Friday Philosophy – Meh

Instead of embracing innovation
and strong user experiences
as common values,
in many cases the only thing we strive for
is the standard of “not bad”
or “good enough”.

Something has gone terribly wrong.
We have forgotten
how to complain about the right things,
and started bitching
about everything else.

–Chris Guillebeau

Remember Your First Time?

No, not that. I mean your first time reading your favorite marketing blog. It wasn’t your favorite at the time, but something made you stick around. Do you remember what it was?

Odds are, that day was nothing special to the blog’s author. Just another day, just another post. They didn’t know you’d be coming by for the first time today.

But there was something good there, something worth seeing. Something worth coming back for.

A reporter was talking to Joe DiMaggio after a late-season game, after the Yankees were already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. DiMaggio had made a spectacular running catch. The reporter asked why he would risk an injury in a game that didn’t matter. DiMaggio told him:

There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.

Most people don’t see your site for the first time just as you’re starting a launch. They show up in the middle of the launch … or before it starts … or after it’s over.

What will they see?

Anyone Can [fill in the blank] … ?

Seth Godin asks in his latest post:

A newspaper asked me the following, which practically set my hair on fire:

What inherent traits would make it easier for someone to becoming a linchpin? Surely not everyone can be a linchpin?

Why not? How dare anyone say that some people aren’t somehow qualified to bring emotional labor to their work, somehow aren’t genetically or culturally endowed with the seeds or instincts or desires to invent new techniques or ideas, or aren’t chosen to connect with other human beings in a way that changes them for the better?

I’ve heard this so many times that it almost sounds true. But then I watch Ratatouille again. Continue reading Anyone Can [fill in the blank] … ?

How To Make $200 / Hour Doing Web Analytics

If you plan to make $200 per hour doing something, you first need to believe that someone is willing to pay that much for what you do. So what makes web analytics worth $200 per hour? Convincing people that you’re worth that much is your second challenge. Your first challenge is convincing someone they need to pay someone to do web analytics at all.

This isn’t a new problem. Kevin Kelly talks about the changing network effects in different phases of the evolution of all new markets:

Maximizing the value of the net itself soon becomes the number one strategy for a firm. For instance, game companies will devote as much energy to promoting the platform—the tangle of users, game developers, and hardware manufacturers—as they do to their games … During certain phases of growth, feeding the network is as important as feeding the firm.

What he’s saying is that people have to want a game before they can want your game. It’s the same with analytics. People have to want analytics services before they can want your analytics services.

Do Not Want!

Web analytics suffers from the same issues as copywriting: Everyone thinks they can write, so they don’t value good writing. Same with analytics. Anyone can read charts on Google, and with a couple of days practice you can even set up split tests. What do you need to pay someone for?

The consultants already making money at it will tell you that that yes, anyone can optimize a site with enough testing. What you’re paying the big bucks for is someone who can skip past two months of split testing and show results in the first week. Some people are that good. Identifying them out of all the ones claiming to be that good is hard.

Your challenge in getting clients is mostly going to be convincing them the service can have a large impact. Large companies already know this. That won’t help you, because they already have people doing it.

That leaves small businesses. There’s a ton of opportunity for small businesses to use an analytics consultant. Convincing them of that is the hard part. Do you plan on cold-calling small businesses? How will you get leads? What’s your pitch going to be?

Oh, you don’t want to be a salesman? You don’t want to sell yourself that way? Sorry then, I guess I can’t tell you how to make $200 per hour doing analytics after all.

Being Useful Is Better Than Being Right

Being right isn’t nearly as important as most IT people think. Understanding why that’s true is one of the fastest ways to build trust and respect with the non-IT management in your company.

Let’s try an example where it’s better to be useful than to be right

Suppose you find out there is a structural problem with your building. It is severe enough that the building could collapse at any moment.

Being Right

You look up the emergency notification policy in the employee handbook. There’s a number to call. You call it and explain the details of what you’ve discovered. They start asking questions about evidence, as you get frustrated that they’re not responding fast enough to this emergency, and why don’t they get it?

Being Useful

You pull the fire alarm and everyone leaves the building.

Business Prefers Useful

Executives like to get things done. They got where they are by being good at getting what they want. The respect and respond to that trait in others.

So if you want to be recognized as someone who can get things done, you need to actually get some things done. If excruciating detail is what it takes to convince someone they should listen to you, then use detail. If a convenient metaphor will make your point more strongly, then use one. Of course it will gloss over important details, that’s why we use metaphors. They simplify reality in a (hopefully) useful way.

Find a good balance between rightness and usefulness, and you will take control of your career like you never imagined you could.

Emboldened by Ignorance

Fans and followers of Tim Ferris are already familiar with his concept of the low information diet and selective ignorance. The basic idea is that there is so much information in the world, and so much news coverage, that you could spend your life keeping up-to-date and never have time to do anything for yourself. By cutting down on the amount of news you follow, you regain time for yourself.

But there’s another benefit of selective ignorance that might be even more powerful. If you look hard enough, you can find a good (sounding) reason to not try anything:

  • Don’t record a blues album, no one listens to the blues.
  • Don’t travel abroad, terrorists have threatened the airlines again.
  • Don’t self-publish your book, they never sell.

If Brunonia Barry had known what she was doing was impossible, she never would have gotten a seven-figure book deal when she finished. According to her husband Gary Ward, “We were emboldened by our ignorance. We knew just enough to get going, but not enough to stop us.”

He encouraged Brunonia to self-publish her debut novel “Lace Reader”. They brought un-bound prints of the book to local book stores and clubs and solicited feedback.

That just isn’t how books are published. Authors submit manuscripts to publishers and wait for an offer. Then the publishers tell the authors when, where and how the book will be marketed. But Ward and Barry didn’t know that.

Had they known how the publishing business works and, more importantly, had they “known” that what they were doing wouldn’t work, there’s a good chance no one would have ever heard of “Lace Reader”. Instead, reprint rights have been sold in 20 countries and Barry is in discussion for a movie deal.

Bold doesn’t mean stupid

The danger of ignoring your critics is that sometimes they’re right. When Simon Cowell tells someone that they can’t sing, there’s a good chance he’s right. He’s an expert.

That’s not the person you want to ignore. The ones to tune out are the naysayers who tell you, “That can’t work. No one does it that way.”

Every great thing was once the new thing that no one did. Until someone ignored the critics and did it anyway.

So listen to critics. Pay attention when someone has done exactly what you’re trying and has valid feedback. But if all they have to say is, “No one does it that way,” maybe that means you’ll have the field all to yourself.

How To Stop Turning Down Work

It’s your sixth birthday and your grandfather has just handed you a ridiculously heavy package the size of a shoebox. You open it up to see that yes, it is a shoebox. A shoebox full of pennies.

“I’ve been dropping all my pennies in there each night since you were born,” he says. “I planned to give it to you when it’s full, and it’s getting close. There’s probably more than $200 in there. All you have to do is count them out into stacks of fifty and roll them in those little paper sleeves.” This was before the automatic coin counters appeared in grocery stores.

Your six-year-old mind reels at this windfall. You count and wrap until your hands are cramped. You beg you mother to take you to the bank to turn the pennies into “real money,” then straight to the toy store to get Frogger for your Atari. (Any similarities to the author’s life are purely coincidental.)

Flash forward to today. Someone offers you a box of pennies. All you have to do is count them by hand. You might still take it, but it’s not going to be such an obvious choice. How long will it take? What could I be doing instead?

Thinking small

For the mid-career freelancer, this is the calculation that dooms you to punching a clock. You could build that website for the local restaurant, but they want you to keep it up-to-date with their specials. You’re not interested in doing maintenance, and they can’t afford to keep paying your development rate. So you don’t take the work.

You just turned down a lucrative contract because you’re thinking like an employee. No, you don’t have a boss, but you still think that any hour you’re not working is an hour you’re not getting paid. To break this mindset, you need to start delegating. You need people working for you.

You’re making it as a freelancer because you solve people’s problems. When someone wants a site and ongoing support, they have two problems. You can solve the first by building the site, and the second by finding a qualified support person. There are plenty of online resources for finding contract technical workers. Don’t make your client go to these sites and try to evaluate people, do it for them.

Thinking big

Instead of selling a Content Management System that will allow a small business owner to update his own site, offer a one-stop service, where your employees will keep the site updated for a monthly fee. Do this enough times and your “passive income” could exceed your new development work.

But even if you don’t take a cut of the support fees, having the capability means you can bid on a whole new type of contract: the large kind.