Archive for March, 2008

Books That Changed our Business Forever: Getting Things Done

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

I’m generally wary of self-help books, business motivation books, diet books and just about anything else that promises a “revolutionary secret” to help you solve a particular problem. That being said, I’ve actually read quite a few of this type of book. They’re not completely devoid of value. Many of them have good advice and ideas. But they are hardly “revolutionary” and most of them don’t lead me to fundamentally change anything.

The big exception for me has been Getting Things Done, by David Allen. This book changed my life forever. I’m in my third year of using Allen’s principles, and they are amazingly flexible and effective.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

Allen describes the ways in which all of us are bombarded with “things” to do, each of them creating a strain on our minds. Then he suggests a method to promote “stress-free productivity”. His techniques help us keep detailed track of the myriad things to do, while allowing us to focus specifically on the task at hand, without wondering if there is something else we should be doing instead.

The basic premise is that you need a system. You need a way of tracking your projects (both at work and in your life), and you need to follow this process every time, without fail. If you setup a easy-to-use  system, and you follow it always, then you will be able to trust it. You will trust that your system will not let anything fall through the cracks. And when you are sure that nothing is falling through the cracks, then you will experience lower levels of stress.

That’s the broad overview, and I’m sure it sounds much like the vague self-help nonsense that I mentioned earlier. But Allen’s book details a series of specific techniques that are easy to implement and amazingly effective. It’s not vague at all–he spells out exactly what you need to do, and when you need to do it. I’ll explore these techniques further in future posts.

Does it work? It’s worked wonders for me. It allows me to manage an ever-expanding client list (managing 60 clients sometimes requires me to switch my focus every 15 minutes, resulting in a very productive day even though it is filled with small tasks), keep track of life’s daily activities and build a list of “someday” projects that I can easily pluck and tackle when time allows. I plan to follow this system (with my own tweaks and innovations) for the rest of my life.

So that’s my endorsement.  It’s not easy for me to get excited about something I read in a self-help book, but Getting Things Done is legitimately awesome.

A website is not a silver bullet

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I just finished reading Harry Beckwith’s What Clients Love: A Field Guide to Growing Your Business. One of the chapters that stood out to me was the one where he talked about having realistic expectations for your website. He writes:

Osborn Drugs in Miami, Oklahoma, pioneered the commercial use of the Internet. In 1996, it created an easy-to-use Web site, publicized it well, and waited for the cash to roll in.

It didn’t roll in. It crawled.

The site produced moderate growth–about 5 percent annually. More significant, however, was where that added 5 percent came from: 90 percent of the people using the site already were customers.

The Web site, in the end, has not changed Osborn Drugs’s business. It has merely tweaked it, shifting a few store buyers over into online buyers.

Osborn Drugs learned that for most businesses, the Internet is not an enormous marketing tool. It just creates one more communications medium and distribution channel that can attract a few new customers and help you satisfy your current ones….

Year 2001 Beckwith Partners
Estimated New Business Inquiries

From all sources = 325
From firm Web site = 3

The Internet is not your business. It merely supports the fundamentals of business–basics that the Internet does not change.

I couldn’t agree more. Net Elevation sometimes gets business inquiries from potential customers that seem to think a new website will rescue their struggling company, or, even worse, that their fledgling company will depend on its website for all their sales leads. We try to encourage these folks to think of their website as providing no more than 10% of their overall inquiries, just to be safe.

It may seem odd for a web design company to be discouraging potential clients from “dreaming big” with their online business goals. But our mission is to help our customers, even if it means turning down a project that could provide us with a short-term profit. We hope that all of our customers will stick around for many years to come, not burning out due to a faulty marketing plan that is overly dependent on magical results from their website.

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