SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

The Forgotten Adobe Customers

Adobe has announced their move to Creative Cloud this week.  And though it seems like a great deal to some, I’m beyond skeptical and downright disappointed. For one thing, it’s not really a great price as far as cloud storage goes. To get 20 GB of space, you can spend a heck of a lot less on your own hosting where a much smaller number of people will be hitting your own server every day. So your throughput will be better elsewhere for less money.

I’m sure Adobe knows who their customers are right? But I think they will find after a while, these forgotten user-types will have stopped buying the software and Adobe is going to miss it.  Will somehow the funds recovered from piracy make up for it?  Maybe. Or will the pirates just continue to pirate the best version out there?

The Administrative Assistant

This user is employed at small or medium business, like an architectural firm and the boxed Creative Suite Standard was purchased for them for occasional uses such as photo work, newsletter development, presentation graphics. The facts about this user are interesting. They don’t actually need the Creative Suite. It’s way too powerful for the kind of superficial edits that it will be used for. Lucky for Adobe though, the company boss purchases the license for the potential use by the employee. And it’s convenient for them to have the software around.  They get it installed and don’t have to think about it much.

The IT Guy with a Creative itch

This is a very common archetype if you will. The IT guy might own his own copy or convinced the boss to purchase the extra license.  The IT guy bangs on the companies fledgling website using Dreamweaver and a little Photoshop. Of course his graphics always display out of proportion, but things work. Maybe he’s aware of other options for web development, but this is the tool he knows is popular and was easy enough to get started and find tutorials. . Again seeing the potential of it’s use over time, it was a purchase made to get tasks done and scratch that itch.

The Retiree Hobbyist

He or she has graduated their careers and maybe is moving into a new hobby or startup doing weddings or nature videography / photography, and to maybe play around with music a bit.  Sure their Windows computer has the movie maker software on it but they never bothered to notice.  The Video Collection was a steep purchase, but they were sure they will have EVERYTHING they need to get things done. Because they often get stuck on things, weeks or months will go by on projects because they aren’t sure how to complete various tasks. They also have the patience and available time to return to something completed and rework it after they’ve learned a new technique.

The Disenchanted Freelancer

This person is me.  Not on the continuous upgrade path, but willing to spend on the new Adobe Collection every odd or even version to stay up to date with colleagues and vendors. Things are expensive to stay current but on the plus side, a having those older boxed versions to outfit a second computer for an intern or collaborator, or to make an aging machine capable has been great.  As far a loyalty goes, a freelancer is about the best Adobe can hope for. Despite being more than capable of learning other tools, the freelancer uses Adobe because it’s convenient. The freelancer owns his / her own company name. They like having their own systems in place. They like not having a boss to tell them what to spend time and energy on.

All of these users are valuable customers and revenue for Adobe. And yet all of them represent a thin thread, easily broken.  That thin thread for many was the creative potential that owning your own software brings. Sure they won’t be able to crank out webpages, or videos or right away, but if they can sit on it for a while, let the ideas digest and come to fruition.  Then they can make something special or useful.  Or they won’t. But the point was the potential. With Creative Cloud, you remove that potential.

The disenchanted freelancer will sign on for a month when absolutely necessary to fix up a problem in an incompatible proprietary file, but otherwise, there’s no benefit to paying to borrow software for many of us.  Ask the IT guy whether he’s cool with yet another subscription. I mean he only pays for TV, ESPN, HBO, Family Cell Phone plan, kids hockey, Netflix.  Will the boss pay for a creative cloud subscription for the admin assistant or will he figure out that Office has Publisher and she can use Picasa or some online photo editor to handle the image crops. And the Retiree? Good luck getting his money now on something he’s only using 11% of realistically.

I’m not sure presenting people with the decision every month or even every year if they want to keep using the Creative Cloud is a good idea.  Because it’s a reminder of whether or not it’s worth their time or money. Whereas before somebody only had to worry about if they were living up to their creative potential.

May 9, 2013 at 10:45 am | computers, design, freelance, graphics, publishing, rants | No comment

Good work by itself is not the tie that binds us

I am losing a couple clients this week. Just by coincidence, I got 2 phone calls that gave me that sinking feeling. And both clients are moving on to proprietary systems, which I almost never recommend. Part of me is shrugging off the situation because it’s not due to something I did or didn’t do directly. New representatives at the organization have become familiar with another system and see the best route to evolving their project is going with that system. You can’t control who gets hired or takes over a department or seat at your clients office.

However, the other part of me that isn’t shrugging this off is that I know that things could be different if I had created a different history with the client. There are dozens of opportunities every year to hit touch points of client service. Things that aren’t even work related. Some of them can be unique to the client, some can just be part of a routine or even automated. For example, sending thank you notes, or occasional greetings. Checking in with questions or recommendations Maybe even better,  asking people to become part of a community you / I created, such as a helpful newsletter tailored to clients.

Had I done those things, I would have spent very little investment per client, but I might be getting the next project opportunity. And that client is likely to deflect the other options, as they can see what they would lose. That  and as time goes one, I’d continue getting the referrals that client my provide. Because if somebody leaves you, even with no burned bridges, you probably just aren’t going to come to mind when their friend or colleague asks them about who to work with.  To sum that up, it’s possible you can do a great job and create a weak bond. That’s the problem. You, me, we all have to do good work while also creating a stronger human bond in the process.

I’ve always had a problem with lock-in, in terms of software. I like the open platforms so clients feel more comfortable to change, move and pivot as they need to.  But the lock-in I could be striving for, is one completely self-imposed. If my clients are tied to me through that connection or bond of a good relationship, I’m in a much better position and the business and my clients continue to benefit.

I remember at a previous job, I would ride with sales people to their client locations for training and technical support appointments. At the time, I was surprised at how often the sales person would be inquiring about the client’s kid’s soccer games and other life events.  At the time, I thought it was a surprise that anyone could remember so much, and wondering, what it just a little too pushy? Looking back, I understand it much more. A good sales person makes a habit of creating those bonds. Someone might say, well that’s shallow, because clearly the salesperson is doing so out of self-interest and keeping the client’s business. Ahh, but I must argue, you see a habit is something that you do without thinking. And I’ve come to believe that it’s less likely scenario that something habitual like that has a shallow undercurrent.

Test it! Ask a good sales person what it’s like to lose a client like that where they’ve cultivated a bond.  Ask how much of what they are feeling is about the money.

May 9, 2013 at 5:12 am | freelance, inspiration, interesting | No comment

Privacy, it’s there if you want it

From a reddit posting on congress, lobbying and privacy, I thought I’d share this:

Don’t ask for your government for your Privacy, take it back:

If you have any problems installing or using the above software, please contact the projects. They would love to get feedback and help you use their software.

Have no clue what Cryptography is or why you should care? Checkout the Crypto Party Handbook or the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense Project.

Just want some simple tips? Checkout EFF’s Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy.

April 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm | computers, conspiracy, politics, rants, tools | No comment

You have to love the St. Louis Arch

Monument to the Dream is a 1967 documentary about the creation of the St. Louis Arch. The 30 minute film has all the charm of the best National Geographic films I grew up loving. That and the Modern Marvels Episode about the Arch made more recently really make you proud of your industrious human family and the kind of risks it takes to do something at this level.  Watch below.

The Modern Marvels film feels as bold as as the arch itself. It taps into the history of St. Louis back when it was a village of a thousand people, onto it’s status as a way station during westward expansion  and up to the period after the Great Depression and the downward turn of the economy and the city itself.  The project or the kernel of the idea that would become the Gateway Arch was an idea for the riverfront, something big that would improve and uplift St. Louis again.

What I love about the arch is that it’s not just something you can talk about or stare at. They had the foresight, the motivation to make it something you could ride up to the top in. What would become a sort of ferris wheel on tracks to a cozy lookout room.

April 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm | inspiration, interesting, nostalgia, philosophy | No comment

How to create an admin user in WordPress when you only have FTP access

So this is pretty cool. If you lost your admin information, but you still have ftp access you can edit the functions.php file in your theme to create a new admin user. This is a hack and really useful, but also means you need to protect your own sites if you happen to have other people with FTP access.

<?php
//this goes in functions.php by the way.
function new_admin_usr(){
$user = 'FillInThisNewAdminID';
$pass = 'ANewPassword';
$email = 'email@example.com';
if ( !username_exists( $user ) &amp;&amp; !email_exists( $email ) ) {
$user_id = wp_create_user( $user, $pass, $email );
$user = new WP_User( $user_id );
$user-&gt;set_role( 'administrator' );
} }
add_action('init','new_admin_usr');
?>

April 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm | webdev | No comment

March, the most disappointing month of the year

I’ve been under the covers crying for most of the day. Sorry to my neighbor who was innocently shoveling. This wasn’t meant for you.

wintery-march

March 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm | humor, rants | No comment

Sketching Fashionable

Yet another terrific gem from over at the Internet archives (archive.org).

Check out “Costume Design and Illustration” from 1918. Like many others of the fantastic collection of public domain texts, you can read online or download in all possible formats.

I also just discovered tonight that the online reader app works really well on the iPad.

20130308-014838.jpg

March 8, 2013 at 1:38 am | books, design, general, graphics, learning | No comment

Every Other Day is a Hackathon

My colleague and I were talking about ways to bump our business to the next level so we can help more clients. And more importantly, maintain the energy of a project all the way through it.

Being a couple of freelancers and agency expatriates, we were thinking of a new model of client-service and project work. Being tied to the 9-5 model isn’t really appealing and we want to avoid the mistakes and not just copy other agencies.

We started thinking that there may be serious benefits in building client projects using the hackathon model. But one where you get paid and the client gets served.

Thing about hackathons, as opposed to code sprints is that hackathons have a fixed start and end time and they truly leverage the energy of the moment and through collaboration. Code sprints are nice paths to burnout. We think a hackathon model helps knock out the small holdups. It’s this push to complete in a short time, and by leveraging a assembly process and clear objectives, which might just win.

Whereas most hackathons are often learning meetups, this type would be building something and getting paid. You might be part of the company, or you might be a contractor or intern, or maybe a first-time visitor.  We also thought we could invite people to shadow or visit who might want to learn the process. Maybe an intern model where they watch first and then can eventually become a paid participant.

It’s daunting to build an entire site, but when broken down into the bite-size chunks, it almost seems like a few hours is more time than you need. Part of standardizing will help the collaborative process, templates, expectations. Once done and commit your chunk, (e.g. the site header) it will be merged with the sidebar and footer which was being made by the collaborators next to you.

We also think once it’s done, a good debriefing. What got completed, where do we stand. And communication with the client, we have a clear statement of progress and a very exacting number of hours to report if we so choose.

We’re interested in doing a trial run on a project and see where it goes. We think it could build some camradarie and really get people to focus on the one project, vs a normal day of putting out fire after fire and losing site of one’s goals.

March 6, 2013 at 10:50 am | freelance, interesting, philosophy | No comment

Photography from a motorized paraglider

A fascinating twenty minutes of photography in this video. I was just in awe and wanted to share it.

George Steinmetz: Seeing the World by Paraglider from National Geographic Live on FORA.tv

February 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm | inspiration, photography | No comment

My new Gold Star System for keeping clients happy

I’ve made so many mistakes. And here’s a big cause. Because a certain level of customer service requires a personality that reaches out on a continual basis. To help people in your own business, you have to assume that they need to hear from you frequently.  Assume they’ll get upset if you don’t.  This is my biggest mistake. I care about the people I help out, but I also have this mechanism in my brain that makes me indulgent in the specifics of problems I solve rather than the emotions of the people I’m helping. That same indulgence puts me into a mode where I don’t want or feel I can’t communicate comfortably until a problem is solved or understood sufficiently.

This makes my clients crazy. I sort of know this, but it’s not always the active thought in my mind. In my field, you come across problems constantly and often there’s no logical prioritization at work. If I’m a surgeon and had 2 patients and I had to operate on both of them, one needed urgent but simple heart valve clearing, and the other had a fish hook really jammed really good through his hand like I’ve never seen, well guess what? Let’s just say I’m not a surgeon for a reason.  My brain works on the wrong problems, because those problems are the ones that I obsess over.

Anyway, I’ve accepted that I will always have a bit of chaos to deal with and can reign it in the right leverage.  The gold star system. Or the black mark system if you want to call it that. Either way, allow this system to fix your / my lack of communication.

A new client decided to work with me / you because ideally we are the best. Or the best they could afford. Regardless, now that you’re working together, you have a relationship to maintain that is measured by 6 gold stars. You start off with 5 1/2 stars.  And your communication and ability to set expectations makes you gain or lose them. For every time, you fail to communicate, you lose a gold star. Every time the client has to call you up and check in, means you haven’t set the expectation. After 5 of these mistakes, (OR LESS!) you’re down to one-star. Basically your client is looking for an out. They wouldn’t hire you back, they are just begging for this project to be completed.

I’ve gotten myself to one star several times. Because of my inability to set an expectation and demonstrate that I care about my clients feelings.  And wouldn’t you know it all I had to do was just have that embarrassing call earlier and just get better at it.  What I mean is the call that you have to say AGAIN that you haven’t made progress, that you’re stuck something or got sidetracked. And just be a grown up about it. It’s better for them to get sick of you that way than to not hear from you. And you won’t want to keep making those calls so you will eventually prioritize better over the next day or so you gave yourself as breathing room between calls.

It’s common for me or anyone lose a couple stars during the course of a relationship but you don’t need to do THAT much work to keep your reputation and your stars to a good level and manage it.

So next time you / me, when there’s that passing thought that maybe I’ll put off that call until I have something to show, or try to get that fix in just under the wire think of it as a question: “Do I really want to lose a gold star over this bit of laziness, shame, inability to fix or solve or prioritize something on time?”

And the next question should be asked once a week or so, “How might I get 7 stars out of this relationship?” Imagine what seven stars would be? It’d be like you’ll be seen in such a good light that you’d have to make a huge effort to lose a star. You’d have to stab them or something because they see you as such a positive force in their lives.

Let’s not go overboard here, just do your damn job.

January 15, 2013 at 2:22 am | freelance, inspiration, learning | No comment

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