Success: Pants Optional

Lots of folks talk the talk about being a new/revolutionary/distributed/non-traditional company or workforce, but who’s really doing it? And is it really working?

What about a company with:

  • over 100 employees
  • employees all around the globe
  • only one office, and it’s an office that’s rarely used, even by the folks who live in that city
  • every employee working from… anywhere. At home, in a coffee shop, a coworking space…. anywhere they have connectivity

Sounds neat… but you wonder about what this company makes and whether it’s successful.

That Company Is Real and You Can Learn From It

The company is Automattic… they’re the folks behind WordPress.com and they work with the open source community to build and maintain WordPress, the popular web platform that now powers over 17% of the internet. Things seem to be working out.

Experienced project manager, author, and speaker Scott Berkun spent over a year working with Automattic as a team lead for WordPress.com – and one of his terms for his employment was that he be allowed to write a book about the experience. That book is The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, and it’s now available for purchase. I had a chance to read the book. The tl;dr summary is that it’s really good.

Stories Lead to Observations

There are a few ways Berkun could’ve gone with the book and I’m pleased with the approach he chose. Most of the book is narrative storytelling, relaying experiences (both specific and broad) that he had while leading his team as part of the larger organization. Some of these are specific to a product challenge faced, while others are broader topics such as company culture. As a team lead, he worked with a variety of personalities (on his team and others) and he provides interesting insight into working with various situations in the distributed workforce… something which might have been a quick water cooler conversation is different when your teammate is thousands of miles away.

Most of the narrative chapters contain little observations and analysis weaved into the stories. After several of these narrative chapters, the author interjects chapters that are intentionally higher-level… less storytelling and more analysis. Aptly titled “The Future of Work”, this series of three analysis chapters could stand on their own as a short business book… but interspersing them among the storytelling chapters provides valuable context. The stories support the conclusions and the conclusions aren’t as deep without having read the supporting stories.

Takeaways

I came into this book as someone who knows several Automattic employees; I was previously familiar with the distributed workforce and I knew a bit about some of the tools and processes that allowed it to happen. That said, I was curious about conclusions – what would an outsider say after a year as an insider, and how would it be said? I walk away with these key points being made or reinforced:

  • Personality and Skills Trump Job Titles – it’s important to hire smart people. Ideally they have a deep knowledge of a specialty but also a broad familiarity such that they can help with tasks outside that narrow topic.
  • Tools Matter – much like traditional workplaces require the infrastructure of an office, conference rooms, parking spaces, and centralized phone systems, a distributed and timeshifted workplace requires an infrastructure of its own. Text and video chat, group discussion software, and other tools allow for team members to communicate both with themselves and with the company as a whole. It’s not just that any tools are needed: good tools are needed. Automattic rarely uses email. There’s a section in the book about that… it doesn’t mean that Automattic doesn’t exchange text communications, they do it in different methods which seem to be more manageable.
  • It’s Really About Trust and Communication – while the methods and madness might be different when a company is in one building versus hundreds, ultimately the success of the organization and the teams within it depends on workers’ abilities to trust each other and to communicate. Whether that’s big-picture vision stuff or in-the-weeds details, communication is key, and faciliating that communication, regardless of environment, is essential for success.

If you care about how business is done, I’d highly recommend the book. If you’re a WordPress user and you want some insight into how the sausage is made, there’s a good bit of that as well. Scott Berkun is a smart man and a great writer, and The Year Without Pants is an excellent read.

Interesting Links Roundup: September 25th

As I wander the web I find interesting things. I share:

What have you seen lately that’s interesting?

Interesting Links Roundup: July 10th

As I wander the web I find interesting things. I share:

What have you seen lately that’s interesting?

What the Heck is a Certified Professional Photographer?

I’m a member of the PPA and one of the programs they push is the Certified Professional Photographer program. Skeptical of its value as a business and marketing tool, I decided yesterday to pose the question to my followers on Twitter and Google+.

First, I Storified the results from Twitter:

Do You Know What a "Certified Professional Photographer" is?

Storified by Aaron Hockley · Mon, Jul 09 2012 14:54:02

@ahockley someone who paid some random company some $$ to say he was certifiedSean Wiese
@ahockley nope.Kailey Lampert āš™
@ahockley That’s somebody that sets their camera to the "M" setting, right?Eric Berto
@ahockley This non-photographer has never heard of a "Certified Professional Photographer." I’ve never hired a photographer, though.Amy Farrell ā˜•
@ahockley Nope. It’s the kind of statement that, as a web dev, makes me raise my eyebrow, though.Dana O’Rourke
@ahockley Sounds like meaningless marketing speak.Jacob Helwig
@ahockley nope. and neither do our moms.Mortar
@ahockley Sounds like someone who took a two-hour course from Ritz and got a framed 8.5×11.Clifton
@ahockley a liar?J-P Voilleque
@ahockley someone who can take a test but has no real experience? #cynicalHolly
@ahockley somebody who passed an exam that granted that credential — whether necessary or worthwhile would have to do research on ;-)Brenda Clark
@ahockley no :(Grant Landram

And here’s a screenshot from Google+:

Google+ responses about a Certified Professional Photographer

Seems to me that (at least amongst my communities), nobody knows what a Certified Professional Photographer is… and even worse, many of those that don’t know are skeptical or have negative sentiment.

I realize that any sort of certification needs some ramp-up time, but this has been around for a while, and if potential clients don’t have any idea what it means it seems that it would be a stretch as a professional benefit.

Easy Online Invoicing: I Like FreshBooks

FreshBooks Online InvoicingRunning a photography business (much like running any small business) involves not only the activities directly related to serving my clients, but also various bits of overhead such as bookkeping and invoicing. These administrative tasks aren’t where I want to spend most of my time, but I want to ensure my clients receive great service.

I use FreshBooks for invoicing and have done so for a few years now. It’s easy for me and my clients seem happy as well. Yesterday I received this comment in an email message:

Aaron – I just have to say that your site/process for accounting stuff (freshbooks) is SUPER awesome and easy. LOVE IT.

When my clients are happy, I’m happy. FreshBooks allows me to invoice via email or paper and allows me to receive/record payments via checks, PayPal, or a number of other services. Invoices can be customized to reflect your look and feel.

You can try FreshBooks for free for 30 days using this link. If you sign up, I get a small referral commission.

How Much Time Should a Photographer Spend on Social Media?

Time is finite; the use of time is an important decision. I’ve been thinking about the amount of time that photographers spend on social media. There are plenty of outlets to take up said time (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, blogging, etc), but how much time should be spent?

timepiece prime time clock closeup watchQuestion: How much time is the right amount of time to spend on social media? My response: I don’t know. How many clients do you want? How many people do you want to see your photography?

The benefits you’ll see from using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google+, and other social services will probably be related to the amount of time and effort you invest. If you only follow 10 people on Twitter or tweet once a day, you’re not going to get much in return. If you only log onto Facebook once a week or never interact with anyone else… well, don’t be surprised when they don’t respond to you either.

I recently saw a prominent photographer muse about how he wasn’t sure what to make of his Flickr stats, while noting that he didn’t spend much time participating on Flickr. He’s not getting much out of it because he’s not putting much into it.

Yes, there are ways to work smarter not harder, but if you’re not working at all, you’re not going to see results.

If you’re on Twitter and have been plugging into photography tweets, you’ve probably run across Jack Hollingsworth (@photojack). How did he get to where he’s at? He spends about an hour a day engaging with other photographers on Twitter. Need a metric or a tangible starting point? There you go… one hour per day. Split it up into a couple half-hour chunks or four 15 minute segments if that works better with your schedule.

Keep in mind that most of Jack’s time has been interacting with other photographers. You might find it more beneficial to reach out towards your client base. Spend some time on Facebook maintaining the relationships with your senior portrait or wedding clients. If you’re an event shooter, build and maintain contacts in event management, catering, and other complementary trades.

Start with an hour a day and see how things go. Surely 10-15% of your working time being spent on marketing is reasonable, isn’t it? An hour might be more than you need to see real results. If you haven’t yet developed your online network, maybe you’ll need a bit more time. Determine your goal of your social media efforts and spend the amount of time needed to attain that goal.

Photo by zoutedrop, used under Creative Commons licensing