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The Power of Free

Brilliant episode from NPR’s Planet Money podcast on the power of free. (for those without flash you can listen online here)

“Free has the power to make us do completely irrational things. It can drive us to break rules, and take risks we never thought possible. It can make us feel savvy and smug and exhilarated.”

It’s just under 20 minutes so perfect to listen to on your tea break.

Most interesting to me (11:38 mins in) was the idea of charging for something people don’t expect to pay for such as your mother charging for a family meal or an airline charging for customer service (one airline actually did this!). What would you expect to get for free?

I provide free advice so people can get a feel for our process but I used to struggle with how far that free advice would stretch, often into many follow-up emails and becoming a time suck, and it put me off offering anything for free at all which then in turn put off people who needed a little re-assurance of how we can help.

I found setting a clear boundary for what’s free and what’s not enabled me to offer the advice knowing there was a limit which was communicated upfront. Should people want only the free advice then they tended to use their time wisely.

I am now happy to offer my advice for free if I’m out networking or other similar event, either as a talk or just casual conversation or as a one off coaching taster session. After that, get your wallet out.

Are you charging for something people expect for free? Or are you not charging for something people would pay for? Let me know on Twitter @benkinnaird.

Image credit: Libre Sign by Gisela Giardino

Print Strategy and the Bacon Sandwich Interview

After receiving an intriguing promotional book called “I didn’t know they could do that” from Print Strategy I wanted to find out how well it’s been working for them so got in touch with MD Rob Newton1. We also talked about the future of print and how it’s beneficial to modern marketing.

Follow Print Strategy on Twitter @printstrategy or visit their website

Print strategy book2

1. This is my first Skype interview, I’ve love to hear what you think of it on Twitter @BenKinnaird.

Be an altruistic networker

I stand at a networking event in Cheltenham1. I’m not here to sell anything, simply to meet a few people who may or may not be useful to know. Initially I have to force myself to go say hello to unfamiliar people, but I am welcomed warmly, like an old friend into a mix of people who, like me, are there simply to socialise in a professional capacity.

I used to have this vision of networking events as disingenuous and very formal business environments, full of high flying, self-promoters who are there simply to sell their services. To stand in a room of unfamiliar people, drink in hand, forced smile on face and an equally forced interest in other people’s work, making small talk until the opportunity comes to sell, sell, sell, seemed more than a little false. I could never quite get over the feeling that I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, trying to sell something no-one wanted to buy. It’s incredibly daunting. But I’m not alone – it seems that many of us avoid networking events for fear that we will be seen as being ‘fake’.

Don’t get me wrong; there are networkers like that. In my experience there are ‘takers’, those who are there simply to try to sell their services, who have no real interest in others; who strike up a conversation only to launch into a well-rehearsed pitch for their business. Most of us can spot a ‘taker’ from one hundred paces.

And then there are the ‘givers’; those who show a genuine interest in the lives of others, who are there to build mutually beneficial relationships, share ideas, ways of working, to find common ground or unexplored avenues. They ask questions, delve into the detail of another’s working life. They ask about work projects or industry news.

Most people like to talk about themselves. Give them the opportunity to talk about what they do and they will leave the conversation with a more favourable impression of you and will be more interested in following up, giving you the opportunity to offer some help2.

Few of us are naturals at building rapport with complete strangers, but if we want to expand our client base, develop business partnerships, find a better job or find better staff, then it is a necessity. Thankfully, it gets easier the more we do it. And, research shows that the more powerful we become in our working lives, the easier networking becomes because we have more to offer, making our interaction with others more about giving rather than taking. So, if we were to change our mindset to one that is more altruistic, to consider what we can offer rather than take, and give people the opportunity to talk then we are likely to feel more comfortable in networking situations.

Take a long-term view and show sincere interest in the other party then there is no reason to feel like a fake. If you are a naturally caring and thoughtful person, this won’t be difficult. Provided it’s authentic, a compliment is a great conversation starter that will help build initial rapport. If you’re not, you may want to cultivate this life skill, it will reap huge benefits in the form of connections, which might, one day turn into clients.

For a more in-depth look at networking and its benefits, take a look at this Harvard Business Review article.

1. The event was Laptop Friday if you’re interested
2. This advice also works for online networking in social networks

Image credit: Working hard at #LaptopFriday

Communication is key

Effective communication happens when a message is delivered that has the same meaning for the recipient as it does for the sender. In project management this means that you and your client have a mutual understanding of what the project is about.

As I mentioned in the recent post on flexibility, a project is likely to evolve as it progresses; our client may have a completely different vision of what they want at the beginning of a project compared to the final result because of the changes along the way. To effectively integrate these changes into the project means that we need to maintain a good level of communication with our client.

The main objective for our client Abbot’s Hill School was to make changes to their school website so that it was “much clearer, much easier to navigate, have more items of interest on the home page including the school video, links to social media and current news items.” The client “wanted to ensure that information was easy to find for both prospective and current parents, which meant a revised main navigation menu and the ability to have a range of sub pages.”

We met with Alison and Katie from Abbot’s Hill School to discover every aspect of the project as they saw it, and after the initial meeting we produced a full summary.

“RI was able to suggest various ways that [our project objective] could be achieved. They then produced a comprehensive project plan, including timescales and costs.”

We then used Basecamp, a project management tool, to update the project as it progressed, to track any changes and to ensure that throughout the lifecycle of the project all parties (the client, our team and brand designers Kilvington) had a comprehensive understanding of required tasks. This meant that all involved could see the current status of a project at any time.

“This dialogue continued throughout the process with the use of Basecamp which worked brilliantly to have a running summary of all our actions and changes to the project in one place and I felt RI really understood what I wanted to achieve.”

Communication for us means supporting the client so that they know exactly what is happening. Whether it’s a large project or many small projects, all the information in one place means that the pace of a project is sustained, all parties maintain control of the project’s progress, and those with different responsibilities and levels of involvement are better engaged in the project.

“I felt totally supported by RI throughout the project and I thought we worked really well as a team to achieve the final result.”

We acknowledge that for our clients their project with us is just one of many tasks on their to-do list. With a central system of control, such as Basecamp, every issue related to the project, whether large or small, a request or question is easy to track, with task responsibility, a full history and deadline reminders. Which means that project update emails don’t get lost in the sea of other work.

Effective central communication saves money, time and effort. Without it problems can easily arise: lost time (which means lost money), inefficient development, delays and products that don’t meet expectations. Ultimately, the reputation of the company and the client’s trust are at risk.

“The overall knowledge, skills and experience that RI has is impressive and I was delighted with the high level of customer service throughout the project from all members of the team. […] I would not hesitate to recommend RI to anyone and I am absolutely delighted with our new website.”

Be flexible for success

The success of any project will be contingent upon many different factors depending on the nature of your business. But there are some vital aspects that are universal; good communication, the alignment of the project’s objective between parties, and knowing what success means for each.

Know what success looks like

Some clients may not know exactly what the success of their project looks like initially, and we’ve found that the nature of any project may change and evolve during implementation. For this reason we believe that a degree of flexibility in our approach is required, and a successful project for us relies upon our ability to be flexible so we can meet the client’s own evolving requirements for success.

We worked with UCL Institute of education Families and Food in Hard Times Project. Their research examined the food practices of young people aged 11-15 and their families in Portugal, the UK and Norway, in a time of European austerity. The objective of the project was to provide a website with information for study participants and research beneficiaries including academics, NGO’s, the media and general public.

We set out to explore what UCL wanted from the website and discuss what a successful project looked like to them. They wanted a website that provided a source of public engagement to allow those involved with the project to both engage with participants by disseminating information relevant to them, and to serve as a touchpoint to view latest news, keep in touch and update contact details. It was also important to UCL that the website was easy to update and manage.

Be flexible

Rebecca O’ Connell, Senior Research Officer said, “[Rather Inventive] worked with us to understand the look and feel we wanted and were very flexible as our ideas evolved during development. I felt fully supported, that it was OK to make revisions and to change my mind – as someone who is not experienced in website design this was important.

By defining what project success looks like beforehand, and reviewing progress on a regular basis to take into account any changes and revisions, each party knows exactly what they are striving for. For us this means taking the time to ensure everyone involved in the project has a chance to contribute, and to be open about what they need from the project’s completion. This involves meeting face to face, wherever possible. “[Rather Inventive] spent time understanding the project and our needs and have been incredibly responsive,” said Rebecca O’ Connell.

What does a successful project look like for your company? How can you work more flexibly with your project partners to make sure that all objectives are met? Let us know on Twitter by mentioning @RatherInventive.

How to choose the right keywords for SEO

A guide to choosing the right search terms for your business

First things first. What are keywords? They are the words or phrases that someone looking for a business or service like yours will type into a search engine to find you. And if those words and phrases don’t feature in the content, their website won’t come up when someone types them into a search engine.

As a general rule, your keyword list shouldn’t be very long. (If you’ve got 150 words or phrases in your list, you’re either running a multinational business with hundreds of products or you’ve got too many words on the list). Around 10 to 12 words or phrases is plenty for the average site.

So how do you choose them?


Part one: brainstorming and choosing

Brainstorm all the words that come to mind when thinking of your business. Don’t worry at this stage how many you’ve got. Now look at each of them in turn and ask “if I was looking for a business like mine, would I type this into Google?”. There are three possible answers:

  • yes
  • no
  • only if I combine it with one (or more) other words or phrases in the list.

Remove all the “nos” from the list and combine all the “only ifs”.


Part two: checking and exploring

The next step is to check your list.

Enter them into Google (or your search engine of choice) and see what comes up. If your competitors or websites similar to yours are coming up, you’ve probably got the right keywords. If they aren’t, you can remove them from the list.

Ask your customers what they would type into a search engine if they wanted to find a business like yours. If they match yours, that’s great. If they don’t, add them to the list.

Use Google’s keyword research tool. This will provide you with suggestions you may not have thought of. It will also give you an idea of how competitive your chosen keywords are so you can assess your chances of appearing high up in the rankings. And this is extremely important.


Part three: assessing the competition

The last and perhaps most important step in this process is to assess your chances of appearing high up in the results when people search for them.

Let’s take an example. If you sell cars, you might think your top keyword is “cars” and that you need to be on the first page of results when people search on “cars”. But realistically

  • you won’t be
  • you don’t want to be (honestly!).

You won’t be because you’ll be competing with every single website in the world that’s about cars. The chance of being in the first one hundred pages, let alone the first page or the number one spot are remote, to say the least. Optimise your site on the word “cars”, you’ll never be found by your potential customers. The result? A website that isn’t doing its job.

But why don’t you want to be? Because anyone searching for the word “cars” is unlikely to be looking for you. They’ll be looking for photographs, to find out how they work, to find out how many there are, etc etc. The one thing they aren’t doing is looking for you. So if you did manage to get onto the first page, you’d get lots of visitors, certainly. But how many would turn into customers?

Optimise your site on the type of car you sell (luxury cars, vintage cars, red cars) and where you are (Herefordshire, Norfolk ) instead and you’ll only be competing against other people who sell the type of cars you do where you do. So your chances of being at the top of the rankings are better. What’s more, if people type “vintage cars for sale Herefordshire” into a search engine, they’re definitely looking for you. The result? A website that’s doing its job.

Think of it like this. If you work in a shop, you don’t need every person in town visiting your shop, you just need every person who is looking to buy what you sell. Get your keywords right and you’ll attract those people.

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