Tuesday, August 26, 2014

SSL for SEO

Google's recent announcement of algorithm changes that involve preferring secure sites over non-secure ones certainly created a collective gasp among SEO experts. Its a sensible move by the search giant, and certainly an SEO buff that will be OVERPOWERED for a while. Thus if you're already pretty decent on your markup and your content, the smartest on-page change you could make right now would be to add an SSL cert to your server.

If you use a hosting provider like Godaddy or Liquid:
Call them and find out what it takes to get a cert installed and spend that mo-nay right now. Its probably worth the ongoing cost.

If you're using S3 for website hosting:
Hang on to your hat, because it will cost you a fortune: http://aws.amazon.com/cloudfront/pricing/

If you're using managed hosting like Azure or Heroku
Use Expedited SSL. It takes like 3 minutes to setup. Easiest Heroku SSL possible. So good.

None of these options is very cheap, but Amazon, wow. Anyway, its probably totally worth the investment, so get on with it and add SSL to your site.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Move Something Forward

All you really need to do today is to move something forward. It doesn't have to be much, in fact, you should avoid trying to take on too much. But, just start out by focusing on moving one meaningful thing forward... and keep pushing until it moves. If it won't move, or if you get far enough to call it good, then find something else and move it forward. Do this, and don't give up until something moves. Do this every day. Soon you'll look around and be impressed by how far you've come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life Sprints

It Starts with an Idea, a Dumb Idea

Ever had an idea that seemed kinda dumb and you just left it alone... and then a couple of years later you see someone else had that same dumb idea and now they've got investors and a profitable company? I have. That sucks. {shrug}

Because it is human nature to second-guess even good ideas, and since good ideas often seem like dumb ideas at first, its important to give ideas time to gestate. I believe that ideas should not just be gestated in your mind, but rather it is important to vet the idea and experiment with it in the real world over a fixed period of time. So, these days, I conduct little Life Sprints to give ideas the proper level of time investment before I call them dumb. Yep, every three months I hold up my proverbial finger to the wind and decide on the next course my efforts should take[1], and then I "sprint" to the end, putting in enough effort to be able to say I have it a good try.

The Fallicy of Waiting on a Great Idea

I know people who right this minute have ideas they are sitting on because they don't think the ideas are good enough to give them a shot. They are waiting for perfect, obvious ideas that can guarantee a return on investment. While I can sympathize, I think this approach leaves a lot to be desired. It is often in the execution of bad ideas that good ideas are found.

But, here's the kicker: you have to treat all ideas, good or bad, as if they are worth taking the shot on. Because if you don't treat all ideas the same, you risk missing that great idea that surfaces that at first seemed like a dud. Yep, good idea or not, you will execute until the end without fail and then re-evaluate at the end of the period.

I recommend this for a couple of good reasons:

1) You should avoid getting yourself caught in the cycle of evaluating ideas (analysis paralysis) and simply move forward with a hypothesis which you will prove over the period of your sprint. In this approach, the worst case scenario is that you tied up 3 months with a loser idea.

2) Distractions, which can normally beset the typical wheel-spinning entrepreneur, can be filtered by the criteria set forth at the beginning of the sprint. Your requirements cannot be changed until the next sprint, and only things that meet the criteria of supporting the goals of the sprint are allowed through. This means you can spend less time evaluating things on their merits. Instead, those new ideas are sent to the backlog. This process creates an insanely tight focus on the activities of the sprint.

Formula

Here is my new, very software-development-like version of a Life Sprint:

1) Define specific desired outcomes, not the how (ex: increase freelancing income)
2) Break down the required tasks that are assumed to support this outcome.
3) Commit to the sprint publicly
4) Track where you are.
5) Demo the outcome to your peer group.

Rules:
* No new requirements (new projects, relationships, etc) until the next sprint
* Choose challenging but doable outcomes.


My Current Experiments (as of publish date)

* My young son earning money selling auto-vaccuum services by the highway on weekends (weird right?). Its working for him. He's making some pocket money that he wouldn't have had otherwise.

* I'm setting up a bunch of content pages to try to capture local consulting leads. Early results: looking good.

* I'm setting up a physical product/service business website and seeing if I can get local traffic.


Now go, and try some things!

[1] In the past, I've not been so particular on the outcomes of those three months as long as I dutifully held the course and did my unmetered best to test my hypothesis. Now, I'm starting to think this is suboptimal. I think even brief detours need to have well-defined outcomes.

[2] So-called because 1) I'm an engineer and relatively non-creative when it comes to naming things, and 2) there happens to be a software development process construct call Scrum wherein challenging Sprints are undertaken by a team in order to finish some desired functionality without interference from requirements changes in-sprint.

[2] It doesn't have to be 3-months. In fact, I'm currently sprinting on lifecycle emails for my two most recent business concepts: sermon sharing and online payment processing for churches.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How to Start Freelancing as a Full Time Employee

How to Start Freelancing as a Full Time Employee

Much has been said in the last couple of years about how to get into the lucrative freelancing business. When I say "much has been said", it is to mean that my experience has been that a plethora of books have been published and many conference talks given that address a latent desire in all employees to consider taking on the risk of the market for themselves and earning the upside that their employers now keep. Anecdotally, these books and lectures seem to have centered around technology and design, which may certainly be a bias, a side-effect of my focus on technology, however the content is useful across the spectrum of industries.

However much you "learn"from these books, both tactically and strategically, it is still quite a difficult matter to do more than bring oneself to fancifully entertain the idea of freelancing as a full-time endeavor. Everyone feels that they are somehow needing to plug a huge amount of holes in knowledge, which I refer to as "gaps", and this lack of knowledge prevents them from proceeding. I might add here that this is sound wisdom. You probably know enough to dip your toes in the business, but as a full time employee you probably don't know enough to jump straight in right now.

I turns out that I've learned this lesson the hard way after a year of failed freelancing and found the following things to be true:

1) Business development is a necessary, ongoing task, and it is easily forgotten at mortal peril.
2) I stank at business development
3) Ruthless time management is a necessary evil that often irritates your friends and endangers your relationships with your loved ones.
4) I am a pushover and love social interaction, and therefore I stank at time management.
5) The ability to sell is a skill learned typically through apprenticeship or through many failures
6) I had neither a master nor much runway with which to deal with failure, and thus... you guessed it... I stank at sales.

Being that I was a triple-threat in the "stink" category, it didn't take long for my little venture to turn belly up. I earned approximately half of my normal yearly wage. Also, don't ask me about paying your taxes out of pocket. Lets just say I did not smell of roses in that matter either.

So, how does one gain some level of proficiency at freelancing if all the above (well, 1, 3, 5) are absolute necessities that only come by way of experience? The answer, most obviously, is to treat your current situation as a freelancing gig. Uhg... this blog post is exhausting and depressing, so lets just skip to the meat of the process.

1) Treat every little work project as a little paid freelancing gig.

This means you work as fast as you would to impress a client. It also means that you cut corners at the appropriate level to allow you to maintain a decent per-hour rate. It also means that you treat your management as the clients and that you follow the same rules such as "make sure the app design stays at the same doneness level as the functional code so expectations are maintained" and "make sure you stay in touch with the customer to let them know how things are going" and "do things that save the customer money, even if it means less work and less revenue" (ok, that last one is hardly applicable, but you get the picture)

2) Do bizdev activities EVERYWHERE, inside and outside of work.


Quickly: the only way to learn how to do business development is to do it. Find ways to stick your soup spoon into the pipeline of available deal-flow and sip what you can from its firehose.

3) Keep “clients” happy, but don’t give them exclusivity over your time.

Many full time employees have what I call the "heads down" approach to work. Which means they are working very hard for their employers, but they aren't developing new skills and they aren't able to provide guidance about what is happening in the marketplace.  They are heads-down working and not paying attention. This is just one-degree of "giving exclusivity over your time" to your employer. The employers only sensible move in this situation is to "use you up, and spit you out" since you can't continue to develop into something that is useful to the business in the future.

If is not only in your interest, but in the interest of your employer to not give your employer exclusivity over your time. You need to spread it around among lots of different "clients", including yourself. You should be learning new skills, trying new things, meeting new potential clients (inside and outside of work) and just treating yourself as a business.

That's all. Back to work!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What Jesse Mecham Would Ask You: A BaconBiz Retrospective

Jesse Mecham @ BaconBiz 2014


Jesse Mecham is the founder of YouNeedABudget.com, a highly opinionated budgeting solution for people in need of financial software (ie. most people). Jesse recently made a trip to Philly, PA to be a presenter at BaconBiz 2014, a small business conference organized and hosted by Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. Jesse gave a presentation that might be titled "The Make-a-Method Method (TM)" or "How Mixing Dogma and Product are a Great Way to Differentiate".


Wherein: We Contrive an Unlikely Scenario and Run With It


If you asked Jesse to go point-by-point through his presentation and pummel you with questions about your business and how you're applying his great ideas, he may grille you thusly:
  1. What is your current method of firing "poison darts at giants" in your own space?
  2. Is your product and approach differentiated by being opinionated and dogmatic?
  3. Is your opinions and dogma specific, or vague? Are you consistent with your dogmatism?
  4. Can you build a dogma that can flex in the winds of change?
  5. Do the rules of your dogma contain aspirational steps, or is it all tactical and stodgy?
  6. Does your product or solution properly codify your dogma?
  7. Do you treat your dogma as being greater in importance than your *solution*?
  8. Do you spend more time marketing your dogma than your solution?
  9. Is your dogma firm (inbox zero vs inbox few)?
  10. Does your dogma address the business pain properly?
And thus you would be done-in by either his pugilistic dogmatism or sliced apart by his rapier wit.

It was an excellent presentation which you should have heard in person.


Edit: Also, Jesse is really really nice, and he didn't force me to say that, at all, really.

Jesse Meecham
Jesse Mecham

Jesse Mecham
twitter.com/jessemecham

BaconBiz Conference 2014
baconbiz.com