Saturday, November 13, 2010

Attending IndieConf

Wow, there are a lot of fat people here. I'm one of them. There must be a market to sell to here: health maintenance and improvement for independent workers!

I'm dumping notes here. Please see the conference site for links to the really good stuff.

Patrick O'Keefe - Marketing Yourself in online communities
Why
- you can differentiate yourself much more easily than in a global space
- you get people who are self-selected as interested in a specific subject area
- those participating in online communities are much more influential in decision making, sharing advice

Prerequisites
you have to be personable
be able to communicate well
not be resentful of authority but work well within the norms of the community
be able to not talk about yourself, post links to yourself
you need time, and keep plugging at it persistently on a scheduled basis
you should enjoy the topics of the community in which you participate
the community should allow you to fill out a profile, link to details about your business


Four categories
community of your peers, within your industry
an industry you want to reach, not your own, something specific
 - not in general, programmers
 - you can use this to stand above the rest and offer information
local business communities
 - local service businesses
small business communities

Becoming a member of the community
You have to enjoy it enough to participate for at least a half hour a week or more; if not, don't bother.
Pay attention to the guidelines and norms, and be respectful.
Fill out your profile; that is where you will get benefits; if it doesn't allow you to link to your own site, don't bother; make sure the site allows signatures and put your links there.

One of the attendees asks, how to recover from making a faux-pas in a discussion about a technical question? The answer comes back,  remember that any posts are to the entire community and will hang around potentially forever; don't get in nasty arguments but agree to disagree and decide if you want to to be a "know-everything" person.

Building a Reputation
"Do good, whatever that means for your brand."
Help people. Demonstrate knowledge by answering questions.
So that when they need your service, they will think of YOU.
Use Google to track for referrals from your signature links

Michael observes the effect of being considered a perpetual "newb" after starting by asking basic questions. How do you overcome that long term? "One idea might be to start a new profile" - not recommended - mainly because many communities consider multiple accounts as a bad thing.  Patrick doesn't think past posts will hurt in that respect, if you are continuing to participate and gain credibility.

What's the ROI of online community participation?
 - note that online conversations last for a long time, are seen by many people, and can be responded to long term
 - credibility
 - book deals
 - other peripheral benefits you could not foresee
 - association of you with a given service

"Anonymity is the enemy of a good online community... but it is not for business professionals... part of being a professional is putting your name [on what you do]...".

Patrick notes that he once bought 67 of his own book from Amazon, because it was cheaper than the publisher discount, and it pushed his ranking up to 200th place. Note: How to rank a book up on Amazon.com: buy a few tens of copies of it.


Mital Patel - Legal issues - www.TriangleBusinessLaw.com
(Mital is using Presi.com, looks really neat.)

- leaping in; employment issues; noncompetition/non-solicitation agreements; intellectual property

Which form of business? Sole proprietorship, LLC, S Corp, C Corp; (need operating agreement articles of incorporation, bylaws, meeting minutes, EIN)
Tax differences: LLC is simpler to operate from a paperwork perspective, but there are differences in how taxes are done.

Contracts
 - Payment terms: Retainer, Net 30 or Net 60; best to ask for a deposit for some fraction of the work; you will save yourself a hassle if client cash flow gets tight later.
 - Representations and warranties: underpromise, overdeliver
 - Subcontractors: employee vs independent contractor; always use "independent contractor" if that's what they are; don't use "1099 employee" too lightly.
 - Indemnification: limit your liabilities if things go wrong; guard yourself against what could happen if client provides incorrect data or misuses the software;
 - Choice of law; specify your home locale to use the "home court advantage".
 - IP: selling vs licensing; selling means the client owns everything and can bring someone else in to work on the software as a competitor to you; licensing indicates your client has terms to use it, but you may have the ultimate rights to it. Suggestion that licensing is the often the most advantageous model.
- Make sure IP is spelled out; the law doesn't say by default who owns code. Commonlaw copyright gives the author rights; you need to make sure those things are spelled out.

A question comes up about the enforceability of IP ownership agreements regarding work and product done in your own time/resources. The answer comes back, it depends on the state and agreement.

Forms of IP law
Copyright: written expression; "work for hire"; Photographer automatically owns the copyright; use the words "Work for Hire" and assure the copyright is assigned to you.
Trademarks: Name and brand symbols for your business; domain name alone is not a trademark use;  "likelihood of confusion" test; check state trademark registries; Also at federal: USPTO.gov. A commercial search will cost a few hundred dollars.
Patents: not as common for independent developers and designers
Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs): avoid giving away your business model; venture capitalists and angel investors will get offended by them; hard to enforce but often having them in place keeps people in line.

Growing: hire slowly, fire fast, and use solid employee agreements: non-competition, non-solicitation; don't want employees jumping ship and taking your clients.

Brandon Eley - Effective Networking for Independent Contractors

"Networking gets a bad rep"
- Introversion is no excuse; people will attend conferences and not mix socially with people.
- Freelancers may consider networking events to be too time consuming.

His mom kept 3 ring profile binders on each customer, detailing every aspect of their lives; she'd use these to find customers to market to personally and proactively.

His initial network: calling parent's friends, relatives, and worked from there word of mouth.
Prerequisite: you need to maintain relationships with people, and keep up with them over years. Build relationships.

Basic principles
 -"emotional bank account" for each person you meet; you need to make deposits by helping them in some way; Goal in attending events should be to walk out with a new relationship.
- give first; at least five substantial times before you expect results from them and build trust
- give often; and consistently; pass on leads
- don't try to connect with everyone; people max out at about 200 people they can keep up with on a regular basis; look for the people you have common interest; invest your time in those that are really promising

Online communities
 - LinkedIn; puts everything he does professionally on his public profile; links to those he feels worth networking with; asks those who comment on his presentations to give referrals;
 - Facebook; a social networking antipattern; uses it only for personal social interactions, semi-privately; but you cannot rely upon it being private. Be Extremely Careful.
Pepper O. points out that for a female small business owner, not having a Facebook page is a serious omission.
 - pick niche communities related to topics that your intended customer base will want; forums; where are your perfect customers visiting?  Plaxo has many small executives; inside919 has many small businesses;

Offline communities
- Pick where to go; don't go to places you won't get valuable contacts or run by a referral group; target places with specific topics; Meetup.com ; twitvite.com, regional conferences;
- look to get 10 connections and try to keep up connections with those people over time
- go into a conference with a friend, someone who knows different people than you, and introduce each other
- don't "pitch" your stuff; ask and listen more than you talk
- don't be a business card ninja; only keep cards if someone wants to keep in touch; it is just annoying
- AVOID referral groups, as if your life depended on it; you need to build relationships instead
- don't hang around with your nose in a phone or a laptop; put the smartphone away when you're in the hallway; talk to people; smartphone as a pacifier.
- FOLLOW UP. Number one thing he expects is that 95% of the people will never contact him. The only thing worse is people who spam him before he gets back from the conference; like monthly newsletters
- DO NOT SPAM. that's like overdrawing your account

Keeping in touch to build a long term relationship
- Connect > Followup > Provide Value > Keep in touch
- Sends hand-printed note on a card to people;
  - carries a space pen to write on glossy business card to jot down how he met a person;
  - just write a few words to trigger
  - Sends an email as an alternative; if you don't have the address or it is not quite appropriate to send a card
- Follow up: (mentioned sending a client note at a rate of 4 articles over 6 months) works with a pool of about 10 people and scans feeds about once or twice a week to see if there is anything of interest to someone in that pool; might also use a CRM system and tag the prospect with their interests;
- Provide value:
  - see articles written in their industry, send them on with a quick personal note;
  - maintain practice over a period of time; send consistently
  - "helpAReporterOut.com" - sends out notes periodically on different industries; send to clients; copy and paste a link
- After you have established a relationship, ask for business; call up and ask to talk over coffee; ask if you can show them what you have to offer; ask for leads

Use Software to leverage and extend your memory
Uses "Highrise" CRM; keeps track of profiles by bcc of any email you send to the client;
Zoho and SugarCRM are more advanced.

 Stop looking at yourself as a salesperson, and look at it as building a relationship with people.


LUNCH

AFTER LUNCH

Doug Foster: Convince ME!
www.theideamechanic.com

Think like the buyer. Don't think like a seller.
- Ask yourself, "Why should I buy what you are selling?"
- WII-FM: What's In It For Me? Make you Money? Save you money? A need or a want? Leverage? Security? Why are you looking at it?

As a buyer, I expect you to know
- My industry; My business; My pain

How do you sell? A process:  -> Foster-> Find -> Educate -> Close ->
Closing is really just asking for the business. Don't be afraid to ask.

Find:
 - Talk; whenever you get the opportunity, share what you do,
 - Hang Out at watering holes, meetups,
 - Network ; check out Triangle interactive marketing association TIMA
 - Subscribe: RSS, MailChimp
 - Get social

Educate. Once you have a prospect, take them on a trip: tell your story; show proof; try it; satisfy completely

Close
 - deciding is logical but buying is emotional
 - "I" will convince me;
 - No buyer's remorse; don't badger and box the prospect in to buying something they don't want. You don't want the client to feel like they had no choice.

(Show's Johnson Automotive Badger commercial as an anti-pattern.)

Foster
 - Ask a lot of questions after you complete the deal
 - Listen to the answers completely
 - FYI - send out notes every now and then to remind prospect that you are thinking of their needs, something that is of value to them
 - Deliver and manage expectations; get the cycle down to do less selling and do more delivery
 - Fix; don't be afraid to admit when things go wrong and jump onto a fix for it.

Plan the Trip
- "If you don't know where you're going, you're going to wind up somewhere else" - Yogi Bera
- Know Me, Know my story, Know my backstory
- Who/What/When/Where/How/Why/How much
- Ask, "Why should I make this trip" metaphorically. What will I see? Do you know my points of interest, and will we pass them along the way? Who else is along for the ride?
- I only have so much money and time.
- Are we going down the street or around the world? Are we there yet?

Tell the story
- Scenarios; a way to predict possible alternate outcomes; "The Art of the Long View" by Peter Schwartz; how might the sale go?
 - Plan alternate routes for roadblocks and shortcuts... if they say "go", then close and move on
- Short Stories that Sell; innately, we love flawed characters;
- Our brains are wired for stories (and pictures)
- "The back of the napkin" Dan Roam; brain wired to process at different levels who/what, how much, where, when, how, why

What works better, on the phone or face to face? If you know the person, phone is fine; otherwise if you can get a face to face meeting jump at the chance. You can't beat a face to face.

- I want to know "your" story as a buyer. It should be unlike anyone else's story.
  - Your story aught to overlap, so it becomes (y)our story.
  - Fit the story to the location and situation.

Speaker says "My story is, 'I help people sell'"
A good story:
 - invokes emotion
 - memorable
 - length, width, depth
 - truthful - what is just an idea? what works now?
Goal is to start a conversation, threaded with other stories; nobody likes a monolog.

7 layers of how to tell a story (The OSI model)
Application Purpose, conversation
Session Media, audio, video
Transport Delivery: best effort or guaranteed?
Network
Link
Physical

(Bank of America story, 160k IP phones in 10 minutes)

Show proof: why should I believe you?
- buyer may be smarter than you
- be honest; assume you are the dumbest person in the room
- build trust with repeated truth telling
(speaker going too fast here)
- demonstrate
- pull out a success story; 1st hand best; 2nd hand good; make it viral

Try
- if seeing is believing, trying is buying
- make it an engaging experience; make it real; make it a WOW
Dance or watch, watch or try
- "Good" a crowd experience of a random gathering
- "Better" a community of interest experiencing, concert or conference
- "Best" a personal experience

Educate
- Questions are good; good conversations have questions, even tough ones
- it is the start of a conversation;
- Concerns are a great thing
- where can buyer go to learn more?
Ask me, listen to me, respond to me directly

Only 2 questions count for buyers: did I buy? Would I buy again?
What if the buyer is not satisfied? Some people are never satisfied.

A customer that is satisfied and remorseless, will be your best seller.
- Slides are up on slideshare.

Rebecca Murphy - Git and Tickets
or
"tools for getting better paying work"
"tools for getting better customers"
"cya"

"I can't work without them anymore"

(complicated email thread with two or more tasks emerging from it)
- had learned to tolerate terribleness and accept whatever was thrown
- morass of emails, downloads, labeling, everything mixed up in the inbox

(describes clumsy process using zip files and many overwritten files, no ticketing system until late in the process, and no version control)

Lesson learned:
- email is evil: a ticketing system brings sanity to client requests
- mentions "assembla" as a ticketing system
- no context switching is required when using the ticketing system; whereas emails presents very many distracting emails vying for attention; narrowly focused to one client needs
- you can assign priorities to tickets (* but: some clients think everything is high priority)
- you can propose a new status, and requires sign-off by a client
- you can assign tickets to a client, and you can see where bottlenecks are
- you can see who might be overloaded with tasks
- can be integrated with GIT/Mercurial/SVN
- email based entry

"I really don't like working remotely anymore, at least with a team of developers; I want to be able to show a client -- I'm done with my stuff"

"Ticketing systems are not rocket science"

Version control is non-negotiable
- either the client needs to set it up or set one up yourself
- server is not necessary for setting it up
(* important to note - .git lives under the directory, so a remote repository is the best way to protect the source from a "rm -rf")

"Learn to use the freakin' command-line"

git-diff
- you can see what you just changed before pushing it!

git-commit
- you've basically made a snapshot
- you can undo the change
- you can combine two commits into a single commit, reorder commits
- we have a snapshot that we can roll back to
- replay the history of what you did
- use the tool to get the changes up to the server

git tag -a v1.3
- tags with a version label, so you can do
git checkout v1.3
- or rapidly roll back
git checkout v1.2

"I will not FTP anymore, because this is how it should work."

git bisect start
git bisect good v1.2
- marks v1.2 as a good snapshot
git bisect bad master
- mark the current code as bad in some way
- work through commits to check; mark each either good or bad until you get to the commit that broke
- identify the change that broke the system

git branch (* IMHO, branches are evil)
- work on your new feature and commit as normal but commits will not touch the "master"
- work on experimental changes without breaking the stable code
- pull master back into branch
"The most amazingly trivial thing to do... you'll start to do it for little things, because it is so easy"

git-add --patch
- select which of your changes to add
git-commit -v
- see your diff when writing your commit message
git stash/ stash pop
- kind of like a mini branch
git rebase -i master~10
- edit (!) the last 10 commits

"Having the power to do this sort of stuff in your day to day work is wonderful"

GUI Tools
- gitx (doesn't recommend it for doing the command line stuff)

How to get clients to do this stuff
1) Fire bad clients. Srsly.
Tell them up front that you require Git/SVN, Net 30 terms, a ticketing system or project management system, access to a hosted dev environment or setup on local machine
2) Do it without their permission or involvement
3) Use Github, follow instructions; setup ssh keys; find a project and clone it.
4) Use a ticketing system like assembla; there are lots of other options

Links on pinboard.in/u:murphey/t:git , /t:workflow/

Matthew Bass - Homesteading for freelancers

"Not the construction kind... the kind you do with software"

- hated being tied down all day in corporate work
- as a freelancer, you have time flexibility but you are still tied down
- as freelancers, you fall under the "self employed" category; but there is an advantage to being a business owner, to build products that people pay for;
- stop trading time for money and start diversifying your sources of income

How-To of Building Your Own Product - what's worked for me

Setting Goals can be challenging
- some people set no goals
- some people set goals but they are the same as everyone else's goals
  - "College" expectation and earn a degree: what he found was that the degree didn't really help him.
- we want to set goals unique to our circumstances and talents, and where we feel we are being led, not because everyone else is doing it

Homesteading (re: Nathaniel Talbot)
- self-sufficiency and creating thinking
- may be out in the middle of nowhere,  isolated, alone;
- starting from very little and building it from there
- everyone else expects venture funding, too lofty goals
  - small initial investment, get small amount of income

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... Do the thing you think you cannot do."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Teascript?
 - and various other philosophical questions
 - problem to be solved: how do home-schoolers get a transcript to present to colleges?
 - proposed solution: a web service for home-school families to get a PDF

"Getting Real" - free online book by 37signals
- Build less
- Stay lean
- Manage debt

Minimal viable product
 - be very careful only to put in necessary features
 - keep "to do" comments and unfleshed out tests to a minimum; set a threshold to avoid technical debts

Release features immediately, get feedback immediately, better motivation to keep working on the product

Catch an idea
- find a target niche

  - Teascript has 5600 subscribers already, despite the crudeness of the interface; there simply aren't any Web based alternatives out there. It is a true niche application so the bar is a little lower.
  - People saw the app and that it worked well, and stuck with it

- pick something easy
 - creating a single PDF was not a hard thing to do; a full-blown planner would have been much more difficult
- solve ONE problem

Taking off
- scope out the competition
- create a skeleton app
- post a tease page with a form
  - you can collect emails of people interested in beta testing the app
  - got over a 50% participation of initial beta tester
- Be selective with what feedback you get from your customers
  - file away features for reference
  - people will use an app even if you don't think it has all the features you think it should have had

Build what they need
- beta testing
- be willing to change

Build what you need
- dashboard / charts
- automation
- watch how people are using the system
- private schools started using the service; totally unexpected b/c pricing structure is oriented toward families, not toward schools
- built an admin back-end to view users, stats, export data
- certain things got to be a drain on his time, managing it; automation helped eliminate that

When to stop
- minimal viable product
- don't get sidetracked
- we are never truly "done"

Deployment
- VPS vs shared
- Original apache proxying Mongrel
"Like, I just want to build applications."
- now running on Phusion Passenger
- Capistrano, baby! (Definitely recommended; can be used with PHP or anything else...)
- shared hosting had issues; migrated to Slicehost but then we had to do everything from scratch
  - it was painful, but worth it
  - lasted for years

Marketing
- email / blogging
- let other "spam" for you
- speaking for fun and profit, to your audience
- Google AdWords (generating steady traffic for about $30/month, perhaps b/c it is a niche application)
- didn't like doing marketing, but it didn't sell itself;
- but a good idea and implementation will be spread by those who like it
- Speaking can be scary -- very scary -- but it can be worth it ; check out toastmasters
"Speaking can give you some leverage."

Refinement
- a/b testing
- customer development
- strategic alliances
- "Everyone in the crowd knew what it was but no one was actually doing it"
- about a/b testing for rails developers: "Vanity" gem for ruby on rails developers
  - statistically prove that users do or don't like it;
  - present two different forms and feeds them at random, and measures the success rate
  - you get a page showing which one converted more users
    - screencast got 9% more results; longer form got 16% more results!
- there is already an "organizer" product, which he could explore alliance with, cross-registering users, etc

Support
- the FAQ; direct people to the FAQ before it happens
- timely replies; people appreciate it; they appreciate that you care and are frustrated otherwise
  - always tries to respond in 24 hours if not sooner
- refunds?
  - maintains a pretty liberal policy on refunds if there is a bug he can't fix or feature he can't implement
- seen some really stupid stuff; add questions to the FAQ otherwise

The buck starts here
- payment systems
  - checks, credit card payment gateway;
- subscription based vs one-time
  - accepting credit cards is often the most challenging piece
  - had paypal, but wasn't very good
  - uses Spreedly now with paypal as the merchant account (Spreedly Nathanial Talbot's api for accessing gateways and auto-renewal, refunds, etc; Spreedly charges a percentage off each transaction.)
 - monetizing using adds was just not worth the time
 - switched to a monthly model; may switch to a fee to print the transcript; used to have a yearly fee instead;
- tracking expenses

Incorporated as an S-Corp; "Adeptware".

Summary
Set some goals; stake out some land; work, work, rest; relax - it's only ones and zeros!
"If you are building for a niche and it has value, then people should be willing to pay for it."

(* note that at the base rate, it is about $28k of income if everyone was a paying customer).
Read More
teascript.com
gettingreal.37signals.com
matthewbass.com
@pelargir

Conference Wrap-up

Sign up to http://groups.google.com/group/indieconf/ to keep up with what is going on.

Raffle give away
1) Carrboro co-working 1 month givaway
2) 2 weeks office space at DesignBox
3) two more "Money" books
4) Pearson Vue Books

Wow. Loved the conference Michael!
Post a Comment