Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sharing the Load

There are some tasks for which sharing the load makes for quick work. Case in point: On Sunday, Lisa and I set up the Christmas tree for the holidays. Ordinarily, it can take me up to four or five hours to get it constructed and lit. Of course, some of that is just getting all of the light strings working, but thanks to my Light Keeper PRO tool, that went a lot faster this year.

For the tree, though, this year Lisa and I shared the duties. While I fluffed out and attached each branch, she followed along behind and wrapped the branch with lights. Occasionally she would run into a burnt out one and I would jump in ot replace it. Using this technique, we were able to get the tree built and lit in under an hour.

This was a really good thing because 30 minutes after we put the last decoration on the tree, Lisa let me know that "it was time" and off we flew to the hospital where, at 10am the next morning, our little Kaylie was born.

There are some tasks that you can share, and others where you can only be a coach and support while the other person does all of the heavy lifting.

It is a profoundly humbling experience.

Kaylie Adeline Peters
Born: Nov 19, 2007 9:56am
Weight: 6lb 8oz
Length: 19 inches

Mother, baby, and Dad are all doing well and trying to come to grips with a whole new exciting chapter of life.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

So, Where Do I Start?

Web designOne aspect of my work is the area of "graphical treatment conversion".

Huh? What's that?

Well, basically, my clients sometimes call me in to work with a graphical designer. These are folks who have a great eye for color and layout, but aren't skilled in creating actual web pages. The designer creates pictures of what the website should look like and how it should behave. Then they hand those pictures (the "graphical treatment") to me.

Then I convert those pictures into an actual web page/web site. I do this with a combination of HTML and CSS.

Don't be scared by the acronyms. As I mentioned in one of my TLA tutorials, HTML is just a way of indicating the structure of a web document. With it, I can tell the browser that this chunk of text is a body paragraph and this other one is a section heading. CSS just tells the computer what each of these structures is supposed to look like. For example, it might say that the section heading is in 18 point bold, bright red Arial font and is centered on the page.

The conversion process goes a lot faster and easier if the end client does two things. First, they really should hire a professional web designer or at least a professional graphical designer with lots of Web experience. There are some design elements which are easier than others when it comes to converting them for the Web. If the designer knows this, then the resulting website will not only be up and running faster, but will also probably work better as well.

The other thing?

If you should ever hire a professional web designer, listen to their advice. They probably won't completely refuse if you want to have pink text on a light purple background, but they will have some strong reasons why it won't work. Find out what they are.

Can you tell when someone has hired a professional designer?

Retiring Old Friends

booksAnyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I am an inveterate reader. I have a ton of books on my shelves to prove it. My office shelves are lined with the science fiction novels I read as a teenager. Dear old friends -- some of which I fully intend to visit again.

Then comes the challenge for me.

One of my goals this year is to reorganize my office book shelves. I have numerous business and computer reference books which I would like to have near to hand. That means that at least some of these old friends of my youth will have to go.

Tonight I started paring through them. Oh, the classics will definitely stay. Asimov, Heinlein, maybe even a few of my old Edgar Rice Burroughs adventures. The rest will go into boxes and into storage. As much as I know I should, I just can't bear to get rid of them entirely. A weakness? Perhaps.

But perhaps someday my daughter will open up one of these old boxes and find some new friends for her to meet.

So, do you have a hard time giving up books?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Gift Horse's Mouth

This post is one of the reasons I love reading Seth Godin's stuff. As he once said in a lecture I attended, he doesn't so much come up with brand new stuff, but he's pretty amazing at putting the pieces together and coming up with some interesting conclusions.

The piece to which I'm referring is his riff on gift cards and how they are pretty much a scam. As he puts it, why have we bought into the story that it's crude and crass to just give someone a $100 bill as a gift, but somehow it's OK to give them a $100 gift card. The money is useful anywhere, while the card limits the receiver to one store where they will either have to spend some of their own cash or leave money on the card (since it would be pretty tricky to purchase anything which works out to exactly the value on the card).

Let's not even consider the issue of fees on the card which make it worth gradually less and less if you take too long to use it.

Now, I've given such cards myself. Why didn't I just give cash (or check)? I think it basically comes down to the reasons behind the gift. A gift is supposed to be for someone for whom you care, either family or friend. By giving them some specific thing that they want, you are saying you are so close to them that you understand their deepest desire.

Of course, the challenge is that it's difficult to be that close to everyone, especially as families become more dispersed. I love my brother, and I know he loves tools. By this time in his life, though, after decades of building his workshop and it's collection of saws, hammers, drills, etc., I have no clue exactly what he has, needs, or wants. So, my gift card to Home Depot is a statement that I recognize those things which are important or enjoyable to him, I'm just a little fuzzy on the details.

So, I guess at the bottom of things, I can see Seth's point that the gift card industry creates a lot of waste, at the same time, however, we might actually be buying something more than just "store money".

Maybe we're just saying "I wish I knew you better."

So, what are your opinions of gift cards?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Networking with a Guest

Networking GuestToday I attended a sales seminar given by my sales coach, Joe Marr. I've seen this same presentation (or one similar to it within two decimal places) at least three other times. So, why would I go again?

I brought along a guest.

I had been telling my friend Helene Gidley about how much Joe had been helping me. She was curious so I took the opportunity to invite her to an introductory session (which included a free lunch!).

So, what did I get out of it?

Well, I did get to see Joe in action. He's really a pretty darned good speaker. Watching him, and studying his presentation techniques, is an education in itself. When I decide to start my speaking career, the tricks I glean from him will stand me in good stead.

I was able to help my friend Helene. The cool thing about Joe's introductory seminar is that it isn't just a sales presentation designed to rope you in. Even if you decided to walk away from that class and never come back, you still would have gained an insight into the sales process that could easily be translated into thousands of dollars.

I helped my friend Joe. Just like any other business owner, he has to maintain clients in his pipeline. Maybe Helene will decide to work with him. Maybe not. Just bringing them together, though, might lead to a working relationship which would be lucrative for both of them.

The seminar was also a pretty good networking opportunity. There were probably ten or eleven students in the class. I even got a chance to reconnect with Carrie Hensel of Inner Circle Media. She took the Sandler Sales training many years ago and was attending this particular event for the same reason that I was -- she brought a guest. Ironically, it was Carrie who got me into Sandler in the first place. It was her recommendation which first put the idea in my head.

And with all of that, I got a free lunch, too.

So what networking opportunities have you found in your area which are good not only for you, but for a guest as well?

A New Beginning

Three copiesI got started on the Bruce Donovan Construction project this evening. One of the first steps to this or any project is to set up three copies of the site.

The first copy is the one that is on my desktop computer in my office. This is the copy upon which I will be doing all of my work. Having everything directly on my local computer makes editing files or adding graphics a lot easier. Also, since I try to make my local machine look like the production server as much as possible (i.e. it has the same files and directories), when I finally move the files to the production site, I have a fairly high chance of the system working right from the start.

The second copy is on a test site which my client should be able to see. This is so that after I have made some changes on copy one (the one on my computer), I can then upload the files to the test site, where the client can take a look and give me his or her approval. Quite often I'm able to make what is called a subdomain on the production server and use it as a test site. For example, if you can open the production site by pointing your browser at http://brucedonovan.com/, then the test site might be at http://testsite.brucedonovan.com/.

The final copy is the production site itself. Of the three, this copy changes least frequently -- only when testing on the other two copies clears up most of the potential bugs.

By doing this, I reduce the number of problems which might otherwise crop up on the production website, without giving myself too much overhead.

So, what are the first things you might do when you get a new client?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Subtle Dangers of Jargon

Web 2.0Today in sales training we were talking about jargon and how it is a Bad Thing to use it. The primary problem, of course, is that you aren't guaranteed that the person with whom you are speaking will know what you are talking about. This makes them feel not OK. When you make someone feel not OK they tend to want to get away from you as soon as possible -- which makes it very difficult to determine if they are interested and qualified to buy from you.

Working with my partner in class, we were bringing up various terms in our businesses which might cause consternation in a listener. We realized that there was another danger. Not only could we hit upon a term which the listener didn't know, worse would be a term that the listener thought he knew. One example of this was the phrase "Web 2.0". Even amongst different people in the tech business, you can find different meanings for this term.

In group discussion later, I brought up the term and talked about our findings. Then one of the other students pointed out a completely different issue. For the most part, people in the world of the Web recognize Web 2.0 as the next generation of the Web, with emphasis on the social aspects of making connections using the Web.

This person commented that he always thought that Web 2.0 meant that a site was really old and not yet perfected. Curious, I asked him why he would think that. He told me that "2.0" is a pretty low number. Internet Explorer is on Version 7 after all, so that must make Web 2.0 pretty old.

Huh, I guess I never thought of it that way.

How have people either in or out of your field misinterpreted common jargon phrases that you commonly use?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fun Phone Tricks

LG enVI've had my LG enV "smart" phone for almost a year now. I have to say that it has been an awesome tool to have at my side. It's my alarm clock, my GPS, my web browser and my night-time reading. I've used it to take photos and notes and even to record an interview.

Heck, I even use it to make and receive phone calls!

Last weekend I discovered another neat trick. This one involves searching using Google.

Lisa and I were out doing some shopping to get some things for decorating the house for Christmas. I was looking for replacement bulbs for the lighted deer sculptures that we usually put out under the tree in front of the house. They were very specific bulbs. I needed clear, 3.5 volt bulbs.

After failing to find them at the hardware store, I was dreading the thought of driving from place to place in search of these little widgets. Then I realized that I could search for the specific stores I was considering using the built-in web browser on the phone and just jot down the phone numbers.

A few seconds later, I was searching Google for my first target. Up it came, with no problem, including the phone number. Then I noticed something. The phone number was a link. "I wonder what it's linked to?" I thought to myself.

I "clicked" on the link and suddenly the phone began to dial. Gotta say that I was quite pleased. It was such a little thing, but it made the whole process just that much easier.

I don't know if this works with all cell phones, but you might want to check this out. It's a heck of a lot easier than carrying a phone book with you wherever you go.

So, what was the last gadget that surprised you with its usefulness?

Unexpected Free Stuff

Ezine Articles MugMaybe it's a holdover from my starving graduate student days at U of M, but I still love free stuff. I especially love free stuff when I don't expect it.

Yesterday, when I got home from one of several networking events for the day, I found a package, addressed to me, sitting on the counter. Now, with the baby coming, most packages that come to the house are addressed to my lovely wife, Elizabeth, so this was a doubly pleasant surprise.

Yes, I know I'm supposed to be mature by now, but sometimes I'm just not. So, nyaah!

I opened it up and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a nice, large mug and a packet of coffee courtesy of EzineArticles.

Very cool!

Will I be recommending that people write articles for EA? Well, I would have done that anyway, but now I've got a cool story to add to the recommendation.

Which reminds me: It's about time I sent in a new article or two.

So, what was the last cool free gift that you received?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Web: Defining Some More Terms

Statistics in graph formAfter reading my post from yesterday, my good blog friend, Jacki Hollywood Brown of Well Organized thought that I should address some of the terms regarding website statistics. Yes, I know that many people don't care about statistics. Really, the only reason you should care is if you actually care whether someone is actually reading your content.

OK, so most of us might actually care about that. So, here goes.

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This has nothing to do with making search engines work better. This actually means optimizing your site to make it more likely that you will end up on the front page of search results when people search for a particular phrase. For example, one of my former clients, Suzanne Smith of cellochan, is on the first page of results when someone searches on Google for "Ann Arbor cello lessons". SEO is almost as much an art as a science and requires a long-term commitment for any reasonable chance of success, according to my friend Andrew Miller of Your Search Advisor, LLC. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Hits: This is the number of times a file is retrieved from your website. This is probably one of the least useful statistics. Each time a visitor looks at a single web page on your site, his browser has to retrieve many files. The text of a page is in one file and each graphic on the page is also in a different file. One page visited could easily generate ten or more "hits".
  3. Page Views: This is slightly more useful as it is the number of times anyone visits a particular page. This can tell you which pages on your site are receiving the most traffic.
  4. Visitors: When someone comes to your website, they may click around a bit, each generating a number of page views. It's good to know how many people visit your site. Think of this as the equivalent of how many people walk in the front door of a store on any given day.
  5. Unique Visitors: While "visitors" counts the number of people through the door, unique visitors measures the size of your actual audience. In our real-world example, if I had fifty people walk in and out of my store in a day, I might be pretty happy -- until I discovered that it was actually the same guy all the time. My traffic was fifty people, my audience was one.
There are several other meaningful concepts with regards to web statistics, but they start getting into some esoteric areas which, for now might be best left alone. Maybe we'll cover those in another post.

So, what are some of the phrases in your business that a lay person might not fully understand?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the Web: Defining Some Terms

Global InternetI've spoken with a few networking contacts and prospects lately and I've discovered that there is some confusion as to the entities which govern how we interact with the Web. So, without further ado, here are a few of the terms a website owner should know:

  1. The Internet: The Internet is a worldwide network of computers upon which a variety of services (like email, the Web, etc) can be run.
  2. The World Wide Web or the Web: One of many services which run on the Internet. This particular service provides text and graphics in a particular format which can be displayed by programs called browsers (see below). One way to think of the difference between the Internet and the Web is by thinking of the Internet as an elementary school building. The Web would correspond to the group of teachers and students who make up the fourth grade.
  3. Internet Service Provider (ISP): This actually has nothing to do with your website. This is how you connect the computer on your desk to the Internet. You might have "broadband" or "high-speed" service from your cable company, like Comcast, or "DSL" service from your phone company. You need an ISP in order to surf the Web or retrieve email.
  4. Hosting Service or Web Hosting Service: This is where your website lives. This is a company which has a whole bunch of computers called "servers" (imagine your desktop computer, but way more powerful and without a computer monitor). Your website is stored as a bunch of computer files on one of these servers. When someone goes to your website, the computer on their desk makes a connection to the server at the hosting service and requests the page that they want to view.
  5. Browser: A browser is a computer program which runs on your computer. It might be called Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari, but essentially when you want to look at a particular web page, this program makes the connection I mentioned above, retrieves the files for the page and then turns those files into the pictures and text which you see on your computer screen.
  6. Domain Name: Think of this as the address for your website, your email, etc. So, in my case, "cyberdatasolns.com" is the domain name for my company website.
  7. Registrar: OK, this one is a little more complicated. Essentially, the registrar is the company with whom you register your domain name. By registering your domain name you are telling the world which hosting service is storing your website. This gets a little confusing because the same company which provides your hosting service can be quite often your registrar also, but they are not necessarily linked. If you ever decide to move your website to a new hosting service, you have to contact your registrar to do so. Usually this can be done fairly easily through an online form.
Those are some of the more commonly confused terms that I've heard. Perhaps you've encountered some yourself. Let me know if there are any other confusing terms or phrases which you think should be included in this list.

So, in your line of work, what terms are often confusing to your prospects or clients?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Being a Superhero

Because of the proximity of Lisa's due date and the Thanksgiving holiday, we weren't inclined to go too far from home this year, despite the fact that I do enjoy the craziness of the family get-togethers. So, to deal with this situation, we figured that we would invite my mom, Debby Peters, and her husband, Steve, up to our place for Thanksgiving dinner.

I wasn't quite sure how I would take care of everything, but as long as I could get away with instant potatoes and instant stuffing, I figured we would be OK. Oh, and I'm not much of a meat cooker, being a vegetarian and all, so I was probably going to have to figure out what to do in lieu of an actual bird (Tofurky anyone?). Then my mom said those words which lightened my heart like the dawn breaking over a new day.

"Why don't I just prepare everything and bring it up?"

Suddenly I could breathe again. I didn't have to worry about it. My mom is a great cook and I knew that everything was going to be delicious and I could focus on taking care of Lisa.

I was thinking about my reaction this afternoon and I realized something. If we are good in our business, this is probably exactly how our clients feel when they call us in to take care of a particular task. They don't know how to fix things. All they know is confusion and pain and we, with a few simple words can make it all better.

"I can take care of that for you."

For many of us, it's probably as close to being a superhero as we need to become.

So, when was the last time you felt like a superhero?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Leave No Room for Regrets

Reaching your goals
For the past two weeks my sales coach, Joe Marr, has been working with my class on setting our goals -- and I mean more than what we were going to do next week. What we were talking about were goals set for five and ten years out. These are life goals.

Both Joe and one of my other coaches, Professor Keith Hafner, have spoken about the mistakes that people make in their goal-setting:

  1. This covers a good portion of the people out there, but the biggest mistake people make is that they don't bother to set goals in the first place. They have worked for thirty years in the same job, but they don't have thirty years of experience, they have one year of experience, thirty times.
  2. The next biggest mistake is having goals, but not writing them down. Many of us fall into this category. You've probably spoken with one or two. "Someday I'm going to have a cabin up north." "My wife and I want to travel around the world someday." There's a word for these kinds of unwritten goals. They're called dreams. Remember, if it isn't written down, it never happened.
  3. Even if folks write them down, they can still end up in the realms of dream. Unless you define the goals specifically, you'll never know when you get there. Bad goal "I'm going to be healthy". Better goal "By December 31, 2008 my weight will be below 200 lbs and I will be able to do 50 push-ups in a row."
  4. Of course, writing them down isn't enough. If you don't review those goals on a daily basis and take specific steps toward achieving them, then the only benefit you gain from writing everything down is that next year you can just change the dates and claim that you did your goal-setting. Remember the old SMART acronym? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.
I've still got a long way to go myself on these skills. I'm not bad at the shorter term stuff (less than a year away), but five and ten year plans take a lot more out of me. Still, I figure it will be worth it -- being able to craft and live the life that I want. Joe underscored that with some statistics he had found. According to this study, 4000 retired business executives, average age 70, were asked how they would live their life differently if they could live it over again. The #1 answer?
I would have carved out life goals and owned my life. Life was not practice, it was the real thing. I should have taken charge of my life with goalsetting.
So, are your goals posted where you can read them every day?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Viewing a Bigger Picture

Black BeltsI'm nearing the end of the training process for my next Black Belt. As a part of that process, I've had to complete weekly homework assignments. Most of the requirements were about putting in a certain amount of time in practice, but there were one or two assignments which were written or artistic in nature.

This week I have to write an essay about "Why I deserve my black belt."

Our instructor, Master Jason, has assured us that the reason for the assignment is not that he requires convincing. The real reason is that those of us going through this intensive training are in danger, at times, of focusing on the process and losing site of the underlying reasons we are going through it.

I think there's a similar situation when someone wants to build or renew her business's website. She hires a professional web design team, works with them for weeks or months to design the "perfect" look, helps write content for the site (or hires a professional writer like my friend Deb Merion of SPARK Communications), and finally launches the site. The process can take so much time and focus that the business owner forgets that the site is not the end product, but rather simply a tool in the effort to maintain better communications with her customer.

This is also how many sites run into trouble. The business owner, focused so much on the process, tries to make the site appeal to her as opposed to her client. Often a professional designer can help steer her clear of this, but if she won't listen to the designer's advice, then the site often fails to deliver (or at best delivers poorly) on its specified goal.

So, has it ever happened to you that the client insisted that he new your job better than you? How to you guard against that?

Cool Tool: Light Keeper PRO

Light Keeper PROGiven that Lisa and I expect to be new parents right around Thanksgiving, we decided to get a jump on decorating for the holidays. Part of that process, of course, is bringing out the light strings from last year and trying to get them all to work or throwing away the broken ones and just buying new strings.

After spending hours trying to get things working last year, I was determined that this year if a string wouldn't light, we were just going to chuck it.

We stopped off today at our local Ace Hardware to pick up a few things (I collect the Ace Winter village buildings). I was browsing down the lighting aisle looking for 3.5V clear replacement bulbs for the lighted deer family which usually takes up residence under our big spruce tree out front. Suddenly I saw a gadget on the shelf which intrigued me.

It was the "Light Keeper PRO" and it has changed my life.

OK, maybe it's not quite that momentous, but I sure is going to make my life a heck of a lot easier in the future.

This gadget looks like a red plastic ray gun. What it does though is make dead light strings live again.

Apparently one of the main reasons that light strings die is that a bulb burns out and its internal shunt doesn't kick in. The shunt is the doohickey which completes the electrical circuit for the string which allows all of the other lights to stay lit. When the shunt fails, the circuit is broken and darkness reigns.

With the Light Keeper, you just pull a bulb from the dead area of the string and plug the socket into the front of the ray gun. Then you click the trigger a few times and presto! the lights come on.

Apparently, the gadget sends an electrical pulse down the wire which causes the shunts to trip in the dead lights. Once the string is lit, it's pretty trivial to change the burnt out bulbs.

Take it from me: If you are planning to put up any lights over the holidays (or ever for that matter) get one of these gadgets. I've seen it in a few places for between $15-$25. It is worth every penny.

So, how much time have you wasted tracking down that elusive burnt out bulb?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going Past the Surface

Flying side kickToday was yet another test on my path to my third degree black belt. It seems like this has been going on forever, but I've only been in this frequent testing mode for the last eight months.

I'll be glad when it's done.

Part of today's test was a board-breaking. I had to perform a spinning side-kick off my left leg and break two boards at once. Not impossible, but certainly not easy.

Once you get past the actual technique you are using (chop, kick, elbow, whatever) a board-breaking comes down to two things (and please don't try this at home):

1. Hit the board really, really hard.

2. Strike through the board.

The second one is what causes most people to fail their breaks. They hit that board as hard as they can and then stop as soon as they come in contact with its surface.

In the web world this is a lot like a company setting up their website -- putting in all that work to design a great-looking site, using all of the latest technologies to make it fresh and exciting -- and then as soon as they launch it, they think that they're done and that they never need to look at it again. Weeks, months, and even years pass by with no changes made and fewer and fewer visitors. Here's the thing: The failure wasn't in the site itself.

It was in the lack of focus beyond the launch.

So, in your business what failures are caused by focusing on the surface?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Re-Use and Re-Imagine

Reduce, Re-use, RecycleI worked some more on the Community Housing Network site upgrade today. I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a good thing as two other projects are starting to heat up a little. Never a dull moment.

At any rate, my work today allowed me to re-use some code from another system. For programmers, this is somewhat of a Holy Grail. Using or re-tooling old code can often save quite a bit of time and effort in a project.

In this case, I had designed a chunk of PHP code a while back, which automatically switched testimonials on a page. Each time you reloaded a page it would grab a random testimonial from a directory on the server. You can see the results of this on both the CNP of Ohio site and on my own Cyber Data Solutions site.

Now, the folks at CHN wanted a series of different images on their front page. I could have used Flash to create an animated slideshow, but I personally think that such things actually detract from the page. So instead, I used my "random testimonial" code and tweaked it a little so that it would display different pictures instead. You can see it on the CHN test site, if you are interested.

So, what do you think about having animated slide shows on a web page? Do you find them fun or distracting?

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Day of Work

Signing a contractSo, I've been spending a lot of time working on my business lately. Well, to be more accurate, I'm working on those parts of my business which aren't actual billable work. I've been out networking, writing, answering emails, reading, and making calls. I've even done a bit of paperwork here and there.

So, I was quite happy this afternoon to just sit down and work in my business. I released my inner Technician and just got some work done.

Primarily, I've been working on the Community Housing Network's site upgrade. Right now I'm adding in the new content. When that's done, I'll need to make some final tweaks to the user interface and we should be good to go. Wish me luck on that.

Now, this morning (during the "working on" period) I spent some time preparing a proposal for a potential new client. This afternoon they faxed the signed agreement, which means that, as of today, I'll be working with Bruce Donovan Construction to clean up their Web presence.

Today's been a good day.

So, how do you split up the "working on" versus the "working in"?