Meetings

Meetings.

An absolute waste of time.

There’s always someone that turns up late.

And that person who drones on and on about nothing in particular.

And when it’s your turn to talk, someone just interrupts you.

An hour of travel time each way means a short meeting takes up half a day.

And that’s before it runs over.

Why does it have to be that way?

There are some simple things you can do to improve things.

Set an agenda.

Have a deadline.

Use video-conferencing where possible.

But, as I was sat in the car today; a two hour drive for a one hour meeting; I realised one thing that was more important than all of the above.

By the end of the meeting, what counts as a success?

Bear that in mind, guide everyone towards that goal, and it makes the meeting worthwhile. Well, maybe not two hours on the M60 at rush-hour.

Just do it

So, you’ve got some great stuff to sell. You want to do it online – a cheap store-front, no geographical restrictions, open 24 hours. We all know the benefits.

But which platform should I choose? Get my own site built or use a service like Shopify?

First things first; there’s no point having a shop, online or otherwise, if no-one visits. You can have the greatest products in the world but it’s for nothing if no-one knows about them.

So, item number one in your plan has to be marketing. How are going to get the word out? And when they land at your site, why would they want to stay? Your competitors are just a click away, so getting people here is just the start of the process.

Don’t despair, there are a whole series of different strategies and tactics you can apply to make your site a great destination that people spend a lot of time on. But, as like so many things, the technical side is nothing compared to the rest of it. So give it some serious thought.

Then we get to platforms. There are loads of ecommerce platforms, many of them open-source (and hence free to install). But that doesn’t mean you can set up a shop with no outlay.

At the very least, you’re going to need a domain name and an SSL certificate (which allow communications to be encrypted). You’re going to need a design for your site. And you’re going to need a method to receive payments.

It has to be said, a hosted platform, such as Shopify, is really easy to get going. They have a load of pre-built templates to make you look good and they are PCI-compliant, meaning you don’t have to worry about taking payments online. You also get a whole series of other tools – you can take credit card payments in person, add “buy” buttons onto other sites, sell via Facebook and even help to manage your physical retail locations. Plus, as it’s a hosted service, all backups and server maintenance is taken care of for you.

Using an open-source platform, such as Magento, WordPress/Woocommerce or OpenCart, is a load more work. For a start, you need somewhere to host the site, get the server configured, make sure you’ve got backups (never forget the backups), then install the software, install a theme (you can buy one pretty cheaply but you will need one) and set up your payment gateway. But be warned, there are some payment gateways you cannot use – because if any credit card information touches your server, even momentarily, you will have to comply with PCI-DSS, a standard designed to 1) ensure the financial data stays safe and 2) ensure you, rather than Visa or Mastercard, are liable if it is not. PCI-DSS does not apply to every payment gateway (“off-site” gateways that transfer the customer elsewhere to actually enter their card details don’t count) but it will have an impact on the customer experience. And finally you have to manage the day-to-day running of the site – ensuring all security patches are up to date, dealing with downtime (because everything fails at some point) and testing that those backups are easily restorable (never forget the backups).

So you have a choice – getting started quickly and easily but paying a monthly fee for a service that is somewhat beyond your control. Or do more up-front and take more responsibility for the ongoing maintenance, but keep everything in your own hands.

It’s a question I cannot answer for you – but in most cases, I would say going with the hosted service is the best way to get started. Not least because they can deal with payments for you. And as you grow and expand, there’s nothing to stop you moving to your own platform in future.

So you want a new website?

So you want a new website.

Fantastic responsive design that works equally well on large screens and mobiles.

Amazing sleek design.

Beautiful appearance.

But how can you be sure that it’s worth it?

It’s going to be a significant chunk of cash; how can you avoid the horror stories?

Well, we can’t guarantee success, but there are two questions you need to ask that will help.

And they’re not complicated questions either. However, if you don’t have the answers you may end up with something great looking but ineffective.

So what do you need to know?

Firstly, who are your visitors going to be? Is the site aimed at your prospects, customers, experts in your field, are you trying to recruit staff or partners?

Write out a list of who these groups are.

Then, we move on to question number two.

Who, out of these groups, is most important to you? Give each one a weighting. If it’s a sales site, getting prospects to sign up is probably your main aim. Or maybe you’re really interested in repeat business.

And once you have a weighting for each group you can decide on your page layout. Give the most space and the most prominent positioning to the important groups. Relegate the minor groups to navigation items or buttons.

As so many things in software, this is a process of identification and prioritisation.

Identify who you’re interested in and give the important people the most attention.

If you can’t do that, you’re site will be muddled and confused. If you get it right, your visitors will believe you can read their minds.

Legal stuff for your website

You have a website. Yay!

You have a company. Or you’re a sole trader. Or maybe a partnership. Yay!

But what company information do you need to show on your website? Legally, that is.

If you’re a sole trader or a partnership you need to show the address of your main place of business.

If you’re a limited company you need to show your company number and place of registration (for example England and Wales), the official company name (including the word Limited to show the company status) and your registered address.

Taken from: http://www.ukwda.org/blog/is-your-website-legal

The best way to get more sales

No matter what you do, sales are the life-blood of your business. But while our products or services may be amazing, many of us just aren’t comfortable with sales.

Say “salesman” and you picture some smarmy guy in a shiny suit or some old geezer in a sheepskin coat. Getting in your way, bombarding you with patter. Not leaving you alone till you hand over some cash.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

In fact, there’s one fantastic way to get more sales. That isn’t sleazy. That isn’t high-pressure.

But it *really works*. You probably make use of it already. Just not in a systematic way.

And this incredible technique?

Referrals.

If someone says “I know a guy that does that” or “she did a fantastic job for me” the first barrier to a sale is removed. You’re not dealing with a stranger, you’re working from a recommendation.

And you’ve got a way to open the conversation.

So how do you get more referrals?

Do great work is the first step.

But the second is easy.

Get to know people. Tell them what you do. Let them know who you are.

Build trust with them and they will pass that trust on to others. They will mention your name when in conversation with their friends, their family, their customers.

And you never know where that could lead.

If you want to kick-start your referrals and you’re in the Leeds area then I can introduce you to a networking group. Nothing complicated, we just get to know each other and pass on referrals if and when it’s relevant. A fantastic way to increase your presence and bring in sales.

If you’re interested, just drop me a line at hello@clientrobot.com and I’ll introduce you.

Tim Cook’s letter to customers about the FBI request to assist in unlocking an iPhone

Tim Cook’s letter to customers about the FBI request to assist in unlocking an iPhone

All about your IT infrastructure

You really don’t want to be managing your own IT infrastructure. It’s a massive drain on your time. Time that’s better spent on things that interest you, on things that help your business.

But getting a company in to look after that stuff for you can be a bit nerve-wracking in itself. How can you be sure that they’re any good?

The single most important thing is “can you talk to them?” It doesn’t matter how technically proficient they are, if you don’t understand what they’re saying, you won’t get very far.

But once you’ve established basic lines of communication, what else do you need to know?

Here are a few things that you need to know the answers to; in six badly drawn sketches.


Any questions? Ask us anything (preferably about software, but we might be able to help with other stuff too)

The Elephant in the room – all that time wasted trying to manage software

You know how it is.

Email. Software installations. Licences. Printers. Bloody printers. Always on the blink.

Trying to manage IT infrastructure is a massive drain.

On your time. On your sanity.

What if you could just focus on bringing value to your business?

Not wasting time sorting out trivia.

Luckily, things are getting better.

Software licences are much simpler than they used to be. Especially with the rise of cloud-based hosted software, where all access is governed by usernames and passwords.

And the fact that so much software is browser-based, or installed through an app store helps too.

But it can’t solve everything.

Look into Remote Desktop systems (both Microsoft and Apple have them) so you don’t need to hop around from desk to desk when setting things up.

And outsource it.

That way you never have to deal with another bloody malfunctioning printer again. Surely that’s worth the money!

I’ll write up exactly how to choose the right provider very soon.


Got a question about how software can help your business? Drop us a line

Why are IT projects unsuccessful?

You’re out there, hustling for your business, day after day. Putting in the hours.

You come up with a way of streamlining things.

A computer system that will:

  • Reduce time spent on mundane tasks.
  • Lower your costs.
  • Increase your revenue.

Sounds amazing.

And then you think back to the headlines.

“Yet another costly IT project failure”.

“Ballooning Costs pull the plug on flag-ship computer system”

It always seems to be the same story.

All that time and energy put into IT which could be better spent elsewhere.

But why?

What is the problem with IT?

Complexity

It’s almost impossible to comprehend how complex today’s computers and operating systems are.

The Apollo Guidance System, which controlled the missions to the moon in the 1960s and 70s, is able to perform 41 instructions per second, using less than 13000 transistors.

An iPhone 6’s central processor has 1.6 billion transistors and can perform over 3 billion instructions per second.

Think about that for a second.

The device in your pocket is billions of times more powerful than the computer that literally defined the term “rocket science”.

Now think about how complex it must be to harness that power without shooting yourself in the foot.

Communications

Because of that, when we want something building, we need to define exactly what it is we want. In some ways, NASA had it easy. The laws of physics were well understood, the physical properties of the materials they used were well understood. So in a given set of circumstances, the computer should do this. In this other set of circumstances, the computer should do that.

Compare that to your average piece of business software. The customer has sent in six angry emails in quick succession. What should the computer do? The driver has been stuck in traffic for twenty minutes so the delivery might be late. What should the computer do? Is there a set answer to these questions?

So we need tightly defined specifications – in situation A I would like the system to do X, in situation B I would like the system to do Y. And so on.

But specifications like that are very hard to write.

Partly because it’s really hard to deal with every possible scenario. NASA can afford to spend millions on designing their software. Most small businesses can not.

And also because software is intangible.

If you’re building a chair, you probably have a pretty good idea in your mind of what it’s going to end up like, even before you begin. Because you’ve sat in a thousand chairs.

But if you’re building an IT project, unique to your business, what does the end result look like? And, even if you know, how do you communicate that vision to the IT department or software development team?

So what’s the solution?

The first thing we need to do is reduce the complexity.

Focus in on what’s important.

Every time you come up with a feature, think “will it make us money? will it reduce our costs?”. If the answer to both of those is “no” then it goes on the back-burner. We’ll think about it later.

Then, take the necessary features and define them. Precisely.

What happens when things go according to plan? What’s the most likely way things will go wrong? What’s the second most likely way things will go wrong? Is there another path to achieve the same goal? Is there another path to achieve the same goal with less complexity? Why is there more than one path to the same goal? Can we eliminate one and make things simpler?

And then build your feature quickly and ship it.

Because software is intangible, it only really makes sense when you see it in front of you.

So get the bare minimum built as quickly as possible and get it out there. In front of the employees who will be using it. In front of your most trusted customers to get their feedback.

Because once it’s in front of people, they’ll see the flaws that you missed and, just as importantly, the better future, the possibilities that the project opens up.

And it will change direction. Inevitably.

So don’t invest too much beforehand – concentrate on one feature, plan it out in detail, then build it and ship it.

Once the dust has settled from that, decide on your next feature, plan it out in detail, build it and ship it.

Reduce the complexity. Focus on revenue. Get feedback as early as possible. And your IT project will be a success.


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