Home » Business

Category: Business

Community Software: FLARUM

My latest insight is that you grow faster, and it’s more fun (and challenging) when you have a community!

Because of that insight, I am consciously looking at how other people are building their communities, and, being the software nerd that I am, my attention goes to online communities. 

A new player around the block is making some noise when it comes to community software. And that is Flarum.

Here is the promise:

“Forums made simple. Modern, fast, and free!”

I have spent a couple of days taking this forum for a spin and testing out this promise. The short version is that I am impressed. 

Let’s break this down in a post that will be somewhat technical. 

Forums Made Simple

Forums made simple” – I believe they fulfill this promise. The team behind Flarum chose to focus on what makes a forum a forum: the ability for users to create discussions and respond to each other. And that works beautifully well. However, to have great software, you can’t stop there. Otherwise, anyone who can follow a Larcast could roll out their forum in Laravel. The team made the forum simple and provided a scaffold and a framework so you can then make it as complicated as you need! 

Modern

Modern” – This promise is also kept. There are two sides to this “modern” feature. 

First is the end-user: do they perceive it as modern? And I would give them a “yes” just by looking at the mobile experience. I don’t want to say that it is beautiful because that is too subjective. Instead, I would say the user experience is great: it works, and it works as you would expect it to work. Of course, any old software can hire a designer and create a “modern theme/look” for their forum, but that is only one part of it.

The other part of “modern” is the internal workings of the forum. And you would need to be a developer to appreciate the beauty of Flarum truly. The internals might be something that the end-users or community managers might not care about. Still, it will be important for the person in charge of maintaining the software on the server. 

To highlight a couple of things:

  • Using `composer` to manage the upgrades and the extensions – brilliant! I have not seen this done before in a forum context, but it is such a clean way to reuse code. It is different from what WordPress is doing, where every plugin has to install its dependencies, and you end up with loads of duplicate code and potential conflict that is sometimes very hard to spot and fix. While using composer makes me happy, I am also concerned with the possible problems that may show up in the future and that we cannot possibly see right now. 
  • Making this a Single Page Application. The front end is now a JavaScript client that consumes the API that the forum exposes. This pattern opens up a ton of flexibility on how this platform can be used – including completely replacing the front end if you are brave enough. The only issue that I see is potentially some SEO problems that plague all SPAs. 

Fast

 “Fast” – another kept promise. The lighting fast page loads were the very first thing I noticed about this software. It feels so snappy! Aven the search function feels fast. The high-performance is another result of the internals, and so it’s not something that older software can pull off just by “modernizing their look and feel.”

Free

“Free” – this is technically free… with a big “BUT.” 

To install Flarum, you need to run commands in your shell. And if you have no idea what that is, that is where the “Free” problem starts!

The power and performance of Flarum come at a cost. At the time of writing, you need to be pretty nerdy to install it and feel comfortable about it. Sure, you can copy/paste the commands in the tutorial, but if you don’t understand what you are doing, any tiny problem can be a game stopper for you. So even though the forum is free to install and use, you might have to pay for an installation service (that the Flarum team might provide in the future), and you also need to buy hosting where you can use the shell and the PHP composer software. 

All of this makes me think that Flarum might be best for companies that can hire such a developer and purchase a server with the required specs. 

And speaking of companies, this leads me into another potential trap of “Free,” and that is: you don’t want to build a community using software that will not be there for you in the long run. And if nobody is paying to help the software grow and have the bugs fixed, how long will Flarum be around? For a company, this is a risk that needs to be evaluated, and it can make a managed/established solution look much better in the long run, especially because it is not free.

I see the team behind Flarum making steps towards launching a managed solution, which will provide a stream of income and invaluable feedback on making the software better. And they may also establish a service of paid support that can provide additional incentive to keep this project going. 

Until there are some clear signs that Flarum is here to say, I believe it would be risky to build your community around it if you want to play a long-term game. But if you need to launch a project quickly that requires a community around it, you should give Flarum a try! 

The Competition

Flarum reminds me a lot about Vanilla Forums, and I believe that if they play their cards right, they could become their main competitor. 

You can get all of Flarum for free (if you have tech chops to install and manage it), while Vanilla OSS is very limited compared to the cloud option.

Doing Business in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

I don’t see many people speaking about this, but artificial intelligence will fundamentally change how we do business.

It is already happening behind the scenes, but it is only visible to those who work in this field. 

Here are some examples.

Infinite Personalization.

Any decent newsletter service allows you to personalize the message to include the customer’s name and other personal data. But with AI, this can go so much further. For example, a color theme can be automatically selected for each user based on the time of day the email goes out and even the reader’s mood. The message will be sent in their mother tongue using a perfect translation. 

The presentation of your site will be uniquely tailored to each of your visitors or customers. 

This fine-grained personalization is impossible for a team of humans to handle, but it is trivial for an AI, especially when you aggregate data from multiple sources. It may not be possible for you, but you can bet the big guys are working on it. 

Each of us will begin to see and interact with their unique and custom version of the Internet. 

Next is the “No Code” “No Design” options. 

You will be able to describe to an AI system, in natural language, what you want to offer and to whom, and you will instantly get an app and a website built for it. AI will render most developers and designers obsolete and lower the barrier-to-entry for many inspired entrepreneurs and creators. 

Can a computer do it?

Your offer should be something that cannot be easily explained or described.

If you can explain it easily, then a computer can do it much faster than you and at a near-infinite scale. 

I believe most businesses will be surprised to wake up being obsolete overnight, but some pay attention and position themselves to take advantage of the upcoming tide.

Critique

There are some examples on the web where the AI is really dumb or comes up with solutions that make no sense to us humans. It is also said that AI will never be creative. 

We can add this to the long list of things that we previously thought a computer could not do. 

The development of AI (as with most things related to computers) has an exponential development curve. This means that the distance between a “dumb AI” and a superintelligence is not as long as we might imagine. 

We can choose to leverage this new powerful tool or resing to watching others do it. 

Using WordPress the wrong way

I have been using WordPress the wrong way, and I have just realized it. 

I often wondered why anyone would want a website built with WebFlow or with SquareSpace when WordPress gives you the power to customize everything you want.

The answer is so simple and evident that it is a little embarrassing that I have not seen it before.

Most people don’t want that power. 

Most people want a website that will help them get closer to their business or personal goals. And if you are not a web developer, those goals do not include customizing every aspect of your site. 

I have watched a video presentation with a project hand-over where the client could only add new items on their site: new beer flavors. I am looking at this, and I am thinking: “wow, that customer is powerless. He is so limited in what he can do with the site. For every little change, he will need to hire the developer again.” 

But I was wrong. The client was not into doing minor changes on the site. He wanted a professional website that he could be proud of, and he only wanted to add more beer flavors. Being so limited in what he could do also meant there was no way he could make a mistake or break the site. He could relax into doing what was important to him. 

When delivering a website built in WordPress, it may not be a good idea to hand over the admin account. The administrator account can feel overwhelming with all the buttons available, and it is also very easy to break the site. 

What you should do instead is to create custom post types, custom fields, and custom capabilities and then set up an account that can only work with those and hand over only that account. This way, the client cannot break the site, and they can only customize and update the items they need to. 

Of course, you have to discuss a maintenance plan for the cases where admin access is needed, but that is a different discussion.

Would you be offended not to have administrative access to your site? Or would you be relieved? 

Fences and Websites

Building a fence and building a website

When you hire a team to build a fence around your property, what are your expectations around the process and the results? 

Do you expect to constantly monitor the work to make sure the lines are straight and that workers are not cutting any corners? Do you expect to provide the tools and replace them or do maintenance for those that get broken? Do you expect to manage each worker and tell them what to do, when they should do it and how? 

And for the end result, do you expect to have to do fixes after the work is finished and do lots of maintenance as time passes? 

On the flip side, do you expect to simply show them the property line and describe what the fence should do: keep out wild animals, large and small, and be sturdy enough to require very little maintenance in the future? 

Here is the thing: there is no correct answer to these questions. Different people have different expectations. Some love to get their hands dirty and get very involved in the process, while others need the results, and they would rather do something else while the fence is being built. The problems appear when these expectations are not discussed upfront and are assumed. 

We also need to consider risk and price

When you do get your hands dirty, provide all the tools, and give all the directions, you are taking on all the risk of making sure the result is a good fence. The people you hire just do as they are told and shoulder no risk. So the price they can command is not that great. You pay them less money, but give more of your own time. 

When you buy the results: a fence that meets the specifications, the construction team needs to shoulder all the risk. You don’t care how they do it, how many tools they break in the process, if they need to fire someone along the way, or if they use your fence to train a junior team member. This construction team can command a higher price, and you pay more with money but with much less of your own time. 

Both are valid options, but you need to make a conscious choice and get clarity: is the team who asks for a ton of money willing to take on all the risk? On the flip side, when the price is “too good to be true,” are you ready to pay with your time and with taking on the risk of failure because it turns out the price was way too low to allow for a good job? 

The same applies when building a website. When you want to do it as cheaply as possible, you need to understand that you are taking on the full risk of failure, full maintenance, and a big chunk of the building process. But if you want a hands-off approach where you’re just interested in the business results, expect to pay a premium price for that experience and peace of mind (aka insurance against risk.) 

A cautionary note about the premium price 

Pricing is a signal. And someone reading this may be tempted to think that all I have to do now is raise my prices to a premium level to bring in the clients who want the “hands-off experience.” That is exactly what you should do IF you can deliver! And the price needs to be a lot higher to account for all of your mistakes and all of the things that will go wrong with the project. If you just charge more but don’t deliver, you are running a scam, and you will be found out. 

From the customer side: if someone is offering a premium hands-off experience at a very low price, you need to be cautious. How can they deliver without cutting corners? How can they afford high-quality tools and qualified people? Are they just boasting off to get their foot in the door? 

You need to get crystal clear if you’re shopping for price or value and then make sure the hired team can deliver on their promise.

don't waste time creating new products.

Don’t waste your time creating new products

Here is a mistake that I have made way too many times. 

I have this bright idea for a new product or service. I am so excited about it! But, I want to keep it a secret least someone would steal it from me. 

I work hard to implement it, test it, polish it. I am making sure it looks like how I imagined it. 

After months of effort, I finally launch…

… to crickets. 

There is no one out there who cares about my product or service, let alone steal it. 

The problem is that this is a selfish way to create a product or a service. You are choosing to work in a void in your head, and you are not doing it for an audience, so you never bother to ask for feedback or even ask if they need such a product. 

A better way is to test your assumptions before you spend any time building stuff. Building a useless product costs you time and money that you could have used to make something relevant and remarkable.

Testing can be as simple as saying this: 

“Here is what I am working on next. What do you think? Would you spend $100 for early access and an opportunity to give feedback on how I make it?”

Two things can happen:

  • less than ten people signup for the early access: good! – you thank and refund everyone and let them know there is not enough interest to build the thing. Don’t skip the “thank you” part, as they are your biggest fans! And now you just saved time, money, and effort that you can put into testing the next idea.
  • a lot of people signup – good! – the pressure is now on to build the thing, and you have feedback from people that will help you make it very relevant. You also get testimonials for the official launch date. Again, make sure to reward the early adopters for making this possible.

Design is Not Everything

When building a website, you may think that all you need is the web design, which is all you may be willing to buy.  

And this is understandable because it is what you see and what your customers see. 

It is also why page builders like Divi and Elementor are so popular with WordPress. You can quickly and visually set up how your website will look. 

But once traffic this your site and the business takes off, you realize other things are just as important if not more important than design:

  1. Is the site functional? Does it do what it is supposed to do for the user? Is the sales process working smoothly? Does the contact form send you all the messages? 
  2. Is it fast? With the Google update in May 2021, site speed is a factor in their ranking system, which means that slow sites will get a penalty and fast sites will get a boost. But that is not all. From a user experience point of view, if they have to wait 10 seconds for the cart page to load, they will abandon the purchase process. 
  3. Is it clear? This item is where design can shine when it focuses on clarity first and aesthetics seconds. It doesn’t matter if your site is beautiful if your users have no clue how to navigate it or what they should do on the page that just loaded. 
  4. Is it responsive? Does it work perfectly on mobile? Today’s data suggest that you should develop the site on a mobile view first and then check the desktop view. 
  5. Does it handle well spikes in traffic? You don’t want to have your site crash in the middle of a successful marketing campaign. 
  6. Is it secure? Is your customers’ data safe? Is your site well insulated against hacking attempts? Are you using the best security practices?
  7. Do you have a recovery plan in place? What happens in case of a hardware failure? Or if you get kicked out by the hosting company?

If you still think your site needs a stellar design to bring in revenue, look at Google.com or Amazon.com. Most designers would argue they can do a much better job. But how many can create a much better revenue stream? Or handle that level of traffic? 

I suggest you start your website by investing in a solid foundation, don’t just buy a “pretty picture” of a website.  

Lack of Clarity leads to poor results

While it is common sense, it is not common practice to ask “WHY” when doing something. 

Building your new website, or revamping the old one, needs to have a strong “why” behind it. 

If you are doing it because everybody else is doing it, or because your competition is doing it, that is not good enough. 

Drilling deep with the “why-questions” can help you uncover clear, measurable goals. When you have clear, measurable goals, not only do you know what to ask from your vendors, but it is effortless to see where you are headed and when you have reached your destination. 

Clear, measurable goals also cut to the clutter of questions like: “what colors should I use?” “what size should the logo be?”, “what layout should my home page have?” The answer is very straightforward: choose the option that gets you closer to your goals

If you don’t know which one gets you closer, you can either default to what works in your space or A/B test it if you have a large enough audience. 

Getting clarity is hard but is the step that has the most impact on the project’s success. I’d rather delay something until I get crystal clear than building a solution that brings me to the wrong place. 

The power of Everyday

The power of “Every Day.”

What if I told you that if you want to get rich, all you have to do is to put a pebble in a jar every day for 100 days? The rules are:

  • You cannot skip a day.
  • If you do, you need to start over.
  • You also cannot put pebbles in that jar ahead of time.

Do you think this is stupid? Do you think this will work? Are you willing to put it to the test? 

I hope you do, as you will learn a crucial lesson. 

It is effortless to do something once or twice: get on a healthy diet, exercise, develop that marketing skill that you need. But as soon as you commit to doing it every day for 100 days, all sorts of problems come up. 

“What if I forget? What if I have to fly? What if I am too tired? Too sick? In a hospital? What if I change my mind and this is no longer important?”

All of a sudden, “every day for 100 days” seems nearly impossible. 

And yet, some people have done it. And not only for 100 days but for years in a row. 

There is a considerable power inconsistency. In always showing up, even when you don’t feel like it, especially if you don’t feel like it! 

What you may also discover is that you will not have a lot of competition, as most will give up after ten days or so, and you will have many people looking up to you because, at some level, they understand that showing up 100 days in a row is very difficult. So there is a certain kind of power around the people who do it. 

I challenge you to give this a try and report back with the results. Personally, I am yet to have a 100 days streak of doing anything consistently. But don’t make this your excuse.

I am not a techie

I am not good with tech!

“I am not good with tech” is one of the most common excuses I hear these days when someone is contemplating starting an online business. 

I am very good with tech, and I can say for sure that technology is not the problem. 

The problem is finding someone who cares. Someone whom you can help in a meaningful way. Someone who was looking for what you create. 

This idea is backward: “Oh, if my website were ready, and if it were stunning, then I would be inspired to write, to post my creations, to share myself. And the customers would line up.”

I know from experience that it will not work. The site’s creation will be challenging as you don’t know what to say or where to put it, and after you get it “done,” you still have to face the blank page of your next post or update. 

And you try to get it perfect so that everybody will like it, and no one will criticize it, and you delay posting. 

But once you do, what happens is that nobody reads it :). You would welcome a critique at this point because at least someone took the time to read and give some feedback. 

So don’t wait until you “figure out the tech” or find that “perfect free-lancer.” Instead, build a library of thoughtful articles, meaningful posts, well-crafted images, and engaging little stories. This library is half of the hard part. The other half is finding those who care.  

Once you solve those two issues, you will see how the “tech” was just an excuse you were hiding behind. 

Go build something with the tools you already have. 🙂

The Spiritual Software Engineer’s Guide to building your Online Presence

START HERE – Build an audience

Connect with people around you (online or offline) that share some of your values and interests. You need to build a bridge between “i/me/myself” and how it assists “we/us/ourselves.”

Contribute to what they post and share online. Build a conversation with them. First and foremost, try to understand them. You aim to create a community.

PAY ATTENTION

Pay attention and take notes:

– what do they ask?

– where do they need help?

– what inspires them?

– what is the problem they have?

Create content generously answering these questions: meaning for free and with the best quality you can (don’t try to be “perfect” that is just hiding from posting the work. Just do your best)

Save this content in a library (folder with documents in GDrive, Dropbox, local PC). You will thank yourself later!

GET’EM EMAILS

Once you get a feel of your audience, get them to subscribe to a newsletter. Use a free landing pages feature from AWeber, MailChimp, or some such.

By now, you should have a list of topics of interest that you can write about:

– full newsletters – best

– a weekly or monthly update where you send the best posts from Social Media – OK

– curated content – where you recommend other people’s work that relates to your audience – lazy, but it can save you in an emergency when you don’t have something scheduled.

WAIT FOR THE QUESTIONS

At some point, you should be getting inquiries about private consultations or help with a specific problem. The way to respond is to send them to the appropriate post or article that talks about possible solutions and, at the end, let them know that you are available for a one-on-one session for this price.

People will likely choose the free alternative initially, but eventually, some will pay for the “one-on-one.” Regardless, take important notes of these questions as they are ideas for valuable content or a potential product.

KEEP TALKING – KEEP CREATING

Continue the discussion with your audience.

When you have collected some 4-5 excellent questions to address, announce a free Zoom call where you will talk about those. Invite your audience to participate. At the end of the call, be sure to mention your one-on-one offering for those who need to get specific details. As a reward for giving you their attention so far, you can discount that price just for the live participants.

Be OK with the fact that this first call will not be so great. Things will not work; you will forget to mention something important. All that matters now is to practice. You cannot get to “mastery” by skipping over “beginner.”

LOOK FOR FRIENDS

Continue the conversation with your audience.

Look for collaboration opportunities.

The WRONG way to do this: “Hey, can you feature me on your blog/podcast/FB page?

The RIGHT way to do this: “Hey, your work is awesome! Do you mind if I feature you on my blog/FB page/newsletter?

Continue the conversation with your audience.

CAN YOU CREATE A PRODUCT/SERVICE

Based on your work so far and the community’s interaction, get an idea for a product or a premium service. Before you start working on it, ask your community what do they think? Are they interested? Would they pay for it? Bounce some numbers off of them. If you get a YES, then it’s great! If you get a NO, then also great! Ask what would need to change for the product to be more useful? (and it may not be the price!)

ONLY NOW YOU ARE READY TO BUILD A WEBSITE

– you have a much better idea of the name of the site – in some cases, it makes sense to use your own name, in some cases the name of the solution, in some cases the name of the problem.

– you have a massive content library

– you know what your audience wants, so you know how the home page should look like

– you know if you will sell a physical product, or if you will teach or if you will do coaching

If you will sell a physical product, check out Etsy or Shopify. (there is a difference between the two, but that’s a story for later)

If you sell teaching or coaching, have a look at Teachable.

If you don’t plan on selling anything, but you want to level up your blogging game: get a WordPress website (you can even start with free hosting at WordPress.com). This will build your brand and authority in your field, but you still need to have some offers to sustain the project.

BECOMING KNOWN

Continue the conversation with your audience.

You are much better at this now. Collaborations happen more often. You may be invited to podcasts, or live YouTube shows, or even get speaking engagements, if that’s your thing. Always be prepared to say in one line what do you do and who do you help.

YOU NOW HAVE A BUSINESS

At this point, you have some history with your audience:

– you know what works and how well

– you know how many people become customers

– you have a rough idea of a monthly income

You now have a business, and it is at this point when I would suggest you hire a business coach or participate in some business workshops to help you move forward efficiently.

GET READY FOR LEVEL 2!