I made a thing

The title of this post is inspired by a recurring exclamation from Jeremy Clarkson on his recent (and excellent) farming show for Amazon Prime. If you haven’t watched it, he tends to shout something along these lines every time he manages to do something productive.

Whilst this makes for a funny recurring gag, it does actually convey the important message that we should be OK with celebrating our accomplishments, even if we’re the only person listening.

And that’s kind of what this post is about: celebrating something that I’ve accomplished. I created something. That may seem like something or nothing to you. It may also be a bit confusing, after all, if you know my background you’ll know I’ve created lots of things before. I’ve developed websites, designed posters, and more recently starting posting my photos and videos online too.

But to me, this is different. Ever since I was a child I struggled with drawing. I remember sitting next to my best friend when I was just 6 or 7 and despairing at how poor my efforts were compared to his.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and apart from dabbling unsuccessfully in Adobe Illustrator, I’d never tried to create any form of illustration or vector by myself from hand. However, I recently needed to replicate my company’s logo for a project I was working on. As I had a bit of time to spare I committed to learning how to effectively use the tools I had to work with, in this case Affinity Designer. Several hours of YouTube footage later, and I had at least an understanding of which options to use and how, I was able to accomplish the task and that was that.

Until yesterday. When I suddenly had a thought which I immediately went to tweet. I was just working out the wording when I realised that this was something that could be conveyed quicker and easier by an image.

I got out my notebook, iterated a few times, then created a final sketch. The next day I fired up my graphic design software, and using the skills I’d learnt a few months ago, I was able to create the finished article in a few minutes.

If you’re a designer or artist of any kind, this might not seem like a big deal to you. But for me, this is the result of hours of watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, following people who inspire me online, and consuming as much knowledge and wisdom as I could in order to create, and more importantly, be able to share my creation. An original piece of art, of which I am proud.

Could it be better? Yes.

Could someone else do it better? Yes

Do I care? No.

There’s really two battles that have been won here.

First, that of improving over time to get to a place to be able to create.

Second, that of having the confidence to actually put the creation out there. I don’t like the idea of being proud (blame my Britishness), but being proud of your work is a pre-requisite to sharing it.

These two tweets from the past week for me summarise the process I’ve been through over the past 18 months. It’s been a long road, but it’s one I’m glad to have travelled.

Now onto the next one.

The Creator Economy

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the economic shifts that are happening around us. Now I’m not an economist, and I really respect that profession so this isn’t going to try and explain the nuances of what’s going on around us. That being said, here are a few of the ‘soundbites’ as it were, that have caught my attention:

“The best minds in the world right now are working in advertising”

“Influencers/Creators are now small business in their own right”

“Creators have started funding creators”

Colin and Samir

Whatever you think of this collection or facts and opinions, there can be no denying the emergence of this new sector. The influencer market is only expected to grow, most teenagers want to be YouTubers, and demand for the digital skills that creators possess has never been higher. Just look at this job board from Moment for example. I would have loved to have seen listings like this as a teenager, there’s so many exciting career choices there.

One of the great things about this new creator economy is the power that it gives to the individual. When you listen to YouTubers like Matti Haapoja or Oliur, a theme you’ll pick up is they enjoy the freedom that their career brings them. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard work, or that there isn’t pressure. But these are creative people who thrive on being able to express themselves without having to go through the pain of dealing with clients all the time.

Just a note that this isn’t the case for all creatives. Filmmakers and photographers like Eric Floberg and Peter McKinnon still work for clients, so it doesn’t follow that just because you don’t have to, you don’t want to.

That being said, what fuelled this post is thinking about the comparison between working towards a rewarding position in a corporate environment, and working for yourself. I saw this quote recently which was attributed to The Rock, although I see absolutely no evidence for that, I’m happy to pretend it is his words. 🙂

IG I @businessgrowthmentor Dwayne Johnson @ <i @TheRock Dont work 8 hours  for a company and then go home & not work on your own goals. You are not  tired, you are uninspired.. - )

Now, this definitely doesn’t apply to everyone (sorry Dwayne). As this article from the BBC points out, there are plenty of people more than happy to work a 30-40 hour week for someone else, and then go home and not think about anything else. I have a lot of respect for those people.

But there can be no denying that when you take matters into your own hands, and attempt to play The Great Online Game, a different set of rules to the big business world apply. And that feels liberating for a lot of people (I know it does for me). You’re no longer relying on a single person, or a few senior people, to provide you with the next step up. Yes there are a whole load of other variables to play with, but effectively if you put out top quality content, you will likely get at least a decent return. (More on this from my own brief history of content creating in a future post)

One old rule or saying that came to mind for me was this:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

One of the attractions of the creator economy, is that you are no longer reliant on who you know. And what makes it even better, is that the knowledge economy (what you know) is very closely linked to the creator economy. If you know a lot about a specific topic: think James Hoffman with coffee, or Gerald Undone with cameras, then you already have a sellable resource.

The other big change, is that it now matters less who you know, it’s more about who knows you. It’s about your reach, your influence. Finding people that care about what you care about, and creating content for them. The better your knowledge and content is, the more likely it is that you can reach those people, and that they’ll stick around. And voila! You have an audience. Welcome to the new economy.

Tips for Choosing a Software Package

Copying is the most sincere form of flattery, so the old adage goes, and never has this been truer than in the current world of computer software.

The days of a small number of software companies monopolising the market are long gone, and with the dawn of multiple hardware ecosystems, more and more start-ups are eagerly chasing a piece of the app pie. And in most instances, the pieces simply get smaller and smaller, with more and more options

But with a plethora of choices for every conceivable application, whether it be task management, team collaboration, or customer communications, comes a new string of complications. The straightforward selection process of yesteryear has been replaced with the need for an elaborate research project, every time a new business need arises.

So how best to approach this ever-developing conundrum? Picking the right system for your business is a time-consuming process when it reaches a successful conclusion, but a poor choice can result in a complete loss of buy-in from co-workers and management. At best, you end up with egg on your face, at worst, well, that will depend on your company’s patience and the severity of your mistake.

To give some context, I recently moved from a standalone CRM platform to a complete customer engagement platform combining helpdesk, webchat, and marketing automation. While mostly successful, I then discovered another system which I had previously thought uncompetitive from a pricing perspective, actually provided better bang for buck. While not terrible from a business perspective, it does mean a great deal of annoyance for my colleagues who had just gotten used to a new system and will now have to learn a new way of working yet again.

Whilst difficult, and occasionally overwhelming, I have discovered some key principles which give far greater confidence when explaining the rationale behind the decisions made with regards to choosing software ecosystems.

The market leader is usually there for a reason

This may seem like a straightforward statement, but as someone who grew up in the days when Microsoft were the be-all and end-all, and Apple were a plucky upstart, it can be easy to develop a mentality that is suspicious of the status quo. If a company is at the top of its game, the likelihood is that it won’t stay there for long, and so the safe bet might seem to go for #2 or #3. But in a constantly changing, increasingly competitive market, if a team has managed to get to the top, the likelihood is that they’ve worked the hardest to do so. You don’t get to the top of the pile nowadays without a serious amount of hard work on top of a dollop of inspiration. Make market share and market growth a big factor in your decision-making process.

Test and trial

When it comes to trialling, it can be easy to get carried away with a system’s bells and whistles. If you’re currently operating on an antiquated piece of software, the temptation to try out all the new features you don’t currently have can be hard to resist. However, the likelihood is that everyone else in your business will be less interested in how you can automate aspects of the job they’re being paid to do, so to increase buy-in from both management and co-workers, first, make sure that the fundamental processes of the old system can be achieved in the new. This will reduce transitional headaches in the long run as you are able to work on utilising new possibilities to show benefits, rather than constantly reverse engineering processes after you’ve launched.

Count the cost, discuss a discount

It’s amazing how even with all the benefit listing and testing you can do, there’s nothing like a spreadsheet for whittling down a list of possible solutions. It’s surprising, given the ease of access to pricing plans and comparable products, that many software companies still offer competing products at vastly different and confusing price points. But before you rule them out entirely, it is worth dropping a line to a sales rep, who will sometimes knock a lot off the asking price, or draw your attention to their product’s USP.

Don’t waste time on sales calls

Despite my previous point, in my experience, it’s rarely worth the pain of sitting through a fairly torturous demonstration of a limited set of features that a sales rep has been trained to wax lyrical about. Far better, and more entertaining, to use the trial and marketing bumph to ask difficult questions of the product team.

Test the support

If at all possible during your trial, fire off a support ticket or bring up a webchat. Use the method of communication that will be open to you when you are actually using the product. This is a great way to check how capable the support team are with the product, and whether or not they will actually be able to help! The helpdesk of one particular product I recently used seemed more intent on telling me that my company’s requirements were wrong than finding a way to make their software work for me!

Read reviews

It can be very easy to look at a shiny new product with rose-tinted glasses, so it’s really helpful to find any reviews or comparisons of competing software packages. These will normally alert you to the deficiencies that could be otherwise well hidden, and the benefits that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong

So you end up in my shoes, and six months to a year down the line you find out that you should have chosen a different piece of software. Well, you can try and stick with it, but really, there’s little reason! Most software packages only tie you in to a year’s subscription, or you can pay month to month, so the only financial loss is the time it takes to switch, and if the benefits are significant enough, then just do a quick bit of math on lost employee time, and you’ll soon have a financial argument!

Those are my top tips, why not share yours in the comments below!