Tag Archives: products

Sale on all of my training and ebooks (Ends June 20th)

I’ve decided to have a summer sale. Summertime is a great time to start thinking about freelancing.

The bright sun means you can get out more.

Vacations with your family lets you spend quality time with them and become closer.

And most of all, you start to see the how things can be different. After a cold winter, seeing the flowers in bloom and fresh produce at the market can really make you think about your place in the world. The impact you can make.

If your future includes finally starting your freelance business or signing multi-year clients, for the next two days (until Friday June 20th) you can get 20% off on all of my training.

Get your training here, no sunglasses required.

Enjoy.

Eric Davis

P.S. This sale also includes Refactoring Redmine (learn how to refactor Ruby code), Authoring Ebooks (write and sell your technical ebook), and Redmine Tips (become a Redmine power user).

Weekly product metrics

Every Monday morning I sit down and run the metrics for all of my products for the past week. I do this in order to make sense of what was happening with them, as well as to track their long term progress.

Why every week?

I found weekly metrics worked the best for me because it was a long enough timespan that I could see some results but short enough that I could get some feedback on them. I started with a month, thinking that since it was the standard cycle used in most businesses, it would be right for me. The problem with a month was that I’d be blind for weeks and would end up logging in to check on things every few days.

At the volume I’m at, daily metrics would waste too much time and not give me any additional information. All of my ebooks are a few years old right now so they are only getting a trickle of traffic each day.

My Metrics Process

The metrics I track are scattered across a few different services, so a large part of my process is to login to each service and run reports to get the numbers I need.

  1. I’d open my metrics spreadsheet. I use OpenOffice but Excel or Google Docs would work fine. There are a few formulas but the math is simple.

  2. Each product has its own tab and there is an ALL tab that summarizes the metrics for each product. Each row is a week, with a few calculation and title rows on the top.

  3. On a product’s tab there are several columns:

  4. Which week, which I have set to start on a Monday and end on a Sunday

    • Revenue
    • Total visits
    • Total sales (copies sold)
    • Mailing list subscriber count
    • Hours worked
  5. Then there are a few calculations that are done automatically for each week

    • Visit to sales conversion rate
    • Visit to sales delta, the change in the “Visit to sales conversion rate” since last week
    • Visitor to mailing list subscriber rate, which is the number of new subscribers from the visitors (e.g. 2 new subscribers on 100 visits = 2%)
    • Visitor to mailing list subscriber delta, the change in the “Visitor to mailing list subscriber rate” since last week
    • Revenue per hour
  6. Also on the top there are totals for each value and calculation. Those show me the metrics for the lifetime of the product.

  7. Then every week I go through each service and fill in the 5 values I need for each product.

  8. From DPD I enter the revenue and total sales.

  9. From Google Analytics I enter the total visits.

  10. Using a custom script I enter the mailing list subscribers. I previously used Mailchimp and have since switched to Aweber so I’d have to login to both places to find my subscriber count. I also have a few mailing lists per product so it was easier to write a script to automate the data extraction. (I have at least one prospect list and one customer list for each product. Some have additional launch lists or special lists).

  11. Using ChiliProject I run a report to show the number of hours I worked for each product. Recently this has been 0 or very little for my ebooks, since they are almost no-maintenance products at this point.

  12. After entering everything, I’ll review the metrics to see how the week went. The main ones I look at are the total visits (am I getting enough traffic?), the visit to sales conversion rate (am I still selling copies?), and all of the deltas (anything out of the ordinary?).

  13. Finally I look at the ALL tab which through the magic of spreadsheets and math, pulls the revenue data out of each tab and shows it in one place.

  14. On the ALL tab there are two calculations I really care about:

    • Total revenue from products for the week
    • % towards my goal of generating 100% of my revenue from products

Time commitment

After doing this for almost two years now, I’ve gotten this process down to about 10-15 minutes each week. I’ve tried to automate parts of it but I’ve run up against the problem of automating a semi-regular task that is fast. Basically, the time it would take to automate it would take years before it’s been paid back. Plus, some of the data sources have other metrics I like to glance at when I’m gathering my data. For example, in Google Analytics I like to check the referrers for traffic spikes.

Other products and services

I also collect weekly metrics for Chirk HR and my client services but those aren’t as standardized so they don’t fall into this process as easily. Quite frankly, I’ve also been slacking on collecting my client services metrics recently because I’ve been “busy enough” that I haven’t bothered. I might see if there is a way to adapt my client service metrics into this spreadsheet (or find a way to productize my client services more).

If you have any questions about my metrics, post a comment below or message me on Twitter (@edavis10).

[I won't be able to share my metrics spreadsheet publicly, you could easily create one in the amount of time it would take to clean out my data.]

Working freelance one on, three off

Over the past few years freelancing I’ve been testing different styles of scheduling my client services. Typically freelance projects are either spread out (20/hours a week for 6 weeks) or are bunched up into large chunks (40/hours a week for 3 weeks). Neither of these have felt that good to me.

Spread out or in large chunks

The spread out projects almost always require that I have multiple client projects running at the same time. That causes quite a bit of switching costs when I jump from project to project. This switching cost isn’t billable so I end up losing that time, and feel panicked since I now have to make up that time.

The large chunk of time projects don’t have as many switching costs, but they have their own problems. The two big ones for me are

  1. burnout due to intense time demands and
  2. fostering the feast-and-famine cycle (start/stop/start)

The burnout problem I’ve been able to work around by not over-committing and keeping my days short (no 12-hour billable days for me, thank you very much). The start/stop/start problem is worse though.

I’ve finally figured out how to market my client services, at least well enough that I can find some great clients when work slows down. The problem is, it takes me a month or two to scale up my marketing from a standstill. With a large chunk project, that means I don’t have the time to keep my marketing running, so at the end of each project I’ve had to reinvigorate my marketing yet again.

A better schedule

I think I’ve found a better way to schedule client work though. One that works well with my schedule, my marketing, and my product development. That schedule is what StatusPage names the “one on / three off” schedule.

Basically, instead of working part-time on client projects and your product or doing full-time bursts of client projects with an idle gap in-between projects, you schedule projects so you work full-time but only for a week each month (the one on part). The other three weeks of the month you can work on other things: marketing, building products, vacations.

I’ve tried this for about two years now, with a few different clients. I have to say, I love it and it’s my favorite scheduling mechanism.

Why?

My clients like it too, despite the drawbacks at the first glance.

The 3 weeks off

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest benefit for me is that I can schedule around my week of client work. So if I need to build up Chirk HR or another product, I have 3 weeks to work on it. Or if I’m going to be scaling up my client services marketing again, I’ll have time to get it going before it’s critical.

Focus 100% on my client

With a solid FT week of client work, it’s also easier for me to focus and get into the flow with them. Usually a few hours is needed on Monday to ramp back up and see what’s changed in a month but my mid-morning Monday I’m already cranking away. That usually doesn’t stop until Friday afternoon. This means my attention stays at it’s peak and I don’t get distracted by other clients or other projects.

Time-boxed

The nice thing about being on for a week from the client’s perspective, they will know when I will be working and (based on previous estimates) can predict how much I’ll get done during that week. That means the week before they can do all of their planning, get ready for me, and then just check back at the end of the week. Some clients will take a more active role in the project, wither it’s to attend a daily check-in meeting with me or to schedule open office hours for me to come to them with questions. Either way, since I’m only on for a week at a time their commitment levels are limited to that week too.

Emergencies and fire-drills

One downside I thought would hurt this schedule would be that my clients would need me during my off-weeks. Though they have needed help for emergencies, for the most part they haven’t had to contact me or schedule any non-standard days. With a few exceptions, most of the emergency fire-drills in projects are caused by someone rushing to do something that isn’t really urgent.

That’s my one-on, three-off schedule I’ve been using. Want more weekly freelancer training like this?

Bootstrapping Design

Jarrod (a 30×500 member) just launched his ebook, Bootstrapping Design. I had the privilege to read his early drafts and I highly recommend it for developers and product builders.

Bootstrapping Design was written at the perfect time for me. One of the guiding principles I’m building into Chirk HR is that software should be easy to understand. I’ve seen firsthand the difficulties and problems caused by confusing software. A big component to making software easy to understand is clear design. Not just “looks pretty” design, but how the software’s interface is laid out (visual design) and how people use it (user experience, workflow).

My troubles with design

Before Jarrod’s book came out I’ve spent about $200 on various design books to try and teach myself the minimum of design to make something feel right. I never found the right resource though:

  • some were too technical (e.g. Photoshop tutorials)
  • some were very print biased
  • some went way too deep too early
  • and some had great theory, but nothing actionable

Suffice it to say, the design books “looked” right but I nothing in them really stuck and I was having a hard time making things look right.

So I stuck with hacking on premium templates and figured I’d pay a few grand later on for a custom design for each product.

Bootstrapping Chirk’s design

When I started development on Chirk, Jarrod’s preview chapter convinced me that I should try to build my own design. Having already build a few product sites based on templates, I knew I’d have to use at least a half dozen hours to get a template into a workable state. Starting a design from scratch would take more time but Jarrod gave me the idea of bootstrapping the design in order to launch:

…the minimum design fundamentals that bootstrappers must understand in order to launch a business…

Early on in Chirk’s MVP I decided to use Twitter bootstrap for its grid and form styling. Then I layered on several concepts from the pre-beta version of Bootstrapping Design and things really started to take shape.

Application design - Twitter bootstrap + custom design

I’m not going to win any design awards for my design, but that’s not the point. The point is that I created a good enough design myself, without much time or money, and was able to launch my product. Most important of all, I also understand the design choices I made and can iterate the design along with the application itself.

Launching page design - WordPress + custom design

Here is a short sample of the ideas I got from the book:

  • anyone can be a designer, it’s just a skill
  • don’t worry about being creative, “focus on simplicity, clarity, and the cold, hard science of what works” [for me, this is a HUGE killer of my analysis paralysis]
  • basics of layouts, grids, and alignment
  • using space to draw the eye instead of only color
  • simple way to do typography, which has had the biggest impact on my design
  • a hack to have a “good enough” color scheme without pulling out the color wheels
  • bootstrapping a logo design

(Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of the early version but I still bought the latest version. It’s that good).