Don’t make ’em think?

Sometimes, thinking can be a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like thinking, but there’s the right kind and the wrong kind when it comes to business — and especially web design.

Yesterday, I went to the cinema with my girlfriend. Afterwards, just before the drive home, I needed the little boys room. As we both went down the corridor to our respective rooms, I stopped next to the sign marked with a little blue guy. I paused, looked at the sign on the wall, but couldn’t figure out which door the sign related two, since there were two.

Why not just put the sign on the door like everyone else? For a split second, I felt indecisive, which really is not Wayne Smallman at all! Trust me on that one.

When websites work well

And then I was reminded of a book I bought a while back called “Don’t Make Me Think!” by Steve Krug, which is a common-sense approach to web usability. And a lot of the advice really is just that — common sense.

The overarching theme is to not make people think when they’re using your website. It’s a wise policy, too. There are a number of constants to designing a website which, as a web designer, it’s as well to stick to.

Examples abound, such as the use of images within a web page. More often than not, the default action of the visitor is to click on the image. Not meeting people’s expectations can leave them feeling frustrated and confused. It’s at that moment that their thoughts turn to your competitors website.

I’m also reminded of a quote from the excellent action crime thriller Ronin. In this particular scene, Sam (played by Robert De Niro) says something like: “If there’s any doubt, there is no doubt.” And he’s absolutely right.

Once there are doubts, those doubts dissolve what initial trust there might have been between your visitor and your website. After all, building trust is amazing hard with a website, especially for small businesses with a small brand.

Being taught the wrong kind of lessons in business

As is often the case, clients rarely have a full appreciation of the amount of time involved in what you do. When these expectations get too high, I invite a client to the office for the day to go through a set of changes and / or amends. At the end of the day, they’re usually a little tired and a good deal more educated about what I have to do when they want that blue widget to be red.

Similarly, I get to see more of their decision making process, which gives me the mental tools I need to ask the right questions and when to ask them.

All good, yes? Not always.

The great thing about clients is they often have a very clear idea of what they want. They don’t know what’s involved in making their ideas happen, nor do they care, unless it’s likely to cost a lot of money!

But if they’ve asked for similar in the past, and sat through an entire day with you while you do the work, this knowledge of how I do things can sometimes stymie the naked ideas behind their less naked ambitions.

And the moral of this story? Think before you make others think, or you might just be the last thing on their mind…

Great ideas in search of good money

Four years of Research & Development really ought not to be for nothing. Frustrating as it may seem, that has been a distinct possibility for some years, now. Why? Because I don’t know the right people. Question is, are you the right person for me to share my ideas with?

Great ideas are worth far more than good money — and I have more that just great ideas. I have a product that is almost complete.

As a creative type, when it comes to formal project management and time tracking, things tend to be less than optimal. So I decided to write my own software to keep track of the time I spend on the projects of the clients of web design and internet consultancy, Octane, which is my own company.

But all that effort & toil just got me thinking.

“What if?”

For anyone who’s read read my Blah, Blah! Technology blog, that’s a question you’ll see me ask a lot!

Well, I did ask “What if?” and several hundred hours later, I’d written an all-grow’d-up version of my time tracking tool — and then some.

You see, it wasn’t enough for me to write an application that teams of people spread all over the world, connected via the web, could use to track time spent on jobs. No, what if I developed a platform onto which all kinds of applications could work and flourish?

Well, I did that too.

Sadly, I am an embarrassment to my dad. Why? I’m extremely bad at maths. And because of this, I wasn’t able to complete two key functions of my time tracking application, which are invoicing and reporting.

What do I need to finish it? Between £15-£20k to pay for developers to do the work I can’t.

What else do I need? People with vision, patience and the skills to push the software ideas I have, of which there are many.

So what are these other ideas? I’ve developed a platform for web applications that in some respects goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft. Did you really think I’d just stop with the one application?!

Consider a range of web applications, all working together seamlessly in a way you’ve never seen done before — not even with desktop applications.

Imagine an ecosystem where software developers can write their own web applications for Workspace, my software platform.

Think of the licensing deals and software subscriptions that come with creating a venue for software sales, promotion and production.

Yes, these are hard times, but we’re talking about software that will save people money over time.

Join the dots, guys…

Know your business through “Organic Knowledge”

So you think you know all about yourself and your business, right? Wrong! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve helped a business owner rediscover what I call their “Organic Knowledge”.

As the years roll by, your business matures and your successes are as a direct result of your experiences, be they good or bad. Thing is, as much as you rely on this know-how and experience, chances are, if I asked you to name all the reasons I should choose your company over someone else’s, you’d struggle.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads very hard, reeling off one key benefit and USP after another.

No, I’m talking about the kind of stuff you’d put in your CV or resume. And as a business owner, being totally unemployable after all these years, you’ve probably forgotten all of those really clever things you’ve learned, even though you make use of some of them every single day.

Rediscovering all of these choice morsels of business know-how is essential, this “Organic Knowledge” gets learned then cast to the back of your mind, because we do these things as a matter of course, mostly without thought, mechanically, almost.

The reason I call this “Organic Knowledge” is because it’s the stuff we learn naturally as we progress through our professional lives. Well, it’s time to recycle that business knowledge and make it all work for you!

The trick is writing them all down and then, as if they were dots on a sheet of paper, joining them together in new and innovative ways. By finding new ways of doing old things, you could very well re-energize your business.

It’s not hard to do, you just have to be aware of the things you do on a daily basis, think about how you started out, where you learned those things and then add them to the list!

If there’s a team of you, this can very well be a process of discovery — uncovering things about each other you never new. As an added bonus, there are some very serious considerations for your future marketing efforts, too.

The more you know about yourself, the more you know about your business and what you and your business can offer to your clients…

The power of saying “No” to clients and customers

Saying “No” to a business client or customer needn’t be the world-ending event you imagine it to be. In fact, you might find that it makes your business life that little more easier.

Conversely, saying “Yes!” to everything can be far more harmful than ever saying “No”. In the seedy underworld of dodgy sales tricks & tactics, saying an emphatic “Yes!” to every single thing a prospective or current client requests is just a way of securing work.

However, if your team doesn’t have the right skills to progress with the work that’s just been won, you’re all going to look bad. And the interesting thing about bad news in the business world is that it moves at close to light speed!

Saying “No” can have two powerful effects:

  1. You’re demonstrating your willingness to stand by something, be that an idea, a belief, or a methodology, which most people will respect you for.
  2. If you’re saying “No” with respect to a request to perform services you’re either not happy with, or not skilled enough to complete, you’re demonstrating your honesty, which everyone will respect you for.

Of course, you need to have a good, strong relationship with your clients, or my advice probably isn’t going to serve you too well. Also, being able to justify your reasons is critical. Failure to do that will pretty much ensure your objections are disregarded.

In the end, good business is all about being honest to yourself and your clients…

Does your business need a blog?

Maybe you’ve heard about blogging, but you’re unsure about how a blog might benefit your business. Octane can help demystify business blogging.

As a writer and a blogger for many years now, I have a wealth of experience that I’m more than happy to share with you.

As a part of your broader website strategy, a blog is a worthwhile adjunct to your business website, empowering you and your staff to publish without the intervention of a web developer like me! Which will help reduce costs over time.

A company blog is a commitment

A blog is a long-term investment and is unlikely to bring immediate benefits. So it’s best to plan with a strategy in mind, one that ties in with your other marketing activities. However, there are a number of benefits that will make all of that effort worthwhile, in the end.

One way to think about a blog is as a way for you to offer a shop window on your business, giving existing and potential customers a chance to see things they might not ordinarily be able to.

Ideas for your business blog

There are plenty of good ways to use your corporate blog, which include:

  • Share up-coming events and promotional activities.
  • Present ideas and share future plans with clients and stakeholders, to gather feedback.
  • Quickly highlight issues pertinent to your industry or field, or to specific clients.
  • Giving your staff a voice, so they can share their own thoughts and ideas.
  • Keeping customers up to date with your blog feed, which they can subscribe to.

These are just a few ideas for you to consider. I’m sure you’ll think of more!

What are the benefits of business blogging?

There are many ways a blog can benefit your company, such as:

  • Higher search engine rankings — generally speaking, a regular stream of new web pages or blog articles is considered appealing to the search engines, who will pay more attention to your website or blog — the more pages there are, the more there is to be found.
  • Gaining trust — by writing concise, informative and authoritative blog articles, over time, you build a sense of confidence and trust in those visiting your website, assuring them that your business is active.
  • A sense of community — you’re engaging with your customers in a conversational dialogue that is difficult to replicate by any other means, and by allowing people to comment on your articles, you’re encouraging those people to participate, giving them a reason to return.
  • Better communications — blogging is essentially a publishing platform, whereby you control the content and when those articles get published.
  • Cost effective — in terms of communications, blogging is very low cost but has the potential for a high ROI (Return On Investment).

What are the downsides to blogging?

Like most things in life, there are downsides and blogging is no different. Because blogging allows people to connect directly with you, there always exists the chance that a disgruntled former member of staff, or former client will leave an inflammatory comment.

  • If someone makes an offensive comment, do not allow yourself or anyone else in your company to be drawn into an argument. Be dignified, bite your tongue and remain calm. If need be, remove the offending comments, or close comments for that particular article.
  • It’s quite possible that a dispute may arise between two or more people commenting on an article of yours. Again, restraint is what’s required.
  • Sometimes, an inadvertent slip can cause a lot of harm. So if you allow members of staff to write their own articles, unless you have complete confidence in them, be sure to first check what they’ve written before allowing them to publish.
  • The more successful you become, the more likely it is you’ll get lots of junk comments on your blog. Depending on what type of blog software you use, you should have the ability to automatically remove these comments.
  • Plagiarism is common place. Fortunately, there are ways of dealing with this, which can typically involve anything from a polite warning email or reporting them to Google, to a very legal Cease & Desist order.

Whether you’re a small business like me, or a large enterprise, blogging can help your business on many, many levels.

If you’re interested in the idea of business blogging, then contact Octane right away and let’s see how I can help your business…