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New Paradigm Tools for Online Businesses

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

A curated list by the Spiritual Software Engineer

Updated: May 2021

Analytics Tools

Goolge Analytics – free, but you pay with your data. I still use this one, just because they are really good and what they do.

Mamoto – is free but you need tech skills to install.

Scheduling Platforms

Full disclosure: I am getting out of Facebook and friends. Moving to Telegram, MeWe, and other alternatives. But if you still plan to use Facebook, read on.

I do social media once a week. My motto is to empower those who visit Inelia’s page. I rarely see anything else on social media. I have saved links to go straight to the pages I want to, so I avoid seeing what “the algorithm thinks I should see”.

For this to work and still be active throughout the week I use scheduling tools.

TweekDeck – by Twiter for Twitter

Facebook Creator Studio – by Facebook for Facebook and Instagram

YouTube uploads have a scheduling feature when posting videos

Buffer – you can use one tool to post everywhere – I have some issues with this platform

Hootsuite –  similar to Buffer above, you can post from one place to multiple platforms. Used to have a clunky interface, I have not looked at it in the past 2-3 years.

TailwindApp – I use this for Instagram. The reason I keep using them is because of their analytics capabilities, but most of all they have a feature to suggest “relevant hashtags” that I find very helpful. This is a paid service.

Newsletter Service

MailChimp – as long as you don’t talk about vaccines you’re fine. Otherwise, you will get kicked out. Make sure you export your list once a week so you don’t lose your subscribers. This is a really powerful tool, but they did not choose our paradigm.

SendInBlue – has a nice free plan that can get you started. The interface is a bit slow, but I use it for personal projects where I am not sure if I will make money.

AWeber.com – next best from AWeber. It does the job, but not as easy to integrate with a website like MailChimp is.

There are other alternatives here, but in my mind, they are for medium to large businesses, not really for startups.

Backup Services

I use my own tools here. But here are some guiding principles.

You need to backup:

  • your content – keep copies of what you write/create/record on your computer as well – not just online
  • your email subscribers – export your list once a week and keep a backup on your computer
  • your website – do a full backup 2 – 3 times per year. If you have your content backed up and your list then you can rebuild the site even if you lose it completely. For more active businesses you need to backup more often.

The location of your backup is important. If you backup your site and store the backup on the site server, that will also be lost if your site is hacked or the server crashes. Backups should not be kept next to the original data. Ideally, you store the backup data, encrypted in a cloud storage service. See next.

Cloud services for backup

Cloud services allow you to share files across devices and, important for me, allow me to work on my stuff on any computer that has an internet connection. It is like a portable “hard drive”.

Google Drive – It’s Google, so privacy is an issue

Dropbox – This is the one I use with a good experience so far.

OneDrive – Microsft – well, it’s Microsoft.

NextCloud – I hear good things about it, related to privacy, but I have never used it

FTP Uploaders

This is relevant mostly for WordPress. All other website builders generally feature a drag and drop upload feature.

FileZilla is your friend here. I have been using it on Windows for more than 15 years, and I see they have a Mac version as well

Hosting companies

This is relevant only if you want to have a WordPress site that you would like to host on your server. If not, skip ahead.

SiteGround (affiliate link) – this is the one I use and recommend to everyone. They are not the cheapest, but they have good support and that is a must even for someone technical like me. Also, their email function is working properly. (UPDATE in May 2021: I have had some trouble with their support lately, but their performance and speed are still the best I could find, so I am still using them.)

Stay AWAY from these guys. Despite being voted “The BEST of 2020” by CNET.com, they offer really bad service and support.

  • HostGator – used to be a big fan of them, but they lost their ways
  • BlueHost – really bad
  • GoDaddy – really bad
  • Site5 – we used to be really good, but no longer an option
  • Dreamhost – bad

All these options are very cheap, but that means they had to cut corners. You will pay more in time lost and having to hire a dev since their support is non-responsive (or incompetent).

If you want to build a business and not a hobby, do not buy a “shared hosting plan”. You will share the server with other people you have no control over and that will affect your reputation and the performance of your site. So make sure when you budget your business that you include the costs for good hosting.

Site builders

WordPress.com – you can create a website for free, but with some limitations and not able to use your own domain. See this as an example of this working:

https://laurabruno.wordpress.com/  (UPDATE May 2021: I no longer recommend WordPress for people starting out, because it is too technical, too easy to mess up, too hard to get the site to be fast)

WIX – they say you can create a free site (but I did not find the option yet). This used to be bad, but right now it looks really, really good. They have evolved! – See this example. (I think that on the free plan you need to keep the Wix brand at the top). If top performance is important for your business, then look at Squarespace instead.

SquareSpace – more professional than WIX in my estimation. I know good examples of businesses built on Squarespace. Better overall performance. Integrates with Shopify for an online store.

Kajabi – a great “all in one platform” if you’re selling your knowledge: courses, videos, tutorials. The great thing about it is you just pay them and they handle email, hosting, security, subscriptions, payments. I am a student in Kajabi powered sites and I like the experience. I have not used it myself to build a business and if I were to choose it I would inquire about the possibility to export my data and move elsewhere if I want to. In other words, I need to make sure I own the business I build and I can use the email list I build without restrictions.

Landing pages – These can be a powerful idea when you’re just starting and you need to keep an eye on your budget. Ideal for simple tests, for building an email list, for getting feedback on a service you want to launch. Instead of building a full website, instead, you have just a page that is hyper-focused on one goal. This hyper-focus is a good thing. Look for tools that offer analytics so you know how well your page is doing and that they work on mobile. Both AWeber and MailChimp allow you to build simple landing pages with their paid subscriptions. For more options look into dedicated services.

Teachable, Shopify and Etsy – if you know you are going to teach something, or sell a product. These are built to help you get your business going and take away the problems with setting up payments and configuring a store and so on. If you are really serious about starting a business these are the ones I would recommend.

A note about Etsy:
Unlike Teachable and Shopify where you can build a business, Etsy is a good place to start, but it is not enough just by itself. Mainly because on Etsy you are building their brand and not yours, and you are also in instant competition with the entire Etsy audience. That is both good (there is an audience!) and bad (as it may be hard to get known).

WordPress Themes

I think it helps to learn how to think about choosing a theme before I actually tell you which theme to choose 😁.

Since this tools set is focused on building a business, this means your theme needs to support a store, in this case: WooCommerce. It also needs to be mobile-friendly (it is called: “responsive”). It needs to play well with social media. And it needs to be fast/high performance.

Some readers will notice that I did not say it needs to be “pretty”, and that is on purpose, as we are focusing on the customers and making their experience a good one while using the website.

I almost never choose a theme based on the colors or the images or the layout with one very, very rare exception: the theme matches the criteria above and it’s a perfect fit for what I have in mind!

I much rather prefer a theme that is easy to customize than one that is “ready-made” but almost impossible to change after you install it. This is because as you grow and you get to know your audience better, you want to be able to make incremental changes to how your website looks, or even a complete redesign, without having to purchase another theme.

My Recommendation

UPDATED May 2021: Because of big performance issues with Divi I no longer recommend them. What I now use is the pro theme from GeneratePress. They are blazing fast and play nice with other performance-related plugins.

I am no longer recommending anything else. Why? Because as of May 2021, Google uses our site speed as a factor in their ranking algorithm as well as how nice the pages load and function on mobile devices. So it does not matter how pretty and well designed your site is, if it’s not fast and it’s not mobile-friendly it will not matter.

Unless you can afford to hire a good performance-oriented developer, just get GeneratePress.

WordPress plugins

There are a few WordPress plugins that I install all the time on any new WordPress project:

  • WP Forms for contact forms and other intake forms. (If you care about performance stay away from Contact Form 7)
  • WPS Hide Login – helps with site security by hiding the default login page
  • All In One WP Security – for securing your WordPress install against hacking. Please note that on projects where I need top performance I am no longer using this plugin.
  • Yoast SEO – the free edition – gets your website ready to be indexed by Google in a fairly easy way. When you generate money with the website it is worth geting their PRO version.
  • WP Mail SMTP – a wpforms product – I will install this if the website cannot send email. It allows you to configure in a much more flexible and advanced way how email is sent and also to do tests. (Do not use Easy STMP as it has security problems)
  • WooCommerce – if you plan to make this a business this will be the plugin to use to sell things. This is a powerful tool, but rather hard to configure, and the free version, while it works, it lacks many of the things that make an excellent store. If you lack the tech skills you will be much better off building your store on Shopify.
  • EasyDigitalDownloads – this is an alternative to WooCommerce if you are sure you will sell only digital products. Since there is no shipping required, a plugin optimized for digital delivery can do a much better job than a plugin that needs to be more general.

LIVE Streaming: Events, Webinars, Workshops

Workshop – means you need live interactions from your participants.

Webinar – means you are talking to people, but they cannot talk back, at most they ask questions via text chat

Events – You LIVE stream something that you do – like a webinar, but maybe you don’t stay in front of the computer if you’re streaming a Yoga glass (for example).

Zoom – workshops, webinars, events.

  • PRO: easy to use, most everyone knows how to use it by now, good quality for the streaming
  • CONS: you need to pay for meetings longer than one hour, and if privacy is a concern, they don’t do very well, even if they claim “end-to-end” encryption

Google Meet – workshops, webinars, events

  • PRO: easy to use, good quality, integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar, and it’s free
  • CONS: it’s Google, you need a google account with them, so you get all the related privacy issues.

Facebook Live, YouTube Live, InstaTV – webinars

  • PRO: free (just as Google is free), easy to set up, it’s “trendy”, people in your audience will get notified about you without having to do anything special
  • CONS: comments are very hard to manage, especially in a solo operation, does not look very “professional”

Team Communication

Slack – instead of communicating via email, it is more effective to use a tool like Slack. This way you can organize the communication in channels of interest, and get notified about only the important stuff, and also be able to search your older messages. You need to have been part of a team with more than 3 people to understand the power of this tool. It’s free with some limitations, after a while you can no longer search older messages unless you pay. The paid version is not cheap.

Discord – is like Slack, but it was designed for gamers. The big advantage is that it is free (last time I checked). The biggest drawbacks are the name itself and being game-oriented, which can be a put-off when you want to do “work”.

Circle.so – a new kid on the block, shows promise and it is more intuitive to use than Slack or Discord.

Telegram Groups – it’s like Whatsapp but NOT from Facebook, so for now it has better privacy. It will work for small teams and small projects, but if your team grows you will need to move to Slack or Discord.

Screen Capture

ManyCam – the paid version – is what I use to record my screen, to create “picture-in-picture” images, to color correct my image, to LIVE stream to YouTube and Facebook at the same time. This is a very powerful and versatile app and if your business requires teaching through video, or doing live casts it is worth the time and money invested in learning this tool.

There are free alternatives, but I find that a paid software not only saves you time but also makes you look more professional.

Video Editing Tools

Video Editing is a complex process, but I will focus here on cutting, trimming, adding intro and outro, and logo overlays.

DaVinci Resolve – is the tool I use most often. The free version is powerful enough for what I need it to do. The UI is pretty complex, and I suggest watching a YouTube tutorial before trying to work with it so you don’t feel lost. The good news is that once you learn the process for your workflow, it’s pretty easy and fast.

HitFilm Express – is the tool that I used before Resolve (above). It is somewhat simpler to use, but it lacks some more advanced features that I needed. This also has a complex user interface, but there are tutorials about it.

Note about video: video is a complex system to present media. It has the visual component, but also the audio track and it can have subtitles. Videos can have hundreds of formats, each with its own settings and parameters and that can be utterly confusing. If you plan to work with video it is worth the time and the money to have someone teach you a process for what you need, or else you might get lost in the hundreds of options available. Resist the urge to become a video editor, unless that is actually your business. Hire help or buy focused tools. You will make your money back.

YouTube had some video editing capabilities that most people will find good enough when they start.

Image editors for Social Media

I use Photoshop for my Social Media posts, but it’s unrealistic to expect someone to learn this tool unless they are passionate about it. Seriously, unless you’re into photography, learning Photoshop can be a massive waste of time better spent focusing on your business.

Therefore the tool I recommend now is Canva. They make it super easy to create images for social media, providing templates and the correct sizes that you should be working on. And the fact that you can collaborate on your designs is a big plus!

PRO Tip: If you like someone’s presence on Social Media reach out and ask them what tool/process they use. You will find some gems.

Free High-Quality Images

Unsplash – This is the place I use most often.

Pixabay – This is the place I go to when I can’t find what I need on Unsplash. Be careful with Pixabay, I have had complaints with images from them that were not actually free to use.

Your own photography – if you’re so inclined and have a good enough phone, your own images can go a long way, since they will be unique and feel more authentic. However, taking good pictures is a skill in itself so balance this with your need to look professional.

Once you have a business that is working and the branding becomes important, you will want to invest in paid images, since almost everyone is using Unsplash these days. Look at places like Shutterstock, Dreamstime, iStock.

Hire Help

Fiverr – many vendors, you need to shop around to find someone who is a good fit. A lot of them are really bad. My own experience with Fiverr is: don’t go for the cheapest option, and be ready to hire 2-3 people for the same job, and chose the one that is the best.

UpWork – unlike Fiverr where you search for a vendor, on UpWork you post a job and allow vendors to find and bid for your project. Because the payment method was blocked in Romania I could not use them, but from other sources, I hear the quality of work is better than Fiverr.

99Designs  – this is targeted specifically towards design: be it logos, websites, or brochures.

Hire a consultant for a strategy session. It is worth spending an hour with someone competent to draw a map for you to follow. You will save both time and money.

Image Resizer

Using images that are way too big for your website can slow down the loading time, especially on mobile. While performance optimization is a long and complex discussion, you can get to some low-hanging fruit, by properly resizing your images.

The tool I suggest is here is “Image Resizer” because it’s super easy and a 1, 2, 3 step process. I don’t personally use this tool very often because I have similar options in Photoshop, but the advantage of this tool is that is available everywhere and it works and you don’t need to learn anything.

OptIn Popups

I don’t like OptIn popups but the data suggest that they work in getting people to subscribe to your newsletter.

The providers I have used are:

Mailmunch – they have a free plan (branded), and they integrate easily with WordPress. I just noticed that in their paid plans you have landing pages and email marketing. That could save you some money when you first start testing things online.

OptInMonster – they don’t have a free plan, but they come highly recommended as a mature product. Unless there is a clear indication that this is a better fit for you than MailMunch, I would not use this one.

Podcasting Platforms

There is some tech required to record and edit the audio file for your podcast and that is not what I am addressing here.

I am talking here about the place that will store your audio files, and podcast information and will allow you to link it to podcast syndication platforms like iTunes or Google Podcasts.

Transistor.fm – is the tool that I recommend. It is not free, but it’s well worth the money. I have tried to “do my own thing” and host the podcast files myself, but it takes so much time to do it right, that it’s best to pay someone to do it for you in a professional way.

Payment Processors

PayPal – everyone knows about PayPal. Some customers don’t trust PayPal and in the past, there were issues with accessing your funds. To be fair I’ve seen no problems in the past 2 years with access to funds.

Stripe – is the main PayPal competitor and worth checking out. As far as I know, they allow for a smoother and more customized checkout experience which will influence your cart abandonment rates.

SquareUp – I have not used this one but it comes highly recommended.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Is this tool available in your country?
  • How do they help you with your tax documents?
  • How fast can you access your money?
  • How do they process refunds (is there a fee)?
  • Do they have an easy checkout experience?
  • Do they accept credit cards?

Let me know if you have questions about any of these or you’d like more specific details.

Udemy for instructors is fantastic, but not for making money

If you spend any time online looking at Udemy reviews, it becomes obvious that many instructors bash the platform for its practices:

  1. they take 50% of your sales revenue
  2. or 75% if they used a promotion to generate the sale
  3. you compete with all the other instructions on the site, and there is no way for you to stand out
  4.  you don’t control your course’s sale price – and most sales happen at around $10, out of which you get $5 – even if your listing price is the maximum allowed of $199.

If you are an instructor, then all the above are terrible news for you! 

So why do I think Udemy is fantastic?

Let’s start with who is Udemy for

Udemy is for students looking for quality courses at affordable prices. That means that Udemy is focused on the students, and not you, the instructor. They don’t care how much money you make; they care about how many students they serve as their customers.

And if you want to build your business around selling your knowledge, you too need to start caring about the students and putting them first. 

When you shift your viewpoint like that, you begin to see how Udemy is fantastic for you to grow as an instructor, especially if you are just starting out

Udemy offers you free training on how to create a course. 

They have data from 35m students using their platform: they know what works and what doesn’t. Don’t ignore this. 

They offer articles on how to choose a microphone and camera to record your material. 

They offer a free expert review of sample material when you signup as an instructor. You may think your video and audio is excellent, but having an expert giving you direct feedback is a massive learning opportunity. 

Your course needs to be reviewed to assure some quality standards before being approved on the platform. I read many people take issue with this, and they are frustrated, but I believe they are missing the point. This review is again a free expert critique that you would do well to listen to. 

They offer your marketing insights like what students are searching for, what the competition looks like around a specific topic and some estimated sales numbers. 

How to make Udemy work for you?

The short answer is to embrace for what it is, and not fight against it. The really bad way to use Udemy is to have “a great idea for a course,” do some quick recordings with your phone, upload it to the site and wait for the money to flow. Frustration and disappointment are at the end of that road. 

Do not even think of what you could teach before you do your marketing research. And here, Udemy can help a lot. 

If there is zero interest in your topic, it does not matter how high quality your course is, what a charismatic instructor you are; you will have just wasted your time. 

Use the marketing data on Udemy (that you get for free), and learn about your potential students first! (Remember when I said above that you need to focus on the students?). Once you have found some interests that you can teach about that also have students waiting, you can begin planning your course. 

Next, do not record your entire course and send it to Udemy for review. What if you made a mistake that will prevent you from going through the approval process? You again just wasted your time, and you will have to re-record everything. Instead, do a sample, ask for feedback from experts and listen to what they have to say. Look at the preview of popular courses from your competitors and understand what they are doing right. You don’t have to copy them exactly, but there is a lot to learn from someone who is obviously way ahead of you. 

The following step is to publish the course, set the maximum price for it, but allow Udemy to discount it. This strategy will likely drop the price to $10. Don’t despair. You are here for the learning experience, not for the money. Once you get some sales, ask for feedback from your students to improve your course. Learn from them and improve. I would also ask them for their email and permission to add them to my newsletter :). 

Here is a summary of what happened so far:

  1.  you have some research around students that may want to learn something from you 
  2.  you have much more confidence in your ability to create video content – because your creations have been reviewed and approved by the experts at Udemy
  3.  you have a rough idea of how your course competes against others in the same topic – if it generates no sales, then maybe you need to create something else
  4.  if you do generate sales – you have some students you can communicate with and get feedback from on Udemy – they can become your future audience for various products

Try to do this on your own, and see how far or fast you will go. 

In conclusion

If you are new, if you don’t have your own audience, if you need to train your video creation skills, if you don’t have a budget to spend on setting up a website, and you need to find a niche of students that you can teach, you can do all of that on Udemy for free. 

Once you get that training, have a product that works, an audience larger than zero, and you know how to do marketing, it may be time to create your website on Teachable. 

“I need help! I have a problem!” Syndrome

“I need help! I have a problem!”: I see a lot of emails with those titles almost every day. And in some cases, these emails are sent to public figures who may have large audiences. 

What goes through my head is this: 

“Does this person seriously think that their email will be picked out of the thousands and get a reply?”

And the answer is that probably yes, or they would not have sent the message in the first place.

For me, that is selfish thinking and selfish expectations. Especially for someone who has a broader audience, the email situation is asymmetric. There is way more incoming email than one person could possibly read, let alone send a response. 

And this also applies to social media communications.

I am writing this post here because I have seen a similar trend in the business world where people send messages asking for a job or offering their services to anyone who has a contact form on their website. 

These messages boil down to: “Hey, I am intrigued by what you do, can you hire me?” or “Hey, some nice content here, do you need SEO on the website?”

How would you feel if a stranger came up to you on the street and said that to you? Would they seem trustworthy? Would you think that they genuinely have your best interest at heart? Would you be eager to work with them? 

I understand that sometimes crises happen. I know there are situations where you desperately need to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But the problem is that everyone else also has their own issues to think about; they have their own story running in their head. The fact that you have a big problem, does not give you permission to but in and ask to be hired or offer a service that is not needed. It just creates friction and noise and lowers your chance to be seen as trustworthy

This shotgun approach has a math justification. It is free to interrupt many people in the information age and demand that they focus on my problem. So, the logic says, I just have to interrupt a lot of them, and eventually, I will get a hit! 

If you are doing this, how is it working for you? I bet that it’s not working very well.

The Alternative is to be generous and respectful.

Imagine that you are indeed about to approach a stranger in real life, not online, and you will see how face-to-face interaction changes the dynamic. 

None of the short meaningless pick-up lines would work. You would need to show genuine empathy and generosity. 

Being generous does not have to be about money. You can be generous with your time, attention, and emotional labor. Before you contact a potential lead, do read their about page, their social media activity. Get out of your head and your problems, and do your best to comprehend their story and problems. Once you feel you have seen the world through their eyes, only then you can go to them and say:

“Hey, I’ve been following your activity for a while, and I know a big launch is coming. Do you need any help with that? I am especially effective at creating and distributing flyers!”

If you were honest with your investigation and were paying attention, your lead was thinking or worrying about this issue. By mentioning it directly and specifically, you show that you care and that you’ve spent the time and the effort of getting familiar with their business and their problem. 

Do you see how this would set you miles apart from some just bombing with generic “I don’t care about you, please hire me” messages? 

The key to solving your problems is to help other people solve their problems first. 

Keep that in mind, when you send your next email or post your next message on LinkedIn. Are you selfish? Or generous? 

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? 

What does the client want?

Some time ago…

Some time ago, the conversation with a potential client would be something along the lines of:

“How can I help you?”

“I want a website to sell my products.”

“OK, great, this is a price and you’ll have in a month.”

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the reaction would be: “Well, this is not even close to what I had in mind…”

I had to change the game and ask more questions 🙂

“What colors do you like?”

“Red and blue.”

“Great, and font wise?”

“I want something elegant, precise!” 

“For images?”

“Oh, something joyful and warm…”

“Excellent! This is the price; you will have the site in a month”.

A month later…

I’d show her the site, and the feedback is: “This red is not red enough, and now I realize the red and blue are a bad combination! Can we try yellow instead of blue? And the font is too girly for what I have a mind. We are going to need new images as well. The top one is ugly, and the rest don’t match the brant at all.”

Oh, the frustration.

At some point, I’ve spent two weeks back and forth, trying to nail down the shade of blue. That was a waste of my time and the client’s time!

I had come to believe that the clients don’t know how to communicate (I had a much shorter description for this). I had resolved that I would never even discuss with someone who could not write a technical specification that we can agree on, and that I could deliver. 

This decision blocked many customers, but more importantly, blocked important learning. 

The Breakthrough 

I was watching a video from Chris Do. He’s a designer who also teaches business, and I admire his style. To me, it feels like he is talking to me specifically. The kind of decisions you need to make in design apply in software and for anyone who uses creativity to solve a problem. But I digress. 

Back to the video. 

He was taking questions from the audience, and someone asked: “How do you deal with clients who don’t know how to communicate what they want?” Ah! The golden questions! I had the same struggle. I perked up, waiting for the knowledge to be bestowed on me. 

Chris looked into the camera, and you could tell that the question was really testing his patience. Hm… And he said: “How many times do I have to tell you that the good-communication is on you! It is your responsibility to help your client articulate her problem and then discover if you can help her.”

All the pieces began to fall into place in my mind. I suddenly understood that in blaming the client, I was not only asking the wrong questions, but I was not developing a critical communication skill. 

In the present time…

When a client wants to work with me, they better be ready for a ton of questions :). As someone jokingly said, they need to feel like they’ve been to the shrink after the first discovery session. 

Here is how the conversation might look like:

“I want a site that can help me sell my products.”

“Sure, that is something that I specialize in, but out of curiosity, what problem are you trying to solve?”

“Well, I need to increase my revenue, obviously”

“OK, that makes sense. How do you know that having a website is the best way to solve this problem?”

“I don’t know… everybody does it… what other options are there?”

“I am glad you ask. Before I can answer that, I’d need to know more about your business. It’s OK if I ask you a few questions?”

“OK…”

“At the moment, how do you generate your revenue…”

And this would go on for a while. 

In the end, what I need to know is:

– what is the biggest problem that this customer is facing 

– how can I help them discover this problem if they don’t know it

– how can I help them articulate their underlying needs 

– in the end, are we a good fit? Can I help her with what she really needs? Can she afford me? Do we like each other well enough to work together for a few weeks or months? 

And by the end, the client would also need to know

– how do I work

– can she trust me

– what is my price range

– what kind of a solution can she expect

– is hiring me the right choice for her

In Conclusion

Make sure you correctly diagnose the problem before you prescribe a solution. If the solution you’re thinking of is not the right one, you need to find out as soon as possible, not at the end of the process.

If you found value in this article, let me know in the comments below or on Facebook. This feedback will help me understand what to focus on in the following posts. 

Go create the New Paradigm today!

Automation with Zapier

What do you value most? I hope that your answer is: “TIME.” 

Time is our most valuable resource because it is non-renewable. Wasted time is lost forever. And it could be argued that the reason we work so hard is to have enough resources. Resources that will allow us to spend more time doing the activities that we enjoy: activities like following your dreams, working on your business, spending more time with friends and family. 

I don’t know of any better time-saver in the online environment than automation.

Automation means to identify and formalize processes for the flows that make your business work and then use various tools to set them on “automatic.” This way, they can work even when you are not paying attention. It is like having an employee that is almost free and never sleeps or rests. 

In today’s world, the leading tool for automation online is Zapier

The idea behind Zapier is quite simple and yet profound because of the market they are speaking to. 

What happens is that in the online world of business, you have your website, your store, your payment gateway, customer engagement, webinar, emails, and so on. All these components need to talk to each other. What used to happen before, is that you, as the business owner would have to create and manually maintain this communication, usually based on email notifications you would get from various systems. 

The alternative was to hire someone to do it for you or hire a developer to write a custom program that would automate these processes. Both options could get pretty expensive.

There has been a shift in the past few years. Each of these services exposes an API. This API allows them to talk to each other in a clear and standardized way. With this option available, you would need somebody to integrate these APIs. To connect them in ways that make sense for your business. 

Here in comes Zapier! The beauty of it is that they have put together a platform that allows non-developers to visually express their processes and to connect all these components in a way that makes sense. This flow is testable (which is very important, you want to make sure that your automation works as intended), and you have analytics and an overview of what is happening.

There is a free tier for Zapier, but I want to get into the paid one because I think that is where the power is. You may shy away from paying them the monthly fee. So let’s explore that a bit. 

The way to think about choosing a paid plan is to make a business decision. Would paying Zapier a monthly free enough time and generate enough sales to cover for the costs and then some?

If you get their $20/mo plan, you need to only generate an extra $20/mo in sales for this option to make sense to you. But not only that. Also, consider the free time you now have to do something else, and how much you value that. Consider the money you would spend on a developer to set this up for you and then have it maintained. (By the way, I am not an affiliate for Zapier, I am just using them as an example to talk about automation)

In conclusion, we live in exciting times, where with a bit of patience and thinking through your processes, you can build your website and connect the required components with no need for a developer if you use a tool like Zapier. And this excites me because it enables even more people to express their creativity cost-effectively!

If you are reading this and you are a developer, then seriously consider exposing and API for your services and products and have them seamlessly integrate with Zapier. 

The Importance of the Value Conversation

All too often, when a person contacts you for a job, you’re eager to say yes and get started! 

I now know that this is backward. 

Instead of being eager to get started, the first step should be to determine if you and the potential new client are a good fit. 

They have money to spend, and you need the work, so you are a perfect match, right? Well, not so fast! 

Here is what is going to happen if you and your client are not a good fit:

– communication will not be clear

– because of communication issues, the scope of the project will not be clear

– because the scope will not be clear what you will deliver will be all over the place

– customer will not be happy, will ask for endless changes

– you realize that what you get paid does not even cover the costs to have this project delivered

– you will be resentful and being to doubt your career choice

Sounds familiar?

At the beginning of a transaction, the only power you have is to say “NO,” so don’t give that up with a quick “YES.” 

Instead, try to dissuade this person from working with you. This way, you get out all of the objections from the start. 

Why did they call you specifically? Why didn’t they go to our competitors? Do they realize that you are likely the most expensive option they have? 

These questions will uncover some fascinating information that you wish you knew before you started the project. 

If they are still talking to you, they clearly value your expertise over your competitors, and they understand that you will not do cheap work. If they are not talking to you anymore, realize you were not a good fit, and you were able to determine this in minutes instead of months.

Now it is time to determine what kind of value you can create for your customer. 

The vital thing to notice here that I said “determine value,” and not “solution.” We are not thinking of solutions yet. And for me, this was a big aha moment. 

Unless you know what is valuable for your potential client, you will end up creating stuff that is mediocre in their eyes, or “OK” at best.

Another distinction to be made here is to understand that sometimes you will be talking with someone who will spend not their money, but their bosses money. And in that case, the question if their mind is: “will my boss approve of this and like me more or not?

Ask a lot of questions, take notes, and reflect back to them what you understood they value about what they want to achieve. 

Example: creating a website is not a “value goal.” Asking more profound questions, you may learn they have a product they want to promote and eventually sell. And today, there are ways to get into that without having to have a website. The solution you will end up offering will be very different than what they asked before. And you only know this because you asked about value first and only then you thought of solutions. 

But there is another less obvious benefit for having the value conversation. You will take notes, and you will agree to deliver on the value points discussed. So when you ship your project, they will be delighted with the result, or you will have to show them how the solution meets all the agreed-upon value points. And even if they “don’t like it” for whatever reason, if it delivers the value you agreed on, then you kept your promise, and now it’s time for them to keep theirs.

And a trustworthy business or one that delights gets referrals. Everybody wins! 

Credit where credit is due: These ideas are a shameless steal from Blair Enns – Win With Pitching. I sincerely believe that the more businesses adopt the value discussion midset, we will all be better off. We will charge more for our services, but the client will be happy to pay because they get the value they were looking for, and now that is crystal clear to them. 

I am ending with a quote from Seth Godin: 

“Yes, you will pay more, but you’ll get more than you paid for.”

The Importance of Architecture and following best practices

As a young programmer, I was eager to dive in and get my fingers dirty as quickly as possible—no need for a plan or a direction. I knew I could figure it out as I went.

Fast forward some years, add higher project complexity over a more extended period, and the lesson became clear: sometimes if you want to run for long, you need to run slower and have a plan!

Figuring it out as I went worked fine for one-day projects or one-week prototypes. But when bigger projects came my way, I got to a point where I could not remember anymore what my initial think was, where was I headed and why, and how to present my idea to new members on the team.

Although nobody likes to write documentation, I began to make a habit out of it, and I knew it would come a day when I will thank myself! By now that day has happened many times 🙂

What would I tell my younger self?

Writing docs and making plans is not sexy, and in general, your clients do not care for them. They need working software, not documentation. But if the project is longer than six months, a few problems will begin to crop up:

– you forget why you took the decisions you made with the initial design

– if you will need to refactor your code, and if it is not well documented (and if it lacks automated testing) the job of refactoring will take a long time, and you run a high risk of breaking functionality

– by using best practices, you future proof your code – you make sure that you at least don’t make the same mistakes that others made before you. You will make new ones, for sure, but your overall code will be much more stable, easier to maintain, and upgrade.

In conclusion, there is a time to be quick and messy (when you are prototyping), but then you need to slow down and think things through.

SSO – Single Sign-On – One Ring to Rule them all!

I am sure you have noticed most of the software services today that require you have an account allow you to “Login with Google” or “Login with Facebook.”

That is very convenient for your potential users and customers as Facebook and Google are so ubiquitous. 

The process above is a form of Single Sign-On. The user logs in only once into Google and then uses that login to authenticate themselves into various other software services that accept Google as an “identity provider.” 

The term “identity provider” is what Google and Facebook do when they allow you to use their services to authenticate your users. 

I was reluctant to use an external identity provider before, because I had assumed that it would mean that you do not “own” your user base, but instead Google does, and they could cut access on a whim. But that is not the case. If you request and are granted access to the user email, you can still get in touch with them, even if Google or Facebook will refuse to do business with you anymore, for whatever reason. 

So it makes sense to add such a feature to your service because it will make it much easier to adopt. 

For larger companies that manage multiple applications and services, it is possible, and it makes sense to implement their own Identity Providers to create the Single Sign-On capability.

Potential Pitfalls

A big challenge that I found with using Identity Providers is “session management,” which means keeping track of the “logged in user.” For example, if the user logs out of Google and logs in with a different account, your application needs to be able to spot this and create a new session for the new account. Otherwise, you risk exposing private data to the wrong person.

The Technical Side

Implementing Identity Providers and consumers it is relatively easy now because they are standard, so you can find ready-made libraries that will make the connection a breeze. 

The libraries I have worked with that I can recommend are:

For Php Composer:

– The PHPLeague / OAuth2-Server 

– The PHPLeague / OAuth2-Client 

WordPress Client Plugin:

– OpenID Connect Generic Client (this required some modification as it was not implementing all the requirements out of the box.)