Monday, September 23, 2013

Being savvy about your technological limitations

It's okay to not know. I meet some persons who wear it like a badge. They will proudly state that they are clueless about smart phones or Gmail or insert some other technological thing. Declaring your hand is okay, in fact having an accurate assessment of your capabilities is extremely valuable when working in teams as it frees you to draw on the strengths of other team members.

Start By Admitting It

Being savvy about your limitations starts with admitting them. If you are in a pivotal management position it is even more vital to those who you manage that you are honest about where you stand in this area. Once you have gotten beyond any form of denial, here are two simple practices that will make your team three times more efficient.

Communicate Intent

If you are working with colleagues who are more technically inclined than you, always consider the possibility that there is a better solution than the one in your head.  Since you may be blind to the solution, you really want to give them space to execute more efficiently by sharing intent instead of specifics. For example if you need a co-worker to communicate with one of your partners, instead of saying “send them a fax” emphasize your intention, which is to get a message to the partner. By communicating intent it gives those around you the ability to recommend the best solution.

 Most team members stand ready to support the goals of the team once clearly articulated.
The idea of communicating intent seems obvious,  yet I continue to observe wrong outcomes that well-intentioned managers have imposed on their organizations. Individuals end up spending two to three times more effort on tasks because a manager insisted on an outdated approach rather than communicating the end goal. One concrete example is how contact information is managed across an organization. It is still far too common to find organizations that are managing contact information, inventory or other critical data in an Excel spreadsheet. While this is certainly more efficient than pen and paper, there are better approaches. Many of them are cloud-based and may even be familiar to some of the employees of those organizations.

Improve Your Game

There really is no reason to stay where you are now. Look for opportunities to be exposed to new developments. Have conversations with your more technologically adept acquaintances to keep a pulse of how new developments may impact your field or organization. Listen to both sides of a technology argument for example Apple vs Microsoft or Cloud vs on-premises. And finally, of course, (shameless plug), do a knowledge session with Tutorate. In the end, your roadmap to being tech savvy begins with being savvy about your technological limitations.

Search Engine Optimization, the important questions

I thought you might like to know some of the reasons why you are not getting enough organic traffic to your website. I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself, that first sentence comes straight out of the playbook of an SEO sales person, a spamming sales person at that. But the offer is very compelling, “If you’re willing to overlook that we’ve made contact with you in an unsolicited and shady manner” we are here to solve your traffic problems and we’ll do it through the magic of search engine optimization (SEO).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving the content and structure of your website in order to improve its placement in search engine results. You don’t need to look too far to find persons ready to sign you up for SEO services, in fact you may have been victim to SEO spam messages like the one below (note the bad formatting and grammar):

I thought you might like to know some of the reasons why you are not getting enough organic traffic &amp; mo=st often you stick to Ad words to get more traffic which is quite expensive an=d the chances is high of getting a spam traffic as well ...<snip>.. This email just tells you the fraction of things we do, [blah, blah, blah] many other technical factors which can be sen=t to you on your request. If you would like to know more about our services then please write us back else you can give us a call us in our number ...

The message plays on the idea that you’re doing something wrong and if you just let us, we’ll help you fix it and thus “drive more traffic to your website”, which is what you need, right?

Not so fast. When trying to determine your real need and the real value of an SEO professional, a small dose of SEO skepticism is healthy. Starting with the wrong goals and measuring the wrong things will bring little value to your business. At minimum you should be asking the following questions.

  • How will you drive the right kind of traffic to my site?
  • How will I be able to measure the improvements?

Making the assumption that all new traffic is good traffic is simply a bad idea. A restaurant that ONLY sells beef burgers would see little benefit in being overrun by vegan visitors (unless they had just launched veggie-burgers). Our fictional restaurant might be more interested in getting persons who frequent a nearby chicken place. They might also want a methodology for measuring how changes in their communication affect the numbers of burgers sold.
Measuring the effectiveness of SEO strategies is part of what we will be covering in the upcoming session called “The Technology Behind Online Marketing” this Thursday. You can learn more about this free session at the Tutorate website.
Another useful practice is to put yourself in the place of the search engine providers, in other words pretend to be Google and think about how they bring value to their visitors. Think of Google as a person who is trying hard to distinguish a quality site from an impostor. The goal is to deliver useful search results to their visitors, since this is what makes them valuable to their users. If you were Google, what would you do if you started to notice that more “spammy” content was making in the top three search results? That’s what was happening around 2009/2010 so Google made changes to fix the problem. Most famously in 2011 they released Panda which had a major effect on the SEO industry as some popular SEO practices were now red flagged causing certain sites to plummet in the rankings.

As a web site then, your goal is to stay relevant. Don't try to "trick" Google by overusing words just to win at the SEO game. The guys who do that tend to drop in the listings when Google updates their algorithms. My final question. If you started with the assumption that your visitors actually wanted to know more about you and your offerings, how would this change the way you present information on your site? Your answer might be the key to improving your search engine rankings.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tutorial: Watch your youtube videos at Double Speed

I sometimes watch videos at double speed in order to save time. If you'd like to do the same, here's how I do it for Youtube videos.

Step 1 - Switch Youtube to “HTML5 Mode”

Visit and click “join the HTML5 trial”. I haven't found any negative side effects to using the HTML5 mode. Just be sure you're using a modern browser. Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera or IE version 9 or better are known to work.

Joining the HTML5 trial also means that you can watch videos without flash enabled.

There is no step 2.  You can now go a youtube video of your choice and watch it at double speed.
Look for the settings menu in the toolbar of the video (see the screenshot below).

Look for the little gear at the bottom of your video, you may need to pass your mouse over the video before it appears.

This works with most youtube videos. You will need to do this on every browser that you want this to work with. Don't expect to just walk up to a new computer and expect it to be in HTML5 trial mode.

I was going to create a video to show how to do this, but thought better of the idea. If you're like me, for something like this, you prefer a short checklist of instructions and some screenshots. Our websites on a budget video is great at double speed!

Technology Coaching from Tutorate

Just like in sports, there are times when a business could benefit from a coach. We’re already doing this for clients, but now we have a name :).

Think of it as helping you to get your technology technique right, while you keep executing on your business.

You don't need another four-day seminar that will take you out of the office, you need a technology coach.
Our core support includes Web, Cloud and Content Strategies.
  • Conversations - First we come in and have conversations with your key team members
  • Charting - Then we create a plan that matches your real business goals (the things that affect your revenue goals, overheads and performance)
  • Coaching - We schedule short sessions with your key leaders and teams to help you with the implementation of your strategy. 

Just in Time Improvements

We’ve discovered that many businesses want to improve but don’t want to take their eyes off the core business. Our approach makes it possible to improve on your execution even with the tools you already have. More importantly, a coach sees your blind spots and can prescribe how to improve on those. As part of all of this,  we’ll introduce you to new tools and techniques that will make your day more efficient. 

Project Oriented

If you’re ready to try us out we recommend that you identify a discrete project within your organization. We’ll talk with you about your business goals, timelines and objectives.

Our coach then comes beside your team during the set-up, planning and execution of the project with the aim of helping your team to be more effective. We’ll make recommendations about skills that you can ramp up and help you get there quickly.

Sessions in September: Websites on a Budget, Business Model Primer

Here’s an overview of our upcoming sessions for September.

Tuesday - Website on a Budget

I do web development and a few years ago I started to notice the a rise of web based platforms that allow you to “do it yourself” without needing to know programming. The first mature versions of these platforms emerged in the late 2000s. For some reason web developers have tended to turn their nose up at these systems preferring the more “powerful” tools.

I've taught students and worked with clients and discovered that the “power tools” sometimes add too much overhead to basic project. This session explores a recipe I came up with to build a starter website on a tight budget using one of the new site builders. You may discover, like many others who have tried it, that you can get a couple years of value out of a starter site before you're ready for the bigger things.

It isn’t too late to sign up by visiting

Thursday - Business Model Creation Primer

If you have more business ideas than you can manage then you may find this session valuable. It focuses on a process that streamlines the tasks of taking a business idea and developing it into a working business model. I’m on the learning curve with business development myself but have found this approach so useful it's worth sharing. Learn more about this session on Business model creation.

The rest of September

Here’s the September timetable.

Tuesday, September 10
 Websites on a Budget
Thursday, September 12
 The Business Model Creation Primer
Tuesday, September 17
 Drupal Getting Started
Thursday, September 19
 Design for Developers
Thursday, September 26
 The Tech Behind Online Marketing

Monday, September 2, 2013

Business Idea-itis

I come up with business ideas all the time, probably three to four times a week. It would be impossible for me to execute every idea I have. A lot of them are probably impractical, but how do you know when something is going to work?

I was clueless

Some time close to the summer of 2012 I started to make use of more Lean Startup style methodologies. Looking back at a few business ideas that I actually started to develop made me realize just how much my approach has changed over the years. Nowadays my biggest goal for a business idea is to identify how to make it into a working business model. Nine years ago when we (we, being my brother and I) were starting, I certainly wasn't trying to figure out a business model. I was basically charging a fee for doing what I enjoyed. I used to say “I get paid to play with computers”. I literally spent two years writing a business plan, mostly so that I could demonstrate to persons that I was serious about this thing. All this time I was more or less clueless about what a business model was and how it affected anything. I suppose, somewhere embedded in my plan was a business model but it wasn't really front and center of my motivations.

The upcoming session on Business Models aims to share some of the process behind the Tutorate project and generally share what I'm learning about Business Model development. These are the things that I wish I knew about roughly nine years ago. 

Now I have a clue

In my words, determining whether a business is practical depends on refining the business model by performing a series of experiments. My first pass at any business model is always a hypothesis which must be tested to help me determine if my initial guesses were right. Tutorate is one of those experiments (should I say that out loud?). Tutorate’s core value statement is roughly something like “Rich learning experiences for the impatient”. That value statement is a summary of our initial guess. Our target audience is smart persons who don’t have a lot of time but need to become savvy with an important new concept that they can, hopefully, make use of almost immediately.

Learn more about Business Model Creation in our upcoming session.

Experiments. Why my company is a 9 year old startup

I was once told by a fellow tech entrepreneur that I had no business acumen. Of course I didn't take him very seriously but looking back a few years he was probably right. I can trace this back to the motivations for getting into business. The gist of it is as follows: a few years ago I looked around and could not find the company that best matched my interests I knew I enjoyed teaching (I taught at a high school for almost three years and also at a technology training company), but I also loved to program and tinker with computers. I once told a potential employer that I needed to be always learning new things. Since I was unable to find that single place that allowed me to combine my passions I created that place. So far I've learnt a lot running a company, and perhaps my biggest and most recent lesson is that we are a nine-year-old startup.

I'm personally quite pleased that I discovered these ideas in 2011 which are now categorized as part of the Lean Startup Movement. One of our recent Tutorate participants observed that they don't teach the lean approach to business model creation in his MBA programme. The sad truth is, even though the methodologies, though not fully codified at the time, have been around in some form since 2005, they aren’t covered by the programmes of traditional business schools (I know that Stanford is an exception).  The good news is that we're approaching a tipping point, the concepts have now been featured on CNN and BBC and most notably in an article from the May 13, 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review.

In a nutshell, if you don't have a sustainable business model then you're a startup. Startups should stop pretending that they have a stable business and instead spend their time actively searching for a business model. In contrast to a startup, an established business spends their time executing on their business model. The concepts can be applied to departments within an organization and new initiatives within established businesses. When I call my company a nine-year-old startup it means we’re still working out aspects of our business model and we’re using a systematic methodology to get us there. This is what we will be covering in Tutorate’s upcoming session this September called the Business Model Creation Primer.

(the photo in this post came from