Categoryweb strategy

The Client Work Triangle Test

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Over the last few years I’ve been very lucky in that I got to work with a lot of great clients. As anyone who has ever relied on client work for the livelihood will confirm, this is by no means a given. Particularly in the early years as a freelancer it’s perfectly normal that you will occasionally work on client projects that just don’t work – for you, for your clients, or most likely for both.

It’s not that the clients in these projects are bad people, of course, but that both sides agree too quickly to something they have vastly different expectations of. Most of the time, in my experience, better communication and expectation management would have avoided all that felt wrong.

So for quite a while now, I’ve been lucky (and, I hasten to add, privileged) enough to be in a position where I can be very picky about the type of client engagement I accept. Also, years of experience really help with communications, expectation management, and with detecting early on if a project has the potential to turn into a headache for both sides rather than a blazing success.

These days I approach all requests for a potential collaboration with a simple mental model that looks like this:

The Client Work Triangle Test Image: The Client Work Triangle Test (Creative Commons by-nc)

It’s a very simple model (riffing of course on the cheap-fast-good project management triangle), and works as follows.

The litmus test for client work

Whenever you consider a client engagement – or really, any kind of new project – you make a decision about investing your attention, and by extension, time. These are your most valuable resources and they are scarce, so you had better spend them wisely. This triangle helps prioritize. So what’s in the client work triangle? You simply ask yourself, is this project…

  • INTERESTING? Meaning, does it advance your skill or art, does it allow for learning and growth, does it allow you to dive into a new area that you have been meaning to learn about?
  • STRATEGIC? Does it fit your development goals (positioning, new expertise, financial etc.)? Does it make sense for your business, and is this the right time?
  • WELL PAID? Is this work well paid? Does it help you secure the financial freedom to free up time you need to invest in professional development, in new projects, in a retirement plan?

For any proposed project or client engagement, the answer to at least two of these question should be yes. If it’s yes to all three, all the better. If only one of these three boxes are checked, you might want to reconsider.

Build your own business

On top of that, you might want to build alternate revenue streams. Client work is interesting and fun and challenging. It’s also less reliable (in that is externally controlled rather than controlled by you) and so you rely more on third parties than if you build your own business. I’d strongly recommend to be cooking up some things of your own – if not to replace client work, then to supplement it. With a bit of luck, you will be less reliant on client work, which will make it much easier to say “no” the next time someone proposes a project that does not pass the Client Work Triangle test.

This blog post is also available on Medium.

Diaspora Alpha is live, looks good

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Diaspora has launched its consumer-facing alpha (as opposed to the last release that was for developers and tinkerers only). The privacy-conscious social network was off to a bit of a rocky start since it was profiled (in the media, on the web) enthusiastically as The Facebook Killer – a level of expectation that led to huge crowd-funding on Kickstarter as well as completely overwhelming expectations no one could possible live up to.

Fast forward half a year to now. The dust has settled, the first release is out. The “alpha” isn’t in the name to look more cute, it actually is a very early release with likely a lot of bugs and certainly only very basic functionality.

However, it does seem to work, and after the first few pokes at the service it looks quite good to me. A few screenshots:

Diaspora

The blog, just because I kinda like the logo.

Diaspora

The Diaspora dashboard is clean and minimalistic. Works fine for me, but it’ll only really become clear how usable it is once more contacts are linked to my profile.

Diaspora

To handle privacy and granular sharing, Diaspora uses the metaphor of “aspects” of your identity. An aspect could be your friends, your family, your work life: you can choose granularly which of these groups sees what you post. In Diaspora’s own words:

Diaspora lets you create “aspects,” which are personal lists that let you group people according to the roles they play in your life. We think that aspects are a simple, straightforward, lightweight way to make it really clear who is receiving your posts and who you are receiving posts from. It isn’t perfect, but the best way to improve is to get it into your hands and listen closely to your response.

At a glance this makes a lot of sense. Again, time will tell if it holds up.

Diaspora

On your dashboard you can also always see with whom you shared what kind of information.

Diaspora

Status updates and photos can also easily shared with external services. So far (ironically) this is limited to Twitter and Facebook. You cross-post by simply ticking the “make public” box.

Diaspora

User profiles are very minimalistic as of yet – for example you can’t put in a link to an external website. The age indicator is one of the less charming ones – never before have I actually felt old using a social network ;)

Since Diaspora is positioned as a more responsible social network than Facebook, data export and deleting your account is a simple enough task:

Diaspora

It’ll take a little while to test it all in full, and to gather a bit of a crowd on Diaspora to check out all the interactions. But at a first glance, despite this being very clearly alpha ware, it looks very promising. Another half year, maybe, and this may be a F… no. I’m kidding. This has nothing to do with Facebook, or being a Facebook killer – but it really doesn’t have to. This looks great by itself.

Personal life update: There’s a new shop in town!

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meet the crew

meet the crew, igor schwarzmann, johannes kleske, peter bihr

Big news (for me) – I’m founding a company. More concretely, I’m setting up a boutique agency with two partners. And heck, I’m excited!

Basics first:

Who? At this point I can only name one of my partners – my long-time co-conspirator and close friend Igor Schwarzmann (@zeigor). Our third man is still bound by contract so we cannot disclose his name until the last minute. But worry not, he’s a heck of a guy too. Update: Our third man is our good friend Johannes Kleske (@jkleske). Update: The company is going to be called Third Wave Berlin, referring to the third wave in coffee culture.

What? A strategy and trend agency.* Not to go into too much detail yet, but think hand-crafted web strategies: top quality, very personal. Our biographies give you an idea, so yes, Social Media will be part of our service, too. (Personally I think that in just a few years Social Media won’t be a separate column any more, but instead be a natural part of all services and products. So certainly we won’t be focusing on building anyone’s Facebook pages ;) (* edited for clarification – yes, it’s a consulting shop, in case I didn’t make that clear enough ;)

Why? It’s an idea whose time has come, so to speak. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed freelancing over the last few years and really consider myself lucky it’s been working out that well. (Much better than I ever dared to expect!) I’ve been offered great jobs over the years, too, and feel particularly lucky that I could always afford to turn them down to pursue a self-determined career on my own. Now I’ve reached a point where I had to make the call: stay freelance or build something bigger? This is the decision. When the three of us – after a lot of joking around – realized we all had the same urge it was a done deal. My personal goal is not to just start and grow this business, but also to do a few things better than many agencies these days. Most of all, to run an open, honest, no bullshit firm (which in this environment isn’t all that usual, sadly) while having a great deal of fun exploring all possibilities and taking all of this to a new level. (Wondering if we’re serious? Both my partners quit their very good current jobs and are relocation to Berlin for this gig.)

And I can’t wait to work with all the interesting folks out there. This step hopefully allows us to kick off a whole bunch of cool projects, both for and not for profit.

Where? We’ll be based in Berlin. We’re also likely to do a fair bit of traveling. Actually, our office is already all set. Our neighbours are Yourneighbours. (Where I already set up shop today!)

When? We’ll kick off in October. That’s when my partners finish their current contracts. Interested in bouncing some ideas before? Feel free to ping me anytime (my current contact details).

Thanks! We got an incredible lot of help and feedback though out the early stages of our preparations. Thanks to our friends and mentors in all this. You know who you are. We owe you one.

What else? Some great folks are working on our logo and all, and we’re in the middle of the paperwork necessary to register a company. Once we’re set we’ll have a name for you. F*ck yeah, this is going to rock!

Here’s what Igor has to say about it all. Update: Here are Johannes’ thoughts.

Images (not to be taken too seriously): Visualbug via DefiniteTouch, Rajue

If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t blame others

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This might be obvious to you, but during some recent conversations I noticed one thing over and over again: Freelancers, and entrepreneurs, don’t blame others.

If something bad happens to you and your impulse is to blame someone else (client! colleague! bank! landlord!) for the injustice, then maybe you shouldn’t work as an independent. It seems that to those with a more entrepreneurial mindset it never even occurs to blame others: Your client doesn’t pay you? Your fault if you ever work with them again. Your colleague steals your client? Your fault, shouldn’t have picked them. Not enough work due to recession? Oh boy, should you have hustled more.

I know I’m over-simplifying here – sometimes things don’t work out and it’s out of your hands. But in the reaction you can see who’s what kind of personality.

And just to be clear: I’m not saying one kind of mindset is better than the other. What I am saying is this: If you don’t naturally tend to taking responsibility for all the stuff happening to you, you might not become really happy as a freelancer or entrepreneur.

Of all the entrepreneurs and startup guys I talk to, I haven’t heard from a single one that things aren’t rosy because someone else did something. Instead, they go right at the problem.

Kudos.

How to get started with Social Media in your organization

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There are two main schools of thought when it comes to establishing Social Media in an organization: One is the more traditional (in a corporate sense) top-down, the other is the (more webby) bottom-up.

In one, a Social Media strategy is planned and implemented and handed down inside the organization. Pro: top-level support. Con: not all that organic. In the other, employees take Social Media in their own hands and just push the topic themselves. Pro: It’s agile and organic, plus the employees are invested themselves. Con: Can be messy, and there’s no management buy-in.

I’d propose a third way, where the top-level management encourages Social Media engagement and provides a framework for it. Most notably, it must be clear that employees who dabble in Social Media don’t get into trouble for doing so, and they must be given the opportunity to get more resources if needed. Employees on the other hand should feel free to experiment and learn the ropes, then pass on their knowledge and insights to their colleagues. These evangelists should be given the freedom and resources they need, and should also be taken into responsibility to document and share their learnings. It’s a two way street, really.

One aspect I’ve heard over and over again when doing workshops with clients is that often there are people in all hierarchy levels of an organization that are in favor of investing (time, resources, energy) in Social Media, but there is not enough exchange across hierarchies and departments. It’s important to identify evangelists all over the organization, from assistant level to top-level management, and connect them in some way or another. Think round tables, email lists, wikis, meetups – whatever best fits the organization’s culture.

There’s tremendous potential inside every organization, you just need to find it and foster exchange – that’s the first step. The second step, once all parties are talking to one another, you can adapt the organizational structures to reflect the needs that are now more clear. From then on it’s a matter of smart iterations.

So why not start today and ask around in your company: Who is interested in engaging in Social Media? Who’d like to take a lead, who’d like to support? Then give these folks some time to discuss their ideas and needs, and start pilot projects for the most promising ideas.

Lost in Translation: Nuances of European Social Media

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Today I filled in to host a panel on European Social Media at SXSW. And boy, did I enjoy this session – the audience just rocked. Needless to say, my colleagues and buddies Igor Schwarzmann (@zeigor) and Kevin Dykes (@kdykes) and I had a a great time.

There’s a number of points that I’d like to share with you.

First: Thanks to Robin Grant for for thinking of me after realizing he couldn’t make it over to Austin in time for his own talk. (I wasn’t expected to speak at my first SXSW…). Thanks to the audience, all of whom were great & enganged & shared great stories. Thanks to my co-panelists Igor and Kevin for helping out on such short notice (they had hardly 24h advance notice). And a big thanks also to all of you who pitched in with ideas, stats, links and kind words when Robin and I asked for input as a last-minute preparation for this panel. (This was truly a crowdsourcing effort.)

It’s great to see such a diverse audience like this one in this room, full of the smartest people, a lot of whom are doing business of sorts with or within Europe. I learned a lot from their stories and examples, and I hope the conversation won’t stop here.

But there’s content I’d like to point out too:

Hackerspaces. Someone in the audience talked about a hackerspace she’s involved with in Tokyo, and she made some great points about the connection between social media and the hackers & other early adopters. And it’s true, social media seem to be driven strongly through these techno-philes. I assume this is because there’s a global communication sphere where techies world-wide can connect and share stuff easily. But what roles do hackerspaces play? This should be interesting to research. (Would love to continue this discussion – sadly I was too slow to talk to her, so you read this or know who that was, please ping me!)

Conferences. One question was what the Euro equivalent to SXSW is. Igor and I had discussed this before. I haven’t been, but PICNIC in Amsterdam would probably be close in that it attracts a similar set of folks and also has a strong tie to music. But of course there are other conferences well worth checking out. Depending on personal preferences: reboot in Denmark is a not-quite-annual conference; smaller than SXSW, but absolutely great. It’s not commercially run but a labor of love, so expect a different tonality. The annual meetup of Chaos Computer Club between Xmas and New Years in Berlin is the place to go if you’re into hacker culture. re:publica is where the German bloggers, hacktivists and NGO folks meet the social media crowd. If you’re more into professional agency kind of events, Next (Berlin) might be for you. There’s plenty of smaller, one-day or one-evening events like Ignites, TEDx or similar events (disclosure: I’ve been involved in some of those recently). This list is nowhere complete, so please share more conferences in the comments.

Marketing. When asked for global brands successfully engaging in social media campaigns in Europe, all three of us struggled. Someone pointed out that Dell and Walmart have been doing well; besides that, there’s not all that many overseas campaigns that stand out that any of us remembered. Temporary lapse or serious issue? Hard to tell. There are of course examples of big global brands engaging in European countries via social media, like Mercedes Benz and their (very successful) corporate blog. I’m not aware of any Zappos-like story, though. With smaller companies and particularly startups it’s an entirely different story of course. These folks know how to engage their audiences. This is where it’s happening.

Who should I be watching? We were asked which European social media mavens to follow on Twitter. This is a tough one as two filters were requested: They should be blogging in English, and with a strong focus on social media (not their hobbies or lunches). In another crowdsourcing effort, a few names popped up. and then some more. I’m adding some right now. (Full disclosure: most of those I’ve worked with or am friends with, or both):

(Update: We were asked about global brands that successfully engage in social media. In Germany I recommend checking out Madlen Nicolaus‘ work for Kodak Europe, how O’Reilly Germany‘s Nathalie Pelz works the social webs or – if you’re more interested in corporate blogging – the Daimler Blog (maybe better known as the folks behind Mercedes Benz or Smart Cars).)

Startup culture. This is a hot one and has been discussed for a long time. Europe isn’t Silicon Valley. (Then again, Ohio isn’t Silicon Valley either.) There’s not the same culture of accepting failure at least in Germany, and where you have a strong system of social welfare people maybe don’t have to hustle just as much as where there isn’t. On the other hand, as someone pointed out, this also leads to higher standard of living in Europe (on average, particularly for the not-so-privileged). There’s a lot of assumptions in this statement and it’d be another discussion altogether. However, I think we all agreed that having a less-developed startup culture is not simply a lack of passion in Europe.

Cultural differences. This can’t be stressed enough: Europe is not just another USA. Europe isn’t even Europe, so to speak, but a large number of individual countries. Or as David Weinberger would put it: Small pieces loosely joined. One example I like to give is the role of personal branding. It’s almost a mantra in the US that it is important to build your personal brand. In Europe, this won’t get you far. In Germany or the UK pointing out your successes is – except when done very tactfully – considered boasting rather than legitimate communication. It’ll put people off. Culture clash, anyone?

Bloggers. Blogging isn’t really a major force in Germany (even though there’s some great stuff), but it is in France. (It’s different in other European countries.) Why is this important? You might want to reach out to bloggers, but on different terms. Since hardly any German bloggers make a living doing so, financial incentives are hard to use. Still, if you talk to them you might build long-lasting, productive relationships. If you offer them money per blog post, you might just have made a new critic. Be tactful and work with locals.

Details, details, details! Europe isn’t the US. Don’t take your assumptions for granted. Two small examples: In Europe, weeks start on Mondays, not Sundays – make sure to reflect that in your online calendar. In Germany, credit cards aren’t as ubiquitous as in the US or Sweden: they’re more costly, and the card carrier is liable for credit card fraud. (If someone uses your credit card in a fraudulent way, it’s nowhere guaranteed that you’ll get refunded, and it’s a bureaucratic hassle.) Keep those things in mind and work with locals. It’s all very doable, you just have to pay attention.

Europe is worth your effort. Speaking of cultural differences and boasting vs building your brand: I completely forgot to point out some strong points of Europe, and why it’s worth your efforts anyway – way worth! You can draw from a huge, diverse population and different backgrounds. Distances are small and it’s easy for EU citizens to move between countries without much paperwork. The market is huge (bigger than the US) both in terms of population and economics. In the web industry, and depending on your exact focus, competition might not be as tough in the US (yet). Plus, it’s pretty damn nice over there ;) Take Soundcloud as an example: Founded by a few Swedish guys in Berlin with a very international team. They picked the right time and the right folks from the right places and built a service that just rocks. European privacy or labor laws aren’t in the way if you don’t try to just copy & paste a US model but work within the different cultural, legal and economic framework.

To wrap it up, Robin Grant has put together a blog post with plenty of statistics about the European social media sphere. This is a great place to start looking for some basic info.

Alright, that’s my two cents for the moment. I’d love to continue this conversation with you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, here in the comments, via Twitter (@thewavingcat) or email (peter@thewavingcat.com).

And again, thanks!

Social Media Trends 2010: ROI, what else?

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ReadWriteWeb (RWW) titled “Experts Predict 2010 the Year for Social Media ROI“.

My gut reaction, as shared on Twitter?

We definitively need more solid figures, but you can’t measure it all. It’s about culture change in companies. #socialmedia #ROI

RWW was referring to this presentation by Dr. Taly Weiss, editor of the TrendsSpotting blog:

So besides my initial thoughts (more solid measurement of ROI, while making sure not to lose sight of the culture change aspect), there’s a lot more in this nicely compiled presentation of smart tweets. Just a few to spark your imagination: Your company will have a social media policy (@armano). A new cadre of bonafide thought leaders emerges, with almost 100% turnover from five years ago (@peterkim). By the end of the year we’ll have a new interface for status updates that looks nothing like a microblog (@johnbattelle). Real-time reviews will scare the pants off many a brand & foster a new ‘radical-beta’ mindset. “Tracking & alerting” become the new searching. Business finally admit that social media ain’t some fad for kids and B-list movie stars (all three by @mzkagan).

That’s just a few I found particularly convincing. I recommend you dig into the slides for a bit. There’s some good, juicy stuff in there.