How to respond to failure. Or, after the problem came the procedure.

Encountering problems and making mistakes is a consequence of life, business, and everything else — and unavoidable. But the value is in how you respond to them.

As I said on Twitter this past week:

I’ve found that the best lessons in life — by far — are those where you learn how NOT to do something.

But still, as good as vicarious experiences are, they only get you so far.

In the beginning, there was the mistake…

By gum, was it a doozy! I’ll spare you the gory details (because they are — for the most part — irrelevant) but it was less a bug and more an infestation in the code. In the grand scheme of things, it has caused problems for our schedule, but the Under Cloud remains on course.

Stripping the whole problem down and tracing it to its source, it was — as these things often are — a failure to communicate, which resulted in team members and myself labouring under the assumption that something was when it wasn’t.

And then came the procedure…

So how did I respond?

We’re using a number of things to manage what we do. As a team of 3, we don’t need a lot, but we find that Slack and Trello are enough to keep things together, although we often find things said and done become lost inside the whirring cogs of the communication machine!

I created a list in Trello and added a card entitled: “Deprecated”, within which I wrote the following description:

“Here are all of the parts, components, and libraries of the application that have been deprecated, and what they’ve been superseded with.

Please update this card as and when required, but also refer to it, too!”

Some might argue it’s just a patching of holes, while some might claim it’s only of any use if people follow the procedure, but I would counter by saying that’s life, business, and everything else…

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.

Making the most of Google Wave

Google Wave is a new web-based collaborative application that allows groups of people to work on the same document, known as “waves”. It’s free, it’s simple to use and can really open up your business communications in ways you hadn’t imagined.

Google Wave, the collaborative, web-enabled word processor

Back in November last year, I wrote an article for Marketing Donut about Google Wave, outlining various ways to improve business communication:

“We’ve all played email tennis, either with friends, family or business colleagues. That’s fine, if you have the time. If you’re working on a proposal document and you’re using Word, you can bounce revisions around forever and a day. That’s also fine, if you’ve got the time. Problem is, time is a premium asset these days and if you want to get the most out of your time, you need to save as much of it as possible. And what time you do use, you do so as efficiently as possible — that’s where Google’s new collaborative communication tool comes in.”

But I thought I’d offer another perspective; outlining how I Octane uses Google Wave to collaborate with Emily Cagle, my communications partner.

I saw the potential in Wave very early on and could see that it would be ideal for Emily (who handles my PR) and myself to use, and here’s how we use it:

  1. I write articles for my blog as well as business publications; I “ping” Emily when I’m into the first draft stage;
  2. then she goes through the wave and makes sure the theme and style are aligned with the house style of the publication in question;
  3. I revise, if required (expanding upon / trimming etc);
  4. finally, she checks for typos, grammar etc, sends the article to the publication and then we go live.

3 example scenarios for using Google Wave

In addition to using Wave for writing articles, you could use it use it for:

  • team brainstorming sessions, sharing visuals, photos etc;
  • project management, where you could conference call via Skype and divvy up task to team members;
  • internal communications, for listing key client / customers telephone numbers, email addresses etc, that everyone can update.

There are some things we’d like to see in Wave (such as more list type options, better undo support, for example), but we’re getting a lot of milage out of it already. So any new features would most likely just make things even better for us.

Google Wave is invite-only, and I have several to give away. If you’d like an invite, please leave a comment below, using your preferred email address (added into the email field, which only I will see) and I’ll send you an invite!

Be just one click away with Skype

If you thought IM (Instant Messaging) was just for teens, think again. The worst thing you can do is slip off a client’s communication radar. So just how do you reconnect? Here’s how the power of Skype keeps you just one click away from your clients, and how that helps you do business better.

You’ve seen your kids chatting with their friends via MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and other than the fleeting thought that they might be inadvertently chatting with some weirdo your own age, you don’t give it too much thought. Thing is, your kids are running rings around you when it comes to staying in touch!

We humans love to communicate; our power of speech is testimony to that. Sadly, when it comes to business, we tend to erect barriers, limiting the scope of our communications to purely business topics, leaving the personal stuff to one side. Thing is, when we do that, we neglect a genuine opportunity to becomes friends with the very people paying us the money our businesses need to survive.

Sure, not all clients want a deeper relationship, certainly not one beyond the professional relationship you already have with them. But in addition to missing out on a more personal connection, we’re also just not there for them.

Where I come from, there’s an old adage: out of sight, out of mind. And this is also a truism in some respects. Think of the number of times you’ve hit a brick wall with something and you’re struggling to figure out what to do next. Wouldn’t it be better to have people on hand to give you the help you need?

That’s why I use Skype, so I’m always just a click away for my clients.

The power of Skype for businesses

Skype (or which ever IM software you’re most comfortable with) is sort of like having a mobile phone on your computer — you can make voice calls for free through your broadband connection, as well as sending text messages and files.

I use Skype as an adjunct to my email, when a client and myself are collaborating on a project, or just thrashing out ideas, and we need to be communicating in real time. Then, if we need to send something more formal, we use email.

I can’t tell you how many times a client has sent me a chat message on Skype about something they’re struggling with and I’ve been on hand to help them out, instantly. Sometimes, I’m helping them with things not core to what I do, but I either find a way to help them myself, or I connect them with someone else who does.

Every time you help out, you build on that ephemeral yet immensely valuable business currency called trust. You also demonstrate just how valuable you can be, which is not to be underestimated.

Don’t expect every client to take you up when you ask them to install Skype, or some other IM software. But the more that do, you’ll seldom be out of sight, or far from their minds.

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…