What we lose by being connected to devices all day

I sit on a train jotting notes on my iPhone. I used to think of train rides as an opportunity to have an interesting chat with a stranger. I’m a Geordie, we love to chat.

The old guy next to me is probably bored. Should I feel guilty for not talking to him? He can’t talk to me because I am “doing something”.

It’s easy to write and be productive with mobile devices. We can create lots of information. Previously notes needed to be written down and then typed up again if they were to be used. I guess the quality was higher if it was worth keeping. I wonder how we can ensure good standards these days? Or is that not the point? Times have changed. People move more quickly between texts.

Do we lose a lot of social interaction by being connected to devices all day? Not really as I am connected to hundreds of people via Twitter and Facebook. But maybe our older generations do.

Having a quick look out the window as we pass over the beautiful Yorkshire Dales tells me I am missing the increasingly rare natural world we live in pass by. Soon I’ll be passing through the old mills and factories of Manchester that began the Industrial Revolution. Its so easy to stare at a small screen and forget. So so easy because I have just been reading about the bits of the world that fascinates me such as scientific innovations and methods of business development. There’s no end of information.

We definitely loose our eye sight from staring at screens. The “tech revolution” will not be complete until natural screens don’t send light directly into our eyes. I also think my brain suffers. If I have spent a full day coding I will struggle to sleep and feel wired.

There are pros and cons of continuous connectivity but right now, while I am still human enough and geordie, I’m going to start a chat and see what happens.


Buying a website Vs DIY websites

My friend posted a message on Facebook asking if anyone knew a web designer to help them set up a small on-line shop and site.

A couple of guys touted their business and I said to him, do it yourself. He came back to me and said he didn’t want the hassle and didn’t really know what to do.

I pointed out to him that other than the cost of getting someone to design and build a website, ongoig maintenance and hosting costs, you often end up with a whole new set of problems: again being stuck to a template you cant change without paying more, not having the flexibility to add parts as you move forward, your business being in the hands of someone who doesnt understand it and may well have many other higher priorities. Everytime I have had tech work done for me it has been massively under-delivered and been a strain to get completed.

I pointed him out to WordPress and told him to search through some templates. It only took him a couple of days to get back to me with an awesome looking site and a thank you for encouraging him. This is his site http://www.caminoartanddesign.com/-

..am just well pleased my advice was useful to someone!

I don’t necessarily have anything against custom built websites but I know many people who could do just as well starting off using some of the many free tools available to them. Once you have established that people want to see the content of your website (product/service/validation/information etc) then go for something unique. In the meanwhile spend your money on marketing and testing.

Check out my Ultimate Guide to Bootstrapping an On-line Business for more information about that.

The Big Picture of History

I went to the British Museum at the weekend. I love it there. A few hours is never enough – unless your girlfriend is wearing stupid shoes and starts to complain.


Working on a project like TimeMaps really helps me associate the objects with their history. It made me think of a concept Ben Walsh was talking about when we co-presented to the National Council for Social Studies last December in Washington DC.

Ben talked about building the “picture of history” in students’ minds. Not only teaching them chronology, or thematic approaches to history, but creating a visual map of the past as a foundation upon which they can build knowledge and understanding.

By having a clear picture in my head of, say, the Old, Intermediate and New Kingdoms of Egypt, I could understand the influence of Nubia or Mesopotamia on some of the objects on display from different times. I understood more about what was happening in those periods of history so that I knew what the workers/ artists/ Pharoahs were thinking of or reacting to in their lives.

By using the TimeMap of World History, students really do get a visual overview of history. This gives them a visual frame of reference to which they can pin all the different historical facts they pick up. Having the Big Picture allows us to make so much more sense of the smaller pictures

Humans of the future

I was just watching this Ted talk

Juan Enriquez gives real life examples of scientists taking a single cell from a mouse and recreating another living mouse.

He states an experiment where some kind of bacteria is put in the brain and followed as it flows around the brain. This can be hooked up to a special electronic device that reads it (not accurate scientific language here) and because it can be dyed in two different colours it can be measured as binary. This, he suggests, could print out the experiences of people, eg learning, love or terror, and recreate human memories.

He then finishes by saying that humans are possibly evolving as we speak- we’ve already evolved 27 times and counting in the millions of years as homo Erectus. Olympic athletes are often found to have a certain gene and cases of autism are becoming more common. He thinks that science will track down the reasons for these cases and begin to able to effect them.

Combine the cloning, printing of memory and being able to harness evolution and what do you get? The potential that we can play a greater role in the future of human kind. This scares me a lot.

Hopefully we’ll end up with a human species that would look after the planet and take care of one another. But if its left to us to do it there is a big chance it wont turn out like that.

Email Marketing Optimisation

Over the last four years we have built up a contact base of around 10,000 of our potential customers. We’re not massive email campaigners but we have built up quite a lot of inhouse knowledge over this time.

With our product now ready to be used more widely, and for us to move from early adopters into the mainstream of our industry, I am now about to attempt to monetise our newsletter contacts by reaching out to people and attempt to turn people who have shown an interest in our concepts into paying customers.

My aim is to first of all remind people about the benefits of using our free resource then continue to engage them further by giving them new tools to use to keep them returning. Once our website is part of their working practise, i will encourage them to become paying members. By the time I ask them to do this however, they will love our brand and the newsletter I send them will be something they look forward to. Well, in theory.

In order for them not to delete you or block you, you need to add value to the user and not annoy them. It is a tricky balance to remain in their awareness and not be frustrating. This is the art of email marketing. However, it is half art and half science – do not under estimate the science!

This is how to do it:

First things first, set yourself up with a free and easy way to collect and send emails so that everything is automatic. Also, make a button on as many pages as possible on your website that says ‘newsletter’ loud and clear.

I tried to increase sales once by changing the newsletter button to say ‘special offer’ and when people went to the page it told them that if they signed up to the newsletter they would get a special offer. But it didn’t work. I changed it back and our steady flow of contact details continues.

The easiest way (as i mentioned in my ultimate guide to bootstrapping a web business post) to collect email addresses is through Wufoo. You can customise the form really easily, embed it in your website and go. Via the settings on the Wufoo site you can make the information in the form go directly through to your mailchimp account so you can send people a newsletter. They both have good free plans that will suffice until you grow a bit bigger and get a premium plan.

Ok so now you are set up to collect potential customer information. Now you have to send them good emails.

You only have 2 objectives when writing an email: 1) to get the user to open the email, and 2) to do something as a result of reading the text. Mailchimp lets you monitor the open rates and click through rates of all your campaigns which is gold for marketing

Other than the ‘from’ details, by far the most common reason that people will open your email is the header.

Email Headers are key to a good campaign and the rule of thumb is not to try and sell anything in the email, but to tell people what to expect from the email. Test out a message and stick loads of different headers in the title. See if some of them get more opens than others.

There is a famous example of a campaign that got a huge open rate when testing Merry Christmas against happy Christmas. A single word can make a huge difference. Test as much as your sample group will let you. If you only have a small email group, test over a period of time. Send weekly emails and mix it up.

The message
The way to effective marketing to large lists is to get the message right. This persuades users to do something. You can write your most creative, witty, persuasive email and get only a small number of opens. Of course its good to interesting but you want actions, which is why you should test your email out on a small number of customers first before rolling it out to the larger numbers.

Once you have tested out which email title is going to get your target audience to open an email. Test out different messages. Try and measure 2 emails against each other and use the most popular one to test another one against. Make a clear thing to test each time.

The style of your email should be conversational, using a consultation selling approach and only covering one topic per email.

And you should stick to the AIDA principal of Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

There are 5 messages to advertise:
– price
That by being part of the list will guarantee them the best price
– benefit
That they need this service for their life
– ask an interesting question
Do you know this method of increasing your email marketing performance by 60%?
– emotions
A personal story goes a long way
– humour
at least if they hate you, you will make them smile

Do not make announcements. They are ok sometimes but if you tell people everytime you make a product update they might get annoyed unless it alters the benefit significantly.

I hope this has helped and as I go on I will show you some messages i have tested and how it evolves into my bulk message.

I think my next blog will be some SEO tips. I have a really really good outbound emailing tip!

The complete guide to bootstrapping a business

These are the websites you need to start a business. All of these sites are free and really useful.

Build a website

WordPress lets you build a professional looking website easily and quickly. It is not just a blogging platform and there are loads of plug ins for it to do cool things you might want. Simple.

A great site for more image/ design orientated people is Www.wix.com which used to use Flash but has since converted to html5 so is great for mobile sites.

The final one I will mention in this section -although there are lots more which may have particular features more suited to your needs- is Webs. I built our judo club website with it and it is very very easy to use with some nice features such as built in log-in areas.

Collect customer information and start reaching out to people

Wufoo – This website let’s you create forms for your website. It lets you highly customise, embed them and create auto responders. It’s free option is really good.

Mail chimp You need to keep in touch with your customers and leads. Remind people often and make your business add value to them. Use mailchimp. It’s free, really easy to use and connects with Wufoo to automate your newsletter sign up and sending.

Things to do list (otherwise known as project management)

Trello A fantastic free resource to create lists and add links, contacts, people involved, emails, notes and probably anything to so that you know what is happening, when, in what order and who is responsible. Really easy, really good.

Windows Live messenger. This could probably be swapped for a number of different email operating systems but I use Windows Live messenger. It lets me have three of my emails open all at once, save templates, and bulk send to a limited extent. It’s a fairly good day to day email operating system.

Open office You know you don’t need to pay for microsoft office right? Open office is exactly the same but free. You can save your files in any format you’ll need. Don’t quote me but this may have now turned into Ouvre Office, which does the same thing despite having a French name.

Dropbox  Drag n drop to share files really easily. Put your files in Dropbox and then access them from anywhere on any computer. Makes sense.

To sell products

PayPal  If you have something to sell, Paypal is an easy way to start accepting payments. You only pay a commission on payments so it’s great to begin with.

Shopify If your business is just an online shop, use Shopify. In their heads, people have visions for amazing websites, with unique user experiences and super effective marketing. You’ll probably never get there. Just use Shopify. Loads of apps available for it to make life easier too.

Business methodology
A traditional approach to business is that you create a brand, some products, a service or whatever. You do some market research, create a business plan, approach the bank for a loan perhaps. You take time to get it right and then launch.

Lean methodology says create a minimum viable product (MVP) and start selling. Get it wrong and learn from user feedback what they actually want. Maybe don’t even build a product! Write the idea on a webpage like http://launchrock.com/ and see if people sign up. Of course it exposes you to people stealing it, but if its an idea you have a competitive advantage on eg. local knowledge or particular skills, it doesn’t matter too much if they do. Once you have interest, use this to show a friend with a few quid spare to invest in it. 

Don’t think you know, simply ensure you get as much feedback as possible and update your product inline with what people want. It makes life cheaper, more efficient, and gets your product better, faster. Test new things, measure everything. The Internet lets you do this.

Awesome site for listening to a guy called Andrew Warner interview the megastars of the tech world. You can pick up huge amounts of tips and strategy on here. Fascinating.

Seth Godin – sign up to his newsletter as he is a smart guy and awesome with business and creativity. He will help.

Become well known

Have you heard of Facebook yet? I think so. Make a Facebook page and use a widget to connect it to your website. When people click the “like” button on your website, all of their Facebook friends will see it.

I’m not bothering to link to these two sites.If you don’t know how to find them, perhaps you are actually dead.

Twitter puts a voice behind the brand. Use it to connect to fellow professionals and share best practise. Use it suck up information from experts in their field. Talk to potential customers about your service and see what they think. It’s a goldmine.

For more serious networking, use Linked In. Unlike Facebook and Twitter that can get clogged up with junk, Linked In is more professional. Join groups relevant to you and network with your peers.


Google has an Analytics tool that tells you all the information you need to see how people find and use your website.

Websites businesses can be analysed very precisely. Change a word and your click through rates can drastically change. Test and measure everything with Analytics. It also has some great advanced features to let you create sales funnels and goals.

Now all you need is an idea.


I hope this helps and please let me know if you want me to add anything to the list!