Talking money and tracking projects

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld show we are joined by Natalie Semczuk to discuss talking money and tracking projects.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Shopify and Freshbooks.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show, the podcast about user experience, digital strategy and digital management or whatever the hell I feel like. My name is Paul Boag and joining me as always, on this week’s show is Marcus. Hello Marcus!

Marcus: Afternoon Paul, how are you?

Paul: I’m very well. It might not be afternoon for the people listening, you’ve made it time specific and now you’ve shattered the illusion that was speaking in real-time to them.

Marcus: What a fabulous Friday afternoon it is.

Paul: Are now, you see you’re just making it worse. What is it? 28 July 2016?

Marcus: It’s the 29th.

Paul: I thought it was a bank holiday on Monday because I believed Google calendar.

Marcus: A friend of mine actually cried bless her, when we explained it was a Scottish bank holiday and not an English one.

Paul: It’s unfair. They shouldn’t include it in Google calendar. I got in a right old mess because I nearly said no to work because it was a bank holiday but fortunately I was more sensible than that and took the money. Anyway, we are being rude and neglecting our guest. Natalie is joining us on the show, as I said start. Hello Natalie!

Natalie: Hi, how are you?

Paul: I am wonderful, how are you? I don’t suppose you’ve got a holiday Monday have you?

Natalie: No, no holidays here, not for a while.

Paul: So where are you based?

Natalie: I’m based in Austin, Texas for now.

Paul: I miss Austin.

Marcus: So do I.

Paul: You’ve just depressed me.

Marcus: We used to religiously go to SXSW of year which is why we have wonderful memories of having a good time there. We haven’t been for years.

Paul: But I bet you, Natalie doesn’t have wonderful memories of SXSW. It must be nothing more than annoying to have all of these drunk people turning up from all over the world and sending a new.

Natalie: Yes, I actually moved here just before that and I was being introduced to people in the area and everyone was saying, we will meet up after SXSW as nobody leaves their house during that. And I was thinking wow, okay, noted.

Paul: That’s all I know about Austin. SXSW and bats – that’s about it. Bats and bridges.

Natalie: You can add tacos to that.

Marcus: Stevie Ray Vaughan. That’s a musical reference as there is a statue of him.

Paul: Oh is there? Who is he then?

Marcus: A famous blues guitarist who died in the 80s or 90s?

Paul: See? You knew more than I did.

Natalie: And me too.

Paul: So Natalie, tell us a bit about yourself. Now, you work as a freelance project manager with mainly remote teams – is that right?

Natalie: Yes that’s right.

Paul: See, I’ve done my due diligence and I knew stuff.

Natalie: Yes, I work with small agencies and small in-house teams, almost all remotely. I used to be based in upstate New York so there was a much smaller market up there and I love working remotely so that has continued as I have moved. I help with digital projects, typical web or digital strategy projects and I also consult on processes, optimising teams, optimising remote working and things like that.

Paul: So I you like a gun for hire? If people haven’t got enough project managers to deal with the project today parachute you in and you make everything okay?

Natalie: Pretty much yes. That’s the goal. They get involved and those kinds of things and then I work with a team to make it better for the next time.

Paul: That must be quite tough because if you’re working with different teams all the time, but we are talking in one about how important it is as a project manager to get to know your team and the people in your team and what makes them tick and what motivates them. You must have to do that at an accelerated schedule?

Natalie: Definitely and I try to take on not long-term projects but more of a certain period of time and I’m not just doing one project and jetting out. Is definitely important to get to know your team especially remotely. That’s the whole thing with communication and making sure you understand people know the nuances and things that you might not get if you’re not in person.

Paul: So are busy at the moment?

Natalie: I am yes, it’s been a little quieter since as the summer.

Paul: Thank goodness. And glad you’re saying that to I thought it was just me.

Natalie: No it’s a welcome relief as this winter was totally nuts for me, so it’s nice to breathe a little more but we going into the fall faster than I thought.

Paul: It’s really interesting because this is the first summer, no it’s my second summer working as an independent person. The first summer was a bit of a honeymoon period as everything was easy then and then this summer, it’s like, where has all the work gone? My family is going to starve and were going to be out on the streets – well not quite like that, but it really did slow down and is quite worried about August. It’s all right now but for while… And then in the just last couple weeks it’s gone nuts. Unbelievable.

Marcus: My brain is dribbling out of my ears.

Paul: Are struggling? You got loads going on?

Marcus: If I don’t say much today is because I’m asleep. Yes, it’s just crazy. The same thing happened from a new opportunities point of view. We had a couple of months of not really much at all in May/June/July with a few bits coming in but not enough although we had tons of work we are doing at the time. But the last two weeks and in particular this last week, all of a sudden, utter madness. Mustn’t complain.

Paul: Natalie, how do you manage all of your potential projects? Do you have a magic tool that you use or is it all in your head like Marcus?

Natalie: I have to write everything down otherwise it’s just gone immediately. I’ve been using Trello and making it work for my own purposes because there’s nothing to advanced that I deal with really. But I’ve been looking at different small business theorems because I think it’s nice to have more of a history of people who have contacted you and who you know.

Paul: You’ve wandered into my trap. Seriously, there is a CRM that you have to use. I’m not getting paid by them for this, okay although there is a referral link system and I will have to dig that out. It’s called pipedrive. Have you checked out pipe drive yet?

Natalie: I’ve actually heard of this from you at some point and I think I signed up for trial recently.

Paul: Try it for a bit. I would be so stuffed right now if it wasn’t for pipedrive. Absolutely love it and obsessed by it. Really good. Marcus you need to use it as well although I don’t know why am bothering saying that.

Marcus: Sorry, I nodded off. I use Trello, so there!

Paul: Yes, but you only use Trello so you can go, I use Trello! That’s the only reason.

Marcus: I use Trello every day and there different little boards for everything and I have a spreadsheet.

Paul: Oh see, you hurt me with your evilness.

Marcus: Just clients that need following up and all that kind of thing.

Paul: What I really like about pipedrive is that you can see month by month what you think is gonna come in at what month and you can see how you doing against your target. It goes green when you win it and then your targets for the month gets fulfilled and you get a big star and everything is wonderful. But also you can organise stuff into different columns, almost like a Trello board where you can go from one board to another as your project advances towards getting signed off, you can move it forward. I just love it, I’m a sucker.

Natalie: I just have to look into that Trello now.

Paul: Yes you do. If you don’t sign up I get to be very disappointed in you.

Marcus: You spend all your time filling in the details in pipedrive and not actually doing any work.

Paul: That’s rubbish. I hardly fill anything in. You can connect your email to it so if you get a new lead and it just appears in there and you say yes, make this a contact and add a deal and that’s it.

Natalie: That’s nice.

Paul: It’s very nice. See, you need it. Anyway, it’s getting busier and I’m so glad I wrote my book about building UX culture and the timing is just brilliant. Because if I try to do that two months earlier I wouldn’t have had time and if I tried to do it two months later it would have been impossible, so just worked out perfectly. It’s like I’m clever. But without any planning.

Marcus: That should be quoted on Twitter.

Paul: We ought to pretend that we are doing the show. I need to talk about our sponsor FreshBooks! We were talking last week how it’s an invoicing tool and actually you can use that for invoicing clients and stuff like that, but in reality FreshBooks has a lot of other features beyond straight invoicing. Stuff to keep you organised and streamline your business side of being a freelancer. It’s got things like expenses so you can manage all your expense claims and it and keep track of your expenses, so no more box full of receipts and no more accountants shouting at you, or in my case, my wife who seems to be in control of such things. Then it’s got a mobile app which allows you to take pictures of your receipts and then FreshBooks can organise them for later. See can create an expense report and claim your expenses for your tax and that kind of stuff, and it’s got all those receipts there organised on your mobile app.

They’ve also got cash flow tracking so all the little details about cash flow is kept in one place so FreshBooks knows exactly what invoices have been sent and when you sent them and whose page you and who still owes you money and all that kind of stuff. And then of course there is time tracking, so FreshBooks will also handle your time tracking so that when you create an invoice you know what you did and when you did it and you can include that in your invoice which is obviously really important.

FreshBooks is offering a month of unrestricted use to all of you my dear listeners, and it’s totally free and you don’t even need to enter a credit card. So to claim your free month of unrestricted access go to Now when you enter your details make sure that you add into the, how did you hear about us option, boagworld UX show otherwise they might not pay me and that would be bad.

Discussion with Natalie

Paul: We talking about a selection of things. We going to talk about money but talk about tracking projects and I suspect because of Natalie’s area of expertise in managing remote projects, I am sure we’ll get into remote stuff too even though that’s not one of my predefined questions.

Shall we do the first which is from Rob? Do you know I haven’t had to make up any questions this season?

Marcus: That is quite a surprise. It shows that we do have people that care and listen.

Paul: But I think what it also shows is how management issues are such an important thing that so many people struggle with and it’s something that’s generally unrepresented. So Rob is not a made up person.

Rob’s question is, ‘how do you deal with an agency or a client who refuses to pay until they in turn have been paid, without ruining your working relationship with them’.

Now this must be a huge issue for you Natalie because you work with other agencies on projects that I presume they are paid for. So have you ever come across this problem?

Natalie: Not that problem specifically but pretty close in that I’ve worked with companies that have longer term contractors who are paid in a very different way than I have asked to be paid. Maybe they are paid every two months or something like that and my terms of different in my contract. It’s one of those things that you run into inevitably whether you’re in an agency and have a subcontracting relationship with someone or whether you are freelance, either way.

Paul: How did you say no, this is the way I want to be paid? Or did you just cave and do it the way they wanted?

Natalie: It was a little bit of both as I have a contract that I use with all clients where I state my terms and I have terms invoices but there was only so much you can do to force them to pay when you want. One thing I found that has really helped is just having a relationship on a client site, like the colleague of the person who hired you initially or someone who will be your advocates. Someone who understands what you were going through and is checking in with a higher up people and making sure that things are followed up on and putting the pressure on them but knowing that they will fight for me as they are the ones that hired me to do the work. So they know that they need to do the work only the work done. That’s been helpful for me in the past especially when the payment terms are so different than what I asked for upfront and signed onto things like that. So imagine that would work in this sort of cases well. Someone on the other side who knows the work you are doing or did other needs to be done and who can speak to their management of finance departments and work out some sort of compromise.

Paul: It’s very tempting to blame the person that’s your contact but it’s almost always not them that’s the problem, it’s some finance department somewhere. If I was in Rob’s situation as well, you’ve got to keep that immediate relationship good and so you need to make it clear that you’re not blaming them. Just be really grateful when they offer you help, as is always somebody in finance.

Natalie: There is always bureaucracy and we find that in web projects too. When approvals are being held up or a client is putting the pressure on you the something that seems ridiculous but it turns out their bosses are giving them a really hard time, there is always some other factor going on.

Paul: That’s the thing that I do sometimes, with you just talking about the boss putting pressure on, I say, look you are getting pressured by your boss about this, let me speak to your boss. Often it’s much harder to solve a problem when you are removed from it, so it may be that Rob needs to offer to speak to directly to the finance people. So that you can put pressure directly on the finance people and it doesn’t really matter if you screw up that relationship as much, does it really?

It’s interesting isn’t it because I’ve been doing some work for you guys at Headscape. Just 20 thing with the arrangement is with you?

Marcus: We are the evil agency in this scenario.

Paul: Yes you are, bastards! It is hard though because it’s hard in your situation if I send you through a whopping great bill and you haven’t been paid by the client…

Marcus: We need to ensure that a) we have a contract between us and you which says that we will pay you and when we are doing that contract we’d align that with the payment points from our client. Now of course they don’t always fit together. I think from our point of view, we would just pay you when we said we would pay you unless it was something that we felt that we should sit down and discuss. This is where my cynical side comes out, finance departments will pay you when they are good and ready. Doesn’t matter what’s on your contract. If you are a supplier to a client then we have terms. But if we are working for an organisation that has 30,000 employees, we are a tiny minnow and get paid when they deem we will be paid. All of that said though, we’ve never had a problem with payment over the years and we’ve been going 16 years now.

Paul: That’s not strictly true as you said that earlier in the season and it depends which you mean by problem with payment. You’re saying bad debt when you said that, that they just didn’t pay at all. You had late payments.

Marcus: No, I was talking about late payment. In some industries it is the norm. It just goes on forever and you get paid six months later. Generally speaking our clients pay us more less within the terms we’ve agreed. We’ve been lucky.

Paul: What you mean by more or less because that means different things to different situations, for example if you are Rob, if you are like myself and Natalie and just ourselves and not a company, two weeks can make a big difference to us whereas if you are a bigger agency, two weeks is paying on time.

Marcus: I think that organisations in my experience have a different view towards paying employees. Employees you have to pay on a date every month. Contractors I suspect is similar although there is probably a little bit of leeway on that, suppliers are different. What I’m saying is, I guess I am talking about a matter of a week or two. If we are on a month of 30 days term, as far as I am aware and I think I would be aware, we don’t regularly go double that.

Paul: No, I would say this relatively unusual, even in my situation. What about you Natalie? Do you tend to get paid on time?

Natalie: It depends. I think Marcus you touched on something with being a minnow and 30,000 fish. I was in that situation most recently when I was contracting with a company where I was a drop in their employee base. I was different from a lot of other contractors in that I didn’t work on sites and for longer terms. It was one of those companies where they hire on a part-time and full-time basis and I was just freelancing so my payment terms are net 21 so they just ignored all of that. When I rang their finance department I can get up to a level where I could speak to them and I just got paid for an invoice that was outstanding since March which for me was really unusual. I know other people in the industry and designers who have to go after late invoices like that but for me generally I tend to get paid every two weeks or something like that which is pretty reasonable from other clients. Especially working with agencies as they have other contractors on board and everyone gets paid similarly. This one was unusual and is one of those things where I just had to work with what I had and try to convince the person who had hired me to keep going back to their boss and bringing it up and it was annoying but it was nice to get that chunk of money later, when you weren’t expecting it.

Paul: There’s nothing that I do which is a bit sneaky. With my invoicing, you can set up automated reminders and I like that because that is not personal. I am not sending those, and I say on those emails that this is an automated reminder. But they get annoying after a while so it’s almost like nagging without it being personal. I like that approach and I think it works quite well.

Marcus: Natalie, your late paying clients, how are they doing financially? Are they rolling in it or are they struggling?

Natalie: They are a really large company and I think on the surface it’s fine but it’s one of those situations where budgets are being slashed everywhere and teams are being downsized and all of that so I am sure I was not there highest priority to be paid.

Paul: I think there can almost be unofficial policies within companies to essentially hold onto your money as long as they can.

Marcus: I was going to make that point as yes, maybe there is a policy in place but of course there isn’t.

Paul: It’s like I am dealing with a massive client at the moment and they’ve not paid me. Every time I work with them, they never pay me on time. I swear it’s because their finance department basically has this policy that were not good pay them until we’ve been nagged half a dozen times or whatever.

Marcus: And that’s why I’ll is the question about how is the company doing? Because that’s the kind of unofficial policy that will go into place if it’s needed and you can understand why people would do that but it honestly messes with a lot of people’s lives.

Natalie: Well it’s interesting that you brought that up because I work with a lot of agencies that are primarily contractor based to, so they will be smaller companies that are mostly remote or all remote and have more contractors than full-time people. I was just thinking that if they don’t get paid but they are still paying us every two weeks, that’s got to be taking a hit at some point because clients are not always on time and contracts are different terms and payments go through different times and all of those things.

Paul: That’s where it becomes so important to have a buffer behind you. In Rob’s situation as well, you could almost answer his question with almost, suck it up, as for better or worse that is the reality of business life. People don’t like to pay on time and so you can’t ever run a business expecting every client to pay on time which means you need a buffer behind you so that when they fail to pay on time, you are not starving.

Natalie: I think is a good argument to keeping your admin processes on schedule and keeping an eye on that because if you are not invoicing regularly and only invoicing when you need the money and realise, if people are very late all adds up.

Paul: Oh yes. One of the things that I like about the system that I run is that if an invoice goes overdue, it turns bright red and I’m under no illusions that this is something that needs following up. Then it starts sending out automated emails that I get copied in on so I know they are going out. You got to stay on top of the stuff.

Let’s move on to Dean’s question which is still on the subject of money but is at the other end of the project. ‘When you’re talking to a client upfront before you start working with them, how do you press a client to state their budget when the brief is everything and the kitchen sink in it?’ So you get a brief through which is like a wish list of stuff that needs doing but they don’t really talk to you about budget? We must have talked about this before the show?

Marcus: Yes, but not for long time. I can remember talking about this back in the dark ages. Basically don’t be afraid to ask, sometimes people genuinely won’t know but quite often people will tell you. You have to make the case as a wide you need to know the budget but it’s along the lines of, we can’t do all of the stuff for you for budget X but we might be able to for budget Y so from that point of view can you give me an indication of where you sit? Then that means you can deliver a sensible proposal rather than something that’s just completely made up. Something that really gets my goat is that if you put a lot of effort into a proposal, you deliver it and the feedback is you are three times more expensive than everyone else. I’ve even had that conversation and all these conversations are down to how you word it, but you can ask that question and basically say, I don’t want to waste my time or yours. If you word that nicely, most people react well to that and if they don’t then you got ask yourself a question, do I really want to work with these people? So yes, ask upfront and trying get into it.

Paul: Also sometimes I think it’s healthy to talk ballparks especially at the beginning. I know there is a load of stuff you don’t know, especially if their brief is a really over-the-top one but we often say things like, oh well, we did something a little bit similar to this and it came in at about 30 grand or whatever. Is a quick way of identifying the kind of people who thought they were going to get all of that for five grand? So actually if they won’t say their budget, you give them at least a ballpark and see if there is a sharp intake of breath and that they go pale.

Natalie I imagine the most of the projects you are involved in the budget has already been set with the clients that you work with because they come to you after they’ve engaged the end client, is that right?

Natalie: It’s a mix. In those cases, the budget is somewhat set and they sometimes will be using their own internal budgets to hire me and so just aren’t sure how to price a project manager, especially freelance. But I work with a lot of agencies where I help create those proposals and so I get into this situation with clients. I actually haven’t tried directly comparing to another project, that’s brilliant to give them a ballpark understanding and see the functionality of the request and all of that. I always find is some really, really big constraints and timelines stop if they won’t sink their budget and maybe there will sink their timeline that’s a really good one. I think you’ve talked about this on the show before but that idea of phase 2 and having a way to almost immediately roll into new business after the project is done but also a good place to start putting things that are just not achievable within the constraints that you have. There’s always something, whether it’s budget or timeline but those big wish lists on projects I feel are just rarely achievable in the first phase.

Paul: So how do you broach that? Because sometimes you get a briefing a brief and go yes, they’ve just written down everything they can think of. You can’t turn around to them and say you are living in cloud cuckoo land. So how do you approach it in terms of getting them to be a bit more realistic about that list?

Natalie: I think it takes more education and handholding and understanding. Education on our part to understand what the client needs and where those requests are coming from. So digging into the why of why they need these things are why they are requesting them or adding them onto the list. Maybe it means they actually hate some part of their site and I think this way is the only way to get that, or they really want a fancy picture because they think it will help elevate their company, but they don’t have the content for it yet. So understanding where those requests are coming from and educating a little more on each side, the work that goes into it on both sides, so not only the amount of money that they have to spend on development to get that points but also the upkeep on their ends and creation of content of video or whatever they are requesting.

Paul: Multilingual is a great example of that. And you go, okay so you’ve got multilingual content? No. But you got people to do the translation? No. But we might want it in the future. Often these wish lists of staff are, well we might want that one day. My attitude is, pay for it when you want it rather than paying for it all up front and never using it.

Marcus: That is totally true. Often multilingual means we’ve got a few pages worth of content in a few different languages. It doesn’t mean we need to have the entire site translated. Also another common one that you will get in a brief is that, we need to integrate our website with our CRM. If you really push on that it means basically, we need to be able to download the stuff we capture on the website, manually. But the ways described is that it’s constant real-time synching which is very different. So asking the why questions is certainly helpful. It depends on what comes through because quite often you will get a very simple brief in which case, just talk about budget give them examples of other work. If you get a detailed brief, then sit down and have a chat about it especially if you think this client could be a really good client is worth meeting with them and sitting down and having a chat.

Paul: I have got to say always take briefs with a pinch of salt anyway, because it’s often easy to misinterpret what they were saying anyway and that CRM examples are great example of that. I don’t think clients always know what they want but they feel they have to write something. I don’t think they always know what they need and so it’s our job to tell them. They don’t feel that they can come to you and just go, we know we’ve got a problem with our website but haven’t got a clue what to do about it. They don’t feel they can do that. Actually I would really like a client to do that, and that goes back to what we were saying in previous shows about doing a discovery phase.

Marcus: That’s a really good answer to this question actually, try and persuade them to hire you for a smaller amount of money to do a discovery phase that you will then come out with a finished detailed scope for whatever it is you going to build and the associated costs if they want to work with you but that than they can take that elsewhere they want to.

Paul: Do you do much of that Natalie?

Natalie: Now that we are talking about it, not as much as I would like. I’ve been in the situation where we get a brief like that where everything is included and we do a mini project instead, launching the base and then it turns out that’s all they need and maybe they want a few extra features down the line, but overall they are happy with what they’ve got. But it never really comes about in a nice discovery phase and I think that’s a really good way to work it and to show them the value at least going into this little bit deeper and helping them understand what they need and that the client can take it elsewhere if they want it but are now knowledgeable.

Paul: I do like the idea of the MVP, Minimal Viable Product which we hadn’t mentioned and I think that is spot on as well. I think introducing the client to this idea of a minimal viable product and starting with the core is a really good idea. Even just saying that the idea is a methodology and is best practice today, the idea of a minimal viable product because I think a lot of clients are stuck in that old school mentality. When you talk about minimal viable products I always talk about building a building. You have to work out absolutely everything you want in the building because once you start building its, that’s it and you are committed. Also changing it after the fact is massively complicated and expensive, so it’s this big specification, these big briefs with detailed plans and then you deliver on it. But of course we digital it is so flexible and agile that you can build this minimal version of it, you can try it out and see if you need anything else and then add it afterwards. Actually there is a great diagram that offended mine once drew and this is where I wish it was a video podcast, which basically showed the expenditure of projects compared to what you actually know about users. You have this huge peak of expenditure when this project is happening, it’s then launches and then it goes into a tiny trickle of maintenance. But the truth is that once your website is live, that is the point where you really begin to know what users want and what users need and that’s when you work out whether to build you all the extra functionality. So yes, minimal viable products.

Natalie: I am a big advocate of the maintenance part of projects as no one really talks about it enough. It’s not fun or cool or attractive to anyone thinking about project work but maintenance is such a big deal for the client and for an agency. So many agencies and developers and designers pass things off on launch and check it off as it’s done and that’s really not how any of it works and I think clients have that mentality to. We just need to launch a new site and we will be happy but in reality there is so much more that goes into it. It’s so difficult really to maintain a good website and deal with all the bugs that come up and you really want a lasting relationship and understanding. I think this is a nice way to introduce that idea.

Paul: I talk about websites being like gardens. You can plant a new garden but if you walk away, it will turn to rack and ruin and be awful. Actually from when you plant an initial garden it’s bit rubbish really, it’s only when the garden grows in and you pruned it and looked after it and you’ve taken out one plant that wouldn’t grow well in that area and put in another plant, that’s when a garden comes to fruition, it’s after a period of time of going into itself. Websites in a lot regards, is very much like that. The day that you finish the garden is the day you start the work.

Anyway let’s move onto our final question from Matthew Fox. He writes, ‘what tools or suggestions do you have tracking projects and tasks? Are Gantt charts the answer or are some of the new tools better for this?’ I think this is particularly interesting in your situation, Natalie because you do so much remote work and so the tools must be a very, very important part of communication and so I am interested in what tools you favour, and do use Gantt charts?

Natalie: I have a confession to make.

Paul: Oh you do don’t you? You still produce Gantt charts!

Natalie: No I have never made a Gantt chart.

Marcus: Wonderful.

Paul: Wonderful Natalie, you shot up in my estimation.

Natalie: Oh great, I was worried I would be thrown off not being a proper project manager.

Paul: No that’s a good thing. So how do you do things then?

Natalie: I think tools are very important and I think it’s less about the exact software that you are using but more about the suite of tools that you are using. I am a huge advocate obviously of chat programs, especially working remotely as it’s just a given. In the past some companies I’ve worked with haven’t used chat which somehow is just bizarre to me, but you need a place to gather specific project people, to have private conversations, to have public conversations and really get to know each other in that way casually and professionally. The project work specifically, some sort of task management tool. I have programs that I favour and I think every organisation has their favourite but I think it’s important to focus on the type of work that you are doing and where things slip up or need extra help, and pick a tool that fits there. For example, base camp is extremely discussion based. I have found in tasking things out, it’s not extremely helpful in the level of detail or control that it gives me for specific phases of a project but if I want to talk through planning an event or something, it’s fantastic that and it helps involve a lot of people. So I would use that on a very good project perhaps with a client as it has nice client facing features but if I was doing a software development project, I would definitely use something more task-based and task driven. Something that I could control more, like a horizontal workflow to indicate progress and things like that. So I think really understanding what your workflow is and what you need is the first step to picking the tool. I think that’s more important than the actual tool or method itself.

Paul: With questions like this, people want you to say, the go to tool is pipedrive or something but the problem is there is no perfect tool as it entirely depends on your own mental model, how you approach things. So something like a CRM, and you look at something like pipedrive, the reason it is right for me is because I like to think about what I’m doing months ahead was lined up for September and October et cetera. Everybody in every situation is going to want to think in those kinds of terms. So it is so dependent. So what’s your personal ones that fit your mental model?

Natalie: I love Trello just for personal stuff, I hate it for team driven work. I feel like the features are clunky, but for myself I have a huge board for sales and marketing, goals and ideas, tracking my own goals for the year stop I am a huge project management nerd as I used so many different tools for normal people things. I even have a to-do list for myself. With teams, I love Slack, I also use something called Breeze which is not very well known but I have a feeling that a lot of people use it. It’s a similar thing to basecamp and Trello combined but the best features from both. So it’s great for software and website development which is what I do a lot of and integrates nicely with photo repositories and things like that. But those are the main tools that I use. I’ve used Basecamp in the past and I started using Basecamp 3 when it came out but that contract ended so wasn’t using it anymore.

Paul: I’m not a fan of Basecamp if I am honest. But then I’m not a fan of many team project management tools and I’m not a fan of teams so that maybe my problem. It’s like the tool that I really use as part of Matthews question was about tasks, I just organise myself in Omnifocus because I’m a getting things done freak and that fits with the way I see the world, while Marcus uses stone tablets.

Marcus: I’m quite good with a chisel.

Paul: You said earlier that you use Trello.

Marcus: Yes, that’s me personally using it for organising myself but I found though, because I said I was going to give up the pencil and notepad, that I got bored of using Evernote and found that it is actually easier to write it down. So do bit of both now.

Paul: I think my problem with writing stuff down in notepads is that it’s not searchable. I lose stuff.

Marcus: I just like to doodle and is just a little reminder thing. I do all sorts of things with it.

Paul: Don’t you forget what you’ve put where?

Marcus: No?

Natalie: I do that.

Paul: Thank you for saying that Natalie. I thought I was on my own for minutes there.

Natalie: I love notebooks and I am a huge fan as I go through one every month or two. I write everything down but I also use Evernote but I also use text documents for some things and I can just never find anything really.

Paul: What I do like, if you are a notebook fan and you like Evernote, there is an app called Scannable. So Scannable is an app by Evernote and essentially you take notes in a meeting in your notebook, then you photograph them with Scannable on your mobile phone and it goes into Evernote and now it’s searchable.

Natalie: That’s nice.

Marcus: That’s magic.

Paul: Even handwriting, I don’t if you would cope with your handwriting though Marcus and it certainly wouldn’t cope with Chris Scott’s.

Natalie: My handwriting is awful.

Paul: I bet isn’t as bad as Chris Scott’s.

Marcus: Mine is pretty good because I write in caps.

Paul: Well there you go then.

Natalie: That sounds exhausting?

Marcus: Writing in caps? I can do it joined up now as I’ve been doing it for 30 years. So I’m really good at writing in really fast, joined up, caps.

Paul: So wide you writing caps? Is it because your cursive is rubbish?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: My dad was the same. Mine is okay but my problem is I pressed so hard that I tire my handout.

Marcus: Oh bless.

Paul: I’m one of those people who can only write on one side of the paper because you get in date on the other side of the paper and if it’s a loose leafed piece of paper, it starts curling up like one of those fish the put on your hand.

Marcus: There is no response to that, Paul.

Paul: I’ve discovered why though. It’s one of those traits that sometimes goes with Asperger’s. It’s lack of fine motor skill and so the only way that I can control my hand enough is to press hard. So that’s why it happens. Anyway, enough of my medical conditions. It explains so many things.

Marcus: We talked about this when Emma came on the show. She’s been working with us and has spent a year and a half trying to find the right tool and now the right tools and still hasn’t really found it.

Paul: That’s the problem isn’t it? Trying to find one tool that does everything you want is impossible.

Marcus: We’ve accepted that. And we are now looking at different tools.

Paul: But isn’t it just a case of sooner or later, if you’re working by yourself it might be possible to find a tool that completely fits your mental model, although I doubt it. If you are trying to manage an entire team of people, it’s even less likely. You come to the point where you have to pick a tool that’s close-ish and adapt to the tool.

Natalie: I’ve made that argument because I work with companies and implement processes and tools for them and there’s always that argument. There’s a point we just have to deal of find something good enough or a suite of things that are good enough that will support the team but allow someone to have a personal workflow elsewhere if they hate it.

Paul: The only other solution is to build it yourself. But just going to build something that everybody likes because nobody will agree.

Natalie: Why double up on the work of their tools that work sufficiently together.

Paul: But I think what we can all agree, to keep Matthew happy and making feel like we’ve answered his question, our Gantt charts the answer? No.

Natalie: Agreed.

Paul: But we can’t agree on what is the answer. So we’ve half answered it. And on that amazing answer, I think will stop questions and just talk a little bit about Shopify because at least I’ve got something written down to say about them.

Shopify. As I’ve said, they’ve been a huge support of this show and by now you already know that they are the leading multichannel commerce software, trusted by over 250,000 merchants. The company has created something called their partner program in which, if you are a freelancer or an agency and you’re doing web development or web design, you can sign up for this partnership program and offers a variety of ways to generate some passive income. Going back to Rob’s question about people paying late, won’t it be great if you weren’t relied on people all the time to pay an invoice at the specific time? What if you had some regular cash flow coming into your business that you knew was going to be more reliable? That’s the holy Grail for most people running agencies of freelancers. Shopify does offer the potential for this in its own Shopify partner program.

What you can do is obviously build Shopify sites for your clients. If you work directly with these clients you can build their stores on Shopify but then, you receive a percentage of their subscription to the Shopify platform and the transaction fees that they occur every month. So you make money of them running their website and hosting their website long-term. So effectively what is happening there is that Shopify are paying you a commission for referring clients to them and to their platform. So there’s one passive revenue stream.

Then there is Shopify apps. Shopify also has an impressive apps store where developers can create and sell applications to enhance Shopify’s capabilities. So if you develop a plug-in or an app, you will earn a significant amount of passive income by publishing that app and having merchants purchase the app on the Shopify App Store. That’s another way of making income.

But were not all developers that can build apps and that’s where Shopify themes come in. Just because you don’t have any clients, doesn’t mean you can’t design themes for Shopify. There is a theme store where designers can sell e-commerce templates directly to merchants. Just like the apps, you then receive a portion of the revenue delivered to you when they purchase that.

So once you’ve begun finding and doing all these kinds of things, you begin to sell apps and make income from people hosting on there, then you might become eligible to become a Shopify expert. All you need to be considered for becoming an expert is five active stores under your belts or your own published apps or themes. By becoming a Shopify expert, Shopify will actually now start to send you leads directly cutting out the hassle of finding clients on your own. Some experts have made more than $5000 within the first week of being in an expert, so essentially they are pushing clients in your direction. So it’s a really interesting model that they’ve set up and I think it’s one that for a lot of people, could be very lucrative and very worthwhile.

You can find out more about it by going to So there we go. That is Shopify. Marcus do you have a joke for us?

Marcus: I do. It’s another silly Tim Vine joke but it’s quite quick.

Paul: Yay!

Marcus: My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island.

I said to him, don’t be Sicily.

Paul: I guess that punchline.

Natalie: Oh.

Paul: See, now, Natalie’s reaction said it all.

Marcus: Some of them have been good. I have to request, I haven’t been sent any for ages. Please send me some more.

Paul: So readily send them?


Paul: So Natalie, I have a question for you as you listen to this podcast for a little while, correct? Have you ever laughed out loud at one of Marcus’s jokes?

Natalie: I have, but usually because they are so ridiculous.

Marcus: That’s fine.

Natalie: I come from a family who loves puns, so my bar is pretty low.

Paul: Fair enough, that’s acceptable. So as well as sending Marcus jokes to, you can also send questions. We’ve got two shows left and so you can get your questions in by emailing them to me at So a huge thanks to you Natalie for joining us and where can people find out a bit more about you?

Natalie: I have a website, and I can be found on Twitter and I also run the PM reactions tumblr which is just a lot of PM gifts and memes, so that’s

Paul: If you struggle to spell all of that just go find the show notes for this episode. It isn’t that difficult and you’re all intelligent people and what you’ll do is find the bottom of the show notes and all the links for the show will be there. Thank you very much for listening and join us again next week. Goodbye.