Truth be told I’m really glad to be seeing the back of 2014; let’s just say it has been a challenging year.
I appear to have gotten through it mostly intact, though, and I am looking forward to 2015 to see how the changes I’ve been implementing both in my life and my business will play out.
One of things I did a lot of this year was look to my peers and see how they were doing things, particularly if they were self-employed. As a result I have consumed a lot of other people’s knowledge in the form of books, podcasts, blog posts and conferences. It has been really useful gaining this extra perspective and in hindsight this year has been a sort of professional coming of age – I’m in my early 40’s so maybe I’m a late developer; a lot of things have certainly clicked firmly into place.
Interestingly whilst I’ve consumed a fair bit of the content that has been produced by the bootstrapping community, instead of it making me focus in on building my own products I’ve turned instead to look at my existing consulting business and am now applying the things I’ve learned to that, particularly:
- Value, value, value; what pain does your product/service remove?
- Niche down on service offerings and remove as many touch points as possible when on-boarding new clients; in other words productise your services
- Have a clear idea of the audience you’re marketing to and, again, niche down. If you don’t have a particular vertical market that you work within maybe you should choose one?
- Remove yourself (mostly) from the day-to-day running of your business. Systemise and delegate but don’t abdicate.
- Run the numbers. How does your website convert? Where do your leads come from? What are your businesses success benchmarks? If you don’t track it you’ll never know if you are improving, or worse, failing.
I’m still assimilating a lot of this information but as it’s the time of year for reflection I thought I would write a few words down about some of my favourite information sources this year, just in case they are useful to you too.
Up to the beginning of 2014 I’d rarely consumed podcasts as the thought of sitting still listening to someone else talk about stuff felt like a waste of time and there is zero chance of me getting any work done whilst one is playing. But, as I started travelling around a lot more, the podcast became a good dead-time filler and I was blown away by the quality of the content out there.
I can’t remember where I found this but it was the first podcast I listened to in 2014 and it set the bar pretty high. I started out with this interview of Amy Hoy which really made me sit up and think about how I market the services I provide, this quote of Amy’s pretty much nailed it for me:
The core problem with so many businesses is that they’re based on what the business owner wants.
Techies like me are thinking about what they do when they talk to their clients, or as a friend, a senior sales person said to me the other day: ‘Engineers are always marketing their capabilities not how they add value’ How many developer websites do you see with ‘Our services’ or ‘What we do’ as the hook? Lots of course, including mine (but not for much longer!).
Justin is an excellent interviewer and his output is always high quality; check out this podcast and also his blog.
The range of subjects over the – at time of writing – 216 episodes is breathtaking. The episodes are short and punchy with there always being value to be gleaned.
Don’t be put off by the product/bootstrap focus if that’s not what you’re interested in. Anyone in business will get heaps of value listening to this show.
There are too many good episodes to mention so I suggest you just start here.
I’ve got a lot of time for this show and Andy’s output generally. He makes podcasting seem easy with his relaxed style and the fact that he’s generally got a strongish opinion on the chosen subject matter is also refreshing.
It’s mostly design and front end developer focussed so I don’t listen to all episodes, but every time that I do I’m reminded that it’s important to have a holistic view of our industry rather than focussing in on just the bit that we might work in. Andy’s show should be top of your list if you’re a developer looking for some balance to your industry view.
I was sufficiently motivated to record the pilot of Backendy after listening to a great episode of Unfinished Business featuring Laura Kalbag. I felt then (and still do) that there are a lot of front-end/design/designer focussed shows out there and as a developer one can at times feel a bit marginalised. All the good shows and conferences can certainly feel as if they are aimed more towards the front-end and as I’m also not interested in listening to developer only content either, where can I go?
Hence Backendy being born. The idea is to cover the business of our wider industry but from the point of view of a backend developer.
I really enjoyed doing the first 10 episodes – 11 actually, one with Lorna Mitchell never got uploaded (sorry Lorna!) – but then things changed and for a good chunk of the year I had to aggressively prioritise what I did with my time. Backendy lost.
With me feeling that I can justify the time investment again I’m very much looking forward to starting season 2 in 2015. I’ll be mixing the format up and widening focus slightly to include what interests me most: the business of software.
I’ve always read a lot of books. Sci-fi being the place to escape and rest my brain but when it comes to non-fiction, particularly personal or business development, whilst I always start off with the best intentions more often than not after purchase they sit there unread. Amazon’s ‘Deliver to Darren’s Kindle’ button has a lot to answer for!
I made a mini-resolution last year to actually read some non-fiction and the breakthrough has been audio books and also always having a Kindle with me.
These are the best books I’ve read/listened to over the past year that I actually finished.
Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax (yes that Ruby Wax)
Mindfulness is awesome; with it we can re-train our brains. It’s really easy to do, it – for me – helps massively with stress reduction and you can do it anywhere. What’s not to like?
Ruby’s book on the subject is brilliant, I listened to her read the audio version and there are numerous laugh out loud moments. She explains her disdain of any ‘hippy shit’ and delves into the science. It’s funny, touching and possibly life changing. If you’re depressed or stressed out I’d thoroughly recommend it.
It’s hard to explain this book. Entertaining, geek rally cry wrapped with a self-help theme.
It’s a bit silly in places and Chris’ writing style might not resonate – I’d never heard of him but he’s a comedian who made me laugh anyway – also some of the self-help stuff won’t come as a surprise but I did really enjoy reading it and I feel sure there’s actionable advice for most of us to be had here.
If you’re a designer or developer with the skills to ship products for your clients why not ship products for yourself? Could you do it instead of your freelance or consulting business?
This book is a well-paced read that lays it all out for you on a plate; all you need to do is add the ideas.
As Rachel puts it:
This isn’t a book about “doing a startup”. This is a business book about diversifying your income as a freelancer, agency owner or possibly even as an employee. It is a practical book based on my own experience and also research into other similar businesses. I cover the real nuts and bolts of doing this along with actions you can take as you bring your own products to launch.
If you’re thinking of shipping your own products then start here. This book will save you a bunch of your limited time and get you up to speed really quickly.
I got to read this book when it was launched on Amazon for free for a week to generate some initial buzz.
Once I’d got over the slightly grand title – $1m, over three years and oh that’s dollars so *gets calculator out* an average of £200k per year – I chomped through it cover to cover.
This book came at a really good time for me as I was about to scale my agency and it was confidence inspiring to see a lot of my own thinking validated. If you are a freelancer or consultant looking to step things up then this book is a really good sanity check that is packed full of valuable & actionable insights.
Like anyone else I have a fair few decent articles flow past me every day. These are a few of the ones where some of the content stuck with me enough to remember it when collating this list.
acknowledge your special sauce and hire people only when they help you do what you do best and uniquely. Don’t worry about replicating yourself, focus instead on leveraging yourself.
I like this: you can scale your team up but make sure you don’t abdicate all responsibility. Roger that.
Slightly dodgy title notwithstanding I liked how the value proposition of the internet got distilled into a single paragraph:
the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience. Those who can tune that engine well — who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before — will profit immensely. Those who lose sight of basic human needs — who want to give people the next great idea — will have problems.
“We often think of the internet enables you to do new things,” Williams said. “But people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.”
With the money shot being:
“Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company,” he said. “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
This is a good list. I don’t think I suffer from all of these failings but number 1 jumped out: Using “guys” to mean “people”
As the author Kat – couldn’t find last name – states:
Many women don’t notice or mind this, but to some in our male-dominated field it can be a tiny, pointed reminder of the extra work they have to do just to fit in, be seen, be taken seriously.
Busted, sorry. Needless to say I’ll working hard to stop doing this in future.
Stuff by me
I managed to get a couple of posts published on blogs you may have even heard of:
What is Vagrant and Why Should I Care – 24 Ways
JSDI – The Pastry Box Project
I attended a few conferences this year here’s a list of my favourites (after Shropgeek Revolution of course, which you should all go to next year)
Following on from his Shropgeek talk the previous year Joel Hughes put on this a single-day conference in Cardiff warmed up by what must have been a gruelling roadshow tour around the country speaking at local grass-root events.
It was a great day with accessible speakers and a fantastic crowd of attendees who, like me, are running their own show. I think I got as much out of the ‘corridor track’ as I did the main talks.
Organised by Rob Walling and Mike Taber from Startups For The Rest Of Us, MicroConf was a 2 day conference in Prague for bootstrapped micro businesses.
The quality of the speakers was top drawer and we had to wheel the value out in barrow loads afterwards – as a taster here’s a write-up of Rachel Andrew’s talk – but trumping even that was the amazing group of attendees. I’ll admit that I was suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome before attending because I have not shipped anything resembling a product but it turns out a sizeable proportion of the people I spoke with were in a similar position. I had many great conversations and left feeling inspired to apply a lot of things I’ve been learning over the past year to my consulting business.
With a year of consolidation behind me I’m really looking forward to 2015 and getting my hands dirty on the internals of my business. Amongst other things I’ll be:
- building a permanent base for my newly expanded team in Shrewsbury (though most people will still work remotely)
- marketing my business for the First Time Ever and really relishing the challenge
- recording season 2 of Backendy
- launching one or two productised service offerings
I hope you have a great 2015.