Reviews

How much actionable data are you getting out of analytics right now? Are you measuring important activities?

You probably aren’t doing much beyond Google Analytics because frankly, most analytics tools require a lot of time. It’s not that they can’t be useful, it’s just that learning something useful requires you to record the right type of information and run the right type of reports.

That’s where DigMyData comes in. DigMyData is a new service that gives you valuable insight into your business by using your existing data.

I was introduced to DigMyData by my good friend, Peldi of Balsamiq Mockups. He was impressed with what he was seeing and thought I should check it out. I soon got a beta account and later got to meet the founders, Adam and Mark, at LessConf 2011 in Atlanta. I was immediately impressed and excited by their down to earth approach to analytics.

What sort of stuff can you see with DigMyData? Well, you can see how sending out a marketing email relates to your support load. Or why April was a bad sales month even though you had twice the traffic. This just scratches the surface but you get the idea.

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{3 comments}

RubenRuben

Twitter’s usefulness has been argued many times before. I have to admit, I’ve often wondered how useful it truly is considering the amount of time I spend on Twitter.

If you ask someone how Twitter helps their business, chances are you’ll hear some of the following:

  • It’s a great way to engage with my users.
  • I use it to monitor my company/product mentions to get feedback from users.
  • It helps with support since users often mention issues they’re having with a specific company.
  • It helps with my brand building effort.
  • It’s a qualified list of potential customers/clients.

While some of these may or may not be true, it’s certainly tough to try and measure the impact it truly has in most of these areas.

Hiring Through Twitter

Well, I recently just so happen to stumble into a Twitter use case that was many times
more effective than a paid service that cost me over $300.

A few weeks ago I was in need to hire a ColdFusion developer for a short two month contract. Instead of doing a resume search on Monster I decided to post the contract on the Joel on Software job board. It’s just over $300 (relatively cheap) and offers a money back guarantee if you don’t end up filling the position with someone that responded through the job board. Pretty nice money back guarantee; which is why I decided to try it out.

A couple of weeks into the posting and not a single resume came in. To be fair, I don’t blame the Joel on Software job board for this. My previous posting was for a Java developer and I received several qualified resumes. I think this was tougher because of the short time frame and because ColdFusion isn’t exactly a mainstream language like Java or C#.

Expecting a lack of people on the ColdFusion side of things, I even specified that they could work through the entire contract remotely. No need to ever show up to the office.

Still, nothing.

I was working on a project with a tight deadline so I was starting to get desperate. I was just about to call up a couple of recruiters when I thought to myself “Hell, why don’t I ask on Twitter?” And with that, I posted a quick tweet asking if anyone knew any good ColdFusion developers.

A couple of hours later I log in to check if by some stroke of luck someone had actually replied back. Nope, not one reply, but several!

Wow. I was blown away. But surely, these guys can’t be any good if they’re responding on Twitter. Wrong again; these were some of the most qualified ColdFusion developers I’ve ever interviewed.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Twitter Still Loses (kinda)

In the end, I got a couple of very late responses through the Joel on Software job boards, and ended up hiring one of those guys.

What about the ColdFusion developers I found through Twitter? Well, they were either in too high demand (took other gigs), or the timing wasn’t right.

While it didn’t help me find a developer for the project, it was much more effective at bringing qualified people to my attention. Not just that, but it was ridiculously fast. All in all, I was very impressed with the whole interaction.

Next time you need a designer or developer to help you out on a project, give Twitter a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

{3 comments}

RubenRuben

Running a one person business can be a difficult task. There are always too many things to do and not enough time in a day to get them done. Ever since I stopped contracting and decided to launch a product, it’s been non-stop work with very little to show for it. Frankly, I was getting pretty tired of the whole thing; it was starting to feel like I would never finish.

I’ll admit, I can be a finicky bastard so it’s entirely my fault.

About a year ago I started development on my first product: a test case management system. I got 75% of the way done and stopped. I couldn’t find the motivation to keep working on it.

Why? It was boring. I just didn’t find it interesting. Not interesting enough to be enthusiastic about launching a product aimed at that field. So I decided find something I could get into.

New Idea Same Result

So what did I come up with? Proposal software for web designers. It may sound nutty but I like the field and I especially like the process.

Once I decided on a new field I quickly started working on a product. You would think that things went much better for me after that — not so. I got halfway done with the product and stopped. Trashed all my work and decided to rewrite the whole thing because my architecture was flawed.

Again, months of lost work.

Marketing Attempt

Around that time I decided I needed a break, so I put development on hold. I spent a few weeks writing a free utility with the goal of gaining some exposure for my product. Once I released it, I saw a small spike in traffic which soon dropped to what it currently is today: one or two visitors a day. More time wasted.

To make a long story short, I started and stopped development about four times. I doubted whether anyone would pay for my product, whether I picked the right language, and whether I should be doing a desktop app instead of a web app.

On the marketing side, I didn’t do anything. I knew I needed to get started but there was so much information to consume and filter out that I kept putting it off.

Effective Learning

Shortly after that I found out about an online school that was focusing on helping one person startups launch their business. I was actually talking to the founder — Rob Walling, who’s got one of the best blogs you’ll ever read — about buying a business, when he told me about this online school he was starting. A few weeks later he launched the Micropreneur Academy and was publishing amazingly useful content. I’ve read a lot of Micro-ISV books and blogs but this was the first time I was blown away with truly actionable information.

After I joined I quickly turned things around with my product. I put together a decent marketing strategy and went to work on my product and company websites.

So what sort of progress did I make?

  • I increased traffic to my marketing site by 150%.
  • I started a Google AdWords campaign that’s getting a 20% conversion rate.
  • Email signups in general have increased by a factor of 10.
  • I now have a clear marketing and pricing strategy.

Sure, when you’re starting with small numbers like I am, a 150% increase of traffic may not sound too impressive but you can’t imagine what seeing this sort of progress does for your motivation. Plus, I’ve only been at it for a couple of months so I think it’s a very promising start.

Info About the Academy

There’s a lot of good stuff inside the academy but I’ll mention a few things that really made an impression on me.

The way the content is delivered is great. There are plenty of options: HTML, PDF, MP3s and videos. The video content walks you through some of the trickier stuff in a way just can’t be done in writing.

The forums alone are worth the entry price. They’re filled with really smart people that give awesome feedback and advice. It’s the highest quality community I’ve ever seen.

Basically, the academy kicks ass. Rob has done a great job with it and I’ve learned a ton from it already.

All this to say that if you’re starting up a one person business, you’ll really want to take a look the Micropreneur Academy. It’s simply a smart business decision.

{8 comments}

RubenRuben

Mockup creation is an extremely important part of how I start a new project. I usually work on paper or a whiteboard for this part of a project. This time I decided to give Balsamiq Mockups a try.

Balsamiq Mockups is an Adobe Air based app developed by a dude that used to work for Adobe in the US (now in Italy working for himself). There are several versions of the app but I opted for the desktop version as I’m a small one-person company right now.

I won’t go into the details of how it works, you can check out the demo video or just do a search on Google for a billion results to choose from. I will talk about my experience using Mockups.

My start was a little rough in that I kept encountering what I think is a bug in Mockups. Another issue I encountered was that it crashed on me when reopening a recent mockup — after which I couldn’t open up the application.

The maybe-bug I encountered I still have to report, and I’m hesitant to call it a bug until I get confirmation that I’m not doing something wrong. The crash was solved by deleting my preferences folder for Mockups. It hasn’t happened since so it looks like it was just a fluke that could’ve been caused by an Adobe Air update I ran when installing the app.

One thing I’ll say is that when my problem occurred, I emailed Peldi (the dude from Italy) with the Apple diagnostic error information. He replied back immediately. The guy is fast. I’m not kidding when I say fast. I think I had a reply back before I hit the send button. I can see why there’s so much positive talk about Balsamiq support. For a moment, I thought he might be using Google’s April 1st gmail service or something.

So now that I’ve been using it, how is it?

  1. It’s fast. Extremely fast. I’m actually more productive using it than when I use paper or a whiteboard. Drag and dropping entire controls is a timesaver.
  2. I love being able to reuse my mockups. Can’t do that on paper.
  3. Works great for web design projects. You get browser window you can slam down (that’s what I do) on the canvas. It’s awesome.
  4. The interface is great. Not the biggest fan of the horizontal navigation but everything else works smoothly.

Any complaints?

I don’t really demand much from a tool like this since it’s meant for quick pre-project work so I don’t have much to complain about. If you do any type of web design work, you really need to give Balsamiq Mockups a shot.

{6 comments}

RubenRuben

I’ve built hundreds of content management systems (CMS) in my web career. Well, maybe not hundreds but it certainly feels that way. Early in my career I custom built everything.

That is, until I discovered the amount of free, open source CMS applications available out there. At which point it seemed like a no-brainer, why spend all my time building something when someone else has done the work — and is giving it away for free! Nowadays though I’ve realized it’s not such a clear-cut choice as one might think.

Be Efficient

It’s stupid to recreate the wheel on every project you have if there are suitable alternatives available to you. Open source applications are awesome. You can save a ton of time and headaches by using them. Always consider where you might be able to integrate or use one in your projects. That being said, don’t try to shoehorn something in that doesn’t really fit just because you can.

As far as open source content management systems are concerned, there are several great ones out there. Based on all sorts of languages: PHP, Python, ColdFusion, .Net, Java.

The ones I’ve used have been mainly PHP, Python and just one in ColdFusion. The one I have most experience with is a PHP based one named Joomla. Very powerful with a ton of great features and nice plugins. There’s also the Python based Plone which is pretty nice as well, though not as fully featured as Joomla. The problem with both of these you’ll find — speaking from the administrative point of view — is that they’re entirely too complicated for the average client that’s looking for a simple way to update content.

Listen to Users

Your users are the most important thing. Design with users in mind. Create content, navigation, graphics — everything, based on user needs first; everything else is secondary. With that in mind think about whether that open source content management system is a good fit. Is it too complicated? Is it too difficult to navigate? Will I have to train them on how to use it?

The last thing you want, is to end up taking support calls because something you delivered to your user is too difficult for them to use. Even if you charge for support calls, don’t do it. It’s bad business. They’ll leave you as soon as they find an easier way to do it or someone that can build something easier for them. Keep users happy, they’re why we get paid.

So when deciding on whether to use an open source CMS think to yourself — is this easy enough for the person who will be using it

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RubenRuben