web business

Try something different – the first reason why to.

As humans, we naturally tend to inertia. Change is hard. It’s the unknown. What will happen? It could be bad! Most of us are happy with our familiar, cozy ways of doing things. But what if our familiar, cozy ways aren’t working? Or could be working a lot better? How do we convince ourselves, or someone else, to try something different?

Today we discuss the first, and possibly least sound, way of making the case for a new approach: the competition is doing it.

But will that change anyone’s mind?

Although on closer inspection, ‘everyone else is doing it’ is not a great rationale for making a process change, it is undeniably effective in business.

(Maybe not so effective at home, though. “I suppose if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, you’d do it, too?”)

But because we cannot see behind the curtain of our competition’s external messaging, we assume they are geniuses and have unlocked a key to success that remains hidden from us. When multiple competitors are doing “whatever the thing is”, so much the better. They’re all geniuses! It’s working for all of them!

Maybe so. Maybe not. But we cannot know until we try it ourselves.

Study the competition, infer their reasoning, set up a testing plan, and analyze the data once the plan is in place. With a clear structure and benchmarks for results, you may just make your case.

web business

Try something different. The second reason why to.

Most people hate risk. A select few really do love it, but willy-nilly risk-taking is not a formula for success. Some say they love it, but not-so-secretly hedge their bets. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s wise.

When you’re asking someone to do something new with their business, you’re asking them to take a risk. First, understand that it may not seem as risky to you as it does to them.

You’re thinking, “I’ve seen this work many times before” or “It’s a relatively small investment”, or “Why would I recommend something that I didn’t think would work?” And they’re thinking, “It’s my money, it’s my business, and at the end of the day, I’m left holding the bag.”

Your job here is to minimize the risk. And one of the best ways to do that is to offer to test. Test the concept in a small region, or for a short period of time, or with a select sampling of customers. In online world, we love A/B testing. You don’t always get what seem like dramatic results, but even a half-percent difference, especially if it holds, can make a huge impact at scale.

Offer to test the current scenario vs. a new one, or Option A vs. Option B — in the case of decision paralysis.

Testing in focus groups or with online evaluation services is useful, especially for real-life ‘debugging’ and idea generation, but it isn’t the best option for business decision-making. The best way to do that is to put new concepts out there IRL — and see what happens.

You may run across an individual who doesn’t believe testing is necessary, because they know best. This can be hard to overcome, but if you can explain the process, include their concept in the test, and make it into a competition, you’re more likely to get the okay for testing. (People who think they know best also often like a friendly competition.)

But remember, be prepared for unexpected results. Even if your concept doesn’t win, at some point it’s hard to argue with the data.

Just keep on testing!

web business

On the Perils of Competency

We all know one. A person who’s just good at everything. They’re good at math, at sports, at cooking, at making friends, at public speaking, at writing, at making doll houses and travel plans. The list never seems to end. (Not to be confused with the person who will freely tell you how good they are at everything, but are mainly good at telling you how great they are. ) The super competent person is usually humble. They know they can do a lot of things, but they recognize that there are others who are more talented.

Most organizations have individuals who are multi-competent. The person who can build a handy spreadsheet for others to use when performing a routine – but complex – calculation. That person who can step in as support during a sales pitch. (They may not be the flashiest presenter, but they provide an aura of expertise and stability.) That person who knows how to get a dancing balloon man for a party, and submit an RFP, all while handling a delicate personnel matter.

If you are an organizational leader, you will be tempted to engage the multi-competent person in an abundance of situations.

For example

  • The Divisional Director of Information Technology picks up the weekly snacks and decorates the office at the holidays.
  • The Controller who personally corrects discrepancies on every Manager’s timesheet.
  • The ace sales rep who writes the company’s weekly blog.

Let’s just point out why this is a bad idea.

An uber-competent person can provide cover for many incompetent people. You will not be surprised to learn that there are many individuals who do not want to perform routine and complex tasks and have zero interest in either just getting through it or figuring out a more efficient way to accomplish it.

Let’s say a manager asks the multi-competent “Chris” to train a new employee, “Pat”, on the preparation of the Weekly Net Usage Reports. Chris does so, creates some shortcuts, detailed instructions, routinely checks Pat’s work while training, and eventually hands off the task to Pat.

But Pat hates preparing the Weekly Net Usage Reports. They are not only boring, they are also hard. Pat loses focus, makes a lot of mistakes, claims to the manager that the system doesn’t work, and there’s no way the reports can be done in the time allowed. The manager says, “Well, Chris can obviously do them, so it’s not impossible, and we can’t have these mistakes, so the manager gives the task to Chris.

You see what’s happening here. Chris is now spending time doing an entry level task, at a pay rate that is well above the difficulty of the task. And Pat is still on staff, perhaps asked to work on tasks that are less demanding, or, even worse, allowed to surf the internet for half of the day. Organizationally, it is important to make sure that the cost of time matches the complexity of the task performed.

In most cases, a multi-competent person has been multi-competent for quite some time. They didn’t instantly become a jack of all trades when they walked into your office. But many super competent people have difficulty saying “no.” It is satisfying to be needed and feel accomplished. But just because you are good at doing something doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing.

The risks

An organization runs a risk by requiring a competent employee to do a kitchen-sink list of tasks, just because they’re capable of doing it. Every job involves some disagreeable tasks, but if every task is disagreeable and blocks off channels for advancement, the organization may lose that employee.

Further, by permitting the Pat to escape a challenging task, the organization does Pat no favors either. Pat is bored, underemployed, and setting a bad example for everyone else. Pat’s career is stalled as well, as it’s clear the organization has effectively given up on making Pat a valued employee.

By allowing Chris to do so many things, the organization has rendered Chris both indispensable and stymied. Management definitely doesn’t want to lose Chris, but they are missing the opportunity to allow Chris to do things that could legitimately move the organization forward. There is also the question of how to replace Chris. It’s going to take a lot longer than it should — now that Chris has become a bucket into which a pile of wildly diverse and random tasks are tossed.

If you’re a Chris, it may seem like being a swiss army knife is never dull and provides job security. But long-run it keeps you from developing true expertise. You will have to continually draw boundaries — always focusing on the cost to the organization, not on your own personal goals.

If you’re a manager in an organization that employs several super-competent individuals, recognize it, but don’t let it run amuck. Channel their abilities into something that pays off for the organization, and for them. And when a Pat tells you, “I can’t,” don’t concede. Ask them to try again.

web business

How do I find a web designer?

  • Go local, that’s just my preference. Local designers know the market, may know the competition, have local resources and — most important — can actually meet with you to go over details. Doing absolutely everything over the phone or via email is okay, but it’s not always ideal.
  • Get a reference. Do you have a neighbor or friend or colleague who has a website you like? Ask them who they worked with and were they happy with it
  • Check out the websites of competitors (of similar size) Very often there’s a credit link to the design firm at the bottom of the page
  • Check your local chamber of commerce or better business bureau
  • There really is nothing wrong with doing a google search for a local web design firm. Your first problem will be an overwhelming number of choices.
    • Look for a portfolio. Do you like the work? Do they work in a style that meshes with yours?
    • Does their portfolio have examples of the kind of work you need? Like shopping carts or animation or blogs?
    • Many companies (but not all) now put pricing plans on line. This can be very helpful in finding out if you can afford their work, and if they work on projects like yours. Just because the pricing is not posted, doesn’t mean you can’t afford it. Contact them with a brief description of your project and ask for a typical price range for projects like this. Whoever you work with, be sure to talk to them in detail about your work and get it in writing.
  • Things to beware of:
    • A portfolio with hundreds and hundreds of websites. Real companies only put their best work online. Hundreds of websites = webfarm. Don’t expect too much.
    • A portfolio that is full of errors: spelling, grammar, pages that don’t load, images that are over there when they should be over here. Your site will not be any better
    • A firm that gives you a price without asking about your project
  • Things that you may be surprised about, but shouldn’t be.
    • Most of the best design firms will not do work ‘on spec’. That is, they will not not provide free sample pages and then hope you choose them to design your site. Students or companies who are just starting out may do this in order to build their portfolios … but the business relationship will not be there.
    • Most professional design firms require installment payments once a mutual agreement has been reached to start a project. That is, xx% up front, xx% midway, and xx% on completion. Scope of work and payment can be a challenging area to navigate, and it is always advisable to clearly explain the what is provided and what is expected.

No matter what kind of project you’ve got, there is a web designer for you. From the one page “Get to Know Me” site, to the next, there’s a firm out there who can do the work. And if you take a couple of wrong turns while you’re looking for them, so what? Education is never a waste. When you speak with potential designers, ask them what kind of work they do best, and beware of folks that only seem to be paying lip service. You’ll have a more productive relationship with a designer who will be honest about what your expectations should be, gently but firmly push you out of your comfort zone, and who will be forthcoming about areas in which they are not an expert. You should always look for a vendor who asks lots of questions about your business and — even if they are not an expert in your field — understands your overall mission and goals. Trust me, the designer wants you to be happy with their work. They want to add your site to their portfolio, and they want you to tell all your friends! They have lots of incentive to do great work for you.  You’re the expert on your business, and they’re the experts on web design. As long as everyone keeps that in mind, your project will be  golden.