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phpfox - spiritual community software

Is “phpFox” a good option for a Spiritual Community?

“phpFox is a powerful social network platform for niche communities.”

The above value statement from their site is an excellent start, but is it good for a spiritual community?!

I will review this software, keeping in mind the criteria from here: Choosing a software platform for a Spiritual Community.

Business

1. Paid Membership – The list of features claims that they can indeed have a paid membership on the website, Even working alongside a free tier. Unfortunately, their DEMO back end does not seem to work. You can set up a paid membership, but it still shows a free tier when you save. This problem is a bit upsetting, and you would need to clear it up with them before buying this software.

2. Basic CMS – I could not find one, but you can create “Pages” like the ones on Facebook that could be used to promote the platform to the public.

3. Privacy Concerns – phpFox is a self-hosted solution, so you get to keep all the data that your community generates.

4. API – Yes. There is a restful API (but only with the PRO and ULTIMATE plans.)

5. Server Requirements – It was difficult to find this, but I did. It requires PHP 5.6 with at least 128MB memory limit. However, they recommend PHP 7.x. And if you want to use the instant messaging app, your server also needs to support Redis Cache and NodeJS. To get an idea of what kind of hosting you would need, check out their hosting services offer.

6. Maintenance Costs – If you have a tech person on your team, it should be easy to follow the documentation to install and maintain the software. If not, in the best-case scenario, you would need to pay a one-time $30 installation fee, and then you should be able to update the platform from the back end when needed easily. Unfortunately, things may go wrong, so you will need to call support to help you out. With their PRO plan, you get a “60-day ticket support.” If that means you need to wait 60 days for your ticket to be updated, that is useless to me. If it means that after 60 days, you no longer receive support, that could work because you can buy other support packages later on. I see on their support policy page that they have a 1-day response policy—very confusing messaging. My personal feeling is that support is not all that good. There are a lot of roadblocks that you need to go through to post a ticket. In my mind, a paying customer needs to be able to ask for support at any time. However, phpFox is a self-hosted software, so it may be targeted towards those who are comfortable doing that. I will end this discussion by pointing out that you need to include your hosting costs and backup storage hosts. If you expect your community to grow, so will the hosting cost. 

7. Can you do backup easily – Backup and restore is included only with PRO and ULTIMATE. On the features page, I can see this comment: “The site will be put into maintenance mode while the backup is in the process.” This downtime can be troublesome if the backup takes too long. It may be “good enough” if you are not a technical person, and some backup is way, way better than no backup. But for a social network to be placed in maintenance mode while a backup is running, it could mean killing the engagement. I know backing up is a resource-intensive process, and data integrity is an issue, so I understand why they use “maintenance mode.” But there are other ways to do the backup, using a mirroring system for your database server and files. With this approach, you could do regular backups without having to take your community offline. You have to decide how important it is to you to now stop the community from running.

8. Google Analytics – You can do this according to their documentation by creating an “Ad Block” where you paste in the code from Google. I understand why they did it like this, to reuse a code that’s already there. Still, from a user experience point of view, I would not have thought to use “Ads” to place the Google tracking code on my site. However, the documentation is clear, so I’ll give them a pass.

User Experience 

9. WebPush Notifications – I was not able to find any documentation that this is supported. They do have Mobile App, where I am sure this works, but I wondered if it would be an option in the browser experience. Since iOS is still not on board with this technology, you are not missing all that much.

10. Easy Sing-Up with Google or Facebook – Yes.

11. Accessibility – They don’t seem to have a concern for this. I could not find any mentions on their website or in the documentation. The software may very well be accessible, but if it is, it’s not explicitly stated. 

12. Bookmark system – I could not find one. Most users can work around it by using a note-taking app or their browser’s bookmark system. Not ideal, but not a big problem either. Also, this can likely be implemented with a custom app.

13. How is the onboarding experience – There were no tutorials, but the layout is clear enough that most people should find their way around. It would be nice to send the users who login for the first time to a specific page with tutorials. 

14. Notification Center – Yes.

15. Rich text editor for posts – Yes. There is a good one. It looks a bit unpolished, but otherwise, it does the job.

16. Does it work on Mobile – Yes, it does. And I am pleasantly surprised with the responsiveness of the site. I have to keep in mind that I am the only one using the demo, so I don’t know how it performs when 50, 100, 500 people use the app at once. 

17. Dedicated Mobile App – Yes, according to docs. I did not test it. I have tried to download it, but it failed a couple of times. I see in the reviews some complaints about performance, and I worry about that too.

Community Building

18. Private Messages – Yes.

19. Profile Pages for users – Yes. 

20. Activity Feeds – Yes.

21. Media Upload – Yes.

22. Calendar – There is an Events screen that works just as well as a Calendar.

23. Moderation Tools – There are some anti-spam tools; you can block a user. And there is a reporting feature that you could use. Yes.

24. The Back End – Here, I was a bit disappointed. The Front End looks very polished, but the back end is lacking in that area. The demo site was kinds of sluggish. It takes a long time for pages to load. I tried to update some apps/plugins, and that did not do anything. Some of these features may be disabled on the demo. What was missing from the back, and I think it is pretty important, was a page to monitor the server and look at your community’s stats. There is a “Site Statistics” page, but that is super basic with only four counters and a daily average. For large communities, you need charts that track items through time, and you also need to be able to dig deeper if needed. At least for the ULTIMATE tier, this should be an option. 

Engagement

26. Reactions to post – Yes. 

27. Emoji support – Yes.

28. Search Capability – Yes. It has a search across the entire network and specifically on the forums. The forum’s search can be finetuned to narrow down the search. The results were pretty fast too, but again, the test site barely has any content, so it is not that relevant as a test.

29. Tagging Users – Partial support. I was able to use it on the activity page, but not on the forum.

30. Hashtags – Yes.

31. Email Notification Settings – Yes.

32. Mass Mailing Capability – I could not find any built-in mass email capability. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sending emails reliably is a complex problem just by itself. I could find a custom integration with MailChimp, which suggests that it is possible to integrate with other newsletter services or CRMs.

33. Instant Chat option – Yes, but it seems to it requires some specific server capabilities: Redis Cache and NodeJS. This requirement is not surprising. Useful chat tools are challenging to write, so it makes sense that some special tools be required. 

34. Member Blogs on Personal Pages – Yes. 

35. Gamification – Yes, but it seems to be very basic. You can likely extend it with custom code.

Learning and Training

36. Content Libray – It does not have one, but I can see being able to create something using the blogs, pages, groups.

37. Sub-Groups – Yes. This feature can be a big plus if your community gets large enough. It looks advanced enough to make it very useful in creating and managing sub-communities.

Customization and Extensibility

38. Theme Customization – Yes. You can buy themes and, according to the documentation, you can create your own. The code is not encrypted, so in theory, you can change it as you want. Not sure if that will break the update system or not. 

39. Feature Customization and Extensibility – Yes. There is an API you can integrate with. There are a plugin system and store where you can buy plugins. The code is not encrypted and written in PHP, so you could hire someone to help you out if needed.

Conclusion

At first, the pricing seemed too high. But after having reviewed the platform, I see that there a lot is going on. A social media platform is a complex software that needs to feel exceptionally smooth for people to engage with it. 

I don’t think this is the right choice for a free community, because you will never cover the costs. But if you are making money with your membership, phpFox is a strong contender. It will keep your users happy, and it has many tools to keep them engaged and encourage collaboration. 

My main concern with this tool is performance. I did not see any big issues with the test site, but that is not relevant. I want to test a community with hundreds of members and 2-3 years’ worth of content and see how fast it moves. A small community does not justify the costs, so high performance with a large community is a must.

The Support page also has the attitude of: “We don’t want to be bothered with support.” From a developer’s point of view, I get that, but if the end-user does not feel that someone will be there for them in case of trouble, they may not want to buy. 

Another concern that I have is with the English language they use. In many places, it feels off. They are US-based company, so I don’t understand why this happens. 

Also, in the back end demo, many things don’t work, making me nervous. I would have to check with pre-sales before making a purchasing decision. 

The self-hosted part is good because you own all the data, and if you have a tech person on the team, it makes business sense. But this is not for everyone. Taking care of software by yourself is not easy, especially with the ever-changing ecosystem. 

I would personally use phpFox. Because of my developer background, I am confident I will not get in any “disaster situation” where I risk losing all my good work. But before making the purchase, I’d like to see some evidence of high-performance when powering a community with, say, 200-300 members.

Choosing a software platform for a Spiritual Community

Building your community on the wrong platform is very costly. So it pays to do some research and make an informed decision.

This post aims to create a comprehensive list of items to consider when you shop around for a software platform for a spiritual community. 

The Specific Needs of a Spiritual Community

Apart from the generic online community requirements, a spiritual community has a few specific characteristics:

  • It needs to provide a space for in-depth communication and exploration. This means a clear, distraction-free interface. It should allow composing long essays if needed and have text formatting capabilities to help with the longer posts’ readability. In other words, it needs to encourage deep thought and make it easy to express that.
  • It needs a good way to track and come back to a discussion maybe months later if there are new insights or new posts on that topic.
  • It needs to be beautiful – while this is a very subjective criterion, you can look for good design, harmonious color palettes that make the pages aesthetically pleasing.
  •  The interface needs to be user-friendly. As intuitive as possible, with a straightforward mobile design and no jarring or unexpected changes or updates. 
  • It should allow for more detailed profile pages for the members. On that page, individuals can show their personality, interests, and story and connect with other members one-on-one.
  • Take into account the privacy concerns: who is ultimately the owner of the data shared by your members. (Hint: if you use a social network for this, the network is the owner)
  • The technology providers that enable the community need to be integrity.

With that in mind – let’s jump to the list of requirements.

Comprehensive list of requirements for a Spiritual Community Software Platform

Since the list is so long, I have divided it further into subsections.

 

Business Requirements

  1.  Support for paid membership – not only does this keep out trolls and energy vampires, but it provides a way for the members to support the community back and make it sustainable.
  2.  Basic Content Management System – allows you to create public pages that explain what your community is about. These can be very focused landing pages or a blog.
  3. Privacy concerns – do you care who stores and who owns the data that your users create? There are three camps here: self-hosted solution: you store, and you own everything. Hosted solution: the platform provider stores the data, but you own it. And social media: they store it, and they own it, and you are a guest there. The choice here is straightforward: if you have an able developer on your team, then self-hosted makes sense because you will handle any maintenance in house. If not, go with a hosted solution. If you go with self-hosted and don’t have a developer, the maintenance costs are likely to burry you. 
  4. Does it have an API for integrations – this is optional for more basic communities but a must-have for larger ones that will require more automation to manage. An API allows you to extend what the platform can do by integrating it with other services like email automation, learning management systems, automatic zoom call registrations, etc. Think Zapier. 
  5. Server Requirements – if you buy a self-hosted platform, then you’d better have a tech person in your team who can figure this out. Else you might buy something that you cannot use, or the server’s costs required to run it are too high for you.
  6. What is the maintenance cost – if you have to hire a developer to maintain the platform, that will quickly become your highest cost. Keep this in mind if you are contemplating a free, self-hosted community software. It can get you started with no fees up-front, but when you need help (and you will!), it will be challenging to find someone trustworthy and pay them to update the software or fix the problem. Because of this, I now recommend to anyone who is non-technical to choose a paid hosted solution, where someone else keeps things running smoothly. Maintenance and free vs. paid is a complicated discussion; drop me a line if you’d like to hop on a call. 
  7. Can you do backup easily (or export the content) – if you plan to build a business around this community, backups are the best insurance policy against data loss or hacking. Even with hosted services, those who claim they have “internal backups” do not trust that. Ask how you can do your own backups that you can save on your computer. I cannot stress how important this is in the case of a business. It also prevents “lock-in” to that specific platform. Content that you can export, you can later import elsewhere with some help. 
  8. Google Analytics Integration – as a business, you need to track what works and what doesn’t. The platform may offer its Analytics tools, but that may not be enough.

 

User Experience

  1. Web Push Notifications – this is a technical term that simply means getting notified on your phone or your computer browser that there are updates in the community. It is not a must-have, but it helps with engagement and real-time events where it is important to be there on time.
  2. Easy Registration with Facebook or Google – this goes to the user experience side of things. If they can log in with an already existing account, it means one less password to remember. This choice does create some privacy issues if you connect via a third party provided (like Facebook or Google), but that may not be important to some of your users. You should always keep the alternative of a simple direct sign-up.
  3. Accessibility – can people with disabilities use the platform effectively? 
  4. Bookmark system – allows users to save in their profile posts or other locations of interest.
  5. How is the onboarding experience – can you direct users at first login to a particular page with tutorials? Is there a good help system? Are there pointers around the interface to help the new users find their way around? This feature is more of a “premium” option, but it could help members move from trial to paid.
  6. Notification Center; do you need Facebook like notifications in the top-right corner? They enable your membership to stay on top of important updates.
  7. Rich text editor for posts – specifically for spiritual communities, to allow for long and thoughtful responses. You should also be able to quote or partially quote a previous post that you are responding to.
  8. Does it work on Mobile – this is a must. The platform needs to be optimized for Mobile, not just “barely work.” At the moment of writing, in the communities I have access to, 60% of users are from Mobile, and that number will continue to grow.
  9. Dedicated Mobile App – you don’t need to worry about this unless the performance is an issue or mobile notifications, or you have a need to integrate with the device sensors to create some kind of customized experience, like a meditation space or mindfulness reminders. This feature is highly advanced and not something most communities care about. 

 

Community Building

  1. Private Messages – allows for one-on-one exchanges between members who want to connect and share details that would not make sense to post in the open community.
  2. Profile Pages for users – this would be the user’s personal space inside the community to showcase their interest and make connections with other individuals. As a bonus, this page can also list the person’s activity for anyone interested to find their posts and updates.
  3. Activity Feeds – they provide a quick look at what is currently happening on the platform. 
  4. Media upload support for images, audio, and possibly video – sometimes a picture says it best. So the platform should be able to handle media uploads as smoothly as possible. I would be cautious with video uploads, as they use up both disk space and bandwidth. (Depending on your needs, it may be best to share video via unlisted YouTube links).
  5. Calendar – useful to help the community stay in sync with regular updates or live calls. Make sure it works well on mobile devices too.
  6. Moderation tools – you need to issue warnings and eventually remove bad actors from the community. Moderation tools are a must. And anything except tiny communities needs to have a “report” button that alerts the staff that needs attention. 
  7. The Back end is important too – for large communities, you need to monitor what is going on, not only in terms of content and activities but also in server resources.
  8. The support system;  for large communities, you may need a ticket system or a chatbot to help with common problems.

 

Engagement

  1. Reactions to posts – it’s always nice to receive and send gratitude. At the minimum, it should have a “Thanks button.”
  2. Emoji support – should be a non-issue with modern software, but worth checking.
  3. Good search capability – this is very hard to do. It is not essential initially, but as the community grows, it is more and more relevant. Since this is such a challenging problem, I will give a pass to any software with a basic searching capability that works. If a “good search” is a must, you will spend extra resources to connect with services like Elastic Search that can help you out.
  4. Tagging support for users – this becomes super useful as the platform grows, and it is difficult for one member to keep track of everything. It allows other members to say, “Hey, you, your attention is invited here!” 
  5. Hashtags – are useful for large communities. Allows members to categories the topics, easily find them later, or follow a specific tag like “#manifestation” and get notified when someone posts something like that.
  6. Email Notification Settings – each individual has a different preference for how much incoming email they like. The platform should allow some granular configuration of that. A simple On/Off switch is the bare minimum, but ideally, multiple switches are best: for new replies, being tagged, daily digest, and so on.
  7. Mass Emailing capability: This is very important for announcements, reminders, and event invitations. It is different from, say, a reply notification because you need to email everyone at once, not just one or two members. You can solve this problem with dedicated email services like AWeber, but you need to make sure it is easy to integrate that service.
  8. Instant chat options – instant chat messaging is not an easy problem to solve. A bad experience will make the feature useless, but a good one does require a lot of technical expertise to get it right. You will need to figure out if this is something that your community wants and if you can add it later. Some hosted solutions provide this feature for you. 
  9. Member blogs or personal pages – does it make sense for your community for users to create their own space inside it?
  10. Gamification – I am adding this here for completeness – but I find that for spiritual communities this is not helping with engagement. Creating connections is much better than playing a game.

 

Learning and training

  1. Content Library – it makes sense for a spiritual community to have access to a private library of books, audio or video recordings, and other materials. Another thing to consider here is if only the staff updates the library or if the users can also contribute. 
  2. Sub-Groups within the community – this is incredibly useful for study-groups or accountability-groups. It allows a handful of members to make the journey together and have each other’s backs, isolated from the community’s entire buzz, and not generating buzz themselves that other people don’t care about. Used wisely, these sub-groups can bring the community together. 

 

Customization and Extensibility

  1. Theme Customization – it is best if you like the platform as it is—fewer costs for you and zero chance of messing up the colors. However, sometimes brand colors are essential, so in that case, you need to make sure the platform allows for that.
  2. Feature customization and extensibility – this can turn “mission-critical” later on. If you discover that you need specific functionality, can you easily add it? Can you buy a plugin? Can you hire a developer to write the code? The online environment is in constant change. I would recommend that the platform be either extensible through plugins or have a developer in your team help you out. Changing the software can cost you a lot of money and a drop in membership. So it pays to be able to make incremental updates to your system. 

How to Use this list

Likely, you don’t need all the features, but it pays to be aware of them. The way to use this list is to extract the features you need and sort them by priority before you shop around for a community building software. The sorted list will make the choice process much more comfortable!

Caution about free software

Free software has zero money costs upfront, and it is very tempting to start that way. You could use it as a test pilot, but as soon as you see it working, you need to either move to a paid platform that includes updates and maintenance or look for a developer that can do that for you. Do not wait until an emergency shows up, or your costs will skyrocket, and the choice of “free” might cost you the community. 

Do you still need help?

Let’s talk and find out what you need. 

Are you buying work? Or are you buying results?

The answer to the question above is pretty obvious when we ask it like that. But in practice, almost everyone is busy buying work! That work may or may not get you the results you’re are after. 

Here is an example to illustrate this issue.

Say John hires Maria to code a website for him. 

After the initial discussion, Maria estimates that she will need 100 hours priced at $100/hour for a total of $10,000. 

As she thinks deeper and some research, Maria finds a ready-made plugin that costs $1,000 and takes care of half the project scope. 

What should Maria do next? 

1. Buy the plugin for $1,000 and charge for the rest of 50 hours. So Maria is left with $4,000 in her pocket and a plugin she now owns. The client will love her.

2. Have the client buy the plugin and charge for the rest of the work. She now has $5,000 in her pocket, and the customer owns the plugin. The client will love her.

3. Buy the plugin for $1,000, work 50 hours, and wait for another 40 to charge 90 hours. Maria puts $8,000 in her pocket. The client will be happy; he paid less and got it faster. 

4. Maria ignores the plugin, starts coding, hopefully, be done in 100 hours, and charge at least $10,000. The client will be satisfied if finished on time and angry for any extra hours over the estimate.

We can all agree that (3) is dis-ingenious. But in truth, all four options suck. 

With option (1) and (2), Maria feels cheated. She had agreed to do much more work than she would get paid for. She has no incentive to choose less work for her. Still, if she chooses option (1) or (2) out of moral obligation, in the back of her mind, she will resent ever having done any research! 

With option (3), she will have to live with the lie.

And if she ignores the plugin and does the work agreed for the money agreed, she is also cheating. 

She is cheating herself out of the growth opportunity. Why work better or faster when that means less billable “working hours.” Best be slow and friendly as you plow along. 

And she’s also cheating the client because you are not free to do your best job. She will do the regular “fast enough” kind.

It amazes me, especially in the IT industry, where performance metrics are easier to measure, that people are still buying work instead of results. 

Whenever discussing a new project, I almost always hear this question: “How long will this take?” because the next question is, “What is your hourly rate?”

And the answers to those questions are: “I don’t know how long it will take. This project is a collaboration, with lots of variables out of my and your control. It will take at least three months, but it could take 6 months or one year… nobody really knows.” And “I don’t have an hourly rate.”

My favorite alternative is to focus on results and not care about how long it will take. 

With the initial example, Maria would ask John why does he want a website. How will that generate value for him to justify the expense of creating one? And John might say, it would help him sell his handmade products to a larger audience, and it would make it much easier for customers to place an order. Maria continues to ask what is a realistic revenue goal for one year from the website sales. John thinks for a bit and says that based on his audience and some estimates, it should be around $80,000. Maria says she is confident she can help John reach his goal of $8,000. 

Now, if John has spent $8,000 to make $80,000, do you think he would care if Maria used a plugin or not, or how many hours she worked on the website? Of course not! He did not buy Maria’s time; he purchased a result.

And what about Maria? She is free from the moral dilemma from before. She can now employ her full experience and work as fast as possible, using any tools she sees fit to help John accomplish his goals. 

It does not matter if she can do it in a day because she has done the same thing before or takes her two months to put everything together. John will pay a fixed price. He will not be taxed for a “poor estimate,” and Mary is free to work as fast as she can and be rewarded for getting better at her craft and working less. All interests are aligned. 

I challenge you to buy results and not work. You will pay more upfront, yes! But you will get much better returns in the long run. If you still choose to buy work, there is no guarantee that “the work” will get you any closer to your goals. And the conflict of interests will make it almost sure that you will run over the initial estimate by a large factor, even if everyone is super honest and fair. 

Meetings – as a display of power

Why yet another writing about meetings? Because it is an old habit that needs to change. And because it is so old, we need to challenge it strongly and repeatedly to defeat the inertia.

Most people go to meetings because they feel they have to, not because they want to or need to. 

When there is no engagement, the meeting becomes a waste of time and a show of status (“who’s who”).

If you are the meeting organizer, you may care a lot about your project or your idea or about getting feedback. But not everyone in the meeting cares about the same things that you do. And if all you can see around you are bored people who would rather be someplace else, what can you do differently? (assuming that you care)

You could change the meeting duration from one hour to 10 minutes! No more room for fluff, for checking the phone, or for being late. And above all, you show respect to the other participants forced to spend their time with you.

You could also simply cancel the meeting. Do you need to send an update? There is email; there is slack; there is the phone. Do you need feedback? You can use online surveys or schedule one-on-one interviews in cases where you need to go deeper. 

Above all, seek and measure engagement. If people around you are not engaged, everything moves in slow motion, and you are also missing on a ton of creativity that has no room to be expressed. 

If you are meeting participantwhat would happen if you didn’t go? Would the project miss a critical piece of insight, or would “people upstairs get upset”? If it’s just people getting upset for you being honest about not having anything of value to contribute, then maybe you need to bring this up. Challenge the reason you have been invited to the meeting and make sure you need to be there. If you know your input is valued and sought after, you will be more likely to be engaged. But if you feel like a replaceable cog in the system, then you won’t be missed. 

Another thing you can do is start a discussion about meetings around the office. Are they effective? And how do you measure that effectiveness? If there is little engagement, what can you change to have more of it? What would happen if you canceled the meeting? What is the difference between synchronous communication (phone and meetings) and asynchronous (Slack, email, voice messages)

With new technology, we can do better. Show respect and seek engagement, not a display of power.

How do you think meetings should change in the new environment? Who are meetings for, and what are they for?

The Buyer decides what is worth to them

“The price you’re charging for this is ridiculous!”

“Are you trying to rip me off?!”

“What?! Is this made out of gold or something!?”

“How can you live with yourself when you charge ten times it costs you to make this?!”

If you have ever been in a position to sell something, chances are you have heard some or all of the above. If you haven’t, you are on a race to the bottom, competing on who is the cheapest.

Who decides if the price is right for a product or a service? 

What is the correct value?

The answer is that a buyer and a seller decide.

If the buyer feels that she gets more value than the is paying, and the seller feels he is making a profit from the sale, then the price is right! And the price is right for that context only.

For a different buyer or another seller, the price may very well be “ridiculous!”

I have heard many times, and I also used to believe that it is a shady practice to price the client, not the solution, meaning: to change your price depending on the person sitting in front of you. 

Does this feel like a scam to you? Do you want to know the price upfront, and do you want to know how much the other person paid, so you get the same price or better?

If you feel that way, then you are shopping for price, and not for value. And that is OK. I believe everyone is doing that in some areas of their life.

But if you are shopping for value, then the price is not that important.

How can that be?

If the value you are getting out of the product or the service is greater than the price, it is always a good deal for you, regardless of what someone else paid for it. Of course, you can still negotiate and try to maximize the value over price ratio, but ultimately it is the value you are after. If you could spend 75 cents to make a dollar, you would go for it!

To understand this better, let us look at an example from photography.

You went into the jungle and captured some amazing bird photos. You had to pay for the trip, the insurance, the equipment and also pay yourself. So there was a cost incurred by those photos.

How much will you sell them for? How will you decide what the right price is?

Let’s say you decide $200 for each photo. That is your price for everyone.

Now a blogger comes along; they look at the photo and think: “My God! What a ridiculous price for a picture! I can get a free one from Unsplash. This guy is crazy trying to sell for this price!” Maybe you will think: that is OK! They don’t understand the costs of making these pictures. It is still a reasonable price for my work.

Next, National Geographic comes along and purchases one of the images and the right to print it for $2,000. It gets on their cover, and it becomes such a hit that it becomes a “National Geographic Classic.” Does the $2,000 still feel fair to you if sales increased by $200,000 for the magazine because of the cover?

How much would it cost you in time, tools, and resources to draw the Nike logo? Can you put a price on that? How much is the Nike logo worth today? Is that close to the price you came up with?

We all want to be good fellow humans. We want to help out. We want to be seen, appreciated, and valued. And we want to thrive.

When you allow someone else to judge you on your value and make you into a horrible person because of your price, you get into trouble simply because some of the people you will encounter will assign a different value to you and to your product in their eyes

So you may be horribly overpriced to them. And then, they are not your customer. There is no need for you to lower your price or to feel like a bad person, just because someone could not see the value in what you do.

In the same way, you will not be able to serve everyone. Some of the problems are too small for you to handle, and you need to refer those out, or just say “no.” And some of the problems may be too big for you right now, and you also need to say “no” instead of over-promising. But in between those, there is your range: a range that will grow with experience and personal development.

I still believe luxury goods are a scam, or that some people just gave in to the “marketing” and bought a useless product, but I am wrong. The truth is, none of the parties would have agreed to make that transaction if they did not feel the price was the right price. I may not see the value, but that does not mean that value was not there. I simply value other things.

Don’t allow others to push their value onto you. And mirroring that, accept that other people value other things. And all that is OK.

Credit: Thanks, “The Futur” for their inspiring videos.

Talk to your audience effectively, using segmentation

If your audience is larger than 10k people, not all have likely purchased the same product or have the same interest in your offerings. 

So how do you communicate with them in a relevant way? 

Say you want to send follow up emails for a course they got. Or you want to market a related product. Or ask for feedback or testimonials. You don’t want to send the same message to everyone.

Splitting the audience into groups like these is called segmentation.

When you create these segments, you can have different conversations with each group. 

You can segment your list manually, but here we are big fans of automation.

The best way to automate segmentation and conversations with your customers is by using “tags.” 

When a prospect buys a product, you tag that action with a specific keyword. When they click a link, you can also tag that action. 

Adding or removing a tag can then be used inside your newsletter provider to trigger an automated campaign. 

For example, the “purchased_product_x” tag can trigger a newsletter series that will be a tutorial for that product. 

Or for the visitor tagged with “landing_page_offer_1,” you can trigger a series of emails that will market to them a specific offer.

Later, you can send a special discount to all the customers tagged with the “purchased_product_y” tag. 

I hope you can now see the power of segmentation and tagging when it comes to automatic your conversations with your leads and customers. 

For this process to work, your newsletter provider needs to support tags and automation around tags. You will need providers like MailChimp or AWeber.

Developers like us do things like this…

Developers like us use version control because we understand the value of being able to roll back.

Developers like us do backups because we understand our customer’s need for safety and insurance.

Developers like us have a process because that is key for delivering quality results consistently.

Developers like us ask questions because we understand the pitfalls that come with assumptions.

Developers like us understand business because the perfect solution, delivered too late, is no solution.

Developers like us are good communicators because we don’t expect the client to navigate technical jargon.

Developers like us are honest, simply because honesty is good for business.

Developers like us own our mistakes because it is the way to build trust and get hired again.

Developers like us don’t hide bad news because it shows care for the client to let them know you will not meet the deadline. It gives them time to plan accordingly.

Developers like us value privacy because the client needs to know their private data is safe in your hands.

Developers like us are generous because helping others along the way makes things better.

Developers like us are flexible because it is not always possible for the client to adapt to our workflow.

Developers like us are more expensive because we always deliver more than we got paid for.

Developers like us minimize risk because they understand the client has their reputation to consider when she places it in our hands when we deliver a solution.

Developers like us work fast because we don’t reinvent the wheel and use the best practices available in the field.

Developers like us never stop learning because we know first hand how fast the software world changes.

Developers like us future proof their code because it is never safe to assume how it will be used later on.

Developers like us prioritize customer needs because the final product is for them, not for us.

 

Note: this is a manifesto based on Seth Godin’s idea of “Tribes”: people like us do things like this.

If you had to charge ten times as much

This is such an interesting question because it asks for ten times, not twice as much. 

Asking for twice as much can trap you into thinking: 

  • I will work twice as hard! 
  • I will double the quantity of whatever I am offering! 
  • I will simply increase my prices, lose a few customers but keep the premium ones. 

None of those strategies really work when you need to charge ten times as much. Something else needs to change.

I have not found the “right answer” to this one, just yet.

But somethings are obvious:

I cannot work ten times more hours or put in ten times the effort. With 24 hours on any given day, that is simple, not possible. 

Ten times the quantity may also not be possible, not to mention that the customer may not be interested in that much more quantity. 

So what can it be? 

On the same airplane, different people pay different prices. And yes, you can find a ten times difference in tickets. The same plane does not fly farther, does not fly faster, and does not land in a luxury airport for those who pay a premium. So what exactly do they pay for? 

In the software industry, given the same project specs, you can hire developers on a wide range of prices. The specs don’t change, so the end result should be the same, so why the different prices? Why is a developer more expensive than the other. And why would a customer choose to pay for someone who charges ten times the lowest price on the offer? 

A possible, but lazy answer is status. If you care that a “Google Developer” worked on your project, you will pay to be able to say that, even though a “less famous” developer may have done the job. Beyond status, this can be a marketing signal as well. When you sell this service, it may be worth it to your customers to know that a “famous” developer worked on it if that signals quality.

Trust may be a better answer. I don’t think you can trust someone “ten times more” than another person. Still, you do have a definite feeling that you can trust person A but not trust person B. 

And if trust is essential to my business, then person A can successfully charge ten times more than person B. What is the value-added to justify this increase? In the moment, probably none. But in an environment of clickbait and shady practices, person A has spent valuable time, resources, and emotional labor to prove trustworthy. Their reputation is their asset that you pay for. 

Going higher on the “better” scale, you may have to change the people you serve. If you are a high precision car mechanic, that will not matter if all your customers want from you is to fix their headlights. You may be fast at it, you may be precise, but it will not matter. You will not be able to ask ten times more for your services in that crowd. You need to find a different crowd, likely a smaller crowd, looking for that particular skill. To them, it will make sense to pay you ten times more, because the value they get out of your work is twenty times more. For them, you will still be a bargain.

On the same level with “change the people you are serving” can be “change your story.” In fact, the two go hand in hand and influence each other. If you sell a commodity, you have no choice but to join the race to the bottom. The alternative is to trade in emotions. To transform fear into belonging. For that, you need a story. You need to stand for something. To serve people at the edge, that everyone else has overlooked. 

For “regular” people, water is free. For someone stranded in the desert, water is priceless. A way to charge ten times more is to find people who are thirsty and then create the product or service that will satisfy their needs. 

Charging ten times as much is scary because it usually means you need to change and sometimes in dramatic ways. Letting go of the old clients is not easy. Letting go of the old product or service feels frightening. What if you are wrong? And we arrive at risk. Those who play it safe always find themselves in a crowded place. Setting out to sell water in the desert does not mean you will also find someone there. 

How about you? What would you change if you had to charge ten times more? 

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally

I like to be comfortable. I like instant gratification and home deliveries. I like automation that makes my life easier.

But what is all this ease for? What will I do with it? With the extra time and the extra energy?

If I am smart, I will do something hard to do.

Leaning into comfort when it comes to your personal life may be a good idea, but when it comes to business, to creating value for your audience, all the low hanging fruit is gone. All that is left are the hard questions, the tough problems that everyone else shies away from.

You can look at this and conclude that “it is too hard!” or instead, you can conclude: “This is an opportunity to serve in a place with a big need and little to no competition.”

“If one can do it, you can do it, if no one can do it, you must do it” – Shajjath Aleem

There is something to be said about a problem that is too big. That is also a trap as it lets you off the hook. If the problem is so big, nobody really expected you to keep your promise and solve it. It is just another way to procrastinate.

Look at your resources, consider your will power, your energy, and your passion and choose a hard problem that you can actually solve.

Credit: Seth Godin – The Dip

Is your website really helping your business?

I know this seems like a silly question to ask in 2020, but I still see examples of websites that do not actually help (or not as much as they could).

For a website to be helpful, it needs to have a well-defined goal. And if you can track that, all the better!

Here are some examples:

  • it helps sell your products or services
  • it showcases your experience and expertise
  • builds a community
  • makes a bold statement about a cause you believe in and support

Website vs. Social Media

Social media gets a lot of attention today. It is tempting to focus on building a following there. We all know and follow “influencers” on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn. 

But who really owns that audience and that space? Hint: It is not the influencer. It is the social media company. 

On a social media platform, even if you create content, you are still the guest. You are still a product that gets attention back to the social media company. You and your business can be kicked out at any time with no explanation given or a way to get back. And everything you have built can fall like a house of cards. 

This is where your website can help in a big way.

At the very least, your website should build a mailing list as a way for you to be able to contact your audience directly and not depend on “the algorithm” or “boosting” your content. 

Unlike your social media page, the website is yours, and so is the mailing list. You may be forced to change hosting or email providers, but you don’t lose your audience or content, provided you are disciplined with your backups.

A website can be supplemented with a podcast. The podcast shows will also be distributed directly to your subscribers at no extra cost to you. There is no algorithm involved and no need to “boost” your content. A podcast has the added advantage that your distributing content cost does not increase with the number of subscribers, as it happens with your mailing list. You should, however, still invite your listeners to subscribe to your newsletter from time to time. 

The Take-Away

The take-away is that your website should do something, not just take up Internet space.

It should at least:

  1. build trust
  2. invite the user to subscribe to your newsletter or podcast
  3. have a clear value proposition and a call to action on the home page

How is your website doing? Let me know about your challenges in the comment section.