The Five Whys and the Drill Down Technique are two methods to identify and understand the root causes of problems that hold up a growing business. Both have the advantage of being simple and easy to use. Neither will require you to spend time drawing complex diagrams or remembering counter-intuitive strategies. (You won’t need a stack of folders or a willingness to follow David Allen, for example.) That simplicity though, masks weaknesses. Used alone, the Five Whys can create results that are too disorganized to point usefully to solutions and may suggest false trails. The Drill Down Technique helps to lay out the causes of problems clearly so that issues can be addressed but it doesn’t always help to uncover those causes.
Used together, however, the two methods can both identify the causes of problems and plan a path for their resolution. Here’s how it works:
Principles of the Five Whys
You could draw up a long list of all of the lessons for success that Steve Jobs has passed on to the world around him. His talent for public speaking turned product launch press conferences into international shows watched by hundreds of thousands of people online. It’s impossible now to imagine the launch of a major tech product that doesn’t involve a large auditorium, a casually-dressed CEO and a backdrop of giant screens. His attention to detail is legendary. The stories of him tossing an early iPod prototype into a fish tank and pointing out the bubbles to prove that there was still space under the hood that could be squeezed out may or may not be apocryphal (and is still slightly nuts) but it’s an inspiration to other managers wondering just how hard they can push their staff. But there’s one lesson that really stands out and it dominates Steve Jobs’ career, from his early partnership with Steve Wozniak to the launch of the iPad: his creativity.
It was unique in Silicon Valley. It powered Apple’s rise, then Pixar’s rise then Apple’s return as the most valuable company in the world. And it’s the lesson which has most influenced me — and which should most influence you too.
Know Your Talent, Not Stuff
That old saying about finding a job you love so that you’ll never have to work another day in your life just isn’t true. You will have to work even when you’re doing something you love, and the work you do will be hard and the hours will be long. But for the most part, when you’re following your passion, those hours will be far more enjoyable, far more rewarding and much more satisfying than the sort of labor you do for someone else’s firm or when you’re completing projects that don’t make you excited.
And it’s possible.
Internet marketing, supportive online communities, fundraising ventures and long-distance payment systems now mean that anyone with a creative spirit, a sense of entrepreneurialism, a willingness to learn, the determination to succeed and an activity they love doing can turn their passion into a business.
For many entrepreneurs, a new business starts with a trip to the bank. They either present their business plan to the loan manager at their local branch and hope for a line of credit or they head to the Bank of Mom and Dad to ask for an advance on their inheritance. But banks these days are holding onto their cash and not all parents are able to write a check to finance all of their children’s business ideas. If venture capitalists and angel investors aren’t willing to fill the gap, you still have options.
Here are five you’ve never considered.
Talk to a Pawnbroker
From its website, Stormy Studio looks every part a professional digital production company. The website is beautifully designed, the portfolio is impressive and the announcement of a prestigious award run by the company’s founder, Jon Draper, is enough to give any potential client the confidence to pick up the phone and discuss a project. But a clue to the way the company actually works lies in its description of a “local and world wide team” who can assure “quality, speed and competitive costs.” The business is part-time and run from Draper’s home as he works a full-time job at an animation studio. His employees are himself and his wife and that “local and world wide team”? A freelance graphic designer, music composer, photographer, 3D modeler/animator, and a mobile developer scattered around the world and ready to take on work as it comes in. Stormy Studio is a company based on outsourcing. But while outsourcing is helping Jon Draper achieve his goal of running his own full-time production company, it’s not a solution for everyone at every time.
One problem, although perhaps not the biggest, is the cost. Sharing the work also means sharing the revenue so that winning a job worth, say $5,000, may result in less than a thousand flowing to the company if most of the work is outsourced. When that revenue minus outsourcing fees is earned without effort, outsourcing looks like a good deal, an opportunity to make a profit while allowing others to do the work.
From a Specialist to a Manager
There’s no easy way to make money doing the things you love. Whether you’re into photography or painting, ball games or biking, you’re going to find plenty of competition for the money that people are willing to spend on that activity. But earning money from a passion isn’t a zero-sum game, and not all competition is equal. Only a small number of the people who enjoy taking pictures, for example, take pictures that are sellable. Only a small number of those people will even try to sell them — and an even smaller number will know how to sell them.
Combine your talent and expertise with knowledge of the right sales channels for your works and you can make money doing something you currently do for fun. It might not be anything like as hard as you think.
Working in cafes might be one of the biggest advantages of freelancing but your choice of “coffice” will have a dramatic effect on your ability to get work done. Even Starbucks varies from site to site with different locations attracting different types of people, building a different atmosphere and influencing your mood and the speed with which you work. When companies like Google and Apple put so much thought into designing office space that enhances creativity and maximizes productivity, it pays not just to know your local coffee places but to understand which work you should be doing in which Java bar workspace.
The first thing you should be considering is the simplest: electrical outlets. Older cafes especially can have relatively few of these but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give them a wide berth. It just means that you’re going to have to get your work done before the battery in your laptop calls it a day.
If you know that a café is short on electricity, you’re going to be sprinting. Depending on your machine and its age, you could have as little as two or three hours before your computer shuts itself down. That might be only as long as you wanted to stay anyway but knowing that lingering could shut your computer down in mid-flow will help to keep you focused on the job and your eyes on the screen.
The problems with all of the productivity systems that friends recommend, experts sell and self-help guides suggest is that they take so long to understand and implement that by the time you’ve finished putting them all in place, you could have shot a viral video, redesigned your website and written The Great American Novel. They take more time than they save. There are, though, a few little tweaks that you can make to your workday that will save you bags of time and massively boost your productivity.
Streamline Your Gmail
What Felix Baumgartner Taught Me About Taking the Plunge
Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s leap from a balloon 128,000 feet above the Earth was pretty unique. He broke records that had stood for more than fifty years, fell faster than the speed of sound and dropped further than anyone had fallen before. None of us is likely to come close to his achievement. But the way he reached his goal, the discipline and determination with which he accomplished a dream big enough for him to tell the world afterwards that he’s “done,” has much to teach freelancers and entrepreneurs about reaching their targets.
Preparation Counts and So Does Patience
The YouTube webcast of the event (which itself broke a record by streaming to 8 million people) showed everything. We saw footage of Baumgartner walking down the runway before dawn, watched the balloon inflate, saw the crane chase the capsule down the tarmac then sat through two-and-a-half hours of spacesuit and mission control as the balloon rose slowly to the stratosphere.
The Pareto Principle states that “for many events” 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. Also known as the 80-20 Rule, it’s used by business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs as a reminder that 80 percent of their income derives from just 20 percent of their efforts. If they could just identify the areas in which their effort pays off the most, focus their energy on those activities and outsource, improve or kill off the rest, they’d be able to boost their income. In practice, though, the “rule” is rarely helpful, especially for freelancers.
The principle is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who noticed in 1906 that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. He developed the idea after counting the 80 percent of the peas in his garden that came from 20 percent of the pods. Since then, the principle has also been seen in global wealth distribution where the richest 20 percent of the population is said to earn around 80 percent of the income, and even among the world’s top ten earners, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett together own as much as the next seven billionaires combined.
But can that same principle be applied to a business environment? Does 80 percent of your income derive from 20 percent of your clients? Does 80 percent of your website traffic come from 20 percent of your traffic sources? Are 80 percent of your freelance bookings made for 20 percent of your services? And can you focus your business on the 20 percent of it that’s worth the most?
Open Twitter’s advanced search page, and beneath the options for words, people and places, you’ll find a section marked “other” that contains four checkboxes. Those checkboxes allow users to filter their search results to focus on retweets but also on posts that include question marks, “positive” smilies, or “negative” frowns. It’s the closest Twitter has come to fulfilling its promise as a market research tool for businesses looking to keep track of user conversations. And like much of that promise, it’s unreliable, inaccurate, and actually requires a very different set of strategies to produce real, usable market intelligence.
The biggest challenge with using social media for market research is apparent in those search options. Social media users have multiple ways of marking their like of a product or a company beyond a simple smiley; unhappy faces aren’t used to mark dislike as often as a clear expression of hate or a negative hashmark; not all questions on social media, especially on a character-limited site like Twitter, are grammatical enough to carry question marks; and not everyone who uses the product or company is on social media. Any business that relied on Twitter’s search page to track comments would only be picking up a fraction of a picture generated by the small number of people who happened to use those emoticons or are grammatical enough to always mark their questions. For a more accurate picture, the companies would need to look beyond Twitter’s quick suggestions and test their own search terms.
In January 2012, a woman in Kauai answered an ad on Craigslist for what looked like a dream job. The advertiser was an energy firm called DSL Oil and the opening was for a work-at-home position. She applied, won the job, and the company sent her a check for $3,958, instructing her to keep $200 and wire the rest immediately back to their account. The request was strange enough for the woman to grow suspicious and she refused to send the money. She then received an email apparently from the FBI demanding that she send the cash within twenty four hours or face arrest and certain jail. The jobseeker contacted her local FBI office which informed her that she had been the victim of a “work at home” scam. The check was fake; her wire, which needed to be sent before the check bounced, would have been real.
The story, told on the FBI’s website, isn’t unusual. A search for “work at home jobs” on Google produces more than two billion results but it’s estimated that for every legitimate telecommuting job advertised online, as many as seventy are scams. Nor are those scams new. Back in 2007, when Sara Sutton Fell started looking for a flexible job that would fit her life as new mom, she too found she herself sorting through a series of suspicious offers and ads that looked too good to be true. Fell, though, had been the co-founder of JobDirect, a job site that was later sold to Korn Ferry International. She knew that flextime and telecommuting jobs do exist and that companies were increasingly willing to advertise them. Still working from home, she launched FlexJobs.com, a jobs site specializing in telecommuting and part-time work but which would check all offers and the companies that make them before posting them on the site.
As the yawns that followed the release of Apple’s new hardware fade away, it’s worth remembering that the company that gave us the tablet computer, the ultrabook laptop and the slate smartphone isn’t always so clever. In fact, look beyond the revolutionary first iterations of the hardware his firm designed and you can see that when it comes to software, Steve Jobs was never as fastidious as he was made out to be — and that under Tim Cook, that tradition is continuing.
Take what has to be users’ biggest bugbear in Apple apps: the company’s tendency towards skeuomorphism, the implementation in design of elements that were necessary in previous technologies but are now outdated. Open the Notes app that comes with the iPad, for example, and you’ll get what looks like a block of lined, yellow paper, complete with a hint at torn sheets. The edge is bordered with an imitation of stitched leather and a fake pocket holds dates. Even the font is closer to Comic Sans than Times New Roman. The idea is to make us feel that we’re actually writing in a notebook rather than storing ideas in a thin computer.
But it’s not as though we’re new to making notes on simple word processors and need to be slowly eased in to jotting ideas onto a screen. Look for “notes” in the App Store, and you’ll get nearly 2,500 results for the iPad (and nearly double that amount for the iPhone). Even when those apps do employ their own skeuomorphism — as FiftyThree does with Paper’s moleskine-style notebooks — the combination of technology and tradition still works much better than Apple’s attempt which is just unimaginative, a throwback to an age that Apple helped destroy. If Apple had made the iPhone with the same approach it took in the development of Notes, the number pad would be rotary and the device would be six inches thick.
LinkedIn connects you to jobs, Facebook connects you to the people you know and Twitter connects you to the people you want to know — the people who need a writer, a designer, or a freelancer programmer, for example. All you have to do is follow people who look like they might need the services you provide and, as soon as they’re ready, they’ll drop you a line and ask you to pitch. In practice, it rarely works out that way. If it did, Twellow, a Twitter directory, would list more than 4,572 freelancers, a fraction of the nearly 600,000 individuals and businesses listed on Elance. And yet, attraction-based marketing and Twitter do go together, giving freelancers an opportunity to land gigs, and helping clients to find service providers who already fill them with confidence. Here’s how to do it.
Start by Searching Smart
The key to making attraction-based marketing work on Twitter is to identify the right people looking for the right sorts of services and persuade them to like you.
Forget Nigerian emails offering pots of cash in return for your bank account details and don’t worry about herbal mood enhancers that are made of nothing more than horny goat weed and ginger. Only the truly dumb are taken in by one of those spam-delivered cons. Some Internet-based confidence tricks though are spectacular, smart and they might well have got past you. Here are five of the best and the biggest.
R.J. Ellory’s Sock Puppets
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival sounds like the sort of event in which authors discuss acts of deception rather than confess to them. But that’s what ebook author Stephen Leather did earlier this summer at the annual Harrogate writers’ get-together. As he defended the economics of low-priced digital books and argued that pirates help to promote his titles, he also confessed to using “sock puppets.” He posted fake positive reviews of his own books on Amazon and used false identities on forums to recommend his titles. Read the rest…
Kickstarter has an impressive success rate of just under 44 percent. Or to put in another way, your Kickstarter project has a 56 percent chance of failure despite the hours you’ll have put into preparing the pitch video, choosing the rewards and marketing the page. But just because your project failed to reach its funding target — and therefore failed to give you any cash at all — doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of the road.
Back in 2010, for example, Dave Chenell and Eric Cleckner, two Syracuse University students, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their graFighters project. The pair were looking for $20,000 to create an online fighting game in which players could upload their doodles and battle them against each other in PvP combat. They raised a touch over $3,000.
The reasons for their failure, they say, were varied. The rewards weren’t particularly rewarding (it took $300 to net a backer a t-shirt); there was no marketing to support the campaign; and $20,000 was a big target (the average successful project generates $5,487.) But the pair were lucky. After the campaign had failed, they received an email from a fund manager at X.Million Venture Capital. He had seen their campaign, watched their videos… and agreed to give them $200,000 to turn their basic idea into a fully-fledged game.
Amazon is more than a fixture on the Internet’s high street and it’s long been more than an online bookstore. With a market value in excess of $109 billion, the company, which started selling books online at discounted rates, is now a grocer, a tech firm, a publishing company and just about everything in between. But despite its size, its importance and the vital role the firm plays in almost every aspect of online life — from the books you download to your iPad to the servers that deliver the content you read on a browser — Amazon does next to nothing well. In fact, its failures are worrying and they’re particularly worrying for freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Start with the role that Amazon plays underpinning some of the Web’s most important online services. Instagram, Pinterest and Netflix are just three of the many giant companies with millions of users who make use of Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). The company’s mixture of cloud-based storage, computing and databasing is supposed to handle the information work, leaving the tech firms to focus on the front-end usability and service provision.
It’s a system that’s great in theory and unnoticeable when everything goes to plan. But too often, it doesn’t. In late June, a storm took out an Amazon data center in Ashburn, Virginia. According to Wired, Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) service, which should have spread the processing loads of firms such as Netflix across data centers when one center goes offline, also failed. Netflix was unavailable for three hours, including the peak hours of 8pm to 11pm. That was the second outage to hit Amazon, and its clients, that month.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a freelancer or the marketing manager of someone else’s business, you know that you need a blog. Without a place to post articles, attract traffic and deliver news, you’re barely on the Internet. It’s a belief that led 65 percent of businesses to add a blog to their website by 2011 a rise from 48 percent just two years earlier. But is blogging really necessary, and is it the right idea for you and your business?
The Benefits of Blogging
The rewards of blogging are well-known and well-documented. You can divide them into four clear benefits. Read the rest…