February 2003 Archives

So, you think now that your ad is displayed prominently on Google, clients will beat a proverbial path to your door? Well, think again, proverbial Chester. Advertising is just one aspect of marketing (But, an important one. We’ll be coming back to it.) — another is networking. The goal of networking is to make contact with people who could be, or could put you in touch with, potential clients. This is particularly difficult for people like myself, because it conflicts with our goal of never leaving our houses.

But, network I shall. Today, I contacted the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce about joining their organizations. Both chambers offer the possibility of getting to meet many small business owners — our primary market. The OKC chamber promises access to marketing and demographic data, which could be useful in planning our advertising. Lacking a real web site, the Yukon chamber is more of a mystery, but also holds great potential. There are plenty of small businesses in Yukon that do not have web sites. And, when I contacted them, I casually mentioned that we would be happy to redesign their site for them. A little good will and free advertising can go a long way. We’ll see what happens.

The thing our business most lacks is marketing. And a company jet. But mostly the marketing. Our listings in the phone books has generated some calls, but most of those have been from people looking for jobs. We are listed in various search engines — from which, our referrer logs tell us, we do get some hits. For the most part, though, Smart Goat has remained in the shadows of the business world. While that’s a nice place for a hermit like myself, it doesn’t pull in the clients.

Advertising is absolutely essential to launching a small business. You can’t count on customers picking you from the hundreds of listings in the phone book. And people so rarely knock on our door and say, “Excuse me, is the web designer of the house at home?” Of course, we’re at work during the day, so maybe that’s when they come by.

There are a couple of tricks to a good advertisement. First, you have to get it in front of your target audience. For us, that’s small businesses in the Oklahoma City area that are looking for web designers. Next, you have to have noticeability. One way is to make up words, like, “noticeability.” Established businesses have reputations and large portfolios which attract attention. A business like ours, which hasn’t had a chance to earn those things yet, has to find other ways to get attention. Sometimes, we act out.

Our ad on GoogleToday, we signed up for Google’s AdWords program. We created an advertisement that will run on Google when people search for “Oklahoma City web design.” At any time, we can customize what the ad says, what keywords we want it to appear on, and how much we’re willing to spend for it. Our spending limit determines how high in the list our ad is likely to appear. We only pay when people click on our ad, which helps keep costs down for a company that’s just getting started. After looking at some of the ads that come up for the keywords we chose, we noticed a pattern: They were all frighteningly dull. Who knew there were so many web designers in Oklahoma that have tied for the best? So, we took a stab at standing out. Rather than make wild claims, we simply stated what we do, and tried to get a laugh. I don’t know about you, but the only ads I pay attention to are the funny ones. We hope our audience is like us.

There is more for us to do to maximize our exposure to our audience, but that is for another day.

This isn’t what I had originally planned for day one, but it’s not a bad way to start, don’t you think? Let that be a lesson to you kids out there:

“Looking to expand your company? Try meeting with new clients! It’s an excellent way to find new business!”

It’s really that simple.

Monday, we got a call from a company starting a new service who needed some web design and maintenence done. We met in person today after work to discuss some of the details. Kinko’s may be your 24 hour office, but IHOP is your 24 hour meeting room. We talked over Dr. Peppers about what this company needs from us. I can’t say much more until we see what is in the NDA, but it looks like an interesting project with lots of potential. The potential is in the possibility of this project landing us more projects. It involves working with new technology, and that always looks good on a portfolio page.

If this goes well, it could spawn many “Day” entries. If I’m so busy with clients that I never get around to our list of ideas… well, that would just be too perfect, wouldn’t it?

I don’t know if it was evident from yesterday’s post, but I’m a little frustrated with work. As far as places to work go, it’s probably better than most, but that still doesn’t make it good. Angela & I have decided that if we want out, we have to do something. Finding another job doesn’t seem very likely, nor is it particularly desireable. I don’t want to keep jumping ship — I want to be the captain… and go down with the sinking ship. Hmm, my analogy took a wrong turn there, huh?

Here’s the plan: Each day, for the next 90 days, we will do something to grow our business. I’m not planning to make huge leaps forward each day, just baby steps that will hopefully lead to one or both of us being able to quit our jobs and work for Smart Goat full-time. I have a list of tasks that, in one way or another, will help us promote the company, expand our potential, or improve our current projects. With any luck, more opportunities will present themselves as this thing progresses. I will document each day’s work here — perhaps other people in similar situations will see this and take away some ideas they can use.

At the end of the 90 days we’ll assess where we are and whether any of our work was the least bit useful. Then it will be decision time: Do we quit our jobs, do we need more time, or do we give up? I’ll tell you right now, you can already eliminate one of those options.

Today is day one — Stay tuned…

Work continues. It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s obvious it will never really get better. The decision-makers show no signs of having learned from this debacle. Steps were skipped and corners cut, just to meet an arbitrary deadline. We worked our fingers to the bone, and what did we get? Bony fingers, that’s what. We are on the verge of losing a client we worked so hard for because of poor planning and unrealistic promises. Whatever happens will happen again with the next client, and the next one after that.

I’ve learned something important from all this — I’m not cut out for the corporate world. If giving up one’s personal life is what it takes to succeed, I’m not interested. More precisely, if that’s what it takes to succeed at someone else’s company, I’m not interested. To me, a job is just a way to make money, it is not my life.

Unfortunately, life tends to require money. That leaves me with a couple of options: put up with it, or find some other way to make money. And, since I’ve always believed one should not put up with something they believe is wrong, that really only leaves one option. But how do we accomplish that goal? It takes time, and planning, I know. What else? Tune in tomorrow…

Mark Pilgrim’s Online Magnetic Poetry Maker has a good chance of being the coolest thing ever. A combination of Python, JavaScript, and CSS, it’s surprisingly simple for something that seems so complex. Check out your favorite websites in all their magnetic poetry glory.

The all-consuming work project has moved from an insane development schedule to an even more insane maintenance schedule. There have been times in the past two weeks when we were releasing two or three new versions per day. We’ve reached the point where the software does not crash everytime somebody uses it, so we’ve slowed down on the releases. And, yet, the insanity continues. I’m trying to get back into the groove of updating web sites and reading e-mail (Never take a break from two high traffic lists. You’ll never catch up.). This entry is my first step.

I’ll write a story about the past two months at work, and it will be a humdinger of a story. But not yet. The story is not over. Which brings us to the question I keep asking myself: When will it end? It will either be when most orders are flowing through the system smoothly, or when I get fed up enough times with their demands on my time that I tell them no enough times to get fired. The smart money is on the latter.

But enough about work. The past month+ has been a long, steady, working pain-in-the-neck, punctuated with moments of fun. (Hmm, work snuck in there again, didn’t it? Bad work, bad! I’m sorry, I’ll try to keep him on the leash.) Christmas was fun, New Years was fun, our Anniversary was fun. That’s been the key to not going crazy and taking refuge in the nearest cave: finding those moments of fun, grabbing hold with both hands, and hanging on for dear life.

One new fun thing in our lives is geocaching. If you’re unfamiliar with it, think of it as treasure hunting for gadget geeks. It’s a good excuse to get outside, and good way to get rid of all the little free toys I’ve collected over the years. Angela & I have found about 14 caches since Christmas, and we’ve hidden one of our own. It’s kind of weird (and fun) when you realize that, anywhere you go, there’s a good chance something is hidden.

And now, something for the CSS fans: Slashdot has a link to instructions for blocking ads using CSS. Is there anything CSS can’t do? The instructions specifically mention Mozilla, but Opera may also have the necessary CSS support to do the same thing.

One more thing: I’m not entirely sure what this entry will do to News Goat. All previous entries were in the same year. Where I’m most concerned is the archive list to the side. I had hoped to have time to modify that so that all the past year’s entries would be under a single link. As is often the case, hoping for time is a waste of it. In theory, everything should be just fine. If I keep telling myself that, I just might believe it.