This week on the Boagworld Show we have talks on growing a business from scratch, presenting designs using screencasts and global warming!
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me as always on this week’s show is Marcus Lillington. Hello Marcus.
Marcus: Hello Paul. So we’ve got to be really quick this week and talk very fast.
Paul: Do we? Why is that?
Marcus: Because we’ve got three talks.
Paul: Oh yeah, we do don’t we. I had forgotten that. Oh well, I won’t ask you how you are then.
Marcus: Well, I was just thinking beforehand. Have I got anything to say. I was like “No, not really.”
Paul: What? For the entire show?
Marcus: Well, no, no, no. I have notes again that don’t mean much about each of the talks but no, I haven’t really got anything kind of like…
Paul: No preamble today.
Marcus: No. I can’t think of anything.
Paul: No, I haven’t got very much. Other than… It’s because neither of us are going on holiday any time soon. That seems to be the main thing that we waste people’s time with at the start of the show. Isn’t it?
Marcus: Yeah, or the weather. Sun’s come out again which is nice.
Paul: Yes. I’m going to Dublin but, you know, just to run a workshop. Actually I am quite excited. It is a workshop on running a user experience agency and I’m hoping to turn it into one of my online workshops afterwards because it’s come out really well! It’s great. I like, know shit, who knew that!
Marcus: Well, you think you do Paul.
Paul: Well, it looks quite good. It looks like a grown-up might have created it. So there we go.
Marcus: Cool, so when is that then?
Paul: Thursday. But I’m going over on Wednesday coming back Friday.
Paul: But yeah, interesting thing to do. Kind of taking all that we’ve, I’ve learnt over the years, we’ve learnt over the years and condensing it into a one day thing.
Marcus: Hmmm. I have got news that’s much more interesting than yours. My next door neighbour who is…
Paul: You see, instantly, instantly it’s not… Mine was relevant to web design.
Marcus: Hmmm, I said interesting not relevant.
Paul: Okay, fine.
Marcus: No, he’s a pilot and he keeps saying “Ooh, I’ve got access to a small plane, just up the road at Blackbush airport, I’ll take you out.” And I’m like “Yeah, that sounds great.” Yeah, yeah, yeah… But I am going out with him on Thursday. So that’s exciting! In a little plane.
Paul: Exciting for you and absolutely nobody else.
Marcus: I was just trying to think of something that, you know, that was kind of, you know, a little bit different.
Paul: All right then, if we are going to be different let’s go straight into a talk without any more preamble. That would be different wouldn’t it?
Marcus: Wow, it would.
Paul: All right, so first up we got Alastair Banks. So Alistair Banks really should be giving the talk that I’m going to be giving in Dublin because he’s been running his own agency since 1999. He came straight out of university at the age of 18 and started running his own business. I hate him! Those kinds of overachievers really get up my nose. (Laughter) You know, I would have been okay if he had failed, but instead he has grown a successful agency of like, he’s got 20 employees. I think he says all this in the talk.
Marcus: He does. All of those words are used.
Paul: Oh, I will shut up. But if you want to find out more about him you can go to Optixsolutions.co.uk. That’s optics spelt O P T I X solutions. He is also running a… He’s got a LinkedIn, he’s doing a course on LinkedIn on Udemy. If you fancy getting that then you can use the coupon code Boagworld. I’ll put a link in the show notes if you fancy that for any reason. But yes, let’s listen to Alastair. He is talking about what he learnt growing his business. So basically I just copied and pasted his talk into mine on Thursday. It’s really good, he saved me a lot of work. So over to Alistair.
5 Tips for Starting and Growing a Business from Scratch
Play talk at: 04:28 – This is the story of a group of friends who created their own company at University around the time of the dotcom bubble. 18 years on they are still running it and employ almost 20 people in Exeter. In this 14 minute lightening talk, the co-founder Alastair Banks shares five of his best tips for building and growing a business from scratch. This will be relevant for anyone who is doing or thinking of doing their own thing.
Hi everyone my name is Alastair Banks and I run a digital agency called optic solutions. We are based down in Exeter in Devon in the UK and I’ve been an avid fan of Paul and Marcus for a long time and love this podcast. So when they said we have the opportunity to do these lightning talks I was racking my brains about things that I can talk about and what knowledge I could impart and how could I do this. So I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and it suddenly came to mind that maybe I should just tell my story because that hopefully will inspire at least one or two people to take the jump to create your own business because I have never worked for anybody else. I am 38 now and I went straight out of university into my own business. I started it actually in my second year and it’s been an amazing journey. We are now 18 years old and we employ almost 20 people in Exeter. So, I just want to tell you that story, I wanted to tell you or give you some tips about the most important factors I believe for creating your own business and how these can kind of help you if you are thinking about starting your own thing to ensure that you don’t fall foul of some of the problems that many, many businesses have because I think there’s a stat that says something like 80% of businesses who start-up fail within a year, within the first year. I don’t want that to you guys, I want to share with you some of the ideas and thoughts that I have had over that time. Just to give you a bit of context. When I started my agency it was 1999 so just to position that for you, Google and eBay didn’t really exist or if they did they were in a garage somewhere. So I used a site called QXL for my auctioning back then and Google, I used Altavista instead of the likes of Google and Yahoo and Lycos and Ask Jeeves and things like that. That will give some of you a kind of sample of where I was back then. Many companies back then didn’t even have websites so it was my job to go out and persuade them that this Internet thing was worth investing in. 18 years on it’s a little different now. In that time I’ve seen the .com bubble bursting, I’ve seen the birth of e-commerce I’ve seen web 2.0, I’ve seen social media coming about and changing our industry for the better. Yeah, lots of fascinating things that have happened to me in that time. I sat down and very carefully thought about the key reasons that we were able to grow and succeed while many other people didn’t and many other people in my industry have stayed at either one or two man and not actually grown beyond that. So I’m hoping to be able to give you some of the ideas behind how I think we went from that stage through to, kind of, growth to 5 to 10 to 15 people and some of the things and lessons I have learnt and the mistakes that I have made. In that time we have weathered one of the worst recessions that this country has ever seen, we have had clients go bust on us and we’ve suffered at the hands of poor decisions that are quite frankly, beyond our control. So we have kept going through that time and I want to share with you really today a few of the key reasons why.
Just to give a little bit of history, a little bit of background. Optics was started by three friends, one of which was me, who met at university back in 1997. We were computer science graduates, we were in our second year of university and we created a limited company business back then and we ran it alongside our studies. We spent the first year of that, so our third year at university, just doing sites for friends and family for a few hundred quid here and there. When we graduated we had the major decision of whether we should go and find jobs, which most of our friends did, they went off to the big cities to work for the likes of IBM and PWC and KPMG’s and so on and so forth. But we wanted, we had a different path, we wanted to go for it. We wanted to create our own thing and give it a go and that is what we did. So the day after graduation we actually rented a house in a place in Exeter which had four bedrooms. So had one bedroom each and the other… Sorry, so we had three bedrooms one each and the other bedroom was a bedroom that we converted into an office and we had three desks in a triangle, we had a printer in the middle and this was the day of dial-up. So I don’t know if you remember dial-up guys but we had to share a phone line for each of us to be able to connect to the Internet and use sales calls and, yes, a fax machine as well. So we actually did that back then. We were very lucky that we had a few very kind family members that lent us a little bit of money. We had about £8000 which was enough to keep going without any sales for about probably six months. We were literally living on bread and water back then. So, fast forward 18 years we are a team of almost 20 with clients all over the world now. We have grown into one of the most successful agencies in this area. We have just opened a new base in Bristol alongside our hometown here in Exeter. So, what are my tips to budding entrepreneurs to kind of start their own thing. I have come up with five that I want to stand by and five that I would definitely give to my 20 year old self so I hope those are useful for you guys and here we go.
First tip is to become obsessed with cash flow. Now, my father who is a business consultant and has helped us from day one he has been an instrumental part of why we have kept going, drummed this into me from the very beginning. Profit is all well and good but there are many, many profitable businesses that have gone under due to poor cash flow management. From the early days I lived my, kind of, online existence in two places. One was a spreadsheet which was used for cash flow forecasting. So this was a spreadsheet of months of the year across the top and then all our incomings and outgoings down the side and then we plotted into that what was actually happening and what we forecast was going to be happening. And I lived my life in that spreadsheet. It was open every single day and any decision that we made as a business was based upon that spreadsheet. So if we wanted to take on a new member of staff we could plug in their wages into that and saw what that did to our bottom line, assuming that we can actually hit the sales that we could. If it was, say, a salesperson we would put the salesperson in and then we would make a judgement on what that might do to our figures in terms of sales. Again that would show us what we were doing for a bottom-line. So that was an incredibly important piece to why I think we are still going and I still have that spreadsheet 17 years on so that’s how important it is to me guys, I thoroughly recommend that you create your own cash flow forecast. All you’ve got to do is Google it and you will find lots of templates out there. I think you might even find mine actually if you google cash flow forecast and Alistair Banks. So that was one place that we did. The other one was the bank account. I spent and actually still to this day almost every single day in our bank account understanding exactly what is going on with it. What is coming in and what is going out. One small tip that I have which I think was really really useful at the very beginning was to separate VAT and normal cash. So every time I got a cheque, yes, we got checks back then! Or a payment into our bank I took the VAT out and I created a separate account and put that VAT into that separate account so I didn’t spend it. That really helped every quarter when the VAT man came knocking and wanting that money. So it was just a really good way of kind of cash flow management and ensuring that we didn’t get into problems.
The second tip is to aim for recurring revenue. This was one of our kind of major breakthroughs when we started to introduce recurring services. I feel that if you have the opportunity to do that in your business then it will really, really help you. For us this was things like hostings, so webh-osting, but then it moved into kind of digital marketing services so back in the old days it was SEO and pay per click and things like that. That turned into content marketing and other various digital marketing services over the years. Now that makes up about 1/2 to 2/3 of my business and what that means for me is that at the beginning of every single month I can bill out a certain amount of money which takes account of my overheads and then everything on top of that is kind of profit or working towards that profit line very, very quickly. And it means that I’m not scrabbling away for new business all the time, constantly trying to find new stuff, or less of a rate anyway. So that for me, recurring revenue is a really vital role in your business. If you can find those models then I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend that you do.
You are never too big to take advice guys. It amazes me that how many people think that they know it all in business. I am basing that on people that I know, that I have come across over that time and usually those are the ones that come unstuck. Over the years that my business partner and I have been running our business we have had many, many advisers. We have invested large sums of money in external parties knowing that they bring a different point of view, a different skill set to our business. Even as I talk about this today I have almost probably three different advisers that we are using. So trying to find a mentor that fits with your business, that understands where you are trying to go and can help you see that way is really, really important. Advisers can also be a very, very good source of leads too.
My fourth tip is about understanding the importance of sales and being… That’s where it starts, it all begins. Don’t get me wrong, having an amazing product or service is just as important, if not more important if you’re going to keep going but no one can argue with the fact that if you don’t sell then you’ve got no work. So it is just a fact. If that is you and you are struggling with that sales element maybe you need to get someone in your business who is good at that. Here are a few kind of key takeaways for you in terms of the best way of selling. Undoubtedly positioning yourself as an expert is one of the long best long-term ways of selling. It’s not going to happen overnight and you can’t suddenly go from being nothing to being an expert or people will call you out. But over time the more you can become known as the go-to in your industry the better your opportunities are going to be. Inbound leads will literally flood in. Short-term, doing small pieces of work to prove yourself is key. So trying to understand the challenges of others rather than selling what you have is really important. The amount of people that I have met at networking events who instantly go into a sales patter about themselves and just bores me is incredible. Why don’t these people, why don’t you spend time asking questions of the other person so you can understand their business and then taylor what you say to them so that they start to buy from you rather than you selling to them. With social media we have amazing opportunity with the likes of LinkedIn and other social networks, to actually get through the door, around the gatekeeper. You could be sitting in front of the CEO having a coffee before you know it and you could know what makes them tick, you could know that they enjoy rugby or skiing or whatever it is before you go in so you’ve got something to bond with them. Use of social media is an unbelievable godsend and when I started we didn’t have this. I had to knock on doors and I had to make cold calls. The salespeople of today really do have it quite easy when it comes to that.
My fifth and final tip is just about employing people. This is going to be one of the hardest things that you will ever do. After all you probably created your business not to employ other people, right? Because you enjoyed what you did, you are passionate about it and because you’re good at it. But actually if you want to grow your business you are going to have to employ other people. Getting the wrong people in your business can be so detrimental. One bad egg can completely ruin a business. Believe me, I’ve been there a few times. My advice, take time on your recruiting. Don’t rush to replace people when they leave. If people really, really want to work for you they are going to show you that. They are going to show you how much they are willing to work. Pay good wages because you will get good people. Don’t scrimp and save just to get a slightly cheaper person because there’s a reason that that person is probably willing to take less. So getting the best candidates in your business is absolutely critical and really will help you grow.
So I hope you found that useful guys. That is my five tips from kind of 18 years, or 17 years on the frontline so I really, really hope that that has been useful and informative and educational. I would love to engage with you guys you can find me all over social media just google my name Alastair Banks, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, all of those places I am available on so very happy to chat with you in more detail if you just want to ask any questions about growing a business. I wish you the very best of luck and I’d like to thank Paul and Marcus for giving me the opportunity to do this lightening talk. Thank you.
Paul: Oh, he made me feel really nostalgic at the beginning, talking about what it was like back when he set up his business.
Marcus: Altavista! Cor!!
Paul: I know!
Marcus: He did start off by saying he was an avid fan so yes, he’s a great guy, excellent talk!
Paul: We like him, yeah!
Paul: Yeah, anybody who starts their talk by saying how great we are is guaranteed to get a positive response from us!
Paul: So there we go.
Marcus: You saying this before his talk about kept going straight out of university and straight into a job. I think that that doesn’t help you. I think he’s done really well to be as successful as he has been without having experience of working in big companies and other companies and that kind of thing. I found all that really, really useful. I think you did when you were at IBM, Paul. It’s just like, this is how not to do things is what you are basically learning!
Paul: Yeah. But also you get to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the table, you know, which I think is a good thing. But even working for another agency I think is very helpful. You learn a lot about, you know, what goes into that. Not that I ever did but I know Rob Borley, for example, who after working for us went and set up dootrix has said to me on many occasions that actually seeing how Headscape operated and what they did, you know, gave him a head start with dootrix. I think mainly for the same reason as you said. What not to do!
Marcus: (Laughter) That’s a bit harsh Paul don’t you think?
Paul: Yeah, and he didn’t say that at all but you know. Self-deprecation, you know me.
Marcus: Absolutely. I mean listening to a lot of what Alistair had to say I am just nodding away thinking I’m so pleased we’ve got Chris.
Paul: Yes, I know. All that stuff about spreadsheets. I was like… I started to dribble at that point as well. But he is right.
Marcus: Absolutely. You just need to kind of… But it’s the same thing… Not wanting to put you down Alistair, I don’t mean it like that but it is a little bit kind of stating the obvious in the fact that you know, you should keep an eye on cash flow, you should keep an eye on, you know, pipeline all those kind of things, yeah. Yes!
Paul: Yes! But it’s amazing how many of the people I talk to don’t. They just…
Paul: Seriously. When I do mentorship a lot of my time is dealing with those basic things. You’ve got to remember we were a little bit weird when we set up, okay? The three founders that founded Headscape was me, who was a designer/developer, right? You, a salesman and Marcus, sorry, and Chris a kind of business-ey person. Right? That’s not how a normal agency starts up. It normally starts up with two or three developers or designers or people like that who know nothing about running a business.
Marcus: Yeah, that’s true.
Paul: And there’s no way on earth I would have set up Headscape by myself back in the day. In theory why did I need you two! You know, I could produce the goods, I didn’t need you! But fortunately I wasn’t stupid enough to think I didn’t really because if I had set up by myself I would… I wouldn’t have thought about things like cash flow. I wouldn’t have even… To be honest at the time Marcus I wouldn’t have even thought about things like sales in the way that I do now. Obviously I’m a very different person now and thats probably my strongest area but at the time, you know, at Townpages where we all worked before, I didn’t touch sales, I didn’t touch spreadsheets, I didn’t do anything like that.
Marcus: Yeah, it’s true. Alistair also said the importance of sales. I said that I think in the last series and that it kind of goes back to one of the reasons why I think we’ve done all right over the years is that we have a very strong focus on sales and two people doing it so… Yeah, it is very helpful and yes, you are right…
Paul: What is obvious to one person isn’t to another that’s the thing isn’t it.
Marcus: Exactly, yeah. But also this kind of desire of whether you actually want to do any of this stuff. Because I don’t want to do the spreadsheet stuff that’s why I’m saying thank goodness for Chris. I was always very happy and still am to do the sales-ey stuff.
Paul: Yeah, and that’s the problem. He made a bit of… The one, sorry, after saying we were going to be nothing but nice to him we are slowly picking holes in everything he said.
Marcus: I’ve only done one hole, one small hole. No more.
Paul: Well, I’m going to pick one small hole and it is… It’s not really… He made a throwaway comment which you do in talks, I do the same thing, which is, you know, if you don’t like doing this stuff get someone to do it. And yes, he’s 100% right but how? Getting someone to do sales is really tricky. In terms of the money side of things, I mean I hate it with a passion, it is obviously just me that does it now. I have to do it. So the first thing I did was get an accountant and bookkeeper but that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at it. I still need to be aware of it. So, you know, to some degree you can’t avoid it entirely and getting a salesperson in particular is incredibly challenging.
Marcus: Yeah, I mean people have done it. We are meeting up with Andy Budd next week I think and he’s got a sales guy who has been around for over a year or two with them. I’m interested to sort of bend his ear on that one as to how it’s worked out.
Paul: Well when I talked to him very briefly, I think it was him, or it might have been someone else, but anyway I talked to someone at an agency who had a salesman… No, it wasn’t him it was Rob Borley again. You know, they took on a salesperson but essentially they are only doing the donkey work part of sales, if that makes sense. The writing the proposal, all of that side of things rather than necessarily the consultative sale that lies at the heart of what we do, if that makes sense.
Marcus: Yep, yep, it does. I mean… I’ll be interesting to hear…
Paul: Yeah, yeah. It was a really good talk, I totally agreed with the importance of generating re-occurring revenue which was a big thing he talked about. Totally agree with the importance of sales and positioning yourself as an expert and I liked his whole thing about asking questions rather than going in and immediately selling, that you start by asking questions which again, it is something that to us is so intrinsically obvious but not to other people. It is again a big mistake I see people making. And I totally agree with that whole thing about one bad egg can absolutely ruin a business.
Marcus: Oh yes! (Laughter)
Paul: Exactly. Enough said on that I think. Right. Let’s talk about…
Marcus: What’s next Paul?
Paul: Yeah, let’s talk about our sponsor and then we will do our next talk.
Marcus: Oh, okay then.
Paul: So our next sponsor is Fullstory who has sponsored the entire season of the show and I love them dearly for doing that. It makes my job so much easier not having to chase multiple sponsors. Is that lazy of me?
Paul: I think it does sound a bit lazy, yes. So the only reason you like them is because they sponsor the entire series. Nothing to do with the product or anything like that.
Marcus: Yeah, watching people.
Paul: Exactly. Well, for a start everything is obviously anonymized so we don’t know who those people are, right? But you could also go in and exclude, you know, whatever you want to from being recorded. So, obviously to protect customer data and that kind of stuff you can go in and set it up so it works to your ethical standards. Whatever those ethical standards may be. It also integrates with loads of platforms so for example going back to that customer support thing, you can integrate it with something like zendesk or whatever so that you can… So somebody emails you with a support query “Oh, I couldn’t do this on the website.” It will actually include a link where you can then click and watch the session back to see what the user did which I just think is bloody amazing. Not that I do customer support but I imagine if you do that would be a godsend. Anyway, I use it for usability testing and improving the site so, different use case. But anyway. You can signup today and see how you get on with it and whether you like it. You can get a free month of the pro-for free. No need to enter a credit card or anything like that and you can continue to use it free afterwards up to a thousand sessions per month. You can do that by going to Fullstory.com/boag, B O A G. I don’t know why I suddenly decided to spell my name. You’d think if they’re listening to this podcast they probably know! Right.
Marcus: What’s next?
Paul: Lex Van Der Meer is next.
Marcus: Okay, cool.
Paul: So Alexandra who introduces herself and she says a little bit about herself but basically she studied in industrial design, moved into the corporate sector and does a lot of design leadership and business-ey stuff, yeah. You can check her out for yourself basically. She’s got… She obviously, you know some people, you get two types of people that submit talks. Those that obviously want to promote themselves a little bit and those that are just sharing a talk, right? And she falls into the latter category. She didn’t seem overly concerned with her, you know kind of pushing any product or anything. But she does have a portfolio and you can check her out on linked in but I’m not even going to try and spell the URL of the portfolio it just goes on for hours! So check out the show notes. She is worth looking up she is doing some really interesting stuff so make sure you check her out. She’s doing a really interesting talk, right? That is entitled “Every day I wake up thinking how can I do my part to help fight global warming?” So just a little tip Lex that’s not the snappiest of subtitles I’ve ever read!
Marcus: It draws you in though doesn’t it?
Paul: It does, doesn’t it. It does, absolutely. So it does work. So she… She… I think I leave it at that. I’ll just let her go from there really because that’s such a good title that we will hand it over to Lex.
Everyday I wake up thinking: How can I do my part to help fight global warming?
Play talk at: 31:27 – This talk is about sustainability, design and technology. Very occasionally on Friday nights, I have spontaneous creative writing spurts, and the first draft of this started as one of them. I love listening to the Boagworld show, and when I heard this season was about talks from others, I thought – Why not? I’ll work to submit this!
I’ve always been fascinated with how as a design team you have impact on how people behave or change through using your product. To me this is something we shouldn’t take lightly as designers, therefore we should have a sense of ethics, without being patronising. Most of all, we should feel bold and empowered to create in a way that helps drive change for the better! This talk is about how technology & design has the power to change our behaviour, so why not change it in a meaningful way? Hope you enjoy it.
Hello Boagworld show listeners I am Alexandra and every day I wake up and think of how I can do my part to help fight global warming. Well, actually no of course not! Usually it’s more like “Okay, get my frizzy hair decent enough in time to catch the train and shall I wear the blue top, no I’ll wear the white, no I’ve got that thing today I’ll wear the blue.” But you know, on a deeper level I do care about global warming and I know that technology and great user experience design can achieve some amazing things. Actually what fascinates me is how design actually has the power to influence people’s behaviour and through that maybe even their lives. I mean, how many times have you found yourself three hours into Netflix thinking “Woops, I meant to watch just one episode.” Or opened your phone to check messages and then got sucked into playing the “Make all the red notification bubbles go away game?” Well, this happens to me anyways and those moments I think does this really add meaning to my life? I also see some very cool moments and behaviour changes through technology and design. For example a friend of mine got into her amazing bikini body by using this fitness app called sweat and I know work communities who are fighting the “sitting is the new smoking” together through a Fitbit competition. I recently got the advice to try meditation using an app called headspace. And in app I adore is flux, an app that makes your screen light more like the natural light. Since Snapchat I feel like I share so many more little fun moments with my sister. So if technology and designing for a great experience can help people change their behaviour why not change it for the better? You know whatever better is. Something meaningful, something that adds value for a person or a community or maybe even the world. So, back to my start and how I care about global warming. In this talk I wanted to share my appeal as a consumer as a person to digital designers to help me change my behaviour for the better. Forget Fitbit, forget tracking my sleep, nutrition or my spending. I want to have my bank account data linked to an environmental footprint tracker. This tracker helps me tackling my consumption habits to do my part and live more sustainably. Well, step back. How did I get here? Climate change, feeding the world, stabilising ocean ecosystems, reducing waste, reversing deforestation. Ah! My mind says all these problems are very important to solve yet they are so wicked and so complicated that it just doesn’t really feel like my responsibility. And when I say feel I mean I don’t feel it in my bones, the way I feel it when I made a promise to a friend and I can’t keep it for example. It’s like that thing when you send an unassigned action to a group of people in an email, it just doesn’t get done. So, to make these wicked problems feel more like at least partially my own responsibility I’ve come up with a way to define what exactly living sustainably means for me. So here goes my definition. If everyone on the planet lived like me we would need only one planet Earth for eternity. In other words, if you multiply my use of resources in one year times the world’s population and earth replenishes the equivalent of that in this same period of time. I’m quoting from the 2015 global footprint network and they said “Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste.” So this means it takes earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Here I am thinking “That includes 2.5 billion people in China and India alone who use massively less energy and massively less resources than I do.” The average American and European uses about 4 to 6 times the planet. Yeah! So you know, while I do feel really responsible and I want to tackle this and I want to make an effort I have no idea what makes the right impact. You know, should I always take the train, should I live closer to work. Should I experiment with being a vegan or buy only local products or eat less beef or eat no beef? Should I buy from company A and not from Company B or maybe I should just not go to Thailand and not take a plane anywhere. Or should I isolate my house or invest in solar panels. There is just so much you can do, you know? Maybe I should just do all of that or… how do I know it’s enough to get down to my one Earth target. So, a solution that I think would work really well from me is visualising the data of my consumption and making it a great experience to reduce my footprint. That would really help me take responsibility. We must have a lot of data to do this already. I pay by card, I pay everything by card. That means my bank knows everything I do and I consume, which when you think about it is actually quite scary too but my point is for now that it is all a matter of connecting information. My purchases connected to the increasing amount of environmental data available. I know there’s a lot of apps that are a little bit in this space already. For example you can scan barcodes of products or you have apps that help you calculate your impact but nothing feels like a great experience yet and I believe it could. When it does managing your sustainable footprint will be as fun and addictive like things like watching that next Netflix episode or Fitbit or Instagram or wacky Snapchat filters. So, that’s my idea for a really cool digital development project. Visualising the data of my consumption and actually making it fun to reduce my footprint to reach my one Earth target. But in general I think if you are a digital designer or developer is there a project or a side project that you could start that encourages people to do better? Is there something you know people struggle with where tech and design could help? Maybe you could help people act more environmentally aware or do something cool for your community or maybe help them be more healthy or stay in shape. To close I do of course want to pitch for my specific footprint experience idea. So, dear amazing digital designers and developers out there if you have time, money, space, skills, fabulousness please help me get this experience on my smart phone. I want to reach my one earth target and I hope you do too. Best regards Alexandra.
Paul: So there you go.
Paul: That’s an interesting one. Basically she just used the podcast to pitch an idea that she wants someone to build for her. I love it! (Laughter)
Marcus: It’s not just an environmental thing though is it. It’s taking responsibility for all the bigger things which all seem too difficult to deal with. But yes, I did like the idea of the setting up… You know, this idea of visualising data consumption and turning it into some sort of game because that’s exactly what everyone, including my wife has done with these Fitbit things.
Paul: Yes, absolutely. And it really works. I think what it does, for me, it really shows the potential of things like big data and AI and those kinds of stuff to… Because at the moment we’ve done it with fairly basic data haven’t we. About how far we’ve run or how many calories we’ve taken in and stuff like that. But as more big data becomes available and as computing power becomes, you know, software becomes more sophisticated then, you know, the kind of apps that she is talking about are absolutely possible. It’s going to be very, very cool.
Paul: And it’s something I get very excited about even though I don’t understand big data or AI in slightest.
Marcus: Yeah, AI. Is it really thing yet? I don’t think it is is it?
Paul: Well, it depends on what you mean by it, right? So, for example if you were talking about… You are thinking science-fiction AI, you know, you’re thinking about, you know, acting or behaving like a human and…
Marcus: Yeah, something that could pass the Turing test.
Paul: No, we’re miles off of that.
Marcus: Thought so.
Paul: But there is software now that is capable of solving its own problems. So, let me give you a couple of examples. There was a famous one recently where Facebook set up a, two AI systems to talk to one another and to converse with one another. But they failed to stipulate that they… how they should converse. In their programming. So essentially what they did is they created their own language to communicate with one another, right? So it’s that kind of… Where a program surprises you in the way it solves it. So you set the goal of what it’s got to do and it kind of works out its own way of doing it. In the end, to be honest, they had to pull the plug on it. And it was so funny because in all the press it was like “Oh, they’ve pulled the plug on it because it’s becoming sentient.” Or whatever. (Laughter) No! They pulled the plug on it because it was talking gibberish to one another and they couldn’t understand it.
Marcus: (Laughter) Right!
Paul: It knew what it was saying to each other, the two parties, you know, the two systems knew but nobody else understood it so what was the point. But there was another example, probably a better example more recently which was with Google. It’s a great video that you can find online and so they created this virtual environment, right, so it had obstacles. You know, it had chasms and things to climb over and stuff like that. Very basic geometric things. Then they created a little mannequin. You know like those, the ones that people learn to draw figures…
Marcus: Like stick men.
Paul: Stick men, yeah. They had this little stick figure basically. What they did is they created a piece of software and said “Okay, it’s limited by the parameters of the stick figure, all right? And we are incentivising this software to reach the other end of the virtual environment” And it just left it to work out how to do it. So this software learns how to walk basically. That, it’s the ability to learn I think is the… is where people are talking about AI. That it becomes more intelligent over time and it solves problems itself. That’s my understanding of it. I’m sure there are loads of people listening to this who are absolutely cringing at this point!
Marcus: (Laughter) Because Paul has got it wrong!
Paul: Because I am talking ballshit.
Marcus: It sounded sensible to me Paul. I was completely taken in.
Paul: I know, but you are just as ignorant as I am. So… But you can imagine the potential for that. You know, if you can get software that starts… Going back to Lex’s example, you know, you’ve suddenly got all of these new data sources coming in about the environmental impact of everything. You can imagine at some stage the government insist that products record that data for whatever reason. The companies have to say the environmental impact. Then you’ve suddenly got this huge resource of data but if you point AI at it it can undermine and learn stuff about that data organically rather than you having to go in with a specific query, if that makes sense?
Marcus: It does, yeah. I mean a potential good thing coming out in the future. It is good. There were two sides to her talk. One was this… Learning more about her every day based on the data and how she was consuming energy but it was also this idea of as a designer having a responsibility for stuff, which I mentioned Mike Monteiro talk about fascism, which is the same thing.
Paul: Well Kenneth talked about similar things didn’t see not long ago.
Marcus: Yes, exactly. She was saying… Her talk was more kind of influencing people for good and he was… His talk was kind of like…
Paul: We shouldn’t do it for bad.
Marcus: Well, we need to think about it before we do anything. Is I think what he was saying.
Marcus: But yeah, she was saying if it’s good just get on and do it. And I’m like “Yeah, okay.”
Paul: I mean the challenge is is making that tangible isn’t it and knowing exactly what does that mean? How do I do that in practice? I was thinking about my own situation and my own business and it was something that I considered quite heavily as I set Boagworks up was that… And to be honest all I could come up with for me was working either free or at a reduced rate for causes that I believed in and then also that I donate a percentage of my profits, 10% of my profits goes to a charity that I support in India that educates girls. But I couldn’t come up with any kind of, you know, like, I don’t know… Creating a great app or, you know, that didn’t work for me. I mean being ethical in the advice I give customers, my clients is I guess the big thing. You know, not encouraging them to do dodgy stuff just to make a quick buck. So, yeah.
Marcus: Definitely that is taking responsibility, without a doubt. Yes, I like to think that we take a similar stance. But yes, that’s not really the exciting part of what she was saying, it’s this idea of pulling in all the stuff that we do have data on, or could have data on, certainly, to make our world a better place. It’s great. Do it! Somebody do it! As she said.
Paul: Do it, make it happen. Right, let’s talk quickly about our second sponsor before we get onto our final talk of the day. Our second sponsor is Freshbooks which is a really simple, intuitive tool for creating and sending invoices. So, it takes about 30 seconds to create and send an invoice which is pretty damn fast. You can customise it anyway you want, change the colours, change the logo all of that kind of good stuff. Clients can pay online and you know when they’ve looked at their email, looked at the invoice and all of that kind of stuff. So you can track them. So when they say “Oh, we didn’t get it.” You know that they are talking bollocks! It will send late payment reminders for you so all of what we were talking about earlier about not having to deal with all of this kind of crap that you don’t like, right? You know, the finance side of things that’s where something like Freshbooks really can help you. So yes, it will even allow you to take things like deposits and that kind of stuff that you get paid upfront which is always good. It’s great for tracking your cash flow, as we were talking about only a few minutes ago. I should have done these sponsors in a different order shouldn’t I really? So, it’s great for tracking your cash flow so you know whether everything is going all right wether you are doing all right financially. You can even do things like time tracking in it as well which is very useful. Freshbook are offering a month of unrestricted use to everybody listening to the show. So you can get it totally free right now, you don’t have to enter a credit cards, again, which I think is great because I hate people that take your credit card and then just start charging it at the end of the free trial! They need to be burnt! And killed horribly! (Laughter) So to claim your free month of unrestricted trial go to Freshbooks.com/boagworld. You now know how to spell Boag which is really useful from earlier. When you signup for the three-month if you could enter Boagworld UX show in the “how do you hear about us?” Section that’s a bonus as well thank you very much for accommodating me. Now, the last talk, lower your expectations.
Marcus: (Tut) So not true. It’s the best of all of them.
Paul: Oh, oh well that’s nice for Alex and Alistair.
Marcus: Yeah, well if you hadn’t started off your silly game I wouldn’t have had to have said that would I?
Paul: So now they are hurt.
Marcus: Because of you.
Paul: No! You are responsible for what comes out of your own mouth Marcus. Don’t drag me into it!
Marcus: As are you Paul but you made an erroneous statement there that I had to defend.
Paul: I tell you, Leigh does not need any defending. And anyway when people had listened to his talk they would have gone “What ballshit was Paul talking about, Lee is great.” And they would have had more sympathy for him. You see, I know what I’m doing!
Marcus: Really?! (Laughter)
Paul: So, Leigh. Obviously, we know Leigh Howells, he’s been on the show many times. I’m sure you guys have heard him on the show before. He is one of the designers at Headscape and… Well, he’s more than a designer really.
Marcus: He’s a consultant.
Paul: I think of him as a polymath.
Marcus: Yes. He’s a creative.
Paul: He does a bit of everything doesn’t he, really? There’s not much he can’t do.
Marcus: He’s not very good at writing documents as we found out last year.
Paul: Oh, right.
Marcus: I said to him… We had like loads of consultant work on and I said “Leigh, could you do this review?” And he’s like “Yeah.” Then he said “I’ve never done one of these before.” After you gave it back to me and I’m like “Hmmm, yes, is not really your thing is it? We won’t make you do that again.” (Laughter)
Paul: Ahh, bless him.
Marcus: No but he is a fantastic designer, fantastic creative thinker and just kind of a person who is… Well, as he says in the talk, an excited puppy. I will say no more.
Paul: Yeah! He’s… Me and Leigh have got a lot in common in some ways. I never knew that he was the son of a sculptor and toy designer.
Marcus: I did.
Paul: I knew he was… I knew his mum designed toys but I didn’t know his dad was a sculptor. What weird rubbish… I mean, this is possibly the worst bio I have ever read Leigh. Who cares that you are the son of a sculptor and a toy designer? He’s been designing webs. This is what he says “Designing webs.” That isn’t even English! Since 1994. This is from his own website. UX design consultant at Headscape Ltd writes and talks at Boagworld in smashing and .net. I bet this is being pulled from his Twitter profile. That’s way says designing webs because he couldn’t fit in websites because he is limited in characters. But he felt that it was important to keep that he is the son of a sculptor and a toy designer. (Sigh) Oh, honestly, what do you do with him!? Actually mind, his talk is bloody good. He’s talking about presenting designs using screencast videos. Which I do need to point out was my bloody idea that he has now ripped off and taken credit for.
Marcus: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Paul: Anyway, here is Leigh’s talk. I’m sorry Leigh, forgive me.
Presenting Design in Screencast Videos
Play talk at: 53:52 – We all need to explain our designs to our clients, from early wireframes to fully fledged page designs. In this talk, Leigh explains the pitfalls of winging it live on a screen share vs the relative safety of providing a pre-recorded screencast video, and some quick little insights into how to make them with the least pain possible.
So, in this little segment I want to talk about making design videos for clients. You may have heard both Marcus and Paul talk about this in previous podcasts and I just wanted to add a little bit more as it’s never really been expanded upon and I thought it was worth digging into a little bit. So quite often our clients are a long way away. Certainly far enough to make popping down to show them any initial design thinking every five minutes a bit inconvenient, not to mention quite expensive. So sharing ideas early is usually a very good thing, we all know that and talking through your thinking is part of the process that is probably the most important. Of course we can use screen shares and it gets better and better as the bandwidth increases and the tools get better and it’s quite feasible to present using Skype or GoToMeeting, zoom and all those other bits of software that we have tried over the years. These can be great, they can also go completely pear-shaped so, you could have a bandwidth issue, bottlenecks or complete dropouts. There is nothing more stressful than your broadband going down five minutes before a meeting. It’s quite worrying and even worse when you are a minute into doing something, say a presentation. Coupled with that is screen share lag. So, if I am uploading something in the background and didn’t realise it there’s my upload speed being crippled and people aren’t seeing what I am seeing on the screen. So I tend to scroll up and down a lot as I am showing people things on the screen shares and flick about far too quickly and I still manage to forget that sometimes the other end hasn’t actually seen what I was talking about yet. They are quite a few seconds behind. Sometimes a long time behind! That can be a bit odd for them and confusing for everybody. So, when I am working from home there can be interruptions and noise pollution. I’ve explained things to clients in the past with a baby sleeping on my chest, just praying that he wouldn’t wake up in the middle and start screaming which doesn’t seem that professional really! But you know, needs must. I think the biggest problem I’ve experienced though when presenting things live to clients is being interrupted and quite often this happens after a few sentences. I almost expect it now. I start talking say a few things and before I know it someone’s interrupted to ask a question. Which is fine, you know, you encourage interaction, even if I said I’d like you to hold comments until the end, someone can still interrupt and it just wobbles your train of thought and sometimes completely derails you especially if they say something which does actually undermine the basis of what you are trying to show. Maybe that’s a timesaver but it would have been nice to carry on explaining the train of thought. There is also a temptation to wing it a bit. It’s not always possible to rehearse things before you do a live call, you just kind of have a vague idea in your mind of what you are going to show so there is a little bit of winging it. Although I kind of know what I am going to say, sometimes it is difficult to actually say it out loud as it’s only been in my head and when it does come out and you start showing things it can seem a bit ludicrous so then you can have a bit of wobble of confidence and that can come over in what you are saying. You can have the best intentions to rehearse but quite often there is no time, you could be editing things up until the last minute, and tinkering about before you are ready to show it off. Once those words are out too they are kind of out in the opening and you can’t edit and change things when it’s live. So. Making videos does require a bit more time and preparation but it is time well spent. There is also good reasons for the client to. Firstly those videos can be seen by people who couldn’t make the call. With larger groups we know it is hard to get everyone in the room at the same time and on the same call. The video means they can watch it in their own time at their own convenience. They can also re-watch the video, go over it if they need to and show it to others and explain things that you have explained. They can listen to it again if they realise they didn’t actually understand something. They can also refer back to it if they need to at some point later in the project, they can watch it on a platform that is actually appropriate when they realise they can’t see or read anything. I’m pretty sure I’ve been screen sharing with people in the past who are either using a tiny laptops, netbooks, tablets, or even mobiles and they can’t really see what you are doing but they have kind of carried on as if they can. Videos are also really good if you are working in a different time zone. You can get your ideas across and they can be ready for somebody in a different time zone to see later on.
So how do we actually make these videos? Well, they are essentially just screen captures with voice over recording to show what you are doing on the screen. There is absolutely no reason why you should be in the video yourself unless you think it might add something. To be honest, it’s just one more thing to worry about so I dropped the idea of me in a little box in the corner after trying it the first few times. I guess actually it will add a lot of extra file size and weight to your video so, you know, screen casts compress quite well because most of the screen doesn’t change a lot of the time but if you are jiggling around in the corner you are just going to make it bigger. So software on a Mac, well I’ve been using screenflow for the last few years. Previously on a PC I used Camtasia, there are loads more, I’m sure. So things like ScreenFlow are really nice because it’s a great way of capturing what is on the screen but it’s got simple editing tools as well. It is pretty stable and it has not let me down. You don’t need massive editing soft suites, Finalcutpro or Premier. In fact I’m not even sure if they do screen captures but they are tailored for another need. You just need a nice simple application with simple editing tools to do simple things and get it compressed and out of your machine as quickly as possible. So, you should change your resolution to be non-ludicrously high resolution. I usually go for something that’s going to work well as a 1080p kind of video format. So the text isn’t too small or too big. Generally the kind of default laptops resolutions are a comfortable kind of size as that is what they have been designed to be when you use them. Editing, don’t be scared to edit. Just keep on talking. I no longer stop recording and start over endlessly, unless it’s in the first couple of seconds. I just leave a bit of a gap, I used to make a loud sound so you could see it on the waveform editor but I think a pause of 10 seconds or so is probably more visible and then you can see where all the edits are later to cut bits out. It’s better to get things done in one long take so it doesn’t sound disjointed as you change mic position, your position to the mike, any ambient noise et cetera. That might be around. Even your mood, your tone of voice can change at different times of the day as you get more or less tired and depending on how much coffee you’ve had! One little thing that I do is hide my clock so no one can see any big jumps in time if there are any, because you had 20 takes it saying something. In fact I now have a dedicated log in on my Mac where I have got a custom wallpaper and minimal tools running up in the top right hand area with the clock hidden et cetera so everything appears uniform. I’ve also learnt from watching YouTubers is that editing doesn’t need to be perfect any more. If I forget things and remember when editing it later I now do what a lot of them do, I stick a text note over the screen with an arrow and just add that text to what I am saying rather than attempting to rerecord or drop words in or anything like that. After all your video isn’t going to the local multiplex any time soon and it’s probably only going to be watched by a handful of people so it doesn’t need high production. It shouldn’t look sloppy but it doesn’t have to be perfect. If there are jumps it really doesn’t matter as long as it is not confusing to anyone following along. In terms of pace I’ve made videos in the past that have been far too long, like 30 minutes. If possible just keep it short. You could just talk faster but the best way is just to be more efficient with your words. Keep it as broad brush strokes rather than droning on and getting into the weeds too much. If someone sees a video that is 30 minutes as they sort of open it and see it on the timeline they might not be bothered or they might be tempted to just sort of skip through it and look at the pictures. So, keep videos to about 10 minutes if you can this will hopefully stop parts being skipped later on. And if you do just keep having multiple cracks at things as you are recording you can kind of keep them like a rehearsal so that when you do nail it you can shorten it in the process. In terms of tone of voice well, you need to sounds a bit excited and enthusiastic rather than being completely bored by what you are showing. But not too much of an excited puppy, then again, why not? Why not be an excited puppy? Just don’t wee on the floor in the process! When it comes to outputting videos I usually save videos to dropbox or Google Docs. Both of these allow for the file to be viewed in a preview on the site but also offer a download button and they are really effortless, you just drag the videos in and it is kind of done with until you get a link to paste into an email or something like basecamp. I have noticed that these services tend to do a low quality render for the preview on the site and sometimes will fill in a much higher one later on but I point people to the download button. Of course you can use YouTube or Vimeo too but there can be perceived worries about confidentiality not to mention adverts you didn’t know about, commercial use violation within Vimeo et cetera. You could just email them if they are quite small or upload to a server with a link et cetera. Most people at least understand how to view videos nowadays. Not like once where you had to kind of troubleshoot how to show a video which wasn’t much fun at all!
So videos, they can be really useful for explaining design thinking and wireframes, in mood boards, design mockups and talking through and explaining why behind your decisions so that your design thinking and the design itself aren’t divorced from each other they are kind of living in this video in the same space at the same time. It is much easier also to show rather than describe a lot of the time. So when showing wireframes I recently had to illustrate how a live filtering key search would work and how it would affect the page on view as you typed and it would live reload. Something you just get when you see it happening. So, screencasts have been a great tool to have in the toolbox especially as a remote worker and it is also much easier than doing it live, especially when you are someone like me who really needs a bit of editing.
Paul: All right, so that was Leigh using my idea! (Laughter)
Marcus: I don’t think it was, was it?
Marcus: Are you sure?
Paul: See, see! He has taken it as his own! I remember recording the first one. Yes.
Marcus: Really? (Sigh) But that might be just your memory of how it happened and the actual truth of it was slightly different Paul.
Paul: Are you calling me a liar?
Marcus: Might be. What are you going to do about it!
Paul: Err, nothing because you are a long way away. Also you could crush me in a fight, let’s be honest.
Marcus: Yeah, I’m slightly more weighty than you are Paul.
Paul: Yeah, just pure momentum would… (Laughter) I don’t know whether… who that is more insulting to? Me or you really, that I’m a wimp or your big fat lardy. Either way it doesn’t reflect well does it?
Marcus: No, but it’s probably both are true.
Paul: Yes, anyway…
Marcus: I actually learned something there on that talk. Because I do these all the time because I probably did the first one actually! Really, it was probably me.
Paul: No it wasn’t you! Everybody stop taking credit for my idea!
Marcus: But, but, but I never thought of having the dedicated login and hide the clock. Genius!
Paul: Yes. I know, I never thought of that either. What a great idea.
Paul: I hadn’t even thought about hiding the clock.
Marcus: But yes, just have this setup we just go “plump” and then it’s already.
Paul: The one thing that he didn’t really drive home, which was the reason I started doing them! Was that I got frustrated with the fact that… It was back in the day when we used to send, you know PNG or a JPEG to the client and we would give them this big talk and explain how great the design was and why it was done the way it was and they’d nod and all the rest of it and then they would take that PNG and show it to people around the office and just go “What you think?” Without any background or any reference or anything like that and so it always created problems so that is one of the main reasons I started doing the videos was that when the design is handed around it always comes with the presentation that talks about it. So, he did briefly mention it but I thought it was worth emphasising
Marcus: Yeah, there’s one other aspect that I hadn’t really thought about it before but it’s a good record, from a project management point of view it’s like “We did say X,Y and Z back on 20th February or whatever it was.” So it’s quite a good kind of record whereas if you do just “These are the new designs.” Links to or whatever then you might not have the same records. I thought that was interesting and good point.
Paul: Hmmm, he mentions ScreenFlow which is the tool that he and I both use to create these things. It’s a really good tool but it’s getting quite expensive these days, it’s not expensive to, you know, if you are upgrading but if you buy it from scratch it’s over a hundred quid now.
Marcus: Yeah, it’s been so useful over the years that I haven’t got a problem with that.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. I know but you know. He was saying in his talk “You know, get a cheap screen capture tool, and there are cheaper options available.” Well, Emma uses GoToMeeting because you can record GoToMeeting. She just logs in herself and records it, shares the screen and does it herself, so. And I think you can still get, I think there’s a free version of that, I believe.
Paul: Well also, QuickTime lets you record your screen as well, so, there you go.
Paul: All good, all good. Although you would want to edit it a bit I suspect as Leigh pointed out.
Marcus: Oh, totally, and that’s, again it’s just so easy to edit and on SpeedFlow.
Paul: Yes, it is. It does make it really easy actually, it is good for stuff like that, good point. Yeah. So he was right all along. Obviously. Right, I think that is it, we are done aren’t we really?
Marcus: Definitely, yes. I’ve got a joke.
Marcus: This is another one from the Boagworld slack channel which I missed. Then I had a look back through and I thought “I quite like that.” This is from Chris Florence and it says “I’ve told many dad jokes but I’m not a parent, I’m a faux pas”.
Paul: Oh, no. (Laughter) (Sigh)
Marcus: That’s quite good, come on!
Paul: Yeah, yes it is. I guess. There is a very particular type of joke that ends up on this show and I think it is the whole genre I don’t like.
Marcus: Like every single one of them you don’t like.
Paul: I think that’s the problem. It’s not that the jokes are bad it’s just the genre I don’t like. Stupid plays on words.
Marcus: I love them. Keep them coming folks.
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. So, that was episode 13 we have two more left in this season and then we will be taking a break for a little while before returning with a vengeance to talk about content strategy. But before we get onto that we have next week’s show so until then goodbye.