We are going to introduce a software strategy for a fictional brand called FantasticContent.Online to demonstrate how different free tools can be combined to a rock solid base for many kinds business relying on teamwork. We will not be limited to a certain product, but want to have a look on aspects surrounding successful projects. We will see how to organize teams flexible, build short communications and make the life easy for the business and marketeers. Ready? Let’s go ….
This is the third part of a series of educational articles, covering existing web-technologies with the aim to encourage smarter, faster and cheaper solutions for different kinds of online projects.
Welcome to FantasticContent.Online, the global acting cooperation of creators struggling to build a business without a dime in the pocket. We produce digital distributable content as videos, music, games or apps and use established channels to reach our customers. Maybe we produce content for video-portals, write articles for online-news, upload our music into cloud-streaming or create an Android app. No matter what we do, the competition is hard but we come prepared, are motivated and our creators have loads of talent.
Our business goal is to gain a fan-base and convert a part of it into paying customers. We prefer free access to our content-products to reach the widest possible range of viewers/listeners/users, encouraging to share and publish under the CreativeCommon License. We want to be on the right side of history, so we don’t team up with copyright bullies and actually want to give something back to the community. We have no heavy advertisement budget available, so we will use social engagement to gain positive attention and motivate others to support us.
FantasticContent.Online is the brand and website we are going to establish besides our content distribution-channel. This will enable us to build up a community of supporters, sell special services or merchandise and promote events. The website alone will not drive the business in the beginning but is a point of reference and adds credibility. Therefor are we going for a cheap solution first, adding features as needed in the process when we are able to invest profits. We assume that smartphones soon will be the top amount of devices to serve our website, followed by tablets, laptops, desktops and gaming consoles. We want one fitting solution for all devices and indexes in the best possible manner in all search engines.
Communications and cooperation
Scrum is an agile software development process or a way of organizing teamwork to increase productivity, quality and to react agile on changing requirements. Scrum usually utilizes daily 15min stand-up meetings where all team members tell the rest of the team what 1) they have done yesterday 2) what they are they going to do today 3) Are problems in sight? The agile principles where often presented as the only right approach for any project, but my professional experience does not support this as truth and neither so for many of my colleague as the excellent article of Ahmad Nassri shows.
Our setup will rather consider decentralized team-members working asynchron from different locations and timezones, then a well organized team in a shared office. So Scrum is not really fitting, but anyway are some of its tools very useful for supporting global teamwork as the Kanban boards on trello.com for coordinating tasks and organizing projects of any size. A classic Kanban board actually contains three lists, one for open tasks-to-do, one for tasks the team is working on right now and one for the finished tasks. Each task is named and described on a card, it can contain attachments as images, can have a date, can be commented and rated by team members and is flexible to organize with colored labels. Team members updating these tasks status by moving cards between the lists and notifications where sent out. This visualization helps a lot to see whats going on in a team, shortens communication lines and enables team-leaders to balance work load and identify problems early. The free online tool offers a lot useful features as real-time notification, filters, time-lines, access-management and unlimited team members cooperating on one board for one goal. Nevertheless is it well received by people with little technical understanding because … it is fun to use and implements a good UX strategy.
The center piece of our team communication is a messaging app and amazing tool called Slack, this will replace emails for us and give our teamwork some slickness, transparency and efficiency. Slack allows teams to create unlimited amounts of #channels and send direct messages to them. A channel can represent a certain topic, a project or department and collects all related communication in the same place. We can have open channels which each team member can join and read all older messages or private channels which allow only invited members for confidential topics. All communications are searchable as well as the shared files, this is extremly useful if a new team members needs to get instructed into an ongoing project or if you just forgot what the customer actually wanted. Slack also allows to integrate our Social Networks for the marketing, updates on the Cloud hosting for the Content Creators, Github for the techies as well as the Hangout for video calls. There are free and native apps for Mac, Windows and Linux as well as the mobile versions for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The feature-set is pretty neat and can be upgraded later by a payed version once we made money.
If our team members need to share big hunks of data, like raw video material, huge audio files or high resolution photographs, we actually have the choice between many cloud storage providers with free options. Dropbox is one of the most used services which offers 2-3GB for free and integrates very well with other tools as Slack. Microsoft OneDrive just slashed the free unlimited storage option down to 5GB. I think this is quite a drastic move which will have heavy effect on the popularity and acceptance of Microsofts service. GoogleDrive comes with a 15GB free account with each Gmail email address and also offers a high variety of integrations in any tools our teams may use. A very interesting offer is coming from Mega, offering 50GB for free and encryption, so nobody outside the team, including Mega itself, can read the stored data. The offer is solid and would be my personal choice. We won’t consider Apples ICloud since it is to limiting for our team setup, not everybody wants to use Apple products. There are other services gaining more attention as tresorit or pCloud, so we should keep an eye on them before we assemble our storage solution.
With the knowledge how to manage the teams, ease communication and offering cloud based storage we have everything in place to have a look at the teams itself. A team in this context is a role or a list of responsibilities, helping to visualize the different kinds of tasks in a company. A team can have any size and always should be open to flexible changes. Real people doing the real work are often in different teams, common combinations are Content Creators & Marketing or Techies and SEO strategies. We will need at least 2 people to make FantasticContent.Online real so let’s have a look.
The odds are pretty good that the techie team is yourself, you found your way here and kept reading. Let’s talk then Rasta. We will go for simple solutions, so there is no engineering degree needed, just curiousity and the wish to find and combine the most useful tools around. The work of this team starts with the initial setups of all tools, prepare and test the workflows and to introduce these to other teams. Many of us hate to write documentations, trust me it’s still better to write it one time down instead of explaining the same thing over and over again and get complains from Creators and Business. Once the setup is done, your life will become very easy.
The basis of FantasticContent.Online brand will be a website we are going to build with the Jekyll framework which I already discussed in the previous article of this series. It allows us to use the hosting service of GitHub Pages, which actually outsources all our server-troubles for free. No need for server- or security-updates, no wories about broken hardware and backup-safety on highest standard, FantasticContent.Online will take this deal.
An other big advantage of GitHub Pages is that it allows us to use GitHub Repositories as a through-the-web backend for our website, including sophisticated user-right management and real-time updates on the website without any 3rd party software. We can log into github, edit files, push them and the changes are imediatly online. So even the compiling is outsourced, so hardware is mainly used for reading and writing on websites. If you build your own PC please use a Operating System that supports you instead of Windows, a Mac will also do the job any day.
Once our prototyping reaches a state where we start to include non-techies for creating and managing content, we will need to have clear defined release steps, which are easy to follow but prevent that someone by accident breaks the website. The best strategy will vary, depending on team skills, update frequency, amount of members and content type. The Creators can work in a cloned/forked repository with the very own GitHub Pages hosted domain to preview the changes. Done and ready they send a pull request to the techie responsible for releases, the technical quality control and the merge to the live site. This is a flexible approach which could handle big teams with high production rates but seems also reasonable in small setups with very view team members.
As a developer I still will prefer to run Jekyll on my localhost, have direct access to error messages and use my very own tools for editing and version control. Other people will do something else and that is a freedom I’ve seen with no CMS so far. Content can be accessed with most different tools now, adaptable and open to whatever is needed and whatever clever comes up next.
The techies are usually also responsible that the website have the right setup to get indexed well in search engines. We will use Google Webmaster Tools to to test our SEO setup and always keep an eye on new problems or improvements. SEO need to be part of our prototype and is mainly done with a set of META data in the websites HEAD, providing a unique title, description, … for each article. Creators need to write extra descriptions for the search results, directed to human readers, providing a good, short and understandable summary what to expect from each article. There are many SEO Experts offering services which are trivial and can be easily done by ourselfes OR using hacks and tricks to increase rankings. Neither one is an option we want, the second is maybe tempting but usually gets punished by the search engine within a quite short time. Keep an eye open for follow ups if you are interested in this topic.
The Creators are the heart and the soul of any content based business, so we want to allow them to work in the least distracting way. Each Creator should be able to use the most convinient tools to get the work done, the software should support them instead of forcing certain workflows with a narrow set of technologies. Let’s discuss some team setups to see what kind of issues we need to face.
Team Youtube creates funny cat videos and has steady rising subscriber numbers. They are a rapidly growing team gathering material, cutting the clips and uploading it to the video-portal. This team has an existing fanbase but wants to expend over the boundaries of youtube and also publish in other video portals, on facebook or app-based video-shares. FantasticContent.Online will be a website containing references to all videos in the different portals, a stage to present the combined content from different sources under one brand.
Team Musicians & DJ’s produce music and mixes and promote them via free streaming as SoundCloud. FantasticContent.Online will be a website mainly aimed to promote non-digital events as concerts or shows. We will collect the emails of our fans with a newsletter tool as MailChimp and keep them close and interested with regular updates, hoping they are coming and supporting the upcoming events.
Team Photo & Webdesign are visual artists, looking for a way of displaying a portfolio. This team puts by far the most focus on the presentation itself, so potential customer are simply blown away by slickness. This team will need to include skilled webdesigners, able to deliver HTML and CSS files. There is no need for special skills in theming of a CMS, all this team have to deliver is static HTML. The convertion of those static files into the theme can be done with a low effort by the techies, familar with the Jekyll framework. Our website setup allows the highest control of the Layout with the highest flexibility of content presentation. You can place what you want, exactly where you want, CMS usually don’t allow this without a greater knowledge of the internal theming process. Even as an expert in Plone and Typo3, after dozens of successful projects and teaching huge classes how to use them right and boosting results, I have to admit that there are certain aspects I can’t control in a reasonable manner, including overheads in data-load or the weird behavior of a TinyMCE.
Team Journalist & Blogger are writers which use FantasticContent.Online as a channel of exposure. The focus of this team is that articles get indexed in the best possible manner by search-egines and that these results get an inviting presentation. The work of this team also needs to be provided via RSS and must be shareable via social networks. I consider this blog in this team. so I will follow up with articles about healthy search-engine gardening, structured content for better search results and what you actually have to know and to do to get this facebook shares right and nice. With our approach is it possible to write and create off-the-grid in areas with no or unstable internet connection and just later push it all online. Creators can write first-hand experience from the wildernis when they are there, instead of remembering things back in a internet-cafe, I guess that can be an real advantage.
Team Game & App This team have technical skilled members deploying a project page. We like to introduce the features of our product, provide links to the download and include our user- and developer documentations. This team can automate the documentation and link in the website. Most of these pages today are using simple standardized and full responsive layouts, avoiding big images and therefor long pages-loads. The best way to o that? GitHub Pages.
Team Marketing & Business
Money makes the world go round and it’s also very useful to exchange for goods and services. People can be motivated for a short time to put a lot of work and energy into projects without payment, amazing things can be done without money but a serious business will need cash to deliver constant professional results and build sustained teams. The business teams responsibility is to get the bills payed for everyone, so we need full support for all marketing efforts.
Starting up …
Crowdfunding is in our days one of the most powerful tools for business development. Awesome Creators or Techies are often not qualified or experienced enough to work out a convincing business plan, so help is needed. To use a crowdfunding platform to develop and test a business model is a smart move, it allows direct feedback with an interested audience, we can promote the idea itself and find out what is actually wanted by the community. A failing crowdfunding campaign teaches us a lot and filters out stupid and risky ideas. If we can convince enough people to give FantasticContent.Online money for an non-existing product, then we have a product interesting enough and the first customers right by our hands. And of course we get the money from the campaign which allows us to get serious. In consultations for start-ups I usually recommend to organize and crowdfund projects in several steps. We want to start with a very reasonable first goal and minimal buyable product, in later steps we will react on the feedback of our audience and maybe go in a different directions then what we would expect initially.
There are many platforms for crowdfunding available, depending on our project we will need to choose the best one for our cause. The most famous portal is Kickstarter with over $200 millions raised and over 60.000 projects launched. FantasticContent.Online is a creative project, so we should be good with its guidelines BUT the campaign creator needs to be a U.S. resident. So we have a look at other options as IndieGoGo, which don’t restrict us in this manner or RocketHub which also offers Creators the Launchpad feature to promote and raise public interest together with other top brands. Crowdfunder is targeted to approach Angel Investors and gain Venture Capital into the startup. There are more specialist platforms as AppBackr if we produce a mobile App or SellABand for musicians. Usually are fees around 5% of the raised amount but the details vary and need to be checked properly before the we go for one portal.
No matter which one we choose, there are general rules which we need to implement. We will need to start early to work on our campaign, at least a couple of month before we launch it. We will promote our idea, collect email addresses and get the word out in the communities we identified as our target group. We don’t need to please everybody, usually are less then 1.000 backers needed, so we can focus in a certain direction. We will do our homework and research similar campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. It’s a very good start to do some Data analysis and compare successful and unsuccessful campaigns to identify good and bad approaches.
We want to have an inviting campaign, so we will set the lowest possible donation amount to $1 and reward donors on multiple investment levels. Investors need to get more then a thank-you email, so each will get discounted prices for our services and we will give out extra rewards for donations worth $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000. These rewards are one of the main determining factors for the campaign, so spend some time and come up with some GOOD ideas. We will not spend much money on those but they need to be attractive.
We will set our campaigns funding goal as low as we can affort to make a success more likely. If a goal is not reached, we don’t get anything. If we get more donations then defined in the goal, then we just get more money. So we take our costs, add the fee’s of the portal and payment provider but no profit margin. Now is the time to get the project started, later on is the time for profit.
Another factor we will not underestimate is the presentation of our campaign and its support. We will provide a professional layout for the campaign on the portal and also a free mini-website for the campaign itself. The data shows that presentation matters, so let’s spend some hours and make it nice and neat. We also want to have at least 3 different videos to promote our cause. The first will be used before the campaign starts to gather interest, spread the word and invite people to follow our news. The second video will be promoted while the campaign is on, encouraging people to donate. The third video is the final thanks to the donors, if any. If it’s reasonable we don’t skip the last one even if the campaign failed. A failed campaign just means we need to work on a new and better one, so we will treat all donors very nicely and try to get them on-board later again.
Know your audience, make them customers
The business model of FantasticContent.Online hugely depends on our content, but there are different guidelines we want to follow anyway.
Exposure in search engines will drive the very most visitors to our website, way more we could reach with any conventional promotion methods. Therefor is the Search Engine Optimization one main pillar of a successful marketing and goes through all departments. The technical background is covered by our techies, business and marketing need to strategize which keywords and phrases should be targeted and the creators need to produce content accordingly.
Analyze the incoming traffic to see what is working and what not. Google analytics offers an impressive range of features and is for many years now the favorite toolset of most professionals working with website-traffic data. If our marketing is promoting something, we surely want to know which effects we got. By analyzing bounce rates we can find issues in the user experience and improve steady.
Keep in touch with vistors. We will promote a Newsletter signup on FantasticContent.Online to send out news, events and promotions. MailChimp is currently the best free solution for email marketing and offers sophisticated features as a fancy drag and drop designer, automations and analytics for campaigns and A/B testing. It serves as a CRM tool and is surprising flexible in its possibilities. I worked with a lot of companies utelizing MailChimp in totally different scales and I heard very little complains or problems so far. It is a solid choice since a couple of years and adds interesting options for marketing.
We want to build additional revenue streams besides our core product. If FantasticContent.Online has a considerable fanbase, this task is actually quite easy. Our fans like to support us, so some will buy our merchandise products and come to our events, that is where we can get the good profits. In the classic non-digital music business is the real money coming from the concert tours, not so much from the sold records. In the age where we can get everything free anyway, this is clearly more true then ever before. Our content itself needs to be free available to reach a maximum of people, extra services and non-digital goods can be charged. This approach works well for each of the software tools mentioned in this article and can be seen as a proven strategy.
Just a view words to uneffective marketing approaches as classic banner advertising. Ask yourself, when did you actually click the last time on a banner yourself? Most banner ads are blocked away by browser extensions as AdBlock Plus or are simply ignored. To invest money and effort into this is mostly a waste of ressources. It is way better to focus on targeted campaigns in the most popular social media communities, addressing certain groups of interest. People organize themself into groups, so we can use this, find the right circles and get involved.
All tools in this guide seem to be very interesting solutions for a wide range of tasks, actually allowing to build a convinient and professional software base for creative and agile businesses. At the date of posting all the mentioned tools are free to use without time limitations and are tested and used by myself in real-world projects. Not every setup will require every tool, new and better solutions will follow, the idea of this article is to show existing options and opportunities. The follow up articles will shed some light on serveral issues just mentioned quickly here, with more details and practical use-cases.
Stay tuned ….