Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Unimportance of Being Liked

Make your company and products remarkable. But don't worry if some people don't like you.

So says Seth Godin in his book "Purple Cow - Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable."

Purple Cow is all about making your software development business remarkable. Actually, Purple Cow is not a book about cows or about software development, but it does include a bunch of ideas that can be applied effectively to the software development industry. For Godin, it's simple - Be remarkable, or fail.

But don't worry about fitting in. Stand out, or be invisible.

Being criticized doesn't lead to failure. Blah products lead to failure. Boring leads to failure.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What to Announce in your Software Press Release

Software developers will get the biggest response from editors and bloggers when they send a press release announcing a new program, or the release of a significant new version of an existing application.

You can expect to get some publicity if you announce your microISV's financial results, a strategic alliance with another software industry company, officer or director appointments, contests, or industry awards. But the information that gets software columnists excited revolves around new applications that can benefit their readers.

The best software marketing practice is to send editors, columnists, and bloggers a steady stream of New Product Announcements about your software.

Your press release will elevate your software's image.

Busy bloggers and journalists don't sort through hundreds or thousands of Internet pages to find tech news that they can use. These journalists look for professionally written news releases in their inboxes. They tell their readers about the really nice software that they find. Learn more about DP Directory's press release services today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Creating Artwork for your Website and Blog

You don't have to be an accomplished graphic artist to create a modern, professional website. And it's not necessary to spend a lot of money to hire a professional to design a website for your microISV.

Illustrating ISVs' web pages

There's a third alternative: You can paint the walls white, and hang eye-catching pictures on the walls.

In a perfect world, we would illustrate our websites' sales messages with pictures that perfectly match the text. Sometimes we get lucky, and find an image that reinforces our sales presentation. More often, however, we simply need some images that break up the text, and make our web pages more inviting.

Be wary of buying or creating powerful eye candy. If your images distract prospects from reading your sales presentation, then you'll hurt your software sales. Your goal is to find some nice pictures to hang on the walls of your website and blog. And I'd suggest that you look into creating these images yourself.

Before and After

Here's an example of an image that I created for a blog entry that I posted on the Educational Software Cooperative's (ESC's) blog. And here are step-by-step instructions for how you can create similar images for your online needs.

When selecting or crafting images for ESC's blog, I always try to find something that is tied directly to the topic of my blog posting. Sometimes, however, I can't find the perfect picture. So I'll create a generic image that illustrates some aspect of educational software.

Selecting a starting point

When making a new image for a website or blog, I start with another picture. It rarely matters which image I use as my starting point. In this example, I started with the "Business Book Review" image that I use when posting reviews of business books on my own blog. I could have started with a picture of the Canadian Parliament's library building in Ottawa, or a picture of a labrador retriever puppy. It really doesn't matter.

If you start with an image with a lot of colors in it, you'll likely end up with a more colorful image. But this time, I was interested in creating a monochromatic background that wouldn't dominate the new image.

Blur the image

I used the "motion blur" filter in my favorite image manipulation program to make the text unreadable, and to give the image a lot of texture. It doesn't matter which software you use to create your images. Your goal isn't to duplicate what I did in this example. Your goal is to create a nice picture that will help you sell more of your software.

As you're creating a new image, you can pretend that you know where the process will take you. But you'll learn that there are a lot of surprises involved with creating abstract images. Just go where your imagination takes you.

Tilt and pinch

Your software no doubt has a few blur filters, or a wind filter, or something that lets you tilt the image a bit, and blur it.

Since this brown blur will be the background landscape for the image for my new ESC Blog posting, I decided to use a "pinch" filter to add some irregularities - and a little character - to the image.

Adjust the hue

I suppose I could have kept the brown color, and developed an image with a mud-based landscape.

But I thought I'd do something a little more vibrant.

So I changed the hue to a lush shade of green.

Add brush strokes

Next, I used a "wind" filter to add brush strokes or wind patterns to the image.

You can do the same thing with a "watercolor" filter or a "paint brush" filter or any number of similar filters.

Regardless of the tool that you choose, you can easily create an abstract image that evokes distant foliage.

Plant a tree

A few months ago, I bought a stock image of 12 green tree silhouettes from fotolia.com, my favorite stock image company.

For a little more than one US dollar, you can add a dozen realistic trees to your library of clip art, and incorporate them into your images as needed.

I planted a tree. It takes a little practice to place it in the right location. But there really is no wrong place to plant a tree in my new image.

Add characters

Next, I added silhouettes of a family of four. For a dollar or so, you can buy stock silhouette images that have a few dozen individuals.

You can find similarly priced collections of silhouettes of business people in offices, families in the outdoors, farm animals, dogs, plants, and all sorts of vehicles and objects.
Don't forget the pet

Every picture can benefit by adding a labrador retriever.

Again, you can spend a buck and buy an image with a dozen or more dog silhouettes.

Finally, I cropped the image so that the words would wrap around it properly when I added it to my posting on ESC's blog.

Help people decide where to look

As a general rule, the people (and labrador retrievers) in your artwork should be looking into - and walking into - your web page or blog page. As your characters look or move into your text, your readers' eyes will be drawn in the same direction. When your images depict people who are looking out of your page, it signals to your website visitors that there are better things to pay attention to than the page that they're looking at.

I broke the rule. I wanted to show the family walking out of my blog write-up and into the links to the pages on ESC's website. I create web pages on my DP Directory site to get software developers interested in my press release and website review services. And I write postings for ESC's blog to get people interested in the association, not just in my particular article.

There's nothing wrong with breaking the rules. But you should understand the rules, and why they're important. Then, break them if that furthers your interest. For ISVs, it's all about using your website or blog to sell more software.

Image quality and software sales

It would be easy to find dozens of things in this image that aren't perfect. But your website and blog readers aren't inclined to do that. And neither should you.

Your software prospects and customers are going to give your images a passing glance. Unless there's something that's terribly good or bad about your artwork, your prospects are going to concentrate on your words, and not think very much about your images. So don't agonize over the quality of your images. Your website and blog visitors will treat these images like the billboards that they glance at on the highway, and not like the masterpieces that they might study in a museum.

The bottom line

You can hire people to do a lot of things in your software business, from program development to marketing. Spend a little time each month developing your artistic skills, and you'll be able to create a lot of the images that you need for your website and blog. In addition to being able to create exactly the images that you need, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you've created the artwork yourself.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Negotiation Tips for ISVs

When it comes to negotiation, style supersedes substance. That's what Herb Cohen says in his book "Negotiate This!"

Cohen presents a number of tips for playing the Game -
  • Project yourself as somebody who is trustworthy - somebody with whom your opponent would want to do business. Your character is reflected in the way you articulate your feelings.
  • Listen actively.
  • Display interest and sensitivity.
  • Be considerate.
  • Avoid nuances and subtleties. Instead, frame your arguments in black-and-white terms.
  • Present yourself as a person with values. Many people will respect your beliefs, Cohen believes, even if they disagree with them.
  • Be cooperative. Usually, if you start negotiations by being cooperative, the other party will do the same. Some opponents will see your good manners as a weakness, and will try to bully you. If that happens, respond in a way that they don't expect. Slow down the negotiations.
 
In face-to-face negotiations, Cohen says that if they threaten you, smile and nod your head up and down as if you're acknowledging a compliment. He believes that the most difficult people to negotiate with are irrational people, and people who are not very bright. If somebody is rude to you during negotiations, respond by being one of these "difficult" types of people. Say to yourself, "This is a game - it's showtime."
 
Again, Cohen believes that style beats substance. Develop a negotiating style, and you'll make better deals.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Creativity, Preparation, and Hard Work

Book review of The Creative Habit - Learn it and use it for life by Twyla Tharp (published 2003 by Simon & Schuster).

Creativity comes from preparation and hard work, Twyla Tharp tells us. All of us, including those of us in the software development industry, can learn the skills needed to become more creative.

Twyla Tharp draws on her 35-year career as a dancer, choreographer, and businessperson, and tells us how we can learn to be more creative in our work.

Whether you're illustrating a blog posting, crafting a web page, designing iPhone/iPad apps, writing a sales presentation for your desktop/laptop application, or writing a news release for your latest software release, you can benefit from the advice in "The Creative Habit."

"There are no natural geniuses," Twyla tells us. "The best creativity is the result of good work habits."

This book is full of practical advice, real-world examples that translate easily into the world of application development, and hands-on exercises that nudge us to think more creatively.

For the past 35 years, Twyla Tharp has been recognized as a great dancer and choreographer. She's known for her creativity.

When planning the creation of a new dance for her company, she employs the metaphor of walking into a big, empty room and figuring out how to craft a new, exciting dance. Twyla's world is full of people with high expectations - the dancers, the financial backers, the theater owners, and the public, just to name a few. And her task is to create something new and original, from scratch.

It's not all that different for those of us in the software development industry. Every week, we have to sit down in a quiet, empty room and figure out how to design a new application that will be seen as new and innovative. Or design a new blog or website, Or write a sales presentation that will turn prospects into buyers.

Twyla believes that creativity requires routine and habit. Creativity is the result of hard work, not some type of divine inspiration. Twyla believes that creativity is the result of following a process. If we follow the process long enough, it becomes a habit.

Twyla's ideas about creativity differ from the widely-held notion that each instance of creativity is a unique, difficult-to-explain occurrence. Twyla thinks that the repetition and routine of developing a habit can actually result in creative output. In addition, she believes that everything that we do in our lives can feed and strengthen our creativity. We simply have to develop the sensitivity to recognize creative opportunities that occur all the time. We have to build the habits to take advantage of these creative opportunities, and use them to our advantage.

"The Creative Habit" is inspirational. It teaches us to enhance our creativity. And it does a lot to eliminate the fear of walking into an empty room, or staring at a blank sheet of paper, or at a blank tablet screen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Positive Thinking and Selling Software

"Positive thinking is the single common denominator to all successful people." So says Joe Girard in his book "How to Close Every Sale."

Girard doesn't believe that positive thinking alone will guarantee that you'll be a successful salesperson. In addition to thinking positively, you have to have in-depth knowledge about your product or service. You need sales experience, product training, and a high-quality company.

I'm sure Girard would encourage microISVs to start with a positive attitude. And then do the things that you need to make your business a success. Develop and build your marketing skills, business knowledge, and writing acumen. It's hard work. And it all starts with a positive attitude.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stakeholder Relationships for microISVs

The fourth deadly marketing sin is failure to properly manage your relationships with your company's stakeholders. So says Philip Kotler, author of the book "Ten Deadly Marketing Sins - Signs and Solutions."

Kotler says that you can tell that a company has this problem because it doesn't play well with its employees, second-tier suppliers and distributors, partners, and investors. If Kotler were writing for the software development industry, and for microISVs, he might have said that the signs to look for are constant complaints about eCommerce providers, download sites, and the giants of the industry.

The solution, according to Kotler, is to abandon the notion that either we end up with the money or the other guy gets to keep it. The author urges us to think in terms of expanding our businesses, to the benefit of all of our stakeholders. If we're able to expand the business, everybody wins.

Sure, we still need to avoid some of the abusive situations that invariably arise out of a lopsided relationship between companies - the distorted version of the Golden Rule that says that whoever has the gold makes the rules.

But Kotler urges us to develop constructive relationships with all of our stakeholders. It's good software marketing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Competence, Predictability, and Change

In his book "Small is the New Big," Seth Godin defines a competent person as somebody who has a predictable, reliable way of solving problems. And he urges all of us to be less rigid.

The author believes that rigidity is the enemy of change. Inflexible people can't deal effectively with changes in the marketplace.

If he were writing about the software development industry, I think he would urge us to become more flexible and responsive.

"Driving around in circles may make your speedometer look impressive," Godin explains, "but it won't get you across the country very fast."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Online Press Portals

Software developers shouldn't spend time feeding the free online press portals. These are the websites that post every press release that they receive. And they're not going to help you sell more of your software.

Editors don't read these free press release portals. They don't have the time to sort through thousands of poorly-written press releases in the hope of finding a software announcement that they can print in their magazine or post online.

Software buyers don't read these free press release portals. Software buyers rely upon the expertise of editors and bloggers when deciding which software to buy. They don't want to read tons of unedited press releases, each touting their own software as the best in the world.

The search engines aren't fooled by these press portals. You're not going to get good Google juice from having your software press releases posted there.

Today's free press release portals are like yesterday's free-for-all (FFA) sites. They don't distribute your press release to people who need to see it. They use your content to sell search engine clicks, and to collect email addresses for spammers.

If software bloggers and editors don't visit a particular site, and if software buyers don't visit that site, then don't send that site your press release. Instead, build your own press release distribution list, or work with a reputable press release submission service - like ours - to send your software announcements to editors, columnists, and bloggers. It's good software marketing.

Hundreds of editors and bloggers could tell their readers about your software. Free! Start the process by sending them your press release. Start your news release campaign today.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hands-On Management, Capital, and Complementary Products

When David Packard started his company, he and his partner Bill Hewlett had to do much of the work themselves.

In his book "The HP Way - How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company," Packard talks about the management style that made HP successful. Basically, they hired the best people, kept them motivated, and worked together as a team. And in the beginning, the two partners weren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and do whatever work needed to be done.

When they began Hewlett-Packard, the two partners were responsible for designing each of their products, manufacturing them, and shipping them to their customers. They managed all of the company's promotion and advertising, and they were responsible for sweeping the factory floor every afternoon.

To me, the HP startup experience sounds very much like the life that many of us in the software development industry have created for ourselves.

Packard explains that getting capital was a problem in the early days. microISVs today have different problems to wrestle with. Today, you can buy a Windows 7 PC with 4 GB of memory and a huge hard drive for about $400(US). Back when HP started, the cost of manufacturing equipment and supplies was a big barrier to entry into the computer hardware and peripheral manufacturing business.

Hewlett and Packard figured it out. By the mid-1940s, their enterprise had gross sales of more than a million dollars annually, and they had built their workforce up to the 200 person level.

Packard believes that one of their outstanding decisions was building a family of complementary products. They decided early that they didn't want to create and manufacture a group of unrelated products.

This strategy applies to today's microISVs, too. To be successful, software developers have to offer more than one product. And when you create a website that offers a software development library, a consumer app for the iPad/iPhone, and a Windows arcade game, you're only going to confuse your website visitors.

By building a family of related applications, you have cross-selling and upselling opportunities that simply aren't available to a developer who offers an eclectic collection of programs.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

You Can't Test Your Entire Website

It's impossible to test every path on your website (unless you have a very small site, of course). So says Seth Godin, the author of the book "The Big Red Fez - How to make any web site better."

The main premise of "The Big Red Fez" is that all business people need to design their websites for the busy, ill-informed, impatient, not very thoughtful person who is interested in clicking on something immediately. Godin seems to be describing the typical software buyer, and the ideas that he presents in his book can help all of us in the software development industry improve our websites.

While there will no doubt be bugs in most web sites, there's no excuse, Godin tells us, for having glitches in the buying process.

We have to make sure that the links to our "buy now" pages are clear, and easy to understand.

The second most important links to test are the links to your product and service pages. Visitors need to be able to reach them. If you've crafted exotic Java-based drop-down menus that the search engines can't figure out, some of your pages won't be indexed, and your traffic will suffer. So be sure that important pages are easy to find by both search engines and human visitors.

Based upon what I hear from my clients, don't neglect the "contact" and "about us" pages either. A remarkably large number of prospects visit these pages before taking out their credit cards.

Even though you cannot test your entire website, don't forget the need to do extensive testing on the key product and "buy now" pages. And be certain that your underlying navigation methodology is sound.