Freelance consultants, what is your site missing?

I attend a small business/network meeting every 2 weeks in town here, and have been doing some thinking about one thing many of the attendees can do to help increase their business.  Almost of them have some sort of website, but they’re all missing one common thing – a mailing list signup.  Honestly, even my main site doesn’t have that right now, although it probably will in the next few months, but I’m not in a position where I’m currently looking for work/projects – I have too much going on at any one time as it is.

What I do see many people doing is participating on linkedin as a primary form of networking and marketing.  While it doesn’t seem to do much in the software development circles I’m in (correct me if I’m wrong and it works for you!) it does seem to have some impact in other circles.  But I see that impact as limited, because the communication tools linkedin provides are themselves pretty restrictive.

The common approach in our group is for people to periodically post articles they’ve found in to LinkedIn groups, then engage in some discussion.  I get told “I get more views on my profile, I get more visits to my website”.  Great – more visits to the website… but then it stops.  There’s generally no way to capitalize on that *unless* someone needs you right then and there and happens to find your phone number.

If you have a website, adding a mailing list that people can subscribe to will give you permission to reach out to those people on a regular basis.  That may be monthly, or quarterly, or annually.  It doesn’t need to be daily or weekly.

Example: I have some lists I’ve signed up to which are blatant sales pitches every 3-6 months – I’m *fine* with that, because I think I may attend one of those workshops she’s selling next year, but it’s my decision.  Had I not been able to get on a mailing list, she’d have long since been gone from my mind.  Instead, I get these gentle reminders every few months – I bought a book from the same author because of those reminders making her ‘top of mind’ during a crisis last year.

When I talk to people about this, they seem to get that first part – getting some discussion going on linkedin (or maybe facebook), and that usually translates in to some direct traffic to their site, but then it stops.  Set up a mailing list for your website and start capturing some of that potential to be harnessed later.  If you’re not sure how to get started, give me a call at 919-827-4724 and I’ll help you get set up.

Event-driven MVC in ZF – a good match?

zf2_logoI’ve been working with ZF2 some the past several weeks, and have to say it’s a bit odder than I expected.  Beyond the verbosity of the standard directory layouts (“/modules/Foo/src/Foo/Controller/BarController.php”?  really? “views” not being under “src” by default bugs me too…), the ‘event’ system seems to be the preferred way of dealing with things these days.

However, we’re shoving “event-based” architecture with a more traditional web-MVC approach, and it doesn’t *feel* like this is going to be a good marriage.  I may be wrong, of course, and obviously things “work”, as in I can make a request and get a response. It is probably that ZF2 is simply a bit too new still – I’m not seeing a lot of good examples of “best practices” to follow, nor am I seeing a concise list of framework-provided events (googling for “Zf2 core events” wasn’t useful, for example).

Personally, I’ve tended to associate “event driven” with languages and platforms that were long-lived – being able to signal an event to something that was running in memory for hours or days, knowing it would be there after the current request had gone – makes more sense.  Event-driven in a language like PHP feels wrong, although I realize it’s in the context of ZF specifically, not the PHP language.

So…wWhat resources should I be looking at for ‘best practices’, and good examples of using event-driven thinking in MVC?

indieconf 2013 is open

indieconf 2013, the conference for independent web professionals, is open for business!  This is the conference’s fourth year, and we’re trying to keep it a mix of the best of past years along with some new faces and possibly a few new ideas – more to come on those as they roll out.

Our first batch of speakers has been selected and confirmed – we’re confirming another round in the next couple weeks, and should have the final set up by the end of August.

The conference is a one day, 3 track event (this *may* be expanded to a 4th track – we’re working out some feasibility on that) with 21 sessions slated, bringing you motivational, business, financial, legal, marketing and technical sessions to help you succeed as an independent.

Learn more, or get your ticket today!

Recruiters’ missed opportunity

I’ve been looking in to the recruiting industry a little bit recently; specifically, the tech field.  I’m going to suspect that my observations hold true for the wider industry.

Having recently built a job application tracking system (still in early stages, but it’s working for the first level of functionality), I started looking at the emails that I get from recruiters.  Many are obvious form letters, some are a bit more handcrafted.  Many are sent via larger systems – I’m assuming prospect management systems of some sort.  I’m still trying to figure out who the players are, if any, that I can recognize in my emails – is the only one I’ve seen repeatedly.

I was actually more than a little surprised that none of the emails I’ve received have any sort of tracking/analytics code in them.  I’m getting full HTML emails – with extremely bloated HTML to boot, but no tracking whatsoever.  No, I take that back – the ‘opt out’ link is encoded and is tied to me somehow.  So… they know if I opt out of ever getting anything from them again, but they don’t know if I got the mail, did I open it, did I view their website because of it.  All the things you’d think they’d want to know – what subject lines work best, etc.  This seems to be totally missing from the recruiter practices that I’ve seen.  I’m not suggesting it doesn’t happen at all, but I’ve not seen it in the mails I’ve received.  You’d think that having statistics about which types of mails are more likely to be opened would be golden, but maybe not.  Maybe there’s such a ‘fire and forget’ mentality that there’s simply no real incentive?

Why is this?  It’s not that hard to do.  And, honestly, it’s never struck me that the majority of the (tech) recruiting industry is all that concerned about their long term image (I’m speaking as a whole – I know individuals who are great, but the practices of the many often tar the whole industry with a bad brush).


Looking for feedback on job tracking service –

The title says it all – if you are job hunting, or freelance gig hunting, please checkout, and send me some feedback.  This is something I’d meant to build for myself about 8 years ago, and didn’t, and got the urge recently to do this, integrated with gmail.  I added yahoo mail so it wasn’t a gmail-only service, and I may rant about the convolutions of oauth at a later date for fun.

You will notice that the system asks for broad permissins – essentially, you’ll be giving this app unlimited read/write permissions on your gmail or ymail account.  I can’t say how sorry this makes me – neither service give a limited “send-only” or “send X emails” permission – it’s all or nothing.  That said, the code only sends emails you direct it to, so try to not worry too much.   As an added bonus, you should be asked to re-auth often – we don’t get long-lived auth tokens, from what I recall.

So… if you’ve made it this far, what does appliedto do?  Think of it like a CRM for your job search.  Add info about a job that you’re applying for, keep notes for yourself, and send emails (via appliedto directly through your webmail account, hence the need for permissions).  We’ll track which emails were opened and which links were clicked, and how many times, and report on that for you.  I’ll be adding the ability to upload and manage multiple resume files to send along with your emails, and the ability to track downloads/views on those as well.

Other features you’d like to see?  Let me know.  Now… go check out the first version.

Google’s brain teasers don’t work – or so they say

A recent announcement confirms what some of us suspected a while back: brain teaser questions don’t really size up a job applicant very well.  In fact, “We found brainteaser questions a complete waste of time“.

So… brainteaser questions are a waste of time.  Google’s rep went on to say that GPA and test scores were a waste of time (and only requested now for recent graduates).  So what do they claim is the best indicator of an applicant’s potential?  Asking candidates how they solved a difficult real world problem.  Actually, more to the point,

.. this has the added benefit of showing the interviewer what the candidate considers to be a difficult analytical problem “rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up,” says Bock.

As intuitive as it sounds, especially for those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of stupid brainteasers and interviewers ‘just making stuff up’, is it true?

Call me cynical, but why should we trust Google?  They’re in a massive war for talent, and it may very well be that something else works pretty well for them in hiring – are they going to divulge that secret sauce?  I would not be one bit surprised if this is some strategic disinformation meant to cause dozens/hundreds of second and third tier companies to abandon their hiring practices and chase the latest Google bandwagon.

“You’re just being cynical! Of course it’s obvious that asking candidates to describe their past work achievements and how they solved difficult problems is the best way to hire!”  Well, yes, of course, but I was saying that 5 and 10 years ago, but that wasn’t the way the world saw things.  Large (and small) companies jumped on the Google/Microsoft fadwagon, and jumped applicants through hoops that even the hiring managers didn’t always quite understand.  So now we’re being told “no, that doesn’t work, this other approach is better!”.  Well.. it might be, for Google.  Or it might not be.  It’s in Google’s interest to hire the best workers for Google, not to tell everyone else how to hire.  It’s actually in their best interest to have weaker candidates working for competitors, and if they follow this advice, that’s what might happen.

Yes, a common rubric to measure all candidates against is probably an optimal balance.  There are likely many companies that aren’t sophisticated enough (or have the resources) to enact this policy, so in some sense, it doesn’t matter too much if they ‘give away the secrets’.  But many of their competitors for talent do have the resources to follow suit.  And they may be hoping that competitors do just that.

Small catch up

So… I didn’t write much since April.  I took a bit of time off and went to Russia (some pics here – more to come later), and have been finishing up some contracts in May/June, and am now looking for the next thing to sink my teeth in to, so to speak (ping me if you’ve got an interesting project you think I might be a fit for).

We’ve got an interesting talk on PHP’s Composer project slated for our next PHP user group in Raleigh with our very own Jason Grimes – definitely looking forward to this one (come on out if you’re anywhere near the area!)  If you don’t follow Jason already, get to it – he’s got a lot of useful stuff on his blog.

The indieconf conference for web freelancers is coming again this year – still nailing down a date – but the call for presenters is open right now – submit your proposal to present if you’re interested in joining us this year!

It’s hard to believe 2013 is almost half over already!!!

Two way RSS reader?

Been a while since I’ve posted – have migrated some of my recent thinking to Google Plus, but am not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.   It’s great to discover and interact with new people/ideas there, but … you tend to lose yourself over there (both your identity, but also in the sense of getting lost in so much ‘stuff’).

I’ve had an idea for a while about a google+ type aggregator, but only something that aggregates blog owners’ info.  Comments posted there would be posted back to the original blog as well (and blog comments would be seen in the aggregator), but the content would still be housed directly on the individual blog engines.  Would this be useful?

Feels to me like it would be – there are still people that foreswear google+, and other people that foreswear any major social network.  By keeping your content on your blog directly, people can engage with it that way if they choose to, but people who want to consume via an aggregator can do so too.

Thinking about it more, it would almost be like a two-way RSS reader – no, just “two way RSS” – my blog subscribes to the activity from the aggregator, and the aggregator subscribes to the activity from my blog.  I remember reading about Ray Ozzie’s “Two Way RSS” (SSE) back in late 2005 and getting excited, but then nothing coming of it.  This is not (consciously?) where I was inspired from – in fact, I never remember seeing an actual implementation, but the phrase has been in my head for a while, and perhaps this idea is the latest manifestation?


Solution to Detroit’s current problems

Detroit’s been having a tough time of things over the past couple of decades.  Industry closing, people leaving, rotting infrastructure, etc.  They’ve even been taken over by an emergency manager appointed by the state.  The problems are legion, the proposed solutions are all over the place.  My humble proposal is short, and to the point.

A state tax holiday for people living in Detroit.

The specifics may be a bit up for debate (5 years?  10 years?) but at the core of Detroit’s problems is a lack of people, and specifically a lack of young people earning money.  People don’t move *to* Detroit – they move to the suburbs.  Why?  Lower crime may be one reason, but typically the issue is jobs and lower taxes.  You have to pay a city income tax to live in Detroit, on top of state taxes, and federal taxes.  The state has a big interest in getting Detroit in the right direction – instead of being a resource drain.  So… the state should give a tax holiday to anyone living in Detroit for, say, 5 or 10 years.

There are people who would move in to the Detroit city limits immediately to save a thousands of dollars in state income tax.  Detroit would get income tax from those people to help fund the city improvements that are needed for those areas.  The state would lose revenue from those people, but would, over the long haul, be required to spend less to sort out Detroit’s problems and prop them up when necessary – the residents themselves would be doing so.

More people moving to Detroit in the short term would probably mean more commuting – people may drive to Royal Oak or Ferndale for their jobs, but live in Detroit for the tax savings.  But over time, more people living in the Detroit city limits would mean more demand for businesses and jobs to locate in those borders as well.

Why should *businesses* get tax abatements and deals to move in to Detroit (or any city) but not residents?  Detroit needs more residents than it does businesses.  The more residents that it has, the more businesses will follow to serve those residents.  An extra 50,000 people living in an area of Detroit should be enough to get some Kroger stores to open up to serve those residents, right?

Yes, this is overly simplistic, but it’s also something that shouldn’t require a lot of planning.  People fell over backwards trying to take advantage of the ‘new home buyer credit’ a few years back, which essentially just saved them a few thousand dollars one time, while generally saddling them with huge mortgages.  People move to states at least in part because of income tax codes (obviously not always, but for many people it’s a factor).  Detroit needs active, productive people to live there.  Give them an incentive to do so and I believe they will.

Convert docx to pdf on OSX

A client needed a way to batch convert DOCX files to PDFs on a Mac, and I poked around for a few minutes and came up with this:

/Applications/ –headless –convert-to pdf:writer_pdf_Export –outdir ~/Documents/ ~/Documents/*docx

This was largely inspired by this post, but LibreOffice is still referred to as ‘soffice.bin’ on OSX (at least, my versions) so this will be easier to copy/paste for me, my client, and others who are searching for this in the future.