Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Good design is one of those things that when it’s right, you might not notice but, when it’s wrong, there’s no hiding it. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to create good design is by getting the color scheme right and my favorite way to nail it every time is with Colr.org.
Color sets the mood, carries the theme and can convey ideas. When a website’s elements such as links, tables and mast-head images all work together, the other elements of the design seem to fall into place. After all, it’s much easier to see when a table is too wide than it is to put your finger on just 1 of the more than 16 million colors represented in hexadecimal.
With the help of Colr.org I only have to find a picture that represents the idea I’m trying to convey. Once I have it, the site’s software allows me to load it and sample it’s colors.
I’ve used this technique for everything from client websites, to matching the tables and links in my Twitter profile to a custom background image.
The “right” picture is one of those intangible things that I can’t really help you find, but I like to start with a short list of adjectives to help me focus my search. Peaceful, happy, warm, bright, or any number of words that might describe the mood or theme of the design. From there I just go with an image that I like the best.
For this post I chose “Lobster Adirondack Chairs” by cbgrfx123 on Flickr because it had an Attribution Share-a-like license and could use it, here, and in the example to the left, without running afoul of someone’s copyright.
But if all you need are colors that work well together, and won’t be displaying the picture publicly, it’s fine to use any image you want.
My suggestion is, if you’ve never used Colr.org’s software, pop over to the site and start playing around with some of the features by using one of the random Flickr images on the home page. There’s a very handy button allowing you to load other, random images in case the ones on display don’t float your boat.
The button I use most is “Pick a Scheme from image” since that will auto generate a scheme with 3 or more colors taken from the image.
The “Edit Scheme” box is handy too. With the features found there, you can delete a color you don’t like, add a new one with the + or get the hex so that you can add the colors to a template. There’s even a feature that allows you to find paint by brand name in case you’re designs are for a physical space.
If you’d rather pick your colors on your own, simply hover your mouse over one of the 3 pictures on the Colr.org home page and click into any one of the colored boxes to find out more about it.
Colr.org also has a very handy how-to page for help using the site’s features.
Once you have some colors that you think will work well on your site, don’t be afraid to move them around in your template. My first instinct isn’t always right when it comes to backgrounds and readability. It’s perfectly acceptable to switch things around or go back to your picture and find a new color or two to substitute if things just aren’t right yet.
If colr.org can make me look like a design professional, I’m sure it can help you too.
A friend suggested I look through VMWare’s job listings to see if anything jumped out at me. Frankly I didn’t expect to find anything that matches my skill-set because, I don’t fit the standard mold most corporations create. However, as I perused the surprisingly long list of openings I came across a listing for a Sliderocket Coach.
I checked out the listing for 2 reasons. First, what’s Sliderocket, and, second, what kind of coaching?
Then the shocker, I might actually be the type of person they’re looking for. Most of the time I work to create my own opportunities because it’s easier than trying to find a job that’s well suited for my odd combination of technical knowledge and entrepreneurial kung-fu.
One requirement of the application was that I submit a presentation along with a formal resume and truthfully, I was a bit nervous about that. I’ve created slide decks, but never as a cover letter and never with the level of sophistication I thought I’d need to get my foot in the door. I was also concerned since I’ve never used Sliderocket and wondered if I’d be able to use it effectively?
The good news is that the user interface was straight forward and anything that wasn’t immediately apparent was fairly easy to figure out. Even more “advanced” techniques like creating my own template weren’t all that hard to do.
In just 2 days I managed to create this presentation…
I say 2 days, but that was more like a total of 8 hours. The first 4 were spent thinking about what I wanted to say, how to say it and learning to use the software. The final 4 were creating the slides. Though that’s not completely fair either. I could have finished an hour earlier if my inspiration hadn’t run out. For some reason the only closing I could muster was some sort of Southern Belle saying, “lookin’ forward to talkin’ real soon!”
Now, if you’ve never used it before, Sliderocket.com is a cloud platform, so your work lives on the internet. The advantage is that you don’t have to maintain the software and are always using the current version. Also, because it’s a native to the internet, it’s designed for sharing and collaboration. The only disadvantage right now, and this is a disadvantage for all cloud applications, is that connection is key. For whatever reason you’re caught without a local copy and can’t get online to get one, you could be sunk. But I suppose this is just a new way to look at the old mantra of “back-up, back-up, back-up!”
If you haven’t done much with cloud applications or just want to see what kind of presentation you could make, sign up for one of Sliderocket’s free accounts.
If you’d like to create a presentation like this one, here are my top 4 hints;
- Get inspiration for your theme by seeing what collateral is available first. The only reason the Ninja worked well for this presentation was because I was able to find just the right photo to kick things off. If I had wanted a picture for every slide I wouldn’t have been able to do it with the choices that Flikr presented me with. So make sure you have what you need, or know how to work around what you don’t, before you go too far into the process.
- If you need a soundtrack for your presentation, check out Jamendo.com. There’s lots of Creative Commons licensed music for you to choose from. The song I chose, Plastic & Flashing Lights by Professor Kliq, was found there.
- If the text is all you have to convey your ideas, make sure the letters represent you well. I used a version of the drop shadow that was available in the software to give the white on black words some depth.
- I used a QR code because I wasn’t sure the link I added would be click-able or easily copied/pasted to a browser. Using it gave me one more way for the viewer to go where I wanted to send them.
If you have any questions or comments about presentations, or how I managed a certain effect with SlideRocket, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or sharing on your favorite service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
There are also 3 articles in this blog under the topic of OLF which cover the presentation in an easier to digest format and if read in order of date posted should closely match the slide deck. They are:
There are lots of other articles here that can also help you as you start a new business, so feel free to look around while you’re here and leave comments or questions.
I recently sat down with a client who was trying to build a new website based business. They hired a local gal to do the site and had the shell of a site layout to look at, but the process was stalled so they called me in. As I sat in their office listening to all the features and functions the site should have I asked one little question – Is she a web designer or a developer? To which they replied, “There’s a difference?”
Yes, a big one.
For most businesses, it’s possible to find a currently available software suite and put it to work driving your functions. For instance, this site is powered by WordPress which means all the fancy features of creating a blog post are in my browser window, search functions, plug-ins and lots of other bells and whistles are part of the programming that makes my life easier. I don’t have to code pages by hand, upload HTML pages using FTP, or re-upload them when I need an edit. All of the functions are part of the software running on the server.
The graphical component, or the part that you’re looking at right now, comes together because of a template I added to the site using the WordPress Admin’s Appearance Menu (another software development gem). The template gives me the overall aesthetics of the site. Color scheme, menu placement, fonts, and on and on. It’s the reason this site has a conversation bubble on the right rather than a tag-line under the big “KarlieRobinson.com” on the left.
The thing is, the very analytical thinker I need to create or modify the software that runs my site isn’t always the same person as I trust to pretty things up for my visitors. The process works the other direction too because it’s rare to find someone who’s good at everything.
My husband and business partner, Todd, is a hard core website developer, I trust him completely when it comes to database modifications, payment service integration or any other modification to sites that generate our income. However, when it comes to aesthetics, sites he designs usually have orange somewhere in the color scheme. Not that his sites are unpleasing, but not everyone likes orange as much as he does.
In the case of my client’s new website, they hired a designer hoping to develop a custom database and other software functions that were obviously out of her league. I don’t doubt she could have made the site look good (though the 5 second load time of her own site has me wondering what she’s thinking), but she didn’t have the programming skills to create an efficient software solution, from scratch, to recreate the clients wants and needs as a software solution.
The moral of the story is to know what it is you need before you ever hire someone because you need to know what type of hire you need to make. If aesthetics are more important, then a Designer is probably the best choice to lead the project. If the functions, like ability to accept payment are more important, than hire a developer. Even if this person can’t fulfill every aspect of the project they should, at the very least, be able to act as the project manager and form a team to ensure the requirements of functions, delivery date, and budget are met.
In my adult life and with my small business, I’ve had to constantly worry that I might miss an important anniversary like a birthday or a contract renewal because I had no frame of reference for the last time said event occurred.
If you ask me about an event, I can tell you who was there, the topic and even small details that usually go unnoticed, but I won’t be able to tell you when it happened and in most cases I’ll probably have the order of events out of sequence too. In fact, it use to get me in a lot of trouble as a child because I was “telling stories” if I didn’t quite have my details in a nice neat package.
Since it’s obvious that my brain just doesn’t work when it comes to dates, I’ve worked to find ways that my other odd traits could pick up the slack. Since that’s a cumbersome way to put it, I like to think about it as tools.
Whenever I’m faced with tasks that are naturally difficult for me, I put in a little extra effort so that I can create a work-around for the next time the problem comes up.
It’s safe to assume a Calendar is a tool I use a lot. I use it to remind me of upcoming events, and as a journal so I can look back and refresh my memory. I also leave myself little clues so that I can deduce the dates of important events. You might even think my collection of conference badges as a bit odd, but the ones I have hanging on the wall in front of my desk all have dates on them.
These little routines and trails of bread crumbs may seem like the failings of weak mind, but the reality is that it allows me to focus on the things I can do well. I don’t panic because I don’t remember, instead I’m confident that I can find the answer quickly.
As a small business owner, you should also be thinking about the tools that will help you be more efficient and reduce your stress. Do you need tools for time management, Email management or something else? No matter what it is, putting in the time now to create a tool you can use again and again is well worth the effort.
I’d love to know about the tools you use to keep on track or solve problems in your small business. Please leave your suggestions or questions below.
The first issue is that software is a cost center, and ROI to shoot for is some sort of increased efficiency. Regardless of how efficient it brings in customers, tracks inventory or creates slide decks for presentations, you have to have it to compete, so it all comes down to how well the system works.
The good news is that publicly licensed software allows businesses to think about starting their software roll out with the finishing touches. Carrying a General Public License or other Open Source License is the most important part because, it’s usually available at no cost.
If getting it for free isn’t enough of a cost savings, then stick with me for another moment.
Custom software is usually the best way to get a system that works exactly like your business model dictates, but the costs grow exponentially. The more complex the system, the more it’s going to cost to build. But it doesn’t end there, I usually recommend my clients assume an extra 30-50% above and beyond the initial construction phase for tweaks, bug tracking and resolution. If you start with a lower cost, then your 30-50% is also going to be a much smaller number.
In some cases fixing a bug in the system could also be free if it’s submitted to the software’s development team. It might take a little longer for resolution, but it’s hard to argue with free if your budget is tight.
With a little research it’s usually possible to find finished software suites that are close enough to meet the business’ requirements and development can begin where a custom solution would just be finishing up. A good software developer can even combine functions that may not have been designed together to create a truly custom solution.
The library of software that’s publicly licensed these days is vast and a business that wants to go this route should start the research process by outlining what functions the software must have. I also advise they look at what might happen in phase two of the roll-out and to consider what flexibility they’ll have to modify the system to adapt to changes in the business environment. A good plan and a shopping list of features goes a long way to making this process successful.
Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’m a fan of beginning with the finishing touches whenever I can. While the idea sounds easy enough, it’s not a fool-proof method of building business applications especially when you consider the prep that is involved.
To begin a website with the finishing touches, we need to start with the idea that any computer can become a server. All you need are the appropriate applications to announce your presence to the world.
The thing is, the “appropriate software” is a list of things such as
- an operating system – Microsoft, Apple, Linux, or another.
- server software – Apache, LAMP, MAMP, etc.
- the database – MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.
- software for any languages your applications will be using – PHP, Ruby, Perl, etc.
After all those are up and running you’re ready to install your Content Management System, eLearning, Photo Gallery, or whatever else you might need to conquer the internet.
While this may not sound like too many steps, for those without a lot of experience, the process may not be as straightforward as it sounds. The term “Dependency Hell” comes to mind when I think about how the process could turn sour.
This morning, however, I stumbled upon BitNami. While I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, the idea has me fluttering with the first blush of puppy love.
I’d suggest you take a look at their site for complete information, but, in short, the beauty of BitNami comes through in the steps that follow the operating system in my list above.
Rather than downloading and installing all of the other components separately, the BitNami stack does it for you. The server software, programming language support, database, and application come together in one tidy install.
Now I’m not saying that there won’t be tweaks left to perform, but when you’re jumping ahead to the spit-polish phase, BitNami can make it easier for you to get there.
Now I’m not all raves at this point. One major shortcoming is that they’re lacking any sort of shopping cart system like OSCommerce or Magento. But like most projects, a quick trip to their forums show me that you could request an application. I even saw that OSCommerce will come down the pipe if there are enough votes for it.
I’ll be keeping my eye on BitNami because I think it holds a lot of potential to help small businesses get up and running faster. Faster also means less money out-of-pocket. Especially if/when the offerings grow and more of my favorite FOSS Internet suites are available.
In my previous posts, (1, 2) I’ve been talking about why Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMB) need Linux and Open Source solutions. I’ve also talked about Open Source industries. But what we haven’t covered is getting in the game.
While I could go high tech here or dazzle you with business terms, the truth is, going into business only requires that you understand the ground rules.
Think of it in terms of poker or any other game. Yes, it might take you a while to develop the skills you need to be really good at the game, but one of the most important steps is learning the rules and understanding what makes for a winning hand.
No matter how unique your method of doing business, or your business model, you will need to pick up the basic skills and techniques. But just because you may not have a full tool kit at the outset doesn’t mean you can’t get started. Especially if you surround yourself with people who have the strengths you need.
The really good news is that you can get the basics lots of places. There are countless business resources online and many in your local community. If you’re in the United States, SCORE offers free business counseling and low cost workshops and the SBA sponsors Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) where you can also get free counseling and learn the basics of writing a business plan, accounting best practices and other essential skills.
Where you’ll find it getting tricky is getting past the no-cost mindset when you, and your clientele, begin thinking about free software solutions. I can tell you that the early years of my FOSS business were rough until I figured out how to properly position ourselves in the market place.
Our business model needed to be tweaked more than once to be sure our potential customers could see the value in doing business with us. In some cases we raised our prices, others we lowered them. In some instances we dove into the marketing plan, hammering out little details and studying our customers.
As I have branched out and helped other FOSS projects think about their positioning I’ve found the biggest issue is marketing messaging. You see, it isn’t about what they wanted to say about their latest and greatest update, but about what the customer needs to hear.
While that statement could be interpreted as the sort of thing con-artists do, it’s not about trickery, but about point of view.
Think about it this way… What are the key things high level geeks think about when it comes to setting up a new computer? Processor speeds, RAM, Kernel version, getting the proper video drivers and all those other spec sheet gems.
Now think about what a business owner wants to know. They want to know how much it’s going to cost. Is there going to be any down time? Will their employees adopt the new tech and use it effectively? Who’ll be able to solve any problems that may arise? Why should they trust that a free download isn’t going to be a lemon? If it’s so great, why is it free?
My best advice, DON’T Underestimate the importance of re-programming your thinking so that you can step away from the for-geeks-by-geeks FLOSS marketing that you’re use to seeing. If needed, find someone familiar with FOSS and SMB speak to translate for you.
The reality is that the barriers to starting a successful business aren’t that big if you’ve got the right mindset going in. Again, a good team of advisers can help you overcome any portion of the business process that you have questions about. The rest comes down to your skills and ability to get the job done to your client’s satisfaction.
If you ask a software developer how to make money writing code, you’ll usually get employment or selling applications as your answer. It’s my opinion, however, that most are missing the boat and need to think of their skills as a marketable service.
The other answers, while not wrong, have to do with point of view.
If I get a fancy box and shelf space in the big box chain stores, then I’m offering a product. The transaction might even present itself as selling of services – like getting the neighbor kid to mow my lawn. But no matter how you look at it, it all starts with a skill.
If I toss Open Source software into the mix, then I usually have to deal with “Yeah, Right. How am I going to make money competing with a free download?”
Here’s the thing, software isn’t the only Open Source industry. In fact, many other open source businesses are very profitable and are generally skills that have been around for quite some time.
Let’s think about Open Source for a moment. The first line of the Wikipedia article states…
Open Source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials.
To me, it’s just the way we’ve always done things.
Software isn’t the only open source skill, in fact I’d say that all of these could be considered open source.
- Repair – Automobiles, Washers, Refrigerators, etc.
- Fashion – Sewing, design ideas, etc
- And many others
The people who practice these trades might have their own secret sauce, but all can be learned in an open source manner by examining the construction or using freely available information to gain understanding of the process. If I can get a book at the library or search the internet for the information I need, then I consider the industry to be open source.
Let’s now consider what it means to be in an open industry where anyone has access to the tools and materials that you do…
Wouldn’t the existence of prepackaged seeds put farmers out of business?
What about home improvement stores? Shouldn’t that put Plumbers, carpenters and electricians out of business? Does access to scissors put the barber out of business?
With the answer to those questions being a resounding “NO,” then why do so many people within the Free and Open Source Software movement think that there’s no business opportunities for their skill set?
Yes, there is a bit of a vacuum in the consciousness about the use of Open Source software, but I don’t think that it’s going to be too hard to overcome.
What the middle market is missing people with marketable skills who are willing to begin offering their services in various formats. It could be shelf ready products, it could be custom work. FOSS could even be offered alongside commercial options.
The thing is, FOSS has so many advantages and one of them is price. If you are a provider and can offer the same services and functionality, but you don’t have to undercut your profit to be the less expensive option, that’s a big advantage for you and your customer.
So you make more money, they spend less… Talk about bringing value to the table. You’re happy, they’re happy, the computers are effective. How can you loose?
To keep this post on topic and in an easy to digest format, how about we stop here for now.
In the next article I’ll talk more about how to position yourself as a service provider and how to set yourself up for a win.
It’s become quite clear to me that I’ll never fit all I want or need to say about the business of Linux in my LinuxCon talk. In fact I could make it a full day workshop and still not cover everything there is to know about making money on products your customers can get for free.
The solution is to begin evaluating what information really needs to be in the presentation and what would be better here. In some cases I’ve begun shucking slides from the deck and for others I’ve decided that there needs to be a better explanation of what I’m trying to cram into my allotted time.
With today’s post I’m going to start addressing some of the topics that could use a little more depth than what time will allow. I also hope that by exploring the topics here I’ll have a better grasp on what is most important to convey when I stand at the front of the room next month. ~Karlie
Midmarket Companies are the Key
Less than a month ago, eWeek published an article titled “Midmarket Companies Steady on PC Purchases, Report Finds.”
This article is based on The NPD Group’s Small and Medium size Businesses (SMB) Technology Report.
As you can guess from the name, the midmarket is made of up of companies who sit right between Mom-n-Pop operations and big businesses. They’re generally smaller than 500 employees and actually make up most of the US economy.
The first bullet on the slide above is fairly easy to understand – Buying is going up this year. While that’s good news, it’s the next two that set my heart all a flutter. They show me some really good numbers – Let me explain.
The biggest reason I’m in a very good mood following this report is that the percentages give me a starting point for basing a financial model off of.
Yes, 40% is less than half, and on first look can seem sort of dismal. The thing we need to understand is how big that 40% could really be.
According to the US Census Bureau, there are nearly 5 million businesses with 499 or fewer employees. So if we do a little math, 40% comes out to be approximately 2 Million potential clients. It could be even more if you set your pool to include business with over 500 employees.
We also need to factor in that the estimated market share for Linux is just about 1%. If we assume the market share is the same with SMBs, we’re looking at about 20,000 firms to get your feet wet with.
I’d also go out on a limb and suggest that if SMBs began adopting FOSS technologies that 1% market share for Linux would rise rapidly. How far? I don’t know exactly, but for every percentage point it jumps you’d be looking at another 20k or so in your national customer pool.
The lesson here is not to get hung up on what constitutes big or small in the business world, or even take a percentage at face value until you understand what those numbers actually represent.
20-Thousand businesses may not seem like that many either, but could you handle that many clients? Probably not while you’re just starting out, so 20k is really a fairly large number for you to grow into… Especially if you can grow the Linux adoption rates while you’re at it.