Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

I just recently finished reading Sexy Little Numbers by Dmitri Maex. It’s a very timely and interesting look at some of the data trends that anyone can and should be accessing using the customer data and insights they already have around them. What was striking to me was the presence of statistical modeling in the book – the opportunity to yield useful and actionable information in the presence of data-sets that you probably already have in front of you.

The opportunity to use data creatively to yield useful results was absolutely present during our development of Dashter. And its worth thinking about within your business as well… What data do you have – and how can you use it to your advantage?

Here’s a couple examples from within Dashter where we developed greater value by tapping the data that we were already pouring in to.

Trending in Friends

One of the first things that a Dashter user sees on their homepage is the Trending in Friends pane. Within there, we provide 18 “trends” that are collected from a gathering of ~200 tweets from your timeline. So what does it do? Well, basically, it just adds up all the hashtags found in those ~200 tweets, and then shows you the top 18, in rank order from most-used to least-used (of the top results).

Why is this useful? Well – when exploring Twitter, its often hard to get a grip on all the data swirling around you. But there are two assumptions that can be made: 1) You follow people who say things that interest you, and 2) Events of significance often peak within groups. By organizing hashtags among people you follow, it’s easy to develop a personalized trend graph that refreshes every 15 minutes or so. That means instead of having to pour through dozens or hundreds of tweets to see what’s happening – you can merely glance at an ordered list of top-hits.

Translating this to Your Business

You likely have an overwhelming amount of data pouring in on any given day. Continue reading Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

The ALPAC Sales Methodology

I want to share a quick bit about a sales process / methodology that I’ve found to be invaluable – and I’ve had to train people dozens of times. It is a helpful framework for both sales and marketing professionals because it covers the life-cycle of customer on-boarding. In simplest terms, the process is this: ALPAC. Audience, Lead, Prospect, Account, Customer.

Here are the sales & marketing stages, broken down with greater detail.

Audience

This is fundamentally a Marketing stage. Audience comprises everyone who isn’t yet in your sales funnel. The Audience can really be broken up in to 2 groups: Audience we want to reach, and Audience we don’t care about reaching. Audience converts to the next stage by progressing those people through the AIDA marketing process: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. I’m going to write more in the near future about the importance (and measurability!) of AIDA in social media campaigns, but for now just suffice to say that the general population needs to become aware of your product / service / business, become interested, gain desire, and finally, take action. Depending on the nature of your product, that action is typically self-designation as a person who wants more information – and turns themselves in to a lead. Continue reading The ALPAC Sales Methodology

Social Mindshare

As a general rule of thumb, you should be building your brand around a single word or extremely short phrase to create mindshare in your audience. This isn’t a slogan. Slogans might be part of it. But the simple fact of the matter is that your audience is being bombarded on a daily basis by hundreds – if not thousands – of brand and marketing messages. Capturing and solidifying a single word or phrase is crucial. Nike has spent decades building itself in to synonymous with “sports.” Alternatively (and perhaps this is just my own personal connection – and that’s part of the beauty of it), when I think of Adidas – the first thing that comes to mind is “Soccer”. In another direction, the Underarmor brand to me represents “Football clothes”. All of these companies are direct competitors in many fronts – but within my mind – this is the mindshare that they’ve eached achieved.

The same thing is true amongst car brands. I’m an Audi driver, so in my mind they captured “Sport Luxury” in my mind. BMW I’m sure would be ticked off because that’s a mindshare that they’ve gone after. But the beauty of branding and mindshare is that it happens in the mind of the recipient, not the sender.

What do you think of when I describe the comparison between iPhone, Android, Nokia, and RIM? iPhone might spark “Innovator and Easy”, Android might spark “Open Cool”, Nokia might spark “Cheap phones” and RIM might spark “Relic” (sorry RIM). Those are my perceptions. That’s the mindshare that those brands occupy in my mind today. It can change; but often not by anything the company itself does. It has a great deal more to do with the reputation, conversation, media & interpersonal connections, etc. For instance, I know far more people with iPhones – so my conversations with other people tend to focus on topics like “Check out these cool apps I have” or “I love it how easy it is to…” Whereas my friends with Blackberries languish with phones that appear to be unable to do much of anything contemporary and they complain that they wish they could change their phones (but their company is stuck on the platform). Continue reading Social Mindshare

The Shifting Social Landscape

Building a digital “home” in the social landscape is much like building a physical home – on quicksand. If you don’t believe me – let’s look at some of the trends that have happened over the summer…

Facebook’s IPO Woes

Let’s face it – Facebook insiders played the market like a well-tuned guitar. All the insiders got in on the action pre-IPO, and the retail investors were buying their exits during the IPO (and as insider shares become “unlocked” like Peter Thiel’s). But more concerning is the underlying challenge to value a social media company.

Remember – and this is important – in the social media space, the “users” are not the “customers“. Continue reading The Shifting Social Landscape

Google Should Make a CMS… Right Now.

I’ve been thinking about this a little bit over the last couple days, and I’ve come to this conclusion. Google should be making a Content Management System (CMS). Right now.

I’m not talking about their existing website product, Google Sites. That’s just a Google version of Geocities, with less dancing babies. No, what I’m talking about is a full-blown WordPress, Drupal, Joomla competitor. They have the capability to do it, and they DEFINITELY have the incentive.

“What was traditional site content of the past decade – essays, posts, pictures, etc. is now moving away from open.”

Look at the modern web through Google’s eyes. It’s fragmenting. What was traditional site content of the past decade – essays, posts, pictures, etc. is now moving away from open. Obviously Google’s biggest threat is Facebook – and now that they’re a public company, the shareholders are going to nudge the company to embrace more open competition to Google directly. Continue reading Google Should Make a CMS… Right Now.

The Freelance Life (Part 2)

So this post is a follow-up to my article yesterday – My (Simple) tips for Freelancing. I wanted to go collect some more ideas to share that I think can amplify the conversation beyond just my basic ideas. There are so many people freelancing and calling their own shots these days that there’s plenty of interesting insight to be found.

… The Couch is Calling …

One of the best / worst parts about freelancing definitely has to be when you’re not running at 100%… The upside is exactly what Michelle mentioned here – you can just post on the couch and tinker. The downside? You’re responsible for your own healthcare. Definitely a mixed bag – but believe it or not self-coverage isn’t that expensive. Gets a lot more pricey if you’re covering kids / family – but it’s still pretty reasonable.

The downside of Freelancing is that if you’re not focused on projects – it can be really easy to get distracted by things at home. Of course – anyone who’s been in a corporate environment knows that an office is full of distractions too!

Dude – I love this. That’s so true. Freelancing is definitely a legitimate enterprise, but older generations sometimes look at the online business world as a bunch of smoke & mirrors (and spammers). Sometimes it takes a good conversation with the family to really show & share what you’re up to. Great point Salman.

That’s another thing often overlooked in freelancing… You really have to do everything by hand. There’s no “mail room” no shipping supplies, and you gotta foot the bill for all the postage. Direct mail (especially like pointed out here) is so effective if you’ve got an engaged client / prospect base, but it can add up really quickly. Look for deals on shipping products when you can – Staples or Office Depot usually have clearance racks for shipping supplies that can save you a ton of money on envelopes, packing material, and even weird-sized shipping boxes. If you’re sending more than a dozen pieces of mail a week, I definitely recommend checking out Stamps.com or similar print-stamps-from-home solutions.

There’s definitely some truth to this. Freelancing IS very similar to being an employee, since your clients will often place similar demands on you as they would an internal employee. Though if you prove your expertise, I think you can often establish more of a peer-to-peer relationship, rather than a client-vendor one. It’s tricky, but quite possible – especially if you’re providing skills that truly support the clients’ business that they don’t have internally.

Had to include Alexanders’ response, because it’s absolutely part of the reality too. Like I’d written before – the project & the client selection process is so crucial! If you find clients who are looking for skilled service providers to help amplify their business and meet their goals – it feels much less like an employee relationship and much more like a pair of business professionals working together towards a common goal.

And finally, I think Brian has conveyed what many freelancers feel after a period of time. There are two worlds when it comes to freelancing: People who freelance because they want the freedom, independence, and ability to call their own shots. They typically leave stagnant work environments to strike out on their own. Then there are also freelancers who are doing it because the job market is rough.

Thanks for reading! Again – if you want to check out the original post check out My Tips for Freelancers.

My Tips for Freelancing

A friend wrote this question, and I just felt like it was good blog-fodder…

When dealing with clients, whats the best way to set time restrictions for yourself so you can have a social life or be able to hangout with your kids? Are stating you have a hardstop later in the day the wrong way to go about it? What if something comes up? I’m conflicted going from a 9-5 office gig to working for multiple clients from home.

Dude. I have so many opinions on this.

Freelance Clients aren’t Corporate Clients

Freelance clients come in every variety – so be forewarned. Even the most stable-sounding client could turn in to a nightmare headcase if you’re not paying attention.

For starters, I’d suggest you pick clients who share your value system. If you believe that a work day should start and stop at certain times, make that part of your client onboarding process. Ask them when they expect deliverables from you – morning, afternoon, evenings, weekends?

Secondly, make sure your clients understand your circumstances (to a degree). If you set aside 4-8pm each evening as “playing with the kids time” make sure your client understands that ahead of time.

Also, especially in this economy – cashflow is king. If a client is asking for payment terms or flexibility in paying for services, either decline them or make them one of your “when I’ve got the time” clients. You should have 2 classes of clients: Those who are paying the full run rate – so you better get running! … and those paying the “jog” rate – where you just have to get to the end eventually, no sprinting required.

Just remember – there’s a reason why your client will consider you rather than a corporate alternative. What would inspire your confidence if you were in their shoes? What would you be willing to accept? Typically, they want a freelancer because they can get more for less, and often (in creative industries) a much more dynamic set of ideas. But just realize part of that proposition is that they expect to be able to demand your time under certain circumstances. Just be clear up front what you think is fair. Continue reading My Tips for Freelancing

The Tale of Two Meetups

With the launch of my product Dashter, I wanted to share a little bit about how the company / product / solution came to be. One part of that story is how my attendance and participation in two great Meetup groups here in Orange County helped spark, nurture, and evolve the product & the business – and ultimately myself.

#OCWP

About a year ago I started attending a group that I’d found on Meetup.com called Orange County WordPress (OCWP). I’d done numerous WordPress sites for myself and my clients in the past, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend and learn more about the platform beyond what I could gather off the web. I also suffered from what so many small business owners can attest to – which is when you’re running a small business you crave interacting with people. So I figured what the hell – I’d show up on a Monday night and see what it was all about.

Meetups – just like any new networking event – are always a little nerve-wracking. I walked in alone and didn’t know anyone there. The space at the old Zeek offices were cramped like you wouldn’t believe – there were 40 people fitting in to a room that was probably intended to hold 15 people comfortably. Lots of folks knew each other already, were sharing inside jokes, asking about friends & family, etc. It took a little while to get my bearings, but overall I could tell instantly I was in a good space with people I could definitely get along with. Continue reading The Tale of Two Meetups

Netflix Isn’t NY Times, Apple, or In-N-Out

This post was generated by Dashter

ForbesForbes – @Forbes
The Price Isn’t Right: What New York Times, Apple and In-N-Out Could Teach Netflix http://t.co/P98xi0Q4

In this recent Forbes article, Netflix gets called out for not understanding pricing in the marketplace. But the argument falls flat (at best) and makes some pretty wacky assumptions (at its worst).

A little while ago, I wrote a post that stated that Netflix’s moves were anchored in a “startup” mentality – and I’m still sticking by that piece. For the Forbes article, author Trish Gorman starts off her piece with a rather ominous declaration:

What happened was more than a minor public-relations snafu. Netflix stumbled in its pricing—a minefield for any business and the last place you want to make a misstep.

So the premise is that Netflix has committed a cardinal business sin – the “last place” they can make a mistake. But like I argued in my previous piece, this really isn’t a pricing issue. Fundamentally, Netflix restored it’s original business – at a 20% discount (from $10 / month to $8 / month) of DVD-by-mail. They’re simply splitting their operations because the two businesses are different businesses that serve the same need. But that’s not what I want to focus on (just yet).

The Forbes article tells us that Netflix should learn from New York Times, Apple, and In-N-Out. 3 iconic brands, to be certain, with rabid fans and outwardly-successful business models that Netflix could use a case-study in pricing minefield avoidance. So what’s the takeaway? Uhm…

Her first example of how the New York Times has succeeded concludes with:

…the Times earned $83 million in the second quarter of this year, down from $93 million in the second quarter of 2010. But that the company managed the enormous price hike with just a few murmurs of complaint from its readers was extraordinary.

The only thing obvious from this example is that the NY Times is losing money. Hooray for their savvy pricing decision! Ultimately, the NY Times suffers much like Netflix: Premium content is blended in with commodity content, driving the price down to some sort of mean value that is averaged across the whole array. Would I need to read the New York Times for coverage of a national news story? Of course not – they’re likely getting their information from the same wire service that AP, Reuters, and every other news outlet is using. And in the case of the East Coast earthquake this past summer, I was getting news on the quake from people I follow on Twitter about 5 minutes before the Washington Post website. Continue reading Netflix Isn’t NY Times, Apple, or In-N-Out

Netflix Moves Like a Startup

Update 10/10/2011: Ahh the joys of watching business do what it does best in today’s age: Change. Turns out that Netflix actually does give at least half a damn about it’s existing customers, and at least nixed the idea of spinning off the shiny plastic disc business that would’ve been Qwickster.

From Ars Technica:

The change seemed needlessly drastic and complicated for many users, forcing customers to be billed twice and to search for DVD and streaming content on separate websites. But now, Netflix customers will never have to hear the word Qwikster again.

For anyone who took a marketing or branding course in college, I think Qwickster will be a nice sidebar on the chapter that mentions the folly of New Coke. I admire Netflix’ gutsy move to try to shed & alter their core business, but obviously they were too severe in their actions. Internally, I’m sure there’s still a deep divide within Netflix between the DVD logistics folks & the streaming service folks, but for now NFLX customers can relax a little bit… and get back to venting frustrations over the price hike.

… and here’s the original post … 

I’m in the middle of reading Do More Faster – a book of short essays by the folks involved in the TechStars group – and I’m taking to heart lots of the worthwhile tidbits of startup advice. Especially on the verge of launching our new startup – Dashter – I want to make sure we’re building more than just a “startup” – we’re building a full-fledged scalable in-demand business. More on that later.

What caught my eye this week is Netflix, and how they’re acting so nimbly right now it’s like an awesome case study in watching a startup turn in to a big business only to remember it’s a startup again.

I just recently became a Netflix customer (streaming only) having come from Blockbuster’s DVD-by-mail program. But with the addition of a couple AppleTV’s in my house, streaming on-demand service was a no-brainer. So when I see an article like, “Who Stole Netflix’ Mojo?” on c|net (in addition to mountains of mainstream coverage from Yahoo! News to KNX1070 news radio mentions), my consumer-brain goes, “Oh no – did I buy a bad product?” Then my startup-brain fires back: “Go Netflix, Go! :)”

Continue reading Netflix Moves Like a Startup