At PagePlay, we promise the constant improvement of everything we do. This applies just the same whether it’s the way we answer your questions, the different things you can do with your website or the fundamental hosting and code that make it all possible.
So in this spirit, we’ve decided to improve the hosting. We’re moving to a new fully cloud-based system which should mean that websites and email accounts are even quicker and more resilient than they are at present.
What’s actually happening?
We’ll be moving all accounts over to the new system in a week’s time, Tuesday 21 May 2013. We’ll be conducting the work in the evening in order to keep disruption to a minimum.
The upgrade process will take between 1 and 24 hours to be fully completed.
Your website will remain online for people to visit at all times, but you will not be able to log in and edit it during this period.
Any email accounts you have with us will also move to the new system. You will be able to send emails as usual during the upgrade but there may be some delays in receiving email that has been sent to you. Don’t worry, any emails which are sent to you during this time will not be lost.
Everything will return to normal when our work is complete and, unless we tell you otherwise, there’s no need to change any settings.
A small number of those who manage their own domain name will need to change some of their details. If this applies to you, we will contact you with further instructions.
If you have any questions at all, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 850 0561 and we will be pleased to help.
With the aim of getting my thoughts on this read by you, I’ll get right to it…
Is it an email at all?
There are sometimes better options than an email for getting what you want and keeping the recipient happy too. See my post ‘It’s probably not an email‘.
Keep it short
If you’ve decided it is an email after all, there is nothing more off putting than an email which you have to scroll to see the bottom of. If it’s long and covers multiple items, consider splitting it into multiple shorter emails. If it’s long and on one topic consider sharing some of it face to face or over the phone.
Keep the initial paragraph short too
Just the minimum text needed to introduce the email. This could be the difference between it being closed and never read again, closed and revisited later or immediate being read and actioned.
Prioritise your information
If you think there is a chance the recipient won’t read the whole email then jump right into the important bits. If you could only be sure they would read the first paragraph what would you say first? What about if they’d only read two paragraphs?
Don’t put a criticism or negative item first
Your best bet as getting someone to read the criticism is not to go in with it first. Say something neutral or even positive first and they’re much more likely to digest the whole email and take it as feedback rather than a personal assault.
Sign off checking they’ve read the whole thing
If your last paragraph mentions how important it is that they’ve digested the whole email then they’re more likely to ensure they’ve read it completely and taken it all in. Checking they’re in a agreement or asking them to reply if they have any comments or questions can also work.
Use attachments when you can
When you have to send a very long document and it isn’t in file format, consider turning it into a pdf or word doc and attaching it to a much shorter email. You’ll save the recipient a job while scoring brownie points and an increased chance of your request being actioned.
Send To: as few people as possible
The more people you include in the To: field, the less attention each will give your email, hoping it will be dealt with by someone else first and moved forwards before they have to take any action on it themselves. If you’re sending to lots of people, consider using BCC and To: to yourself only.
So there you go. A few quick tips for getting your email read. Good luck!
Most of us find it difficult to get started with writing for our websites. Maybe it’s because we call it “creating content” which is probably not something we’ve ever thought of doing. Perhaps we should refer to it as “writing a story about our business”. Maybe then we’d find it easier to start?
I think often, it’s a classic case of being able to talk about doing but not actually being able to do the deed. You have ideas, you want to do it, you even yearn for the enjoyment of the task and the outcome. You open your favourite editor, try to put your thoughts down but you just freeze.
Whether we’re talking about writing for a website or any other important discretionary task you need to get on with, our frustrations have yielded tonnes of metaphor and cliche. Could this be evidence that we find it hard even to find the words to describe this “writer’s block” that we all experience?
Taking the plunge.
Moving from talking the talk to walking the walk.
When it comes to the crunch.
Time for action.
Most of the time, for most of us, most efforts to motivate us toward something new or to change the way we operate end in failure. Even (or perhaps especially) in these times of technological revolution and multivariate choice we remain generally unwilling to make big (or even small) changes.
It goes to the heart of change management theory. You can talk about doing something all you like. The minute people get back to their desks, offices, inboxes – the easier thing to get on with is more of the same.
We’ve experienced this most often when it comes to clients writing content for their sites. Or more accurately, when an organisation decides – with all best intentions – that everyone should be producing content for their new website or other online channels. Producing content for work doesn’t feel like an instinct for most people – especially if its never been part of the job. But produce content we do – all of us. How else would social networks like Facebook and Twitter become so ubiquitous?
I’ve taken the first step in writing this piece, but I’m out of time; the inbox is calling me back.
Maybe sometimes it’s OK just to make a start, to put something out there and come back to it further down the line. Another cliche right there.
Perhaps we can agree that this post of mine sets out the question, giving me the space to return in a few weeks with a few thoughts about the answer.
Last year we were privileged to spend some time in the Moon Grove garden of Bruce Anderson to find out how he’s used PagePlay and what he’d recommend to others.
The Rusholme & Victoria Park Archive is an online treasure trove of photographs, postcards and tales from a part of Manchester with a significant history.
Bruce explains why the simple editing tools offered by PagePlay was perfect for his task. He also appreciates the help and support we’re able to provide when he needs it.
Aside from the noise of some nearby building works and my own dodgy video editing, I hope you enjoy watching this video of our conversation with Bruce!
Integrity. It’s one of those timeless virtues that you might consider a fundamental part of the operating system of society.
Our view of integrity suggests there are at least two essential facets. The first concerns the interior world: thoughts, intentions and values. The second is about our dealings with others. Are we true to our word, do we mean what we say and are we acting in the best interests of ourselves and our fellow humans? The two facets interact and we feel more at ease when our actions are consistent with how we feel deep down. Indeed, you could say that by definition these two facets are integral.
Those who know Modlia will realise that we’re always on the lookout for insights which have already or will one day help our growing business.
I want to share two unusual stories which reassure me of our integrity. They each represent apparent loss in return for deeper gain.
Dumping the bad client
A couple of years ago we found ourselves in an awkward position with a big client. We’d sold them a limited solution to a big problem. We hadn’t wanted to do this, believing in getting the right result rather than just getting a sale. So we explained to them the trouble that likely results when you try to fit square pegs into round holes in order to save costs. The client gave us their most heartfelt assurance that the compromise was well understood and that they would be satisfied with the outcome.
Following implementation, we became subject to an almost daily barrage of requests for new features, tweaks, stretches and bodges which were on the borderline of what our service contract would allow. To begin with – and you may say this is where we went wrong – we honoured these requests and allowed the client to “settle the site down” through the process of making minor changes. But the changes didn’t stop coming, nor did our key contact’s often rude insistence on the apocalyptic importance of each and every one, no matter how disconnected from the original brief.
When doing our regular analysis of customer support activity, we realised that although the client represented 0.29% of our support income, their requests were taking up nearly 45% of our time.
We let this run on for some eight weeks, constantly reminding the key contact of the reality of the situation in the vain hope of provoking an epiphany. Needless to say that it didn’t work and in the end we could bear the stress and hassle no longer. We were running the risk of subjecting our other customers and their reasonable demands to neglect. The relationship had become thankless and quite literally worthless.
So we did the unthinkable. I wrote a detailed letter to the managing director to tender our resignation. It was a blow by blow account of our interactions and a reasonably scathing – though professionally written – description of the key contact who was the source of the problem. As anyone who’s worked for themselves will tell you saying “no” to a job is difficult, but sacking a client is sheer torture.
In a client relationship – as any other – there is a basic need for integrity. It ensures that promises made by both sides are either kept or renegotiated in rational discussion. Unfortunately in this case, such rationality had long since passed. Forever were we making up for problems diagnosed and assigned to our fault by the key contact. It had become a loveless marriage, a game we could not win and one in which we felt trapped.
If we genuinely believed that our duties to ourselves and our client could not be carried out then we needed to act to bring about a change.
We learned lessons from the episode. It was a vaccination against similar future occurrences. But it was also a keen reminder of the reasons for our initial formation: to realise success on the back of our knowledge and authoritative advice.
If we really believe in what we know, then we should stick to our guns when challenged instead of allowing for an uneasy compromise which may later return to haunt us.
Losing a job by saying what’s right
Not many creatives or technologists enjoy pitching, or even the somewhat less expensive process of submitting competitive proposals against a set brief. Despite claims by some to “never pitch for work” we know that most agencies end up needing to demonstrate that they are “the best of the bunch” once in a while.
In one such recent situation, we were tipped off – quite explicitly – that there was a preferred content management solution to the brief. We had assessed the job thoroughly and found that the solution was somewhat lacking compared with our bespoke approach. The client’s organisational inertia meant using the suggested technology would however, be a much easier sell.
We didn’t want to go for this easy sell. Based on the brief, we’d decided that a bespoke system was the better course to follow, for reasons I won’t bore you with here.
What’s the matter with us – you may well think – don’t we have bills to pay, shouldn’t we just take the money and get on with it?
Our proposal was a thoroughgoing argument for the bespoke alternative. We did not get the job – perhaps obviously – but the feedback from our prospective client was rewardingly positive. We had stirred much debate and demonstrated two important things. Firstly that we “knew our onions” and could hold our ground in a detailed technical conversation and secondly that we were a team with great integrity.
Occasionally – especially in pursuit of new business – it can be better to engage thoughtfully and resolutely in an insurmountable debate. It’s the opposite of a pyrrhic victory in that the loss is more like a win.
In practical new business terms, the client on this occasion has already suggested future projects may come our way and we emerge stronger than had we simply taken the money.
A sacked client and a contrarian approach to new business. Each occasion an opportunity to play a longer game, an occasion to act with integrity.
Of course integrity is about keeping to your word, doing a good job and earning respect. But its sometimes forgotten side is important too: only doing work you believe in, forgoing short term gain and pointing out the flaws in projects in order to help their architects to improve.
Real integrity means you have your eyes open and are prepared to sacrifice when it matters. We believe in remembering this, we’ll always be able to do what we love and to love what we do.
We pride ourselves on providing great phone and email support for our PagePlay subscribers. From 9-5 every weekday we’re available by phone and you can still call out of hours if you have an emergency or believe something is not working properly.
Over December 2012, we’ll provide a mixture of ‘Full’ and ‘Emergency’ service. Here’s the detailed breakdown…
Friday 14th December (Christmas Party)
AM – full
PM – emergency
Monday 24th December
AM – full
PM – emergency
Tuesday 25th & Wednesday 26th December
Thursday 27th & Friday 28th December
Monday 31st December
AM – full
PM – emergency
Tuesday 1st January
Wednesday 2nd January
Back to normal full service
If you need assistance – call 0161 850 0561 or email email@example.com and we’ll be pleased to help. We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
You ought to consider writing more. And I mean that in more ways than one. Firstly, you should consider increasing the volume that you write, writing about new things or making notes where previously you didn’t. Secondly, you should give more consideration to your own writing.
Writing is such an elemental skill that we take it pretty much for granted. We risk underestimating its power and failing to get the most from it.
Understanding the mechanics of writing is not the same as unlocking its real potential. Whilst this is true of any skill, it is especially the case with writing.
From the simple note to the fully detailed book, writing enables us to externalise our thoughts and give ourselves, in computer science terms, “more RAM”. Good writing also gives our friends, family and colleagues a chance to understand and experience us as the considerate and constructive people we really are.
Writing is a better memory
Human memory is phenomenal but it is fundamentally flawed in two key ways.
Firstly there is a limit to capacity. Not the ultimate capacity of the brain to store information, but of our capability to hold multiple pieces in mind simultaneously. We can either be detailed or abstract or various stages in between. In order to hold and recall a great range of detail and still handle the big picture, most of us need to write things down. Or draw a diagram. Or otherwise externalise that which is going on inside.
In this way, writing helped us to combat failings in our memory. As a species, when we started to write we were able to extend the scale of ideas we could each work on, but we also made a great leap in our ability to communicate and build ideas together. All human development since the advent of writing has been accelerated by progress, some of it exponential, in our ability to develop and exchange ideas.
This massive historical narrative is relevant to you at your own desk or on your own phone right now. Making decent notes for yourself and the people you work with gives you something to come back to. Writing things down allows you to manage a list of projects, interactions and plans that you would never dream of trying to keep in your head. The fact that there’s always room for improvement might explain the success of Getting Things Done.
But good functional writing is under threat. We have grown used to railing against bureaucracy and now we risk going too far. Some are verbose or write without good discipline, preferring the feel of their own pen to the needs of the audience, so we increasingly seek brevity. There are times to be brief and there are times to write at length. Regardless, the quality of the writing should be invested in equally.
The second fundamental flaw that writing helps to combat concerns the quality of human memory over time. We now know that the mind is far from perfect when it comes to recall. We often adjust memories to fit the evolving narratives of our lives. Revisiting an event we have not thought about for many years can be quite surprising in the presence of an objective account. Even an old photo or video might reveal we’d always remembered an element of decor or someone’s appearance totally differently to the reality. We know that the mind is especially good at dispensing with memories associated with pain.
We recognise that this memory malleability might well be necessary for survival and sanity at the cost of an objective record. So perhaps then we should also recognise the power of our own writing as a least-worst replacement
Our writing can evidence, it can help us to self reflect and it can aid more powerful cognition.
Writing shows you care
This is really only true of good writing. It’s more difficult to write carefully, much easier to waffle, to fill space and to waste everyone’s time. Good writing is clear, concise and engaging. To achieve it, we must give more thought to the readers’ needs than our own. What information is most helpful and in what order will my meaning be clearest or most effective? How many people write emails and send them without re-reading to ensure flow? Good writing depends on good editing.
Good writing can help to build your relationships with others in numerous ways. The simplest being a reflection on how seriously you consider something. For centuries, when something is important, we have made a note of it. We have “put it in writing” in order to underline its significance.
If you agree to an action or make an appointment what should the other person think if you don’t write it down? Are they more likely to think that you have a superhuman memory or that you saw the commitment as less than serious? Making a note demonstrates your intent to save their thought for later, your opinion that it is valuable beyond the present moment. In the age of Google and instant communication such sentiments seem increasingly sentimental. But this shouldn’t diminish the feelings of others and our desire to be careful and conscientious. Quite the opposite: living in the information age means such good manners actually help you to cope better and stand out as a result.
At the other end of the scale, good writing can go deeper and express more detail than much conversation. In the the not-so-distant past, letter writing was the principle means for loved ones to keep in touch over long distances. Writing also helped us to communicate more richly as often things left unsaid might be more easily written.
Writing gives us the ability to better consider and articulate thoughts and ideas through the refining methods of drafting and editing. We can consider how best to make a case and be certain of it prior to issue. Sometimes the immediacy of electronic writing media tempts us into carelessness, denying us these advantages. We all remember the hastily drafted email and the accidental text message. These are not problems of the media we currently use. They are symptoms of a lapse in our awareness of the art of writing itself.
Whether a family invitation, an email to a colleague or a proposal for a client, it’s worth taking a little longer to get the words right. Whether their effect is to charm, to convince or indeed to devastate, they remain our most powerful weapons.
Recognising the value in taking the time to write well is the beginning. The end – as they say – is yet to be written.
It was recently announced that Twitter will be dropping support for RSS, XML and Atom in favour of JSON from 5th March 2013. However, you may have noticed that your RSS powered twitter feed has stopped working over the last few days, investigated, and found the following error message when trying to view your Twitter account’s RSS feed.
Does this mean that support for RSS has been dropped earlier than expected? Fortunately not. However it does appear that Twitter is no longer supporting RSS feed URLs that used to be found on your profile page. For example, our RSS feed for @PagePlay used to be..
https://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/21230228.rss (The number at the end is your Twitter account ID)
For the time being you can still get an RSS feed of your tweets via api.twitter.com. Simply use a URL like the one below, replacing pageplay at the end of the address with your Twitter username …
As i mentioned above, from 5th March 2013 you will only be able to access your tweets in JSON format. Handily, the address for your latest tweets in JSON format is almost identical to the one above, just replace the .rss in the address with .json like so..
Modlia is a small company that wanted to grow without taking on external finance. It discovered an unlikely source of inspiration for building an operations management system which continues to power the business today. The best bits of an old book were taken and moulded to the shape of this emerging development house.
Modlia was formed in 2008 from a partnership between Harry Bailey and Christopher Charlton. Harry was a web developer who’d amassed considerable skills in the development of sites using PHP & MySQL, giving him the ability to author what had already become known as “web applications”. Christopher was working as a freelance designer and marketing consultant creating simple websites for customers and helping to guide their marketing communications.
The pair found a level of trust and enjoyment in their work together that suggested the possibility for something more interesting. With similar views on the right approach to the design and production of web applications, they founded a business to put their ideas into practice. The first product was called “PagePlay” and has since become the bedrock of the business.
At the beginning there was no revenue. The small collaborative projects Christopher and Harry worked on were too few in number to yield any meaningful surplus and were effectively an extension of their freelancing. But if they were to realise their dream of a web application business they needed to get underway with product development and this meant finding funds. Christopher and Harry needed to invest time in product development but could only afford to do so if they still had an income. So in addition to maintaining freelance commitments and working on the new business for only a day or two a week they decided to try and fund their own development time. The only problem was that neither partner liked the idea of external investment in the business.
There was – and still is – a “circle of trust” at Modlia. Only those in whom Christopher and Harry really trusted could come anywhere near the important functions or positions of influence in the business. So a family loan was taken to pay for development time in the first year. Whether the loan was small or large is a matter of opinion. What can be said is that they couldn’t have got started without it and it’s only recently come close to being paid off.
This approach to finance – only allowing the minimum of outside interference – reflects on the integrity and personal commitment they felt towards the emerging business. They wanted always to be motivated when it came to Modlia and this would come through maintaining full ownership and responsibility. The last thing either of them wanted was for Modlia to turn into an unruly employer; a tyrant of their own making. Of course, this approach has led to an entirely different pace. This is acknowledged at Modlia: “oak trees are stronger because of their slower growth”.
Any student or observer of business knows however, that there is no such thing as equilibrium for an enterprise. As in nature you are either growing or you are contracting. So they needed to find growth strategies which didn’t involve throwing money at problems. A small team should be able to manage all of the functions with the use of an increasingly capable set of software and procedures.
Matt Chadwick joined the team first as a freelancer working a day each week but eventually becoming a full time employee. The “circle of trust” would extend to a small group of part time freelancers, family members and friends. Good systems were needed to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing and how to do it.
There may be as many books on the subject of how to run a successful business as there are failed businesses. Christopher and Harry were no different from most in their enthusiastic consumption of insights which could prove helpful in the running of Modlia. The result is a fairly broad reading list including web luminaries such as 37signals’ Jason Fried, traditional management theories but also a careful selection of airport business “self-help” books. Of course in all of these there is a lot of dross, but half a dozen have yielded the insights which Modlia has made its own.
Getting Things Done by David Allen is a reasonably well known personal productivity methodology particularly popular with those working in technology. Perhaps owing to its code-like architecture of splitting tasks down and its reference to ongoing protocols and routines.
The title which most influenced Modlia is perhaps surprising. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It. If it sounds like an American self-help book then you should know that it looks and reads like one too. A contemporary audience may be forgiven for thinking that Michael E. Gerber’s 1995 revisit of the 1980 original is an out of date contribution to the emerging field of “E-Business”. In fact the “E” stands for entrepreneur and its principles are as valid today as they were at the end of the seventies.
The premise is that those who think – or even know – that they are good at a certain trade often fall prey to the idea that this is all they need in order to form a successful business. See web designers, bakers, hairdressers, builders and countless others for examples. Many such people find that things rarely turn out as they had planned. The skills needed for working in a business are not the same as the skills needed to create develop and maintain it. This is a not a plea for more management training! It’s an acknowledgement that as business owners we need to work both IN and ON our businesses. That the latter is the one which is most likely to be neglected. Gerber’s simple genius in this observation is to focus our minds every day on the business we are creating rather than the product or service that it creates in turn.
As any good self help book should, it raises the spectre of these issues, hinting at the fear of failure we all harbour. As sure as day follows night there is hope and salvation offered in the form of practical advice. The realisation comes as an almost literal epiphany to the pie baker in the book, whose story serves as a convenient ongoing example.
The actual advice feels at times – and certainly at first – a little bizarre and very American. Gerber advocates turning your business into a franchise. Or at least pretending to. You look at every operation the business undertakes and codify it, such that a carbon copy could be opened up elsewhere if necessary.
There is a great insight at the heart of the book for the owners of any brand – but especially for those concerned with the delivery of services. Customers enjoy repetition and predictability. There’s a nice anecdote about what happens when your barber suddenly changes the order in which things are done during your haircut visit, leading to a feeling of unease and discomfort. The lead example of a repeat experience success story is McDonald’s. Regardless of any contemporary sneer on McDonald’s alleged past environmental crimes or your views on fast food in general, it remains a remarkable brand and business. It is all based on the premise of giving the customer exactly the same experience every time she visits wherever in the world she is. We like to know what we are getting.
Of course, there is a place for the unusual, the creative and that sense of experiencing something different. The whole point of such moments is that we are acutely conscious within them of the fact that we are seeking out uniqueness and challenge. It is not our default state of being. We would soon become exhausted and overwhelmed. The exact opposite of Groundhog Day in which we can never do the same thing twice and lose all structure and meaning in our world. Our default state is to desire and pursue a repertoire of repeated enjoyable experiences.
In the process of writing down all that the business does and how it is best to be done, an “Operations Manual” starts to form. Gerber advises to create job roles to be responsible for groups of these procedures. Even if there’s only two people in the business it’s good to create as many logical job roles as are needed and categorise the lot by them.
As a post-freelancer, the Operations Manual becomes the document you can leave with people if you need to go on holiday. This is a rare occurrence for the founders of many start-ups in the early years. Later it becomes the way the whole team works together. Everything in its logical place and a commonly understood way to get things done. It’s a training tool and an ever-evolving reference guide all at the same time. Even if you never franchise the business, the manual allows your colleagues to run things without your constant input. You are free to work out how to improve the business and what it should do next – you can devote some time to strategy. You’ll add to the manual and amend it in response to edge cases from the day to day running which are presented to you by your team.
Modlia implemented its own take on the E-Myth and its been highly effective. Clearly though, a book written in 1995 needed a bit of tweaking to fit our start-up, some fifteen years later.
Modlia took the idea of job roles and applied the concept of an “ongoing buffet”. Gerber expected that as the business grew, individuals would be hired to fill a specific job role. At Modlia, each individual is assessed for the job roles to which they are most suited. So there is an overlap between the roles that each person does. As a small team including part timers this means that each role gets the cover it needs; the wheels keep turning. As individuals, it means getting a bit of variety and respite.
Modlia implemented and sustains the Operations Manual collaboratively. All members of the team are encouraged to see the processes and procedures contained in the manual as belonging to them. The manual, far from being an unchanging set of stone tablets is easily accessible and updatable through a simple online system. When something needs to be tweaked the change is made quickly and shared. It is evolving, it is alive.
Today a new starter need only be assigned one or two job roles to find everything they need to get cracking. It has not only saved time and money, it has been a set engineering principles behind a strong and interoperable team.
The E-Myth is that anyone can be an entrepreneur as long as they are good at what they do. In “dispelling the E-Myth”, Modlia has shown that you need more than simply practical capability. You need a system to underpin the minutiae of running the business. Careful Operations Management is as important for a small web company as it is for a large multinational.
People often talk about thinking outside the box when it comes to having great ideas, but you first need to have – and then take action on – the ideas you have.
At Modlia everyone in the office spends at least some time each week working on something unrelated to their day-to-day job, often an idea that doesn’t fit the current direction the company is going in, but something the person has an interest in, and without this chance would be an idea that died.
Matt for example is currently spending some of his time exploring the development of an online writing tool he’s building as a proof of concept. It’s not something with any kind of priority, and it isn’t an official Modlia product at this point, but if it gets finished (sometimes things don’t work out), gets used internally, then takes the fancy of people outside the Modlia bubble, it may just be adopted as something we invest true development time in and take further.
I’ll leave him to tell you more about the tool in another blog post, but stepping outside your normal job role, or even business allows you to look back from a different point of view while making sure those ideas you’re having don’t fade to nothing. It clears your mind and allows you to have great ideas in the first place, whether they are adopted immediately, gets some outside-the-box time or doesn’t come to anything after you’ve mulled it over.
Do you get a chance to be outside the box at work?