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InnovaBuzz Episode #61 – Diane Kinney of The Versatility Group

Diane Kinney of The Versatility Group

Diane Kinney of The Versatility Group

In this episode, my guest is Diane Kinney of the Versatility Group and also co-author with Carrie Dils, of the book “Real World Freelancing: The No Bullsh*t Survival Guide”.    We talked about a range of topics from goal focused solution engineering, as Diane called it, to value adding and being a partner to your client, the great SEO myth, project management and content generation.  Diane emphasised that there is no “EASY BUTTON”, so to find out more, listen to the podcast.

Listen to the Podcast

Bring people to you, give them service and BE a partner. @dkinney on #InnovaBuzz Click To Tweet

Show Highlights

Some of the highlights of this episode with Diane Kinney of the Versatility Group include:

  • To move from “Freelancer” to a business that is more sustainable and value oriented, look to partner with your clients, understand their business and their systems and always add value.
  • Every project needs to have a clearly defined goal. Often we begin with solutions, eg a website, a brochure, email marketing. Begin with a goal and focus on what the outcome looks like, then work out what is the best solution.
  • Getting to No 1 on Google is the most ridiculous premise! It’s much more important to have a plan and process in place for what happens when people land on your website – what do you want them to do? Make that easy.
  • Project management is a process – it’s not about the tool! You can project manage virtually anything with any kind of tool, as long as there is a sound process in place.
  • Document your processes independent of the tools. Tools might change or go away.
  • Businesses often underestimate how difficult they will find it to generate content for their website, brochures and marketing. Yet, content provides huge potential in particular in the digital marketing space.
Clear systems and processes: a sign of a business, that is mature and sustainable. @dkinney on… Click To Tweet

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Diane’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.

  • #1 thing to be more innovative – Systems and processes. So you can relieve your brain from repetitive busy work to innovation.
  • Best thing for new ideas – Get away from my desk. The best ideas come to you when you’re not seeking them.
  • Favourite tool for innovation – My phone.
  • Keep project / client on track – Keep yourself on track!
  • Differentiate – Find a way to add value. Be of service.

To Be a Leader

Be generous. Because if you help other people and be of service, other people will help you.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Diane via The Versatility Group website, her personal blog and Twitter.

Suggested Guest

Diane suggested I interview Brian Krogsgard, who is the publisher of Post Status, on a future InnovaBuzz podcast.  So, Brian keep an eye on your inbox, for an invitation from me to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Diane Kinney.

Links

SEO - there's no easy button. @dkinney on #InnovaBuzz Click To Tweet

Full Transcript

Click to Read…

Intro:

Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 61 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation become even more innovative.

In this episode, my guest is Diane Kinney of the Versatility Group and also co-author with Carrie Dils, of the soon to be released book “Real World Freelancing: The No Bullsh*t Survival Guide”.

This was a fascinating interview where we talked about a range of topics from goal focused solution engineering, as Diane called it, to value adding and being a partner to your client, the great SEO myth, project management and content generation. Diane also coined the phrase “No EASY button!”, which I love, so, without further ado, let’s fly into the Hive and get the Buzz from Diane Kinney.

Interview:

Jürgen:
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz and I’m really honored to have with me today on this episode of the InnovaBuzz podcast from Sarasota in Florida, Diane Kinney of the Versatility Group, a boutique web design company. I’m really looking forward to this interview. Carrie Dils suggested that we get you on the podcast Diane, so a big shout out to Carrie while we’re here. And welcome to the podcast!

Diane:
Thank you for having me.

Jürgen:
It’s a privilege to have you on the InnovaBuzz podcast. Now you’ve written a book with Carrie called ‘Real World Freelancing,’ right? It’s the No B.S. survival guide to starting your freelancing business. And that’s going to launch soon, isn’t it?

Diane:
Yes, 6 to 8 weeks. We are in the final stages of finishing that up.

Jürgen:
Excellent. Okay. And we’ll link to the website for that in the show notes of course and I look forward to hearing a little bit more about that.

So before we start talking about websites, the Internet, freelancing and all that kind of stuff and innovation, let’s find out a bit more about you as a person and your background, so when you were a young kid, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Diane:
I wanted to be an artist.

Jürgen:
As a painter or..?

Diane:
[chuckles] Probably. I was very into making things. When I was in third grade I had designed a coordinated shoe collection.

Jürgen:
Ahhhh. Okay. [chuckles]

Diane:
Sketchbook, platforms, flats and snickers, you know ultimate detail and I was always really into things like that. I was also what they refer to as “a gifted child”, so always in the advanced courses and things.

Jürgen:
Yeah

Diane:
There was this kind of this dynamic with me growing up with kind of an indulgence and I was always told I needed to focus on maximizing my talents.

Jürgen:
Yeah. I remember going through some of that with my kids. So did you realize that art wasn’t really a future for you or what prompted the change?

Diane:
Well, I was just lucky enough to have natural gifts academically. And so I was very strong academically and I was really encouraged parentally and at school to pursue either pre-med and pre-engineering, something along those lines. So I actually entered college as a pre-med. I didn’t stay that way though [laugh].

Jürgen:
So how long did it take for you to discover it wasn’t for you?

Diane:
Until about that second dissection in biology. I was like, ‘Uh, no way!’ [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
This is not something that.. I mean I can’t even cut up dead things! I’m certainly not going to be, you know, cutting into live things. That made one thing very clear – that pre-med wasn’t for me.

It’s very easy for me to be interested in everything. So you can kind of put something out there and it can be more on liberal arts side, writing, and I thoroughly enjoy that. And it can be more on the complex engineering and mathematics side and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

I did not have a clear beacon or calling. I think I had several different majors during my college career and ended up graduating with a degree in liberal arts which is really the giant catch all when you can’t decide what you want to be when you grow up.

Jürgen:
[laugh] Okay. So you finally did have an Arts degree.

Diane:
Yeah I kinda did.

Jürgen:
You’re sort of an artist.

Diane:
Yes exactly. And then I worked a lot even as a little kid like eleven years old, I had a paper route. I was a prolific babysitter and had jobs through school. I had this idea already while I was in college that instead of working at fast food or another low paying job, maybe I could get more of a part time corporate job that would pay more and that’s what I did and so I had a part time data entry job in the insurance industry. I spent the first 10 or 12 years, I think, of my career in progressive roles in the insurance industry.

Jürgen:
So was that when you discovered the internet then with the data entry stuff?

Diane:
Yeah. I started working with computers before there was an Internet, showing my age to the maximum, and had a strong affinity for that. We worked to a lot of things and mainframe computers from a work standpoint you could do a lot of scripting. You’re really on your own in those days in terms of if you wanted any kind of efficiency or to do things creatively you really needed to learn to do those things on your own and so I did a lot of that and it was really fun, really making things happen with something that I enjoyed.

The concept of figuring out how to do something efficiently like a mail merge when you had to do it without a tool with code or how to create a simple databases. I worked at an insurance company early in my career in the claims department and the entire structure was managed by this giant black binder with white pages in and my boss would take a bottle of white-out and carefully white-out the status of a claim like “new” and she would white that out and then she would very carefully write in “active.” [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
And then she’d go down the next twenty items and white it out and then she’d write “pending” and I said, ‘You know there’s a really cool way we could do this and you wouldn’t have to do that whiting out.’ Those are the kind of things that always interested me as a recurring theme was just, can we innovate a little bit? Can we move forward? Can we make things more efficient?

And that has really been the theme I guess that has crossed everything I’ve done career wise. Of course that got kind of larger and larger and started to move beyond the scope of white-out sheets [laugh].

Jürgen:
Yeah, that’s right.[laugh] Well I won’t tell you about my first computing experience because that will really let out my age in big way, but I do remember using a typewriter and white out to write reports. The idea of moving a claim from “received” to “active” to “pending” whatever other stages there are and just thinking about using something like Trello and moving it across the columns. [laugh]

Diane:
Yeah we’ve come a long way and in a relatively short period of time.[chuckles]

Jürgen:
That’s right yeah. So the Versatility Group you head up, that has been going about 13 years, right?

Diane:
I think we’re probably closer to 17 or 18 at this point.

Jürgen:
Oh, okay.

Diane:
Yeah.

Jürgen:
Just getting it from your website..

Diane:
Yeah. Our website is probably a little out of date. [laugh]

Jürgen:
Oh, okay. [laugh] Was that your first foray into your own business?

Diane:
It really was. I spent most of the first part of my career moving in the insurance industry from a part time data entry. I became the V.P. of Operations for a large publicly traded insurance company and then a V.P. of Application Development for that same insurance company and those were very interesting and successful ventures but an interesting thing happened in corporate jobs is that you move in the organization and especially as you near the very top the work becomes very abstract.

So I had gotten to a point where I didn’t necessarily work in a hands-on way. I spent most of my time doing budget forecasting, performance reviews and personnel development and these really much more abstract concepts which is enjoyable for a while but I had a strong desire to get… I really like to be hands-on to some degree. I don’t ever want to be so removed that I can’t look at code and know what it does or really understand actively what’s happening in the principles of design or user interface.

I just like to do things. So that kind of coincided with the DotCom Mania that was going on here in Silicon Valley and I had a friend out there who said you should come out here. And do this with me. I was like, “Okay.” [laugh]

Why not? Just pick up sticks and go to California and be a be a DotCom consultant for a while and so I was fortunate in that I was working with a company that was successfully sold. It was a Women’s Financial Network that was sold to a brokerage in New York. It was one of the more successful, you know, DotCom pathways, they didn’t go bust. So that was a really neat experience

And that kind of convinced me maybe I could… We didn’t so much think of it as freelancing or necessarily owning your own business at that time. It was really more of a consulting role where companies would bring you in for your expertise to solve a particular problem that they were having, maybe a development project was stalled or they didn’t have the best project management practices. So I kind of started out that way as a consultant and I travelled pretty heavily and had a young daughter during this DotCom.

The end of my corporate career and the DotCom time was as a consultant and so I was really kind of tired and wanted to see if I could make a go of staying a little bit more in one place and working in that model and so that’s really the beginning of the Versatility Group and the idea that I had an unusual background with my corporate experience and could I apply that to website projects and marketing initiatives. Maybe on a slightly more modest scale than working with household name companies and so that’s what I did.

Jürgen:
That’s fascinating. It’s an interesting journey. It sort of reminds me a little bit of my own journey – I listened to a podcast that you did a little while ago and it was interesting. I thought I need to ask you about this. So you’ve written a book with Carrie called “Real World Freelancing” but on this podcast, you said, ‘I don’t like the word freelancing.’ Really we should be more consultants and also you went on to talk about adding more value to a client when you’re doing web design.

Diane:
Absolutely. I do not care for the word freelancing at all unless that’s what you really intend. I think freelancing has a very specific meaning and I think if we’re honest about it, the history of the word is someone who does not have a relationship. You’re a freelancer so you’re going to come in when you want to, you’re going to look at a very specific thing and in a very defined way, here’s a piece of code that needs to be written or function that needs to be accomplished and then you’re going to level which is one model. But I don’t think it’s the model that most people who call themselves freelancers aspire to, they really are talking about building a business and reputation and adding value and there’s also a lot of conversation. You know about race to the bottom and pricing friction and positioning yourself is part of that issue.

If you self-identify as a freelancer, just a hired gun who’s going to be coming in, that doesn’t open the door for conversations about how you can be a strategic partner to a client or just the word consultant and the word freelancer have had different implied meanings to people so we went ahead and named our book, Freelancing because it was a considered decision, because that’s the word people use, but part of my mission is to help move them away from that word – if what they want to do is something more sustainable and more value oriented.

Jürgen:
Hmmmmnnn.. It sounds interesting and I look forward to reading the book. [laugh] So a couple of the things you said on that particular podcast, I thought, it’s really a good advice and I certainly want to explore that some more, in terms of being that partner to the client and being a consultant rather than just building a website for them. The website is the core of.. it’s a digital marketing tool. The website is at the core of that, but you might like to tell us a little bit more about how you work at the Versatility Group and what you do. My recollection was you talking about immersing yourself in the business of the client, really understanding it, and then really it being more strategic consulting project as opposed to building a website or join my mailing list or whatever it might be.

Diane:
Absolutely! Every project that I get involved in, the initial conversation is around goals and the project could be fairly specific and defined. I’ve done a lot of diverse things like complete interpretive signage plan for a botanical garden for example. Nothing digital.

Jürgen:
Okay, yeah

Diane:
So I think of these projects as – what’s the goal. So every project has a goal or multiple goals and I think a website, for example is a solution. A brochure is a solution. Email marketing is a solution, but before you get to a solution, you should have goals and you should have an understanding of what I think of as a problem and not a problem in a negative sense but what are we trying to change, what are we trying to shift. Are we’re trying to grow awareness, are we trying to sell something? Are we trying to improve communication or an experience? So it’s been really great for me in terms of a career path to be able to work in all these different areas of what I consider marketing, in print media, digital media, signage, experiences, different things because I feel like they’re all for me at least have common threads.

We’re trying to identify some type of path and then we want to move down that path. You know whether that’s growing revenues or maybe you see expenses, you don’t hear this talked about much, but a huge opportunity for businesses is efficiency and reduction of expenses, so if your online tools for example can help with that which in many businesses they can or we’ve done projects where we’ve made stronger integration between the website and the internal processes, that you don’t see, so data is coming in and it’s going into internal systems that are doing pre-quoting and pre-estimating and doing work that was done manually letting staff and resources focus more perhaps on sales or closing that a lot of administrative and clerical work.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Diane:
That’s the space that I enjoy where moving a needle in some way and getting a measurable result and it almost doesn’t matter what vertical that’s in or what form it takes. It’s really solution engineering that I enjoy.

Jürgen:
Yeah I love that. I like the term too – solution engineering, because what I like to do is get the client in the mindset of what’s the end goal look like. Let’s start with the in the mind so what’s it going to be when it’s done. And then work backwards which is essentially what you’re talking about there and looking at what’s the solution to the problem, what’s the success picture going to look like and then we figure out the strategy and the tools to get there. Also I like what you said that it’s essentially a process. There’s so many commonalities so it can be applied across the board. It doesn’t matter what vertical.

Diane:
Yeah it’s been a really interesting process to watch. Of course because I can remember when there was no Internet, right? [laugh]

Jürgen:
Yeah [laugh]

Diane:
So then we went through the first phase where there were these new fangled things called websites. Nobody really knew why they needed one.

Jürgen:
But they needed one.

Diane:
They needed one. Everybody has one so I need one, so then everybody got a website. Pretty much. There was definitely a point in time where this business shifted from mostly building new website to now that’s pretty uncommon, unless it’s a new business or new venture, but most established businesses have some online presence. So it changed the conversation from, ‘Let me talk about this new idea online’ to ‘How do we make your online presence effective?’ And I think that’s still the topic now.

There’s a lot of shift, but I don’t think that the concept of goal driven design or conversion, padding and things like that are necessarily well understood by business which makes sense because it’s not their primary business, but I think we as consultants and professionals can play a big role in helping frame those conversations. When a visitor comes to your website, what potential outcomes do you want to see happen?

When you think about those outcomes, what are the steps, let’s break that down into steps like what kind of steps do you see making that happen and how can you put together content and pathways to make that happen perhaps more effectively than just doing the exact same website that everybody else has? [chuckles]

Jürgen:
Yeah that’s right. And it’s interesting because you said earlier that it used to be, everybody just wanted a website and wasn’t even sure what it was going to do for them. I remember when I first started my business and I happened to have really bad timing because that was just the time when the global financial crisis hit and lot of businesses were really cutting back on their spending and so I was trying to pitch based on my corporate experience – consultancy around a lot of the things you’ve been talking about and usually I would get the response of “we’re putting those sort of initiatives on hold right now, we’re pulling back our costs to see if we can ride out this crisis” and so on and then they’d nearly always add at the end of that “but we don’t have a website yet. Do you think you could do a website?” Now I’d done some big websites in my corporate days, but it wasn’t what I intended to do in the business and then suddenly I realized that people were cutting back on costs on all the things that were probably important and going to have an impact on them, but this thing called a website, that they didn’t understand and they didn’t know what it was going to do for their business, they’re quite prepared to spend money on that.

Diane:
Exactly

Jürgen:
So my response was “Alright, I will build your website.” And that was my entré into doing all the things that I really wanted to do for them, which was delivering them more clients as the final end result and so that’s what the website business became.

Diane:
Exactly my experience as well. The website seems act as a bit of a, even in large organizations where you have disparate department and different budgets and initiatives, kind of complex from a strategic standpoint they still will come together, not necessarily easily but they will still come together around their visible public presence.

It is a great tool to focus on. A lot of times you think it would be halfway or further down strategic planning but starting with that, okay we can as long as we’re starting somewhere.

Jürgen:
Yeah

Diane:
And we can work backwards. We can work forwards from there. We can look at integrations. We can look at lead generation. As long as we start somewhere. So that’s that’s been my experience as well.

Jürgen:
It’s fascinating. And I also heard you talking, might have been on the same podcast, about SEO. You are certainly debunking that myth and I wrote an article or a blog post, probably must be going back three or four years now, and I just got so frustrated one day about everybody saying I’m not on page one. I’m not number one on Google. I want to be number one. Can’t you do something? So I wrote this article to say ‘Well you’ve got to do something.’ And there’s no magic bullet and here’s what you do. You have to have a website that’s going to be talking to the right audience and it was it’s fascinating to me because even today I still get those requests or I get somebody come to me and say, ‘Oh I just hit number one on Google’ and my response is usually, ‘Well congratulations. Has it made any difference? Or did it get you any business?’

Or I’ll get twenty or so emails a week saying. ‘Oh, we found your website. We really like your website but we noticed you’re not number one on Google’ and I say, ‘Well I am actually, for the keyword I want to be ranking for and for my target audience.’ What were you looking at? [chuckles]

Diane:
Yeah. It’s the most frustrating set of beliefs, right? You have this cycle that’s perpetuated by, I think of them as predatory businesses, right?

Jürgen:
Yeah

Diane:
Yeah, give us a couple hundred dollars a month and we’re going to make you number one on Google and it’s the most ridiculous premise. It’s impossible. It makes no sense but yet people buy into this over and over again and there is some movement in some conversations that I’ve had, to greater understanding – the beginning of it – but there is still that number one on Google. Here’s a list of words I want to be number one in Google for – well this is a problem from so many directions. You want to be number one in Google for these words and then what next? What next?

So a person types that word theoretically into the search engine. Hopefully if you’re a local business which in many cases there is localization, that they are actually close to you and they land on this page about me. Let’s say your IT services that you offer, networking and phone systems, is kind of a regional thing. So what happens next?

The entire thought process with that whole thing stops with, ‘I want to be number one on Google.’ And I’m not even sure sometimes that they think about what happens, that the person is going to bring up a page on their website. It’s just I want to be number one on Google.

So what do you do, what is your plan after that? Do you want them to join your mailing list? Do you want them to request a proposal? Do you want them to read more about your company? Do you want them to review the services that you offer? I always start to go down this you know conversational path and I often get kind of that open mouth response like, ‘I’m supposed to choose?’

‘Yes you are you are! You are supposed to make a plan.’ [laugh]

Jürgen:
I tell this story and it dawned on me when this happened to me, that it is a metaphor. It was a few years ago, I was I was buying some jeans and went into one of these big department stores and had a look around, found a pair that I liked. I went and tried them on, fitted beautifully, so I thought that’s good. And then I came back out. I decided to buy those but there was nobody around in the store.

Diane:
Right.

Jürgen:
And there were no signs to indicate where the cash registers were. I couldn’t see anything, people to serve me or anything and in the end I just gave up in frustration, put the jeans back on the shelf and walked back out. So I tell people that story and I say that’s what happens with 80% percent or probably 90% of websites. People find them. They’re looking for something. They get there and they want to do something on that website but they don’t know how to do it. It’s not made easy for them so they leave and they go somewhere else.

Diane:
Exactly.

Jürgen:
So if you think about , ‘Okay, I was number one on Google, so somebody found my department store and went and tried to buy jeans, but then left because I didn’t make it easy for them to buy them.

Diane:
One of the things I think it’s so easy for people to do is the single biggest flaw if you’re so close into your own business, you lose complete perspective, right?

Jürgen:
Mhmmnnnn

Diane:
You believe that you have this deep knowledge like let’s say an ecommerce store. You have a deep knowledge of your own product line. You know what you sell. You know what your shipping policies are. You know what your refund policy is. You know all these things and you know them so deeply and so clearly that you can’t even envision not knowing them.

So you have to find a way, with the help of the consultant or somebody that has an outside perspective. I had a really interesting conversation with a sign company a few years ago. I was working on a project that involved purchasing a lot of different signage and in the signage industry you have different substrates, different materials, different installation and it’s complicated. It’s not even just a matter of how much does the sign cost, but there’s layers of ‘Is this legible in certain conditions, like is it a lit sign? Is it a monument sign? Is it electrical hookup? All kinds of stuff, right?

So I’m talking to the sign company that I’m using, because I have to call them all the time and ask them questions. And I said, wouldn’t it be interesting if your website provided a little more guidance for me, so that when I know I want this type of sign, not that I would even necessarily buy it online, but to educate me that the best sign for this corner for a semi-permanent installation. where there’s kind of wind conditions is probably one of these four types. Here are things you should look at, but I’ve not to this day encountered a sign company website that did anything like that.

They list their product offerings, if you’re lucky. In jargon, in the inside industry words that don’t necessarily translate to non-sign people.

They don’t give you any clues what you may be looking for and I know people think that there may be is a potential benefit of making people call you but there’s really not. I would happily be able to get twice as far with my work or my choices because you helped me and then ultimately place an order with you. Forcing me to call you so you can sell me or follow up with me, that’s not a modern relationship. It’s not the kind of relationship I want to have with you as a vendor. I want to give you business. But I want to work on my terms and what works for me not what works for you and I don’t think there’s enough of that thought process. I feel like many business owners that I talk to are very close to their business, insider lingo, and think about how they want to do business with customers not how customers want to do business with them.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice and I think the idea of having essentially all the information that customers may ask, questions of a business, having that easily found on the website is a very powerful tool. Not only does it establish a relationship. It positions you. You talked about positioning earlier. It positions that sign company as the authority in their field and it educates their clients. They’re not trying to sell them, they’re trying to give them the best solution. And it saves time as well because the people on the phone answering the questions, they’re probably answering the same questions day in and day out.

Diane:
Absolutely.

Jürgen:
The questions can be answered on the website, positioning the business as the authority, positioning them as the most helpful sign company that’s on the Internet and then people will phone up, when they’re ready to buy, so that the whole focus of the time and energy that people taking phone calls at the business, can be spent on actually building the relationships, making the sale and making sure that they deliver a good solution.

Diane:
Exactly. The decisions to do business with someone isn’t based on someone like knocking you with a mallet into doing it. You don’t think we’re just going to hammer you into buying our signs.

It’s like bring people to you, give them service and that idea of being a partner. When you want to think about long term relationships with anybody, anybody that’s in the service business. It could be a plumber. It could be a roofer. It could be a sign vendor. There are very few things that you only use once in life and there are very few things that you’re not asked for a recommendation by friends or family or other people. So being of service and being a relationship type vendor is a really, really important thing to think about and then really how do you translate that? In a digital world it can be done. But I don’t think it’s being number one on Google. [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
It’s just not it.

Jürgen:
I was just about to go back there and so I think it’s kind of a big contrast, isn’t it? And also I read all these e-mails that I tend to get and I say, ‘Well you obviously haven’t done any research’ because they’re not even speaking to what do you want to rank for.

Diane:
Right exactly.

Jürgen:
And maybe I want to rank for websites that dominate the world. I’m never going to rank number one on that. So they’re making just a promise straight out there. It’s ridiculous and then for those people who genuinely believe, okay, it’s important to get to number one. If you thought about the audience that you want to reach because what happens if you get to number one for clown suits, does that sell you more signs?

Diane:
Right exactly and the concept it’s like there’s no easy button. We learned that a long time ago, right?

Jürgen:
Yeah

Diane:
There’s a certain amount of work involved with anything that’s actually successful. What someone said, ‘If somebody comes here, if they came to you in another format right and said, ‘I can double your investment overnight or I can do this or I can do that,’ you would immediately say, ‘Hmnnn..This doesn’t sound likely.’

Jürgen:
Yeah if it’s too good to be true…

Diane:
Maybe you need to say to yourself, getting a random email from someone and boy, I mean does that take you down a bad path? In the best case you’re wasting money, but in the worst case you may be giving access to your website to somebody who really just shouldn’t be making those kinds of changes or we saw a lot of those back link penalty things. I think it’s a huge issue. I’ve seen people, clients wooed away by this. Five hundred dollars a month will put you number one on Google or actually we’ll just destroy your website for you. [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh] Yeah this is fascinating stuff. So you also said somewhere that talking about project management and I do have a question in the Buzz around this but I really like what you said here and it’s true not only of project management, maybe SEO is an example of that. We talk about a tool for project management, is it Teamwork or Asana or Trello, but it’s actually a process – until we get the process right, the tool is pretty useless.

Diane:
Absolutely.

Jürgen:
I really like that philosophy.

Diane:
I think that’s probably another message that I would like to really work on this year. I see it happen over and over again, where there’s so many conversations about project management and the immediate responses, ‘What do you use?’ ‘I use,’ ‘What do you use?’ ‘I use’

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
And it’s completely irrelevant. Completely irrelevant. You can project manage virtually anything with any kind of tool and it’s really a matter of looking at this, ‘Is it a business process that you’re focusing on?’ Because there’s a lot of different models, right? You might be a web development agency or you might be kind of a new media company, right that’s creating training courses and different things which is a completely different potentially series of steps and tasks, but they all are going to have themes in common and from project management perspective, I would be more inclined to look at things like, ‘What are the volume of tasks that you’re managing; over what period of time? What type of resources are involved? Is it a small team that’s all internal to a company? Is it a diverse team of core and contractors type models?

You really need to start at the beginning and think about ‘Is this a one of?’ I need to start a company say, that’s a project but that company is only starting for certain period of time. At some point you move from starting, to a sustainable operation and its operations management at that point. It’s not finding real estate. It’s not wiring up internet networking anymore, so you really need to think about what are you trying to accomplish, what kind of systems do you want to put in place, short term, long term.

They’re finding a tool that’s going to work well for you and your team as a whole. But I really think we overemphasize the tools. I think you could get to a good result with almost any tool that’s out there today. Some might be more enjoyable than others but that is not the key thing to focus on.

Jürgen:
Hmnnnn.. And also if you get the process, the way it works for you, (I’m not trying to avoid the word right because there’s no right way, it’s a process that will work for certain situations or certain people with certain teams) then once you have a certain process then there might be a tool that is better suited to that process than another tool

Diane:
Exactly.

Jürgen:
It’s like a lot of people choose the tool and then try to figure out a process, rather the other way around.

Diane:
Right. And I think it’s really important to document and work through your processes, independently of tools because you may change tools at some point. Tools may go away but if your intention is to be a sustainable organisation, no matter what size, there really should be documents, even if it’s a one person undertaking. How much easier is it to pull up your checklist, that you use for example, like this podcast, that there’s a series of steps you go through? Religiously! You don’t really need to think about them every time, you’ve done it for a while, you know what the best way to do it is, you know what’s most efficient and you write that down. Then you follow that process and once you make things efficient and repeatable, then you have them captured somewhere and the beauty of capturing them I think is, I mean I only have so many brain cells to go around!

How much easier is for me to just pick up a list I did and say, ‘Oh yeah, Diane follow this list.’ Then, ‘Oh how? Wait, wait, what? Did I? I don’t remember exactly what I did to do this.’

But the other beauty about that is it can be shared. It can be shared with a partner. It can be shared with a V.A. It can be shared with a contractor. It just is one of the things that as a sign of a business, that is getting mature and sustainable, are systems and processes I think.

Jürgen:
Okay, so that little recommendation there was worth listening to this entire podcast for on its own so thank you for doing that. It’s excellent and I do have a very well documented process for the podcast as well as many other things. We’re still working on a few. You’re right, one of the things I like to say and you’re talking earlier about being an artist and being creative and liking to build things – that require some sort of brain cells as you put it. So if those brain cells a cluttered up with having to remember how to do repetitive tasks and repetitive processes, then you’re not going to have them available for being creative and making things.

Diane:
Absolutely yeah.

Jürgen:
It makes things a lot more fun as well. And like you say it can be given to other people. So that’s just great advice.

All right, so in terms of the Versatility Group, what are the biggest challenges you face within your own business internally?

Diane:
I think the big classic challenge is probably content within a project and it’s not even and this is a topic that fascinates me because I wonder if we’ll actually ever get to a solution. And I’m starting to think maybe not because I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s been an interesting arc.

In the beginning of course, with those early websites, a lot of them were fairly light on content. You know and now as the media has become richer, content is deeper. If you want to be optimized for search engines, there’s some thought process on that and I think the single most challenging thing, I think it’s more prevalent in small and medium sized projects possibly, than larger projects. Larger projects have different challenges but I still think it’s very, very hard for customers even when told content is a lot of work and it’s going to take you a considerable amount of time to put your content together. And there’s solutions. A lot of time you hear people say well if you hired a copywriter. Well a copywriter doesn’t necessarily know anything about the business.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Diane:
And can’t help shape at least that initial content. So this is one of the things that I think is building more and more time into projects for content consulting, because I always have conversations where people are like, ‘No problem. That is not a problem.’ [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
Because a few years ago I became very straightforward about this. We can, yes, do this project in X time but you will not have your content ready in that time. ‘Oh we will. We will.’ ‘No, no you won’t.’ [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh]

Diane:
I know you you believe you will, but you won’t. Because you’ve got a business to run and you’ve already got a full time job.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Diane:
And it is not realistic and it sounds simpler than it is. I would like to figure out some new ideas in this area. I hear the same thing and I’ve been guilty in the past of saying the same thing over and over, like you need to get all the content before the project started. I don’t think that is necessarily valid.

You need some amount of content before the project starts, hopefully, because you need some baseline. But I’m a big believer in designing content. So if I don’t know what your content is or you dump it all into an empty shell of a website that I’ve already built. The models we use today aren’t great. They’re not great and I’m working on , just trying and experimenting with keeping things a little bit looser getting some content and doing some design in the browser, so people can see the potential of what could be and there’s probably more content work that needs to come after that. And so probably my biggest area of challenge and interest is how can you cost effectively, without driving yourself crazy, do the best possible job in supporting clients with their content.

Jürgen:
Yeah I just kept writing notes while you were talking, because that’s definitely my experience as well. Content is always the thing that holds up the website build and clients will say, ‘If you can do the website in four or six weeks, we’ll have the content ready for you.’

Diane:
Right.

Jürgen:
Hang on, there’s about fifteen to twenty pages of stuff here. So yeah I’ve been doing experiments around that too and like you, I haven’t really come across a solution yet. What we’re doing at the moment with mixed results, is very early on in a website project, we run content sessions, content strategy sessions and I’m trying to refine the questions I ask so essentially, I’ve got probably two hours worth of questions. And I interview the client or the clients and record that and then we take that and mix and match. So my thinking there is that one of the downsides of using a copywriter is that even if they understand the business, if they take the time to understand the business and then what they’re writing sounds like they know the business as well, they don’t really capture the voice of that business or you know the business owner. They don’t capture their character and I think the website should be really, a reflection of the culture and the character and the personality of that business.

Diane:
Very much and I think the other challenge that the copywriter, kind of answer, doesn’t solve is, as you elicit ideas around content, there are a lot of different forms, even visually content can take, so grid or cards versus text on a page versus lists or different things. One of the challenges I find interesting is, even if they have something today, once you really have a conversation with them, maybe there’s a library of specialized white papers that’s part of this organization and they’ve just been PDF links on the website. We have to take a step back and think about, is that really, really what we should be doing with this?

Jürgen:
Mhhhhhmmnn

Diane:
Is that the best way to surface this content? Is that findable, discoverable?
Does it tell people enough what it’s about? That’s just one small example potentially.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Diane:
You kind of are in this situation where people are investing money with you to give them the best possible product. At least that’s really important to me. For whatever that project is, I’d like to do the best job for them possible and so far there isn’t a process around content and all those questions and kind of the iterative nature of it that lets you quickly and cost effectively do great content work and I don’t think clients really focus that much on great content work because they don’t know what the potential is. So their question is, ‘Can you have a new website for us in six weeks.?’

And yes, conceptually, maybe if you can get your content together. But even that type of thinking does not necessarily account for potential – what really could be. If you were looking for maybe the best outcome and not fastest. So I think that’s just a very interesting entire topic to see what we can do and innovate in that space and ease a lot of the pain today on both sides. The web shops of the world are like, ‘Ahhh content’ and the clients are like, ‘Ahhh my web developer’ but this friction exists for a reason, that’s neither party’s exact fault. It’s kind of a process and innovation problem.

Jürgen:
That’s right. Well look that’s a fascinating discussion. And it’s something I’d love to follow up with you at some point, but I’m looking at the clock here. I’m really enjoying this discussion, but I think it’s time we move on to the Buzz which is our innovation around and it’s designed to help our audience who are innovators and leaders in their field with some tips from your experience. I’ve got five questions that I’m going to ask and hopefully we will get some really insightful answers to inspire people to go away and do something awesome as a result.

What’s the number one thing anyone needs to do to be more innovative?

Diane:
Systems and processes. So you can relieve your brain from repetitive busy work to innovation.

Jürgen:
I love it! Yes. That’s great advice.
What’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas or new products?

Diane:
Get away from my desk. Shower, walk, sit by the lake. The best ideas come to you when you’re not seeking them.

Jürgen:
Okay, yeah

Diane:
I’ve tried many times to think of something and by really moving away from your work environment, makes you far more creative.

Jürgen:
So giving and giving yourself space if you like.

Diane:
Definitely.

Jürgen
What’s your favourite tool or system for improving productivity and allowing you to be more innovative?

Diane:
Probably my phone. I have a larger phone now and I can do you so much on my phone. I can dictate right into Google Docs. I can use project management tools. I can do a lot of work that’s necessary but not super valuable and just kind of knock it out in between different things and I think that has been one of the really, really cool things for me in the last couple years.

Jürgen:
Yeah, that’s great advice and reminds me, I discovered this app for Android which is a dictation app. The accuracy of that is absolutely fabulous and I use it to speak German as well. So I can switch languages on that. And it’s about 99% accurate in both languages, so I’ve started using the phone more and more, like you say, as a tool to do some of these things that normally I’d get back on the computer on the keyboard for.

Diane:
Exactly. I found that I don’t know exactly why but when I dictate into a Google doc, if you install Google Docs on your phone and use the microphone, it’s just very straight forward dictation and it’s really, really accurate. And I don’t know why it’s more accurate than other things I’ve tried because I’ve tried a lot of different things but it is very accurate and I’ve done a fair amount of that with the book, where I can just kind of talk to my phone and then go back and work on that text, then work on that copy later, which is very helpful.

Jürgen:
Okay, phone as a favorite tool.
What’s the best way to keep a project or a client on track?

Diane:
Keep yourself on track! I think, I really believe that it starts with you. We have a little bit of a culture where sometimes there’s some abdication of personal responsibility. Like the project is off track, well a project is not alive and the client is not in charge. So if things are off track, it honestly is because you let them get off track and I know that sounds kind of harsh, but it’s really the truth. And you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for how you do things and so really for me if something goes off track, which things do all the time, it’s really a matter of looking at the situation and not beating yourself up, but saying, ‘What could I do differently to be more proactive about this?’

That might be in your proposals, your contract, your day to day communication and how you on board people, how you set expectations, but the single biggest way to keep improving is to be really honest with yourself and not blame the client or abstract entity, ‘Oh this project is driving me crazy.’ Projects are not a sentient being. [laugh]

Jürgen:
[laugh] Yeah that’s great advice. There’s a chap here on the speaking circuit in Australia who I follow, Tom O’Toole, and he says – whenever there’s a problem in my business, all I have to do is look in the mirror.

Diane:
Exactly.

Jürgen:
[laugh] So yeah so great advice serve.
What’s the number one thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves?

Diane:
Find a way to add value. Value can mean different things in different industries, to different people. If you give more than you take and I think that that applies in many, many different ways. So let’s say you are on a project and the project has a price and it has a very defined scope. I’m not suggesting that you allow scope creep or unmanaged changes, but if you can give more than you take, a little bit more than you could have paid for. If you can share your knowledge with peers. If you can speak, you can teach, I just believe that a culture of giving in every area will be reward you handsomely in the long run. If you take an attitude that very nitpicky and ‘What have you done for me lately and I’m not going to help you if you don’t help me,’ I think take an attitude of giving and always try to leave a situation better, better than you started.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice and it’s a whole cultural thing that pervades the individual and the organization they’re in. So it’s a case being of service.

Diane:
Exactly, “of service” is the perfect phrase.

Jürgen:
What’s the future for you then and for the Versatility Group?

Diane:
Well it’s going to be an interesting year. We’re finishing the book. I’ve got a couple big projects for Versatility this year that I’m excited about. I have a working on a not-website company undertaking, kind of getting back to some of my art roots perhaps, and launching maybe something new!

Jürgen:
That’s exciting

Diane:
[laugh] Early days, early days but I’m very excited. Very excited about doing something as a tangible product so we’ll see what happens there.

Jürgen:
I will keep a lookout for that then.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to any business owner who wants to be a leader in their field and a leader in innovation.

Diane:
Be generous. Be generous. Because if you will help other people and be of service, as you said, other people will help you. They will share their ideas. They’ll share their techniques. They’ll support you when you need support and being supported, well networked, a well thought of individual, will allow you to be your best self.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice! So helping others and again, there’s that philosophy of a servant’s heart. Thank you Diane! This has been really great and I’ve enjoyed it and learned a lot. I always love these podcasts, because they are like a Masterclass for me! Where can people reach out to thank you for what you shared with us today?

Diane:
You can always find me on Twitter @DKinney, our company website The Versatility Group. I’ve got a personal site at dianekinney.com, that I’m working on, you can drop me a note there if you like. I’m very findable.

Jürgen:
We’ll have links to all those in the shownotes as well.
Finally, who would you like me to interview in a future InnovaBuzz podcast and why?

Diane:
I would like you to interview Brian Krogsgard, who is the publisher of something called Post Status which is a news and community that he’s built around the WordPress space and I think it’s very innovative. And has been very successful. So the idea that you could build a business around a super-niche product like WordPress and make that into a successful business, I think is fascinating. Brian is a really smart guy, so you’ll like him a lot.

Jürgen:
I’ve heard some of his podcasts and they’re really good. So Brian, keep an eye on your inbox for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Diane Kinney.

So thanks so much, Diane, for sharing your time and insights with us today. I’ve really enjoyed it. I wish you all the best for the future of the Versatility Group, for the launch of the book and for that other initiative that you hinted at. Let’s keep in touch.

Diane:
Thank you so much for having me!

Wrap Up:

I hope you enjoyed meeting Diane as much as I enjoyed this interview with her and that you learned something new or have been reminded of something that you might have put on the “not important” pile.

All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/dianekinney, that is D-I-A-N-E-K-I-N-N-E-Y, all lowercase, all one word, Diane with one n and Kinney with two n’s – innovabiz.com.au/dianekinney.

Diane suggested I interview Brian Krogsgard, who is the publisher of Post Status, on a future InnovaBuzz podcast. So, Brian keep an eye on your inbox, for an invitation from me to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Diane Kinney.

Thank you to you my audience for listening. Pop over to iTunes or Stitcher or Pocket Casts and subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode. While you’re there, you might leave us a review, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve. If there is anything you’d like us to cover, or questions you want answered on a future InnovaBuzz podcasts, please send them to us.

Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.

Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!

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Jürgen Strauss

Jürgen is the chief innovator and founder of Innovabiz who partner with innovative business coaches to transform your online presence into a business generation platform that delivers exceptional results. You can find Jürgen on Google+ as well as on Innovabiz’ Twitter, Facebook
and Google+ Pages.

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