Managing client expectations is no magic trick

Expectations are a funny thing. Sometimes high. Sometimes low. Managing client expectations is as much an art form as it is a process. If you’re good, they might even think you’re magical — and that could spell trouble.

Managing expectations is something I learnt early on, before I even started Octane. My philosophy is to underestimate and over deliver. Give the client more than they expected. In short, make them happier than they thought they would be.

Why quick is not synonymous with simple

However, doing so quickly with apparent effortless ease can give the impression that what you just did was simple. Remember all those kids from the eighties, solving muddled up Rubik’s cube in seconds? Quick, yes. Simple, no.

Fact is, you might have been quick, but quick doesn’t equal simple. So you don’t want make something look so easy that your clients begin to think everything is easy.

Working all hours to meet a deadline is commendable, but it’s imperative you make it clear this extra effort is not to be a pattern to be repeated henceforth, and that this extra effort commands and extra fee, too. Of course, if it’s your own fault you’re working late, that’s tough. Live with it.

Often, the cause of these extra hours is the result of bad planning, which Leslie Poston summed up perfectly in a recent message on Twitter:

Today’s theme seems to be: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

To which I replied:

“And if you jump through that fiery hoop of unrealistic expectations, you’re then forever beholden to their whip cracking.”

White rabbits, black hats and business sleight of hand

This being Easter, it does seem somewhat appropriate to talk about rabbits. OK, so these are white rabbits in tall black hats and not the Easter bunny, but the thought was there!

I am not a magician, no matter what some of my clients think. What I do as a trade isn’t some dark art or the work of the devil. But I will confess, programming isn’t something anyone can just pick up over night. Similarly, the eye of a designer is more intuitive than it is a learned skill. Put all those things together and you have a web developer and a web designer, not a magician.

By going that extra mile time after time after time, you’re giving the impression that not only is this easy, but you’re prepared to keep doing so. You are forging a rod for your own back. A yolk of totally unrealistic expectations that essentially absolves the client of any culpability in their imprecise planning. Remember what I said about the power of saying no? Well here’s were it really counts.

“And as if by magic…”

I recently had to do a vanishing act of my own and cut a company loose who were making me look bad. They work all hours because they just can’t plan things properly and constantly cave into their clients disorganization. So when I said: “no, there’s just not enough time” or: “no, we need to plan this properly first” I became the villain of this crazy stage show illusion.

The thing is, clients are people and when we succeed where others have failed, or help them in a time of crisis, they place a huge amount of trust in our abilities. High expectations, for sure. And the best trick of all isn’t magic, but managing their expectations.


Is social media management for the major players only?

What holds true in sport often applies to business also; not everyone can be a winner. And for businesses wending their way through the world wide web, engaging with customers is crucial. But how do you manage and measure such things? Say hello to social media management — but only if you’re a premier league player.

Saturday saw England lose to France in the Rugby Six Nations. As is often the case in rugby, when the attacking side gets close to the try line at the base on their opponents half of the field, all fifteen men are often gripped by “white line fever”. The parallels between business and sport are often lazily made, a cliche almost. But there they are none the less.

And so it is with those businesses easing themselves into the realm of social media management — they chase down the business behemoths and ignore the rest. But is that where the money is?

Earlier, I was to be found reading through a list of social media management systems. Yes, content management systems are now passé, apparently. Although I do well enough from them, as a web application aspect of Octane.

But, here I am, making lazy comparisons with sport again. First it was football and professionalism (no longer two words that are happy bed fellows, in light of the recent bed-hopping indiscretions of Messrs. Terry and Cole) and then it was football and questionable antics on LinkedIn, of all things.

So what is a social media management system?

Since SMMS is still relatively new, the standard features are still subject to change. That aside, here are some of the core features you’d expect to see.

Manage your social media profiles — Much like a content management system, a social media management system is about aggregating a particular kind of content. In this case, profiles for social media websites and social networks.

So, after you sign into your new SMMS, you’re presented with the option of granting access to your Pages on Facebook, Twitter accounts and YouTube Channels.

Create and share content — Like any marketing campaign, your efforts need to be coordinated, possibly across a team, across time zones, different languages, in addition to the various social media channels.

Analyze and measure engagement — All of your furious industry counts for nothing if you don’t know what happened to all of that great content you’re creating. So here’s where comments, clicks, votes, sentiment and distributed discussions are pooled and analyzed, helping you put a pounds and pence value on your investment.

All eyes on the prize

The list of social media management systems is concise, but sadly, the emphasis in most cases is on the enterprise prize at the expense of every other business, which prompted me to comment thusly:

There appears to be a mad dash towards the enterprise (a noble venture, assuming they have the time time and money to stick out the sales process through the myriad departments they’ll have to navigate), with hardly a look over the shoulder at the vastly more populous SMEs / SMBs who would be serviced and served just as well.

After all, if it wasn’t the case that small-to-medium sized businesses were being neglected in the social media gold rush, I would never have written my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, which wouldn’t have been downloaded well over a thousand times, and I would never have picked up new clients via social media as a result.

Whatever the reasons, these guys have their sights set on the enterprise. Perhaps it’s at the behest of their investors. Who knows. Either way, there’s a gap in the market, an opportunity for someone to develop a social media management system for the masses of businesses out there not in the Fortune 500 list, who don’t have a fleet of private jets, no international offices, nor a politician sympathetic to your cause.

Look at it this way, just the one client worth £30k a year might look better than ten clients worth just £3k. On the face of things, managing one client would appear to be simpler. But if you had to lose just one client, which would prefer; one worth £30k or one worth £3k?

So as I stand, looking across the field of play, the prize is staying true to the strategy, being mindful of the be-suited potential suitors in the executive box, but keeping in mind the goal of creating a genuine crowd pleasing, seat filling spectacle for years to come.


An exercise in building brand, engaging customers and creating a community

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. We hear these words all of the time, but for many, making use of them is time consuming and often drags you into unfamiliar territory. So how do we make the transition from company to brand and beyond?

When I walk into my gym, scattered on the reception counter is a collection of flyers and printed pamphlets promoting their various events. They’re on cork boards, stuck to walls, they’re announced over the speaker system, displayed on the flat TV screens in the gym, the changing rooms and the bar area — they’re promoting events everywhere throughout the gym.

Brilliant, eh? Well, nearly. To some extent, the strength of the message is being lost on those that are head-down busy like me; you’ve either got time or you haven’t. Promoting internally will have results, but people are increasingly becoming “ad’ blind”, and just don’t even see adverts. What’s needed is an elective process, one that people subscribe to.

Put your business through its paces

Much has been made of Facebook and many people labour under the impression that it’s is just for kids. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Because if it was, Octane wouldn’t be there.

For a business like Octane, community is a more difficult end goal to build because my offering is different. Blah, Blah! Technology has a very healthy Page, currently heading towards 400 fans. People appear to enjoy not only science, technology and social media.

So, my gym. They have a website, which I doubt is doing them an ounce of good. They have all of these great offers, promotions, give-aways, competitions etc, but the uptake isn’t as good as it could be.

Right now, they have all of these members, most of which elected to give up their email addresses when they joined. This being a private gym, membership isn’t exactly cheap — but the service and the facilities are excellent, I hasten to add! I reckon their demographic has a healthy bulge in the 30-35 year old area. I would say it’s not a great leap of speculation to imagine many of that group of people being on Facebook. And we already know they have a disposable income, so that’s a given.

Run a Page on Facebook

So let’s say my gym got themselves a Page on Facebook. What next? People. Specifically their members.

They’d need do a mail merge and ping out emails to all of their members with an announcement for their Page, with a list of features and benefits. The gym looks pro-active and score points for being in the face of their members.

Advice on Facebook — Creating a Landing Page for Twitter, Facebook.

Brand

Next up, they start a structured campaign of posting links to relevant content and internal promotions, such as:

  1. dietary planning;
  2. local sporting events (football, rugby etc);
  3. competitions / give-aways;
  4. up-coming acts at their very own night club and bar;
  5. healthy eating ideas and recipes;
  6. family events and kids sports days…

… offering up some good, sound advice to their members, for almost zero cost — they’ve usually got 3-4 people downstairs handling calls and shuffle paper around, all of whom could easily take on this task.

This is valuable know-how and advice, with experts on hand (those being the gym staff) to field questions, book one-to-one sessions, join classes etc.

In subtle but measurable ways, the perception of the gym shifts from just a company and to a brand — and from a gym to a place to meet people and build on your social life. The members now value what the gym represents and begin to talk.

Advice on branding — 10 personal branding habits of the professionals, Manage personal brand like a porn star.

Engagement

Pages on Facebook include the option to add Discussions, which are forums for people to discuss different topics. From personal experience, these either work or they don’t. But as a gym, they could post on a wide range of topics (protein supplements, types of pre and post work-out stretches, effects of alcohol, etc) and get people talking, asking questions and engaging.

When a curry night or a horse racing day comes up (among many others), they create an event for their Page, which then shows up on peoples front pages. The members then elect to say whether they’re to attend, not to attend, or say they’re not sure.

Over time, the gym can better gauge uptake for an event (what works, what doesn’t, when and why) and get an idea of how many are likely to attend. Plus, since people can share events with friends, they could invite someone as a guest, who might just turn into a member later on.

Conversation

The events go down a storm, as they usually do. The members and staff who were there took loads photos and recorded the odd video of dads dancing on their mobil phone, and later over the course of the following week post said photos and videos to the Page, tagging staff and other members.

People laugh, share comments, “like” photos, reminisce, strike up friendships and start conversations.

Community

Before long, members are organizing nights out, inviting fellow members and friends to fun runs, races, competitions, hiking trips, the list goes on. We’re no longer just members, nor are we just friends — we’re now a community.

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. They’re all right there, for pennies. All without even breaking a sweat. Well almost. Like anything else that’s good in life, it takes time and effort. But if you invest both, then you invest wisely and be a winner.

If you’d like to know more about how social media and internet marketing can help your business, get in touch right now.


ASA serious about social media. Are you?

If ever proof was needed that social media was a legitimate marketing channel, the Advertising Standards Authority just delivered. Their intention is to regulate social media.

This is big news, because not only does this justify the efforts of many businesses like Octane that are banging the big social media drum, but it also helps clarify what is and what is not acceptable, in terms of a marketing messages and adverts. What the ASA is proposing is simply an extension of existing regulations:

“The proposed amendment to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code — expected to be in force by September — will extend the regulatory framework currently in place for paid online ads to all other online marketing communications. As a result, claims from marketers on their own Web sites and third-party sites like social networks will now be subject to ASA scrutiny, as they are in TV, print, and other forms of online advertising.”

However, the introduction of any new legislation brings with it the specter of ambiguity; do we comply? To some, this will be a challenge, while to others, this will be an opportunity. As a business that sells information, a lot of what I and Octane do is educate people as to the possibilities and the potential of their business on the web.

As a pre-qualifier, if I feel that a prospective client has questionable intentions, I make my polite excuses and leave. I have no intention of ruining my hard-earned 10 year old reputation for a project I’m not happy with.

So how do these planned regulatory powers affect businesses using social media marketing?

Dispelling the social media myth — size isn’t everything

The biggest problem I have when explaining social media to someone is the very thing that makes it such a compelling channel to promote a business — it’s size. Because social media marketing is so relatively new — certainly for the vast majority of businesses out there — the prospect of a free way of marketing their business is just too tempting to pass up on.

There’s so many ways to use social media, and so many different ways to enter it, it can be overwhelming. The myth that social media is mostly free doesn’t help, either. Yes, most of the tools and websites out there are free to use and join, but it’s still your time spent learning these things, which is where the cost comes in. And it’s often an unrecoverable loss of time (and ultimately money) if you can’t make good of your efforts.

Avoid anti-social networking

So if you now overlay social media with the extended laws, enactable by the ASA, and then add in the aforementioned ambiguity of compliance amongst those businesses new to social media who have probably never done any advertising or marketing before, there’s a potential for inadvertent illegality.

Because the web is such an open venue, your business has the potential of reaching out to far more people than any regular marketing channel, such as mail shot, or a telesales campaign. Many of these people will not be native to Britain. So that tongue-in-cheek joke on your home page or a recent blog article could be hugely offensive to some.

I don’t want this to sound like a scare story, or to look like a cattle prod to marshal you, the reader, towards Octane. I just hope that, between now and September, the government and the Advertising Standards Authority do a good enough job of educating businesses.

Limiting your liability

There is always risk. That’s life. As a business owner, I create risk every time I engage in a client project. If I can limit the liability of a client in some way, averting an advertising snafu, or a marketing mishap, that’s a job well done.

Caught on camera

So you want an example? Photography. This is one of the most misunderstood areas in design. Photography can be a machine-like process, such a product photography. But it can also be an art form. It is often in the case of the latter that a photograph is used without permission and without a royalty payment to the copyright owner.

It’s a huge problem, but it’s so huge, people often feel it’s not like breaking a real law. And because it’s such a huge problem, it’s only those who make the mistake of infringing copyright in huge way (like in a TV or magazine advert, a poster campaign, or from September, if in a social media marketing campaign) that get caught.

The advise I give to my clients is simple; buy the photograph that you like. Once they do that, we’re all covered.

Demonstrate your difference

James Good, a design and illustrator uses the slogan: demonstrate your difference. It’s as succinct a question anyone could ask of a business. In this sense, it’s perfectly applicable, because it demands that we demonstrate not just how good we are, but how much trust our clients have in our abilities.

By working within the remit of legislation, and making this clear to my clients, I would be demonstrating a level of knowledge that instills a sense of trust — I would be, in effect, protecting my client (and myself) from possible prosecution.

Of course, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where I was asked to do anything that was offensive or misleading. But a knowledge of the law hints at a greater understanding.

So what do we take away from this new regulatory extension? First of all, we work within those regulations. Secondly, we use our knowledge of not just advertising standards but of any other law that our clients would benefit from. And thirdly, we keep on teaching as good as we learn.


Wayne unwillingly goes wireless for the weekend

As I write, my iPhone is perched on the side of my MacBook Pro, wirelessly tethering me to the world wide web. This isn’t through choice, but as a result of British Telecom having land line problems between themselves and my street, and Orange’s 3G coverage being sufficient to keep me going in the meantime.

British Telecom broadband blues

So how does a guy like me get by without broadband access? Because of where I live, I never had great broadband coverage to begin with — the village where I live is very much at the end of the line, so the potency of the connection has, by this point, dropped off dramatically, and one megabyte is all that can be mustered.

I first noticed a problem with connection on Saturday morning, while trying to check my email over cornflakes. I didn’t have much time because I was due out for an early meet-up with the guys from the gym to go shooting at a local gun club, a first for me.

Anyway, I soon realized there was no connection. I called British Telecom and their automated system confirmed there was a fault and sent me a couple of text messages, one giving an estimated time for when the line would be fixed. In the meantime, I had my iPhone.

I’ve since tried finding out why telephony access is down for my entire street on the British Telecom website, but they only provide a bland and vague statement, which asks that I contact (a presumably automated system on) a telephone number for more details, which is sadly ironic, given I was on their business support website at the time.

Things look brighter with Orange

On my return later in the day, the line was still dead, so I decided to contact Orange, the mobile service provider for my iPhone, to see what tethering packages they had. In fairness to them, it wasn’t entirely their fault that I spent the best part of fifteen minutes trying to find the right number, both in the printed documentation I got with the iPhone and on their website. That said, the website should be much clearer in that regard.

Eventually, I got through to a guy called Steve and I paid five pounds for the 500 megabyte tethering add-on for my account, and qualified for a 10% discount for being a long-standing customer (for several years), although there was some initial confusion about this because their system showed that a 10% discount already existed on my account, which apparently shouldn’t have. After a quick squint at my last two bills from Orange, I couldn’t find anything about that.

Moments after the call ended, I got a text message from Orange, telling me to turn my iPhone off and then on again and I would have tethering access.

At the end of my tether?

I suspected there were some issues with tethering an iPhone to my version of OS X (10.4.11 and not the most recent). I was right. I would have preferred to connect my iPhone physically, via the USB cable, but my MacBook Pro wasn’t having any of that.

A very mild case of Bluetooth ache

So I had to use Bluetooth, which didn’t exactly fill me with joy. However, the connection is brisk and reliable, aided by the fact that the 3G coverage by Orange is, over all, very good.

Aside from the USB issue, connecting my MacBook Pro to my iPhone was straightforward. I wouldn’t say it was simple because it’s not a core everyday activity, so it’s a bunch of options inside Settings on the iPhone and several more on the MacBook Pro. So even by Apple’s much vaunted standards in simplicity, I can see people easily coming unstuck here. However, I must allow for mitigating circumstances; those being me not using the most up-to-date version of OS X.

Of course, this being Bluetooth, proximity is everything — the closer the two coupled (or “paired”) devices are, the faster the connection. So my iPhone is delicately balanced on several cables protruding out of the side of my MacBook Pro.

Going 100% wireless, even if just for a short while

Is it possible for a web designer and developer to go 100% wireless? For now, yes. However, this is the weekend and I’ve not needed to shunt large files around. As a designer and a programmer, my needs can vary dramatically. Only this last week or so, I’ve been:

  1. creating videos for an up-coming WordPress ebook, which I’ve uploaded to Octane’s own Channel on YouTube;
  2. working on some designs for a client website, sending emails containing design drafts created in Adobe Photoshop;
  3. making changes to the Octane website, some of which use data from BrightKite, a location-based photo sharing and messaging service;
  4. while yesterday, I was uploading the videos and photos I’d taken at the shooting club onto Facebook, via my iPhone.

While we’re on the subject, join Octane on Facebook and get all of the latest business tips and advice, and become part of a growing community.

So that gives you some idea how diverse my activities can be, all of which are doable on a one megabyte connection, some of which doable on the 3G connection I have right now.

To be perfectly honest, I’d be screwed / lost without my iPhone. I can genuinely run certain aspects of my business while on the move. This really comes into play when I’m mobile and my clients need things then and there.

Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting rid of the business telephone number and just using my mobile number instead, or even using other messaging services. But that’s a long-term plan.

Speaking of the long-term, mobile broadband will become much more commonplace and, to some extent, nudge out the need for a physical connection, allowing people to become even more mobile. However, costs are an issue right now, even in connections speeds aren’t.

For myself right now, any connection will do.