30 Jan

I’m hiring! DevOps / Web Developer, £30-35K, East Lancashire

I’m looking for a talented Linux-friendly software and dev-ops engineer, who will work closely with me on a wide variety of systems to create, fix and maintain website-related software.

You may have thought about starting your own business or going freelance, and here you’ll have the opportunity to learn the business skills you’ll need.  You’ll gain commercial knowledge to complement your sharp technical skills, working closely with experienced engineers from hardware and software backgrounds.

The work has a strong focus on e-commerce, covering website design through to warehousing and shipping.  We work closely with customers, forming robust partnerships that deliver value to both sides.

You’ll either be educated to degree level or have several years experience in a hands-on highly technical role.  You should have a high standard of written English and Maths, with attention to detail even when under pressure.

You will have worked with multiple languages and object-oriented code, and will have the ability to quickly pick up new languages, new technologies and environments. You will be very familiar with HTML, CSS, Javascript, the LAMP stack (with your choice of P’s), SQL, DNS, and have strong Linux command-line and server configuration skills.

Technologies range from WordPress and Magento based websites, through Mobile apps to embedded systems, with a strong focus on PHP/Perl/Python and C#.NET systems.

Starting Salary: £30-35k depending on skill and experience.
Location: East Lancashire

Click here to take the test

18 Jul

Case Study: Supermarket Shopping Cart Integration with a Magento Online Store

All of the supermarket giants allow a select few suppliers to provide an external website to supply goods and services, linked from the main website of the retailer. My customer, a web design and development agency, needed a specialist to build an ecommerce storefront that would integrate with a particular supermarket giant’s shopping cart system, both for sending customers to their website to take payment, and then to receive and process orders.

My task: build the online shop using their designs, integrate it with a 3D personalisation system, integrate it with the supermarket’s ecommerce shopping cart, allow orders to be received electronically from the supermarket, and then dispatch those orders electronically to multiple suppliers.  Simple!  Continue reading “Case Study: Supermarket Shopping Cart Integration with a Magento Online Store” »

20 Apr

Case Study: Global Transport Company Linking Peoplesoft and Tivoli to Online Store

This US based transportation giant had just signed up with my customer – let’s call them “Acme Inc” – a large wholesaler in the US, for all of their requirements world-wide of a particular range of products. In order to fulfil this contract, Acme needed their ecommerce stores integrated with several of the customer’s internal systems to allow seamless access to the stores for tens of thousands of staff all over the world. I linked the store to Peoplesoft eProcurement and Tivoli Access Manager.
Continue reading “Case Study: Global Transport Company Linking Peoplesoft and Tivoli to Online Store” »

01 Jan

My Own Estate Agent

A Lancashire property expert approached me in 2010 to talk about his vision for a “for sale by owner” or “how to sell my house myself” website.

His experience in this sector and passion for the idea of using twitter, facebook and the Internet in general to allow people to sell their houses themselves was clear, but I needed facts.  I found out that:

  • in the US, ‘For Sale by Owner’ makes up over 10% of property sales, and the average fee charged by Estate Agents (or ‘Realtors’) is over 7%!
  • in the UK, ‘Self Sale’ is rising every year, but is still less than 1% of all property sales, because Estate Agents, knowing that they’re offering less and less for the money, are selling at increasingly desperate prices!
  • 10 years ago, your Estate Agent could reach more people, more effectively, about your property, than you could even dream about…
  • …in 2012, thanks to social media, mobile Internet, and online advertising, you can reach people more effectively, more frequently, and more personally than any estate agent!

Passion and gut feel are essential for any startup, but without market research, you may as well be trying to sell greasy chips to skinny girls.  I asked myself “If we launch an online property advertising service, is anyone actually going to search for it?”  It turns out that yes, they are, in droves!

  • In 2011, over 20,000 searches are made every month relating to self-sale, for-sale-by-owner and related searches
  • Based on Google searches alone, we could achieve thousands of unique viewers every month
  • Only a handful of companies in the UK are actively targeting this market
  • By 2012, we saw a distinct growth in for-sale-by-owner related Google searches

This was enough to give the idea wings, and we’re edging ever closer to the launch of myownestateagent.com, the UK’s only dedicated For Sale By Owner company.

25 Sep

Communicating Your Worth to Customers for Small Business Owners

I recently read a superb article about communicating your value by Carrie Foster.  Carrie is a management development coach and writes insightful articles about how to get the best out of individuals in an organisation, and this article was aimed at employees who want to get more out of their jobs.

I got thinking about how the same principles apply to small business owners, skilled people who are learning how to turn a skill into a steady, healthy income.

“Surely that’s just called sales?” I hear you saying…

The most striking thing about Carrie’s article is that it doesn’t mention the S word. This is important because you are not a sales person – you’re a designer, a programmer, engineer, teacher, consultant, plumber, joiner. Continue reading “Communicating Your Worth to Customers for Small Business Owners” »

13 Jul

Three Dirty Secrets of Pricing for Web Design, Graphic Design and Software Development

There is some risk in writing an article like this.  It discusses pricing for professional services; getting it wrong in either direction can cause problems for the supplier, customer or both, and the risk is that the problems and solutions outlined are misunderstood.  However, the principles I’ll describe below ultimately benefits the end customer, and so I hope it will educate and inform, and so in turn benefit more end customers.

This all starts with a few assumptions.  Based on 8 years of quoting for and delivering fixed-price creative work, I have found that customers who buy design (eg. web design, graphic design) or development (software development, web development) work for a fixed price think that most or all of the following are true:

  • the quote reflects a specific number of hours work
  • reducing the requirements will reduce the price
  • all of the hours charged for are spent actually doing the graphic design, programming, or whatever skilled work is being charged for
  • the price is equal to number of hours multiplied by a fixed hourly rate

Many web designers, graphic designers, developers and consultants start out in their business also believing that these things are true.  However, within 1-2 years it becomes obvious (usually when the bank account is empty) that these things are not true.

Let’s work through a few examples and find out where this model breaks down, and why so many creative professionals struggle to build a viable business.

Why Price is not related to Time

Meet Danny.  He’s a graphic designer who’s just bought a shiny Mac, picked up a 2nd hand copy of Photoshop from eBay, printed some business cards, and built himself a flashy website.  Let’s walk through a few example customers at various stages in the life of Danny’s small graphic design business. Continue reading “Three Dirty Secrets of Pricing for Web Design, Graphic Design and Software Development” »

27 May

Get Your Spark Back; Do Something Completely Different

A very perceptive lady once told me, at a difficult time in my life, “If things aren’t going the way you want them to, change something.” It sounds obvious, but those words stuck with me – the key point being that I needed to change something, not just mope around hoping something would change.

I recently had, thanks to that wedding and a few bank holidays, an 11 day break from work. It was great to stop and relax for a while, but I hadn’t properly planned for it work-wise. Although I was able to keep my customers happy, I still ended up with a mountain of overdue tasks. Worse still, I felt unable to tackle the mountain and completely lacking in inspiration and drive, despite being in the most rewarding and exciting time ever in my career. Continue reading “Get Your Spark Back; Do Something Completely Different” »

18 May

Speak Your Customer’s Love Language

Or, How to Fail at IT Service Delivery

I recently read a book aimed at improving relationships and began to wonder how the same theory could be applied to business.  I’ll briefly summarise the book, and then examine how the theory (I will call it a theory even though it’s reasonably well proven and makes a lot of sense) could benefit a typical relationship between an IT services company and one of its customers.

After getting over some skepticism, I read “The Five Love Languages“.  It’s aimed at improving long term relationships and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  In essence, the author boils down his years of marriage counseling into the theory that there are five primary “languages” that humans use to demonstrate love for another human:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Acts of Service
  • Giving Gifts
  • Physical Contact

The premise of the book is that most people prefer to “speak” one, perhaps two of these languages, and that in a relationship, if you are speaking a language the other party doesn’t understand, you’re wasting your time.  It’s wonderfully practical, easy to implement, and gives rapid, measurable results, which is exactly the kind of technique that appeals to a busy person looking for an easy way to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Business relationships are often jokingly likened to marriage, but behind the jokes are more than a grain of truth – “people buy from people”.  Any business relationship involves a human customer making a decision to purchase something from a person or company they can identify with in some way.  Several studies have shown that adding a “human touch” or otherwise personalising a product or service can boost sales.  For an ongoing relationship, after the initial “spark” has passed, there needs to be a mutual need and appreciation in order for the relationship to continue; in business, the initial spark is the first purchase a customer makes, and then later in the relationship, we see customer services issues, complaints, new products, upgrades, contract renewals and all the other day-to-day running of a business relationship. Continue reading “Speak Your Customer’s Love Language” »

21 Apr

Get Off Benefits and Get Back To Work

That title is likely to evoke strong feelings in almost anyone.  Don’t judge yet, just read!

I think I understand both sides of this based on a variety of experiences; being brought up in a regular middle class family, then meeting a new set of people for whom working was unusual, then going through a year or two of depression and finally becoming an employer.

I’m inspired to write because this morning the news is focussing on the two million incapacity benefit claimants and how the government wants to get as many of them back to work as possible.  I thought “surely there are paying jobs that anyone with a basic grasp of maths and english, a computer and an Internet connection can do?”  I’m writing this to help me explore that idea and to inspire me to come up with solutions (so really, I don’t care if nobody reads it).

So why aren’t more people working?  Here are some examples that, if you have never known any of these people, should open your eyes: Continue reading “Get Off Benefits and Get Back To Work” »

17 Apr

Web Designers, Marketers and Software Developers, how efficient is your business?

In this article, I’ll have a go at explaining a measure of business efficiency which I heard described by Nic Rixon (if you ever get a chance to see this guy, do it) in a business growth seminar, which he calls a “Run Rate”.  The term Run Rate is normally used to describe a company’s revenue extrapolated over time, but as I can’t find another term for this measure I’ll use Run Rate for now.

Imagine if everything was running at maximum efficiency.  If you charge by the hour, this means every employee who does chargeable hours is working all day every day.  Enough sales are being made to keep everyone busy, client expectations are managed so they don’t keep calling, maintenance is low because quality is high, cash flow is easy because prices are right, and staff are productive because they know what needs doing, and have the tools to do it.  Perhaps you’re purely selling time, in which case imagine you could work chargeable hours every day. What would your sales figure be?  Put a realistic number on it.

Now, what are your sales currently?  Take the past 6 months, for example.  Perhaps discount any abnormal windfalls or writeoffs, unless they happen regularly.  Divide that by the previous figure for the same time period.  For example, if you did £50,000 in the past 6 months, but you could potentially be doing £15,000 per month, then you could potentially have done £90,000 in the same time period.  £50,000 / £90,000 is 0.55, or 55%.

Continue reading “Web Designers, Marketers and Software Developers, how efficient is your business?” »