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Small Business 101 posts:

Lessons from TV

I recently cancelled cable and got Roku. Giving up live programming was not a decision that came easily. My husband is a sports fan and I am a reality tv (don’t judge) and HBO addict. However, the value equation no longer worked for us. The cost of cable is too high, the service lackluster, and when we actually did watch live TV the volume of commercials was irritating.

One of the services I now subscribe to is Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus costs money and serves up network programs with commercials that are impossible to skip. And guess what? I don’t have a problem with the cost or the advertisements. The price is reasonable, the ads are short and sweet, and Hulu Plus displays clearly how many seconds you have until your program returns. The commercials on Hulu are infinitely more watchable because of their brevity. And, countdown clocks seem to make people happy.

The non-irritating ads offer a lesson about paying attention to your customers. In an effort to increase profit, networks sold so much advertising that they made standard TV unwatchable. They focused on their gain while disregarding the needs of both their viewers (entertainment) and their advertisers (captivated viewers). When no alternative existed that equation worked. However, as options for viewing (and advertising) emerged the networks didn’t respond. The old guard lost customer focus. Luckily the new guard was paying attention.

Hulu Plus (ironically a joint venture owned by NBC, Fox & Disney) and its easy-to-watch commercials serve as a reminder that people are willing to pay (with dollars and eyeballs) for a service they deem valuable. But the price needs to be rational. Once it’s out of balance be prepared for reinvention.

Pay More Attention to Unsubscribe

Yesterday, Danny and I had a philosophical conversation about unsubscribe links. Specifically, we were discussing the fact that unsubscribe links are a legal requirement, which has made them an afterthought for most people. However in each email you send, every word should have meaning, even those required by law.

Clicking unsubscribe is a critical way that your customers use to communicate with you. When a customer clicks unsubscribe, she is telling you in no uncertain terms that you are wasting her time.

At Harvest our goal is to never waste people’s time (just to track it). That means we look to only send email that will be valuable to our customers. Two of our core principles are to Be Useful and to Keep Improving. The conversation served as a reminder for me not to take anyone’s time for granted. That’s why we decided to give our unsubscribe message some attention.

We are replacing:

This message was sent because you have a registered Harvest Account. Unsubscribe

With this:

We promise to only send helpful emails. If we’re not living up to that promise, simply unsubscribe.

We intend to live by this promise. I hope that sharing this conversation inspires you to be mindful of the things you do in your communications as well.

Quick Time Saving Tips for your Workday

The one resource we all have the same amount of is time – how you spend it defines so much about your life. We’ve assembled a few tips to help you make the most of the time you have in your workday.

Managing your time needs to become a ritual, an ongoing process you follow to keep you focused on your priorities throughout the day.

  • Do all of your invoicing and paperwork in set groups, so that you can pull things out all at once, and put them away more efficiently.
  • Have 2-3 attainable goals for the day. No one is productive w/ endless to do lists.
  • Learn to say no to projects where the time investment outweighs the return.
  • Find the perfect GTD system out there: there are no magic answers, it’s simply the one you trust and use so your mind is free.

Know the strongest times of your work day. If you can match your best times for work with the most intense tasks, and your least productive times with more routine tasks, you’ll get more out of your day.

  • Read emails before leaving for work, mentally process while commuting, then answer on arrival at the office.
  • End your day by making a list of things you want to accomplish the following day.

Budget your time. 

Many thanks to the Twitter community for sharing your own tips for this article. We’ll announce the winners of our Time Savings Tuesdays contest next Tuesday (along with the new contest theme), and feel free to share your own tips in the comments!

Ode to Co-op

There has been plenty written recently on distributed teams. A couple of weeks ago @dhh wrote a post on the 37signals blog that generated an enormous amount of discussion. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about since I joined Harvest because I happen to think we run our distributed team really well.

A huge part of Harvest’s successful distributed team is our use of Co-op, a free online collaboration tool built by the Harvest team. Co-op is a private status update stream that is seamlessly integrated with Harvest (naturally!). The original intent was to create a water cooler that was less invasive than group chat. However it has become absolutely vital to the operations of this business as well as to the culture.

The reason Co-op works is that it enables one-to-many communication in addition to one-to-one communication. As a marketer, I shouldn’t be surprised that communication should vary if speaking to many people versus one person. It just never occurred to me that successful distributed teams need tools that enable multiple types of communications. It’s quite obvious now.

I’ll admit, when I first got here I was a bit overwhelmed by Co-op – it just seemed like one more continuous stream of chatter that I needed to pay attention to. I have now come to love it. In addition to keeping me up to date on what everyone is working on it has helped me build relationships with my co-workers both in and out of New York. Personalities come through in Co-op in a way that they don’t on email. It has helped create and maintain the sense of culture in the office.

If you have a distributed team, or even if you don’t, I recommend you check it out here.

Quick Time Saving Tips For Your Commute

Unless you are working from a home office, most of us leave to go to work. You may be surprised by how much time you actually spend in transit to your job – Time Management Ninja created this quick table (which assumes 8 hour workday, 5 day work week, 50 weeks a year), showing  the difference between a short and long commute:

Save Time

  • Shift your commute to a less travelled time. This means you may come in earlier, but you leave earlier too (avoiding the evening rush!).
  • Skip the commute. See if it’s possible to occasionally work from home.
  • If you drive: use the HOV lane.
  • If you’re based in DC/Virgina and you drive, here’s how ride sharing, a.k.a. slugging works. Being a “slug” saves you money, and being a driver allows you into HOV lanes.
  • On the train or bus, use mobile apps that work offline & sync later, like Evernote.
  • Take the NYC subway? Walk to the spot on the subway train closest to your exit – there’s even an app for that!

Invest in Yourself

  • Make a to-do list of all the personal tasks you need to do that day, to help organize your thoughts.
  • Listen to audiobooks, learn a foreign language, or watch downloaded screencasts on your iPod or mobile device.
  • Save interesting articles on Instapaper, and read from your smartphone while on the train.
  • Knit (only on subways or buses, do not attempt while driving!).
  • Skip work altogether, and unplug – clear your mind to be more efficient during the day.
  • Combine your exercise routine with your commute:  it may make the commute longer, but it may be shorter (and more efficient) than doing both separately.

Many thanks to the Twitter community for sharing your own tips for this article. We’ll announce the winners of our Time Savings Tuesdays contest next Tuesday (along with the new contest theme), and feel free to share your own tips in the comments!

Quick Time Saving Tips For Meetings

Time is money, and meetings are a notorious time sink. Forbes points out that, “a one-hour meeting of six software engineers costs $1,000 at least. People who don’t have the authority to buy paperclips are allowed to call meetings every day that cost far more than that.”

The only way to run (and participate in) efficient and useful meetings is to invest in certain areas, and reduce in others. Last week, we launched our first Time Saving Tuesday, and we’ve combined our own time saving tips with some excellent Twitter suggestions for making meetings most productive.

Remove from your meetings.

  • Get rid of chairs, coffee, donuts, and cell phones. Everyone seems focused on not wasting time when they have to stand, and the number of distractions is limited.
  • Use collaboration tools (like Co-op, IM, or email threads). Quickly solve the questions that don’t need a meeting.
  • Keep meetings on target by using accurate time estimates. It makes people antsy when meetings run over their time limit, so check previous time reports to effectively gauge typical meeting length.
  • Downsize your invitee list. Curate your attendance list wisely.
  • Encourage open (for everyone) and closed (selected participants) portions of meetings, where people who do not have to be at entire meeting can be dismissed. You can share meeting notes with everyone afterwards to review.
  • Create “meeting-free” days, to allow employees to capitalize on focused, uninterrupted concentration.
  • Don’t accept every meeting invite. Says Seth Godin, “Don’t bother having a meeting if you’re not there to change or make a decision right now.”

Invest in your meetings.

  • Define specific goals for the meeting ahead of time, so that you can stay on topic.
  • Have a clear agenda, w/ time budgets for each item, and then enforce those time limits.
  • Offer a way for people to submit questions and ideas in advance of the meeting.
  • Circulate any reading materials before the meeting, and insist that all attendees read them beforehand.
  • Make use of a talk object (a hat, stick, staff, feather, or something else!), so that people can talk freely without having to talk over others.
  • At the end of the meeting, ask for feedback about its efficiency. Keep improving the process!
  • Hire a meeting fairy. This magical person can manage and enforce all of the above suggestions, and keep everyone prepared and informed both before and after meetings.

Many thanks to the Twitter community for your great contributions to this article. We’ll announce the winners of our Time Savings Tuesdays contest tomorrow, and feel free to share your own tips in the comments!

Demand Better

Simply put, a big part of my job is to acquire more Harvest Customers. One approach we’ve been discussing lately is marketing our product to different industry verticals. Yesterday, I stumbled across a time tracking software specifically “designed” for lawyers. Naturally, I watched the demo so that I could see how we stack up. Harvest was the clear winner…by a wide margin. If your law firm uses this particular software, you have multiple (more than 5!) steps to go through each time you want to make a time entry. In other words, it costs time to track your time.

I have asked many lawyers about how they manage their billable hours. Several — not all — record time on scraps of paper or put it into an excel sheet. These time entries get passed along to admins who enter the time into the firms’ systems. Most don’t enter time as they work, rather they go through their calendars when timesheets are due and use memory. Firms are spending thousands of dollars on software that the lawyers don’t use because they don’t like it. These firms are wasting time and money, and missing out on countless billable hours.

Believe me, I understand the inertia that keeps inefficient systems in place. At my last job we used many clunky systems; we were on Lotus Notes until 2011. We all complained, but no one took the time to do anything about it.

As I watched the legal time tracking demo, I got to thinking: why don’t people demand better?

I think it’s because they don’t know that better exists. My epiphany of the day is that my job isn’t to sell Harvest — it’s to educate people that better exists.

Louis CK: Good Things Come From Trusting Your Customers

Many of us at Harvest are fans of Louis CK. We were super impressed with everything about his recent internet special – from the comedy itself (the $5 is well worth it!), to how simple the purchase process is, to this statement below the purchase button:

To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.

I found myself actually reading every single word on the purchase form (and re-reading it). I did that, not because I was confused, but because I actually enjoy what Louis CK has to say. He’s genuine, saying things that make sense without any buzzwords or corporate language. It wasn’t crafted by an ad agency figuring out the tone and stuffing words in Louis’ mouth. There wasn’t a consultant urging him to be be a certain way in order to boost conversions. I’m sure he wasn’t even thinking about SEO or A/B testing when he was writing for his online store. It was just Louis CK, acting as a (somewhat!) reasonable human being, speaking directly to us.

It is incredibly inspiring and gratifying to see someone follow common sense, do the right thing, and make good money at it. Just in case you need another reason to pay Louis CK $5 for his “Live at the Beacon Theater” special, here’s a hilarious 4-minute outtake:

For more Louis CK:

#workbetter Roundup: Save Time Through Efficiency

As a part of our daily ongoing #workbetter series, we’ve been suggesting articles that are relevant to running a small business and being productive. This month we’ve pulled together a few recent articles that focus on efficiency, and using your time wisely:

Follow us on Twitter to get #workbetter tips daily, and feel free to share your own suggestions by using the #workbetter hashtag! We’ll continue to keep you on top of the conversations and topics that are most relevant to you in the world of small business.

Handmade: Knife Making in Brooklyn

I’m in awe whenever I come across a physical object that’s been made by hand. I’ll often pick up the piece and study it, like a work of art. It’s easy to forget to appreciate handicraft, especially if your days are spent building for the digital world.

That’s why it was a pleasant surprise to hear about Brooklyn based Joel Bukeiwicz, a professional knife maker (not far from Harvest HQ) who does all his work by hand. Joel is one of only a handful of knife makers in the country to practice this art form. You can watch the video from Made by Hand below, or read on to learn more about Joel and his story.

Joel came to knife making from the unrelated craft of writing. After having a hard time selling his manuscript, he decided to take a 3 month hiatus from writing. He fed his desire to create by building physical objects — bookshelves, tables. Anything. For Joel, creating tangible things was a breath of fresh air. He eventually came to knife making and quickly became passionate about it.

After toiling in the shop for two years, Joel came away competent of his craft. He now sells handmade cutlery to fine chefs in Brooklyn and beyond out of Cut Brooklyn. Each knife gets 15 hours of attention, versus your high-end German knife which takes 10 robots, 15 minutes to spit off the line.

Cut Brooklyn’s mission is to make every knife the very best knife they’ve ever made. As Joel learns and iterates, the quality of the knives improve. This human element makes every piece unique and brilliant. It’s this level of care and attention to detail that we admire as software builders, and it’s why I continue to pick up the pieces made by hand.