8 Must Do Web Design Tips for Small Business Owners

Artistic web design

1. Who are you, what do you do, and who do you do it for?

These questions MUST be answered within the first 2-3 seconds of your visitor landing on your site.

Who are you?

When a visitor comes to the site do they immediately recognise your brand? By the way, this doesn’t mean your logo needs to be bigger (web designer joke). Yes the logo needs to be prevalent, but keep it simple, in most cases top left corner will do. Consistent colour and font scheme, use of white space, tone of voice and style of images all go to the personality of your brand and need to be recognisable across all your marketing assets.

What do you do?

Is it clear to your visitor what your site is about? Do you have a company tagline that is more than just fluff and actually expresses the meaning and purpose of your business? Does your tagline entice the customer with the information they were seeking?

This is one area the web differs here from offline. In offline advertising you are interrupting people, you need something catchy to get their attention so they recognise your brand and create some positive emotions around your brand. This offline technique needs to be repeated many times to work, you don’t get that chance with your website, often they are there just once and you have less than 10 seconds to let them know who you are and what you can do for them.

“Just do it” was a hugely successful campaign, so much so that I don’t even need to mention the brand. But this is a completely different model, unless you have a huge budget for offline adverting your website tagline needs to be factual, simple, and most importantly explain to you audience what you can offer them.

Your tagline needs to be at the top of the site either next to or just below the logo. It can be even more effective if it is accompanied by an image that offers a visual representation of your core focus. Both images and text will not only cater for the different users comprehension preferences, be it words or imagery, but also support each other to give a stronger overall statement of positioning.

Who do you do it for?

Is key to your positioning and can set you apart from the competition by defining your niche and positioning yourself as a specialist in that niche. If you are an architectural firm that specialises in commercial developments then state this, the benefits of being regarded as a specialist in commercial will be greater than the few missed residential projects. This niche can be refined even more, for example; landscape construction for commercial urban developments. Or whatever it is you want to specialise in.

2. Size Does Matter.

Websites now need to be built for both smaller and larger screens than we had years ago. Monitors have increased in size and olds websites can look very small. One of the first websites I built was in 2001 and best practice then was to make the site wide enough to allow the user to have their favourites open on the left hand side without the page going off the screen. This site, which will remain anonymous, and I am embarrassed is still up (despite my suggestions to the owner for an upgrade). My screen is particularly large, but presently it takes up about 1/6 of the screen real estate.

The other side of the coin is that now it is reported that over 50% of web traffic comes from mobile, admittedly the percentage of “money” traffic is a lot less, but we still need to prepare for a wide range of smaller and larger screens that we used to. The introduction of responsive design has its’ challenges, but for now it is the best option and there aren’t too many business cases for not going down the responsive route.

3. Analytics

Google Analytics is free at this stage and very easy to set up. Do it today!!

No matter where you are in the development/design cycle the longer you have been collecting data from real visitors the better. There will be questions that come up down the track that you cannot predict, and when those questions do come up there is a likely chance that your Google analytics history will be able to offer at least some insight. If you don’t know how to set it up here is a good link

4. Images say 1000 words.

The quality of the images and careful selection of which images are used speak volumes.  They will convey either a professionalism or near-enough-is-good-enough approach depending on how well this is executed.

A professional photographer is optimal, but if some basics are adhered to product shots can be done in house with some small investment into equipment. Systems and process is important, all your product or design projects shots need to look like they are members of the same family. This can be achieved by creating a photography style guide that sets some simple parameters.

Even if you are doing the photography in house then it might be worth contracting a professional to offer some consulting and help setup these systems.

A professional image editor is compulsory and will add the finishing touches. I have had good success finding international contractors do this for around $15-20 per hour.

5. Consistency

Consistency is something we all look for in a company we want to deal with, just look at the success of McDonalds, not the best burgers, but you know exactly what you will get.

Even the most basic one page style guide that sets the colours, typographical elements, and image specifications will make the world of difference. Having all your Headings, sub-headings and body text consistent and sticking to a colour pallet is crucial in promoting your brand in a consistent and professional manner.

Image size also needs to be looked at, especially product images. All thumbnail images need to be the same size and if they zoom into a larger image those images all need to be the same size and same aspect rather than having some portrait and some landscape. Conveniently the technology we have today with content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress do a lot of this for you.

6. Site Architecture

Can users find what they want? Can you find what you want on your site? If you can’t, you can be pretty sure your users will have trouble.

Spend 10 minutes browsing the site and have a couple others from the office and some family or friends do the same. At this stage you only need to identify any major difficulties and obvious problems, as you progress we can do some more systematic user testing.

7. Speed

Who gets bored waiting for a site to load? Who has left a site because it loaded too slow?

I do regularly. There is a lot that can be done here, but the number one is image size and optimisation. Sure images say 1000 words, but if they take so long to load that your customer cannot see your words then they are worth nothing.

It is a fine balance between image size, quality and loading speed. It can be a temptation to want to present your product or service images as big and as sharp as possible. Avoid this temptation, there are better ways to present your work that will not slow up your site like linking to pages that do have high res images, but are optional to click to.

The other issue with speed is hosting. You get what you pay for.

8. Treat Your Website Like a Bad Neighborhood. Don’t Go There Alone.

Don’t build your website yourself. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

If you have a technical or design background that’s great, and your skills will be a valuable asset to the website, but you don’t know what you don’t know and it will always be cheaper in the long run for you to hire a web professional and allow them to help structure the project correctly.

Would you recommend a web designer create the final plans for their house?

Of course not.

At the very least you need a web professional to help you construct a roadmap and the basic schematics of your “online business solution”.

These are the bare essentials of any business website. Next article we will take it to the next level and address some of the intricacies of content and preparing your site for both search engine and users to achieve a win-win for both.

What is Responsive Web Design. History and Why You Should Use It

Responsive design is a practice that allows a website’s pages to reformat themselves depending on which device they are being displayed on. This ensures that whether the content is viewed on a phone, tablet, or desktop computer, the website will remain user-friendly. With more people using their smartphones and tablets to browse the internet, it has become increasingly important to create a website that works across multiple platforms.

History of Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design was a term coined by Ethan Marcotte in a paper on “A List Apart” issued on May 25 2010. In his article he describes how rapid change in the landscape of designs due to the growing number of mobile users and how designers should cope with this change. He proposed that the only way forward with these changes is to have flexible images, fluid grids and media queries.

Ethan Marcotte is a talented web designer who was inspired by John Allsopp’s article, “A Dao of Web Design”, where Allsopp encouraged designers to embrace the flexibility of the web, play with its strength and should go beyond the controlled pixel perfect print. Allsopp’s article showed Marcotte that the web can be a place where designers can do amazing things.

Marcotte then described the theory and practice in his 2011 book entitled “Responsive Web Design”. Even before Marcotte coined this term, a lot of designers felt the need of a more flexible platform for their designs. Jeffrey Zeldman in his book “Designing with Web Standards” encouraged web designers and front-end developers to drop their table layouts and create more CSS based web designs.

The need for more flexibility is felt by the web design community and Marcotte’s book is just one of those formative sets. Marcotte’s idea of adapting to change calls for a different approach in designing a website and that is to increase user’s experience by creating a design that can suite the endless number of devices and modern browsers.

Soon enough, the concept of responsive web design became so popular that it was labelled as one of the top web design trends of 2012 by various magazines.

The Technical Aspect of a Responsive Web Design

Media queries are used to apply a set of conditional formats to the design. The min-width feature sets a particular style format if the browser falls under a certain break point. A break point is the part of your media query that specifies the screen size which the style declaration will be applied upon.

Most beginner designers define their break points with the exact width of the devices that they are targeting. However, to optimize the break point feature, one should start with the smallest view of the site and slowly expand the site view until it comes to a point where the design fails to give the optimum layout for that particular screen size. That size should be your break point.







Agile Design as it Relates to Web Design and Digital Marketing Strategy

Agile design emphasizes people and interactions over processes and tools. This means communicating frequently, both within teams and with the customer, as well as daily meetings so that the whole team can stay looped in on the activities of its members. This creates the consistent feedback loop that enables teams to adjust based on what customers, beta testers and the market is telling them, while also checking frequently to ensure their work is functional.

History of Agile Design

Agile process is a cross between incremental and iterative models.

Iterative process was introduced by Thomas Edison in the 1800’s where he developed a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analysing, and refining.

Incremental development methods on the other hand use elements of the waterfall model that was first used in 1970. Both iterative and waterfall models have their roots in the building and construction industries and were later adapted to software development.

Agile development methods started to take shape in 1990 as a response to the heavily regulated waterfall model where the design process is overly incremental and is often micro managed.

Early implementations of Agile methods include Unified Process, Scrum, Crystal Clear, Extreme Programming, Adaptive Software Development and Dynamic Systems Development. These implementations are now collectively called as agile methodologies after the Agile Manifesto was published.

In 2001, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland along with other software developers, met and discussed the agile methods and development and published the Manifesto for Agile Development.

In this manifesto, they outlined the agile values and principles.


  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over Following a plan


  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for
    the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

The Importance of Agile as it Relates to Web Design

  • It creates a trusting relationship with your client- Through proper communication, the designer will be able to establish trust with the client.
  • It keeps the designers in check- By communicating with the client all throughout the web design process, the designer gains a clearer understanding of what the client is looking for and what not. With agile communication your clients would feel that they are part of the team and would be able to give designers some specifications on how they want the site to look like and feel like.
  • It saves time and money- With more client interaction, the designer will be able to tweak the design during its early stages so then it will not cost as much. Without agile design, designers and web developers would not know what exactly the client wants.



The Future of SEO

When people hear about SEO, most of the time they think about the sneaky tactics that SEO specialists do behind the back of search engines. Well, this is an antiquated view. Sure, some aspects of SEO have dwelled upon such sneaky tactics in the past but these are not the whole of SEO. These tactics are actually a dying form of SEO. Search Engines are fixing their flaws and are ultimately getting smarter.

But what does this have to do with the future of SEO?

Future of SEOThis is just to make things clear. The future of SEO is not exactly an entirely different landscape from what we’re already looking at. The core concepts of SEO that have worked in the past are still working and will still work in the future. It’s just that it will get more streamlined and all the bad stuff will eventually die down.


So what are these core concepts of SEO?

Ultimately, it comes down to what users will want in a website. These are high-quality content, high-quality backlinks, a good site structure, and a little bit on page load speed.

  1. High Quality Content – I know you’ve heard this before. I know it’s such a cliché but it has and will always be the main reason that users come to a site. If you have content that people want, search engines will respect that and ultimately reward your site with better rankings.
  2. High Quality Backlinks – This comes down to Google’s roots where rankings were mostly considered from the number of sites that link to yours. It is basically a vote of confidence for your site similar to how university papers and journals cite other papers and journals that have quality content and are relevant to theirs. And when you get your links from trusted and high-authority sites, it will make your site even more attractive to search engines.
  3. Good Site Structure – A good site structure is also a factor. Users normally wouldn’t spend time on a site that is confusing to browse through. This has led to search engine guidelines stating that there is a preference for sites with good site structure. Search engines crawlers are now smarter with the way they crawl through a site. If they find your site easy to crawl through, then it will reward your site with a higher ranking.
  4. Page Load Speed – This is another factor that has always been the outcry of search engine guidelines. As long as your site provides sufficient page load speed that enhances the user experience, then people will prefer to stay on your site and search engines will certainly take a note of that.

These are the factors that will make a user come and spend time on a site. And search engines are steadily improving their algorithms to provide their users with sites that follow these factors.

The future is hard to predict but as the saying goes: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” With the dying down of blackhat/unethical SEO, these core concepts will be even more important and valuable.


How to Create Your Social Network Marketing Process

How do I do social network marketing?

It’s a question that those looking to start or have already started an online business frequently ask… and rightfully so.

Social network marketing has become such an integral part of internet marketing that a lot of booming businesses and popular startups have literally started themselves from just one social network profile. But this isn’t to say that social network marketing is a simple activity that results in huge gains.

iota social media twitter

Though social network marketing can greatly improve the market awareness for your product, it takes a lot of time and effort to produce significant results. When we consider the number of businesses that have become popular with the help of this type of marketing, there are more that have failed trying. For businesses under a tight budget, the efficiency of their marketing process becomes all the more important.

There are a lot of resources all over the internet that teach people how to do social media marketing. But most of these are just theories and/or vague generalizations. The reality is that different types of businesses have different requirements and practice is very different from theory, all the more so in social network marketing where the people dynamic is the most important. In this article, we will reveal to you our own social network process in order to help people who just don’t know where and how to start.


All social network marketing is done with social network profiles and if you don’t have your social network accounts yet create them right away. Create your accounts on all the major social networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram.

For our own websites, we’ve only chosen the top 4 (http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites) social networks which are Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you are promoting products that are important for their visual appeal, be sure to also make use of visual-centric platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram.

It is important that your social media profiles provide as much information on your business as briefly as possible – and don’t forget to include a link to your website.

Making Friends

Making friends in social mediaHere comes the tricky part. Your social network profiles are just as important as the number of people who like/follow you or are able to see and read your posts. What’s the use of your posts if only a few people will see them?

Social networks work on the basic premise of maintaining your real-world networks as well as create new ones. And since every social network starts with zero likes and follows, you need to subtly persuade tell your own contacts to like your page. You can start with your immediate relatives and most eager customers.

If you already have a handful of likes/follows, then you can start publishing your posts. Remember though that social media marketing is all about likes and the never-ending goal is always to get more and more likes/follows from potential customers.

Your primary tool for getting more likes/follows should be your published posts but it’s still important to complement this with strategies suited to each social network. Our system for getting new likes/follows is set up like this:


Like other fan pages that are in the same niche but are not direct competitors. This gives us a chance for them to like us back and create good social relations with them.


Follow a number of profiles that have the potential to follow back once a week. It may be tempting to follow 1000 profiles all at once expecting at least 100 to follow back but the people on Twitter have become especially wary of automated accounts run by bots. And a ratio of 1000 followed to 10 current followers is a definite red flag. Give them a chance to follow back before following another batch of profiles. You can also unfollow the profiles that didn’t like back before you follow another batch.


This is where you can theoretically follow 1000 profiles and expect 100 to follow back. But we suggest to refrain from doing that. Unless you have a really large business operating to satisfy a number of consumer interests, it’s better to target who you follow depending on their connections and communities joined.


LinkedIn offers a pretty good platform for looking up potential customers and business partners by searching for them by field e.g. landscaping. LinkedIn is best for finding B2B opportunities.

Disclaimer: If you’re in a niche market, gaining likes can be a slow and tedious process. The important thing to remember is to just keep on increasing your followers and likers even if you get to the point that you only get 1 new like/follow per week.

Disclaimer 2: Do not avail of any underhanded services like buying likes or follows. The goal is to get likes from potential customers, not from automated accounts.


For the sake of simplicity, let’s just call it “posts”. And likers/followers as “followers”.

Now that’s a load off of my mind. Moving on.

Social media strategyThere is that part where you get to market your brand to get more customers paying or to get new ones. But don’t just go ahead and spam your followers with mind-numbing ads. Never do this. First and foremost, remember that social networks are places where people interact with both old and new friends and acquaintances. Unless your followers are really dedicated fanboys or groupies, no one will appreciate you constantly promoting your own ass.

We have a system in place to publish one post per day, seven days of the week. The thing to remember about the posts is that they shouldn’t all be about promoting your products or service. Some posts should be created to create engagement, to provide information and some to provide entertainment. Talking about your products all the time is monotonous and will definitely come off as too corporate.

Social network marketing also gives businesses the opportunity to humanize their product to come closer to their customers. Publishing posts shouldn’t be all about you talking about your products, rather, it should be about you talking to your customers and creating a healthy conversation which isn’t always about your products.

But do we just log on to our social networks every day and check for updates every hour? Won’t it take too much time away from what really matters like closing deals?

If we have an efficient systemised process in place, then the answers are no and no.

This efficient systemised process entails us to create our social media posts ahead of time and schedule them accordingly in the social network profiles. We are using a 10-post template to create posts that are not solely for the purpose of self-promotion.

POST 1 (Promoting the company’s own products)
POST 2 (Inspirational quote related to niche)
POST 3 (Promoting the company’s own products)
POST 4 (Promoting another company in the same niche but not a direct competitor)
POST 5 (Informative post)
POST 6 (Promoting another company in the same niche but not a direct competitor)
POST 7 (Informative post)
POST 8 (Promoting the company’s own products)
POST 9 (Informative post)
POST 10 (Promoting another company in the same niche but not a direct competitor)

After the 10th post, we rinse and repeat.

The next thing to consider is how we schedule these posts to our social networks automatically. We are using Hootsuite for our social networks but there are a lot of other tools to choose from like Tweetdeck and Seesmic. http://webtrends.about.com/od/pr6/tp/The-Top-10-Social-Media-Management-Applications.htm

After creating the social media posts in advance, we just need to feed these to our social media management app of choice. This process of creating and scheduling posts can be done weekly or bi-weekly so it will not take too much time.

Daily Management

Social Media Iceberg

For example, if you have a niche business with a pretty straight-forward website and only a few customers, then it’s sufficient to check your social network profiles once in every 2 days. But if you have time to spend, then it’s still better to check them every day. You don’t need to take too long to check them every day. An hour is usually more than enough to check for comments or messages that need immediate replies on all your social networks.

Then there is the other case, the type of business that attends to a lot of customers or frequently starts and closes their deals through social networks. The social network profiles can become a portal for inquiries and replying to these promptly is only good business sense. It promotes good relations with your customers which will ultimately mean more sales for your business. In this case, it is important to check the social networks daily or even to place someone in-charge with checking for and answering comments and messages.


The worth of social network marketing is at an all-time high and there are no signs of it slowing down. It is especially valuable to small businesses that can’t compete with the large companies in terms of advertising. All it takes for a small business to rise up the ranks is an effective social network marketing strategy coupled with an efficient social network marketing process.

We hope this article has helped you to refine your own social network marketing process. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment them below.


Outsourcing to International Contractors

Outsourcing to low cost international contractors may not be for everyone but it is key to my working and management style.

I have become an expert in delegation, just ask my partner and kids.

OutsourcingAnd with only a limited number of hours in the day, and not having a money tree that I can use to pay the most expensive experts in the world, outsourcing to international contractors has been a real saving grace to my life and business. I have used many international workers over the years here are some of the things I do and don’t outsource and my experiences with them.

I can outsource parts or all of web design and development, content writing, social media management, SEO and general admin duties. I have kept hold of book keeping myself because, one, it doesn’t take me too long to do it these days using Saasu. And two, it keeps my eyes on the accounts every month. But this is more of a personal choice, I know a lot of people hate book keeping and I’m sure it is something that could be outsourced.

Cultural Challenges

cultural challengeThere is a real cultural bridge to get over as well as language and found that was a big learning curve.

One mistake I made was to create a huge task list for a new contractor right from the beginning. I did this because I wanted to get it all out of my mind onto paper and I wanted them to not have to worry about what to do next. In my experience employees from Asia get overwhelmed by this approach and often just don’t turn up for work, never to be heard from again. (This is especially common in Philippines). I have adjusted my approach now where I still write my big list but I only give them a couple of tasks from it at a time. It means I have to spend an extra few minutes each day cutting and pasting the new tasks into an email for them, but I think I may have missed out on retaining some good people because I overwhelmed them too much at the start, so for me it’s worth the extra effort.

Virtual Assistants (VA’s)

I hire full time admin (all-rounders) from the Philippines. Full time is good because it gives both myself and them a level of security and they really take on the ownership of their work as team members rather than shot-term contractors.

I have 3 great ones at present that are like 3 extra sets of hands.

I do a DISC test but much later down the recruitment process and it is really just to get a feel for them rather than employment criteria. But I make all recruits do a couple of online IQ tests which is my primary filter.

To do this I specify at the end of my advert:

“To apply please take the below tests and submit your results with your application


VAWe get about 30 applications from these ads and most ignore and apply without the test results which is a red flag that they do not follow instructions so that is a strong initial filter to cull the results.

I have found the best results from staff that have an IQ of over 120 so that is where I set the minimum limit. If we were a bigger company and I had some simpler tasks on an ongoing basis I might remove this restriction and focus more on personality traits like reliability and consistency.

Since we are a small company, my VA’s need to be able to comprehend a wide range of tasks and they need to be able to learn quickly with as little effort from myself as possible to train them. For the moment, high performers are necessary to achieve this and I pay a 30-50% premium in wages.

VA Salary

VA’s in the Philippines start at about $250 pcm and I pay between $600 – $700 pcm

In the Philippines there is also what is called the 13 month pay that is equivalent to a month pay that I give my team just before Christmas. It is heavily entrenched in their culture and I feel obliged to pay it. In addition to this, I also offer what I refer to as a loyalty bonus and pay an additional month on 30th June. The reason I do this is that I invest a lot into training and allow my team to spend 20% of their time training. I don’t want them to take these skills elsewhere so preface both the 13th month and loyalty bonuses with conditions that they are a reward and incentive for high performance, long service and commitment to the company. Employees that are dismissed for poor performance or resign will not be entitled to any amounts accrued other than their base salary.

VA Recruitment

I recruit by advertising on onlinejobs.ph. I pay for just for one month whenever I need to recruit someone new. We are not recruiting constantly so this is the cheapest method for me just to use it when I need it.

Web Design and Development

ElanceFor web development I use freelancers from Elance.com. On my Magento stores, I need strong ongoing development and have found the best success with the larger companies. They are more expensive than a sole freelancer, but you can tell they have their own internal training and process management to deal with us annoying and demanding westerners and I find that I get more things done in less time compared to some of the cheaper developers. I also feel like I have the security of having a project manager that has all my files so if my developer is away and I have an urgent task it can be assigned to someone else without the need of retraining on my end.

For WordPress sites, I have been using sole freelancers from Elance as I am more confident in handling any problems that arise with WordPress so don’t feel the need for a full service agency solution that I need with Magento.

For web design, I micromanage (which is a personal choice for me) and do a really detailed brief and mood board and basically the first part of the design process. Then I send that to a 2-3 inexpensive Elance contractors to get more ideas (a form of my own crowd sourcing) and use their designs to improve on my own. This works for me, but probably because I enjoy design and can leverage my time by this process.

I have a preferred Photoshop guy from Pakistan who I met on Elance and have been using regularly for a couple of years now. I use him as much as I can and my VA’s have authority to give him any image editing work they have.


Articles that I want decent content I get from US contractors on Elance. This is only suitable for commoditized content that someone with decent writing skills can quickly research online and pump out some interesting articles.

As the web matures content is becoming more of a craft and an in depth knowledge of the industry is needed or a unique perspective by the business owner on topics they have had a lot of experience with. This level of insight is hard to get from an outsourced freelancer


Outsourcing to international contractors is by no means a magic bullet to free up your time and systemise your business and can be very challenging. But over time with patience and effort, I believe it is worthwhile. I can’t imagine what I would do without my team spread across the globe. For more details about my personal journey systemising my business with the help of international contractors check out this post.

The Journey to a Systems Approach

Training and Skills Development

Training Requirement

If you are a prospective partner, it is important for you to know the skills of the people you are going to be working with. So in this article, I will discuss our training and skills development.

Nick requires that we devote 20% of our time on skills training and development. This allowed the team to not only become productive. It also sated each member’s natural desire to improve on their craft and learn new skills.

Training and Skills Development

If you think about it, it is an ingenious plan – a win-win situation. For employees to be happy, they need to feel they are growing within the organization and that their skills and competencies are being put to good use. Contrary to popular belief, financial rewards actually only come secondary. For the business, it meant the employees are improving which makes them more capable of handling more diverse projects.


Magento Product Management

Magento EcommerceWhen I started working for Nick, he put me on trial for one month. I was like a young buck venturing for the first time in the wild. My first task was to write articles for him for one of his websites so he can assess my capabilities and that was finished without much of a hitch. Nick then decided to give me a task of adding products to the Magento e-commerce platform. That sounded overwhelming because I was not yet familiar with the platform but I was given a process to follow. I started with simple products, soon after I already found myself working on the more complicated grouped products and configurable products. After more than a year, I was not only limited to the product catalog tab in Magento. Currently, Nick already considers me an expert on Magento product management and sends me all the product related tasks for IOTA and GardenWare. He told me that:

…when you become an expert at something, you should stop doing it; train someone else to do it; and become an expert at something else.


Web DesignCurrently, I am quite well versed in the WordPress content management system and working on nickj.co just furthered what I currently know about WordPress design elements. Still, it’s going to be a while before I am capable of creating a full-scale web design all on my own. There are still a lot of things that I need to grasp.

Learning how to code in different programming languages is going to be a very big challenge for me and it is interesting for me so that helps. For the time being, I have a few things I am polishing up my skills on. I am also learning the basics of programming which will prepare me for CSS or Javascript. I think Nick wants me to go into the direction of CSS which I think is the reasonable option since I deal with a lot of pages and learning how to manipulate CSS elements will help a lot.

Project Management

Project ManagementAs project manager and team leader, it’s helpful but it isn’t really a necessity for me to gain a mastery of technical skills. I just need to at least grasp the core concepts to be able manage projects effectively. I kind of consider myself as being a little technical and a little creative. I am neither a master of the creative nor the technical aspect but I know enough of both to manage tasks effectively. Though I am trying to get my foot into the technical bandwagon.

Other training I had in the past year and a half included Google Adwords, SEO, project management, social media management, copy writing, Photoshop, Saasu, etc.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO1As for the other team members, John is furthering his know-how in SEO and social media.

Joan, or Jo as we call her, is the newest in the team and she actually fits in. Most of our recruits never make it past the trial period so I’m just glad so we got a new set of reliable hands on board. Among other stuff, she is working John on the SEO campaign.

I did also train myself on SEO by reading articles and watching training videos. I still keep up to date on the latest stuff about SEO by following some blogs and SEOmoz on the social media.

Motivating Team Members in a Virtual Workplace

Motivating team members in a traditional workplace is a challenge in itself so you would imagine motivating team members in a virtual work space would be a lot harder.

Virtual Teams, MMORPGs, and Leadership – How They All Tie Up

Managing virtual teams

I’ve read an article which relates how playing video games, MMORPGs in particular, can promote and build leadership skills that can benefit virtual teams. See it here. By the way, MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. To speak in layman terms, most games in this genre involve someone stepping up to be a leader of a guild or a faction composed usually of people who do not know each other from different parts of the world to perform a task which could be raiding an enemy camp, defeating an overly powerful enemy (which cannot be done alone), or defeating an opposing guild. Whatever the goal is, leadership and teamwork is important. Kind of like the same set up for virtual teams. This article details exactly what I mean: http://www.forbes.com/2010/07/19/career-leadership-strategy-technology-videogames.html

I like to excel in everything that I do. If I don’t excel I’d rather not do it at all actually and that includes my video games. I’ve had experience in leading a guild and a raid and I can say that guilds in MMORPGs are very similar to virtual teams. The leader decides which people he wants to recruit. The leader also decides who to promote to assume positions and responsibilities in the guild. He delegates tasks so that the guild can accomplish its set goals.

I was a gamer before I became a team leader and I do believe that the people management and resource management skills that I gained from playing video games, MMORPGs in particular, allowed me to become an effective leader.

My Approach in the Traditional Office Setting

Video Games leadershipLooking back, I was team leader in a traditional office before I worked with a virtual team. And as team leader, one of your main goals is to keep the team in high spirits so they keep performing well. During this time, instead of becoming the bossy type who just keeps giving out orders and shouts at every mistake, I reached out to my team. To begin with, I never was the kind of person who would shout at someone. I listen to the team’s concerns which I then communicate with upper management. I hang out with my team after work to get dinner or a beer. We chip in so we can order pizza during afternoon breaks. I even organize other out of office activities like paintball and bowling. In fact, my team had a reputation of being the tightest team in the entire department. Not only that, my team consistently and overly exceeded our monthly performance goals. My approach may not be the best approach but it’s the approach that worked for me.

At some point, management decided to provide pizza for the team that does the best for the entire month. The other teams stepped up their game but we still emerged victorious!

Nothing better than free pizza. Except maybe free bacon but you can get bacon on a pizza, so…

However, I think the danger in this approach is that your team members may treat you too lightly. You must be able to balance the professionalism and make sure that the team understands that it is not okay to fool around with work. When it’s play time, it’s play time. When it’s work, it’s serious work.

How I Approach the Virtual Team

In a virtual team, you make do with email communication, chat, and phone – no actual verbal communication. Limited communication can make building rapport a problem. Without good rapport, teamwork is hardly possible. Can you imagine working on an important project with someone who you do not know, much less trust?

As you may have guessed, the approach that I used in the traditional setting would not work in a virtual team so I have to improvise. Currently, what I try to do is to hold weekly Skype meetings initially to discuss work but later develop into greeting the team and asking how they are doing. At some point, I will ask if they have any concerns about work or anything. I found that this works to a great degree although I haven’t been able to do the meetings on a regular basis (which I know I should).

Skype meetingsIt is a good thing that there isn’t much of a time difference between Australia and the Philippines because we can hold meetings at a time that is usually convenient for everyone. Still, the lack of direct verbal communication can lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes, tasks can lead to undesired outcomes. The solution here is to define clear goals for each project and communicating this properly with the team. Creating clear project and task briefs is also invaluable.

The team that we have now is a good one although I think we can improve on our interpersonal communication. I will continue to strive for ways to achieve the same kind of relationship in the current team which could come in a future blog post.

One thing that still bothers me though is how we can get pizza and beer for the team. If you know how that could be done in the virtual team, let me know by all means! Also, share how you motivate your virtual team in the comments section.


The Challenges of Working from Home

Work From Home Dad

Some people might think that working from home is way easier than working in an office setting. However, it is not and it shouldn’t be.

The main challenge about working from home is getting focused on work. If you live alone that wouldn’t be much of a problem since you don’t have people to disturb you and you can focus on work on your own accord. But if you have a wife in the house and a crying baby beside you, focusing on work may be just a tad too difficult.

Making the People Around You Understand What Working From Home Means

The people who you live with should understand that when you step into your work space, you are in the office and not at home. You should be doing only the things that you would be doing if you were in an office. Tell the wife that you can’t take over washing the dishes because she is taking care of the baby.

You wouldn’t wash the dishes if you were in the office, would you? You can’t go out to run errands all the time because you are “not at home”; you are “at work”. You can’t have coffee with the wife in the living room on a chilly afternoon because you are “at work”. Spending time to do these things means that you have to extend your work hours. Making the people around you understand what “working from home” means will go a long way. A good rule of thumb is to ask them, “Do you think I can do that if I am in the office?” Employers actually require people who work from home to have a workspace where they can work undisturbed.

Working catWorking at home on the internet also comes with a lot of temptation. My video games are just a click away. Also, clicking a link on Facebook could take you to YouTube and sooner or later you realize you’ve already spent an hour or two just watching random videos. For this, you need nothing but self-control. No matter how close you are to beating that game that you’ve been playing for weeks, or no matter how much you’ve been wanting to watch that movie that’s showing on HBO, you have to tell yourself, would I play a game or watch a movie if I am in the office? Do you really want to work up until very late in the evening just because you stopped to do something else in the middle of the day? I think not.

While sometimes I do let myself get distracted like when I see the cats and decide that they need a bath right now, or when I need to go out to pay some bills or go to the bank, or when I decide I want to cook up a feast for tonight’s dinner. I can do that because I am at home but I understand that this means I need make up for lost time.

Working From Home Versus Traditional Office

I used to work in an office setting in the hustling and bustling city of Makati, the commercial capital of the Philippines. Rush hour is a real pain and it will really make you curse! When working from home, you don’t have to worry about rush hour traffic. You even save money because you don’t have to pay for transportation.

Work From Home Cat

When I started working from home on a regular basis, one thing I really loved was having home-cooked meals. I worked in Makati for four years and that’s four years of eating out. In less than a year, I was already sick of McDonald’s and KFC. We sometimes eat at more fancy places but that really takes a toll on your budget. But now that I’ve been working from home for over a year, I kind of miss those oily and cheesy burgers. Human beings are such a hard bunch to please.

I started working from home just about the same time that I moved to my new house in Cavite, just a half hour travel away from the city. I realized that I have lost my social life. I don’t attribute it purely on working from home since moving to Cavite actually made it hard to meet up with my friends in the city. I am quite the introvert so I really haven’t made any friends in the village. But still, I’m thinking working from home will limit your social life to only your closest friends.

If You Live With Someone Who Works From Home

People who work from home take work just as seriously as people who work in an office. They have deadlines to meet. They have reports to submit. They have performance targets that they want to achieve. They need to put in sufficient work hours or else it will reflect poorly on their performance. If your partner works from home, cut him some slack and understand that working from home is not all fun and games. It is serious work. Get him a cup of coffee. He’d certainly appreciate the gesture.

The most important thing to remember for people who associate with someone who works from home is respect for his workplace. If you don’t respect the workspace, you don’t respect the person.

How We Manage Our Remote Team

Our team thrives in the virtual work space and while there are certain barriers in this kind of setup, I think we are doing really great. I have worked with Nick for a little over a year as of this writing and it’s not all fun and games.

Hiring the Right People

Genius Cat

How we do things starts with getting the right people. We don’t hire people right off the bat just because they have an amazing résumé. I’ve seen some good people come and go just because they can’t keep up with the processes that we have in place. The first thing that we look at when looking for new team members is the IQ level. We make them take an IQ test. Why we need people with high IQ is pretty much self-explanatory. And because the tests are taken online, some people may be able to cheat but when work starts you can pretty much tell which ones cheated at the IQ test. Probably less than 25% of the people that we put on trial period are actually hired because most can’t keep up with the quality of work that we require and our “Golden Rules”. Heck, only about 5% make it past the IQ test score requirement.

After the testing part comes the interview which is much less formal than traditional job interviews. We do it through Skype chat. We still ask some of the common interview questions but in particular, we need to know if they can work uninterrupted at home.

If they have children someone should be able to look after their children while they are working.because you can’t be working while making your kid’s packed lunch. It simply doesn’t work.

On another note, educational attainment does not seem to matter because having a degree does not translate to intellectual superiority. Your work experience says more about what you can do compared to an over-glorified diploma.

The Reporting and Honor System

Education versus Intelligence

We thrive on a system based on honesty. We do not have a time tracking software in place. Instead we use an intensive reporting system on a daily, weekly, and bimonthly basis. This system has actually grown on me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the start of the work day, we email a report on what tasks we have on hand for the day. The day is capped with a report on what tasks we were able to accomplish. This report needs to be very detailed. It must include time stamps and results of tasks, suggestions, problems encountered, suggested solutions, etc.

Every Friday, we submit another report which is mostly a narrative of the week that was, including personal stuff and goals that we want to share. I treat it as a space where I can rant about anything related to work and home. I spend more or less an hour creating this report and some might think it a waste of time – that one hour doing this report should rather be spent on something more productive. However, as an online team, this helps us get to know each other better since we can’t really get together after office hours to get a beer or grab pizza.

Twice a month, we also submit a bimonthly report which is mainly a summary of accomplished projects and current projects, work schedule, among other things. The reporting system is actually evolving to adjust to our needs. The bimonthly report in particular had a couple of sections added to it.

Quality over Quantity

In our system, quantity is not paramount. Quality is our recipe for success. It doesn’t matter if you take a longer time to accomplish a task just as long as you do it perfectly.

Quality Over Quantity

If you do it fast, you are bound to make mistakes and most of the time, correcting these mistakes takes even more time and time is a very precious commodity. However, this does not necessarily mean that we can take our sweet time on every task. Taking way too long to accomplish a task is also not good.

Before submitting a task as accomplished, you must check that it is free from errors.

If you come across a problem when doing a task, don’t just raise the problem, propose a solution.

Skills development is also an important aspect in our system. Each team member is encouraged to spend at least 20% of his work day into learning new skills. That, to me, is a really good deal. I actually get paid to learn something new. Skills development and training is always a win-win situation.

Team Meetings

Also, every now and then, we have a team meeting over Skype to discuss some tasks but mostly just to reach out to the team members and see how they are doing or talk about any concerns that they have in mind. So, even if we don’t know each other personally, we become a tight group.

Nick actually went to the Philippines last year for vacation; it also became an opportunity for us to meet in person and discuss his future plans for the business and for the team, though it was a completely different team back then. Everyone else had come and gone except for me. I think I am probably the one who spent the longest time in Nick’s team.