Sunday, May 23, 2010

Find a good copywriter

Tell me if this has happened to you: You are on the lookout for a copywriter and end up reading the sales pitches of many potential candidates. Usually on their own websites. One of them looks and sounds particularly impressive. You go ahead and hire this copywriter.

A few weeks later, you have --in front of you-- the copy written by this writer. You are not impressed. You find yourself trying to figure out what went wrong and what made you hire him instead of someone else.

If this has happened to you, then I bet 25 Turkish Liras that it has happened more than once. And that you have a tendency to repeat this cycle.

Here are some ideas to help you break out of this loop:

1. Don't hire the first guy you talk to:
Even if the first guy you call has good chemistry with you, don't hire him. Talk to at least 5 different copywriters. More often than not, you will end up hiring anyone but the first candidate.

2. State your problems in their pure form:
Do not seed the discussion with potential solutions you have already found. For example if you are selling a widget and you think the sales would increase if you wrote your sales page in a certain way, keep that though to yourself. Start with a clean slate and only with the problem you are trying to solve.

3. The right copywriter will ask the right questions:
There is a penetrating quality in questions. Some question will stay in the periphery. Some will touch you in a certain way. And some will penetrate deep into the heart of the problems you are facing. You want the guy who asks these penetrating questions.

4. Spread it thin:
You will have to finesse this with your potential writer. Break the job into pieces. Hire 3 writers on smaller pieces and see their results. Even if you need just one sales page, negotiate a deal where the copywriter will charge you 1/3rd of his rate but put in only 1/3 effort. In other words, ask for a quick and dirty letter. Usually new entrants in the game will agree to something like this. Your goal is not to get the job done as cheap as possible. Your goal is to see who produces good results even at idling speed.

5. Test the results:
When you have the copy written, do not judge it. There is the likely hood that your customers are different from you and they respond differently than you. Test the pages.

6. Repeat:
Make this a routine. Go back to your best writers, start version 2. Then version three. On and on. Find some more writers. Keep expanding your virtual team of copywriters. After a while it will become fun. Every cycle will increase your confidence in what you can get done.

Step 3 above is the most important. For every job, there is a copywriter out there who can do magic. You can easily find the right guy if you spread the jobs thin and hire many writers.

If you are trying to do something amazing with your copy, remember what good copy is not, and what it is.

In the photoshop parlance, good copy is not a bucket full of special effects. Its a combination of boring vectors, bland pixels, fills, and the arrangement of these elements. And finally a special effect or two. In other words good copy is the combination of every part, how its put together and how it flows.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lahore Bomb blast

Woke up this morning with a jolt. It sounded as if someone had kicked open my door and broke my window at the same time. Later it turned out that there was a bomb blast in Model Town Lahore.

I was more than 7 Km. away but still felt it.

Rest of the day was pretty depressing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saving OO Documents to Google Apps

What if Open Office documents could save native versions of Google Docs? And what if you could save OO documents directly into the google cloud? This could solve the problem of working when not connected.

If Google or someone else were to develop this feature, it would be nice to have check-in and check-out and locked-for-writing features.

What if the native file format of Google Docs and Open Office documents is combined into one standard?

Worth the thought.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Something about Chrome

I admire Safari. I absolutely love FireFox. But find myself using Chrome and nothing but Chrome. Can't figure out why.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

28th Amendment. Anyone on board?

Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States .

I got this from my CPA Don Brooks (who is a pretty cool guy.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Perils of 65% market share

We tend to see market leaders in two dimensions. We see how much ahead they are, and we see how high they have climbed. Its hard to see the third dimension behind this facade. What is that little object in their mirror?

Today I am trying to find that little object. Right now its in the rearview mirror of my favorite search engine.

According to BBC news, the market-leader-du-jour: Google has consolidated its position and now enjoys a safe 65% market share.

The number 65 has magical powers. It repeats.

Back in the early nineties when Novell was king, they enjoyed 65% market share. Back then, their hold on it seemed infinite. I remember driving to Provo Utah to meet some engineers at Novell. It was like a pilgrimage of the NLM developers.

And while they were at the top of their game, Microsoft --at the time a puny DOS company-- launched a thumb pin into the heart of Novell's business. And kept pressing. The rest is history.

Anyway, now that google has hit the magic number, I wonder whose next. It can be Microsoft. Cannot be Yahoo. Cannot be Facebook. Cannot be Ask. What if its a non search company?

More on it later...may be not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commodity Services: Does size matter?

The mundane matter of selling commodity services is usually on my mind these days. It has almost become a favorite pastime. Partly because of the challenge and partly because I myself own a few companies who sell commodity services every day.

Today's question: Does size make a difference in the way you sell commodity services? I do realize that ADP uses different tactics to sell vs. my local accountant/payroll service. But is size itself a sell-able feature? Does it work both ways? --Is being small also an advantage as being big?

Here is a list of personal and professional services I personally use. And my preference for size of business:

Haircut - Small, local, somewhere i have had a good experience.
Personal Taxes - Small, local, somewhere i have had a good experience.
Coffee - If its as good as Starbucks, I prefer a small non franchise store. Otherwise Starbucks.
Food - Small, local, non-franchise.
Legal - I wouldn't buy commodity legal services if possible.

Here are some business services:

Payroll - I am with a big name payroll company but I shouldn't be. Competence issues.
Accounting - I am with a local CPA.
Temp Agency: I am with Robert Half / Accountemps. But only because I saw their billboard. And because I believe their pricing is standard and constant regardless of the customer.

Anyway, back to the size issue. Here is a trial recipe:

Local Presence in a non franchise way. (IBM of New Haven vs. IBM Global)
Known names and faces (locally)
The image and personality of a small boutique shop.
The stability and performance of a big enterprise.

Conclusion: If size of a service company is to be used as a feature, smaller is better.

I need to experiment with this.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Is there a cloud for my software?

Our new SAAS product Hyperconversion is going into beta soon. It helps people to Create, Manage and Host Landing pages. We've been at it for a while now and its a beautiful implementation of the point-and-click school of thought.

I have an interesting dilemma. Was wondering if someone reading this can give me an idea or two.

The system is developed in ROR and designed with a share-nothing architecture. Each client gets his own snapshot of the full application. We designed it this way so that we could run thousands of applications on Amazon AWS or Rackspace cloud.

Here is the problem: Amazon does not update the image of a running virtual machine. So if the image crashes, we lose everything. When we figured this out, we found which is a lot cheaper and solves the running image problem. But the problem with rackspace is that they don't have elastic IPs. If a server image goes down, and you end up creating a new one, you get a randomly assigned IP address. There is no way to get a block of IPs.

We need persistent IPs because our system depends on DNS to client's domain names to the correct landing pages.

Does anyone out there know of a cloud solution which leases IP blocks and also saves the running images?

Will appreciate your thoughts. We cannot run dedicated servers. It has to be a cloud based solution.