again soon.