I was a long time user of Basecamp. I like the ethos of 37 signals and still do. However I don’t need a project management tool on an ongoing basis since most of the time I’m a one woman show. The $50 monthly fee was like the gym membership one pays for and never uses. So earlier this year I moved the remaining content I had stored in it (how-to guides, to-dos) into Google Drive and closed my account.

I’ve mentioned that I’m in the middle of switching my e-commerce platform. This requires a team. I’m working with a developer in the Czech Republic and virtual assistant in the Philippines. I knew I would need to reboot some kind of collaboration tool. I was thinking of using Google Drive and Trello, which is basically a free Kanban chart

‘Have you heard of Asana‘ the developer I’m working with asked. Why, yes, I had heard of Asana, I had a task in my list somewhere to check it out. I did so online, and since it offers a free version (you can also order premium) set up account and started fooling around with it.

I’ve been using it for about a month now and here are some of the things I’m really liking:

  • It’s basically a system of lists and lists within lists in the form of tasks and sub-tasks and sub-sub-tasks
  • You can break tasks down into sub-tasks and sub-sub-tasks
  • It syncs with an Outlook calendar (although I haven’t been able to get that to work yet)
  • Email threads related to tasks are saved as comments associated with the task so you have a history of discussions, decisions, etc. made around a certain task or sub-task
  • You can assign owners, attach files, add comments, set due dates and more at every task level
  • Pasting a screen shot into an email response and having it show up in the tool task comments as well
  • It plugs into Dropbox, Google Docs and more so it’s easy to attach documents and files to tasks
  • There are a ton of plug-ins you can sign up for (time tracking, gantt or kanban charts, etc.)

Some of the things I’m not digging:

  • The interface is generally easy to use, but it’s complex. It takes some time to get used to
  • No ‘at a glance’ calendar view. Due dates show up, but you can’t add milestones
  • I was irritated that I had to sign up for yet another service  – Harvest – to install time tracking, which so far hasn’t been super intuitive. Also, all of the ‘just $10 a month!’ services add up after awhile (but Asana is free, so I guess I can’t complain)
  • Being able to set due dates at every task level can be confusing. For example, I set the due date of a meta task for August 1st, but I started drilling down and setting many of the sub-tasks later so team members working on sub tasks get started until past the due date, and then the overall task is late. This was a user error on my part, but it’s easy to get lost in the levels upon levels of tasks and lose sight of the big picture

Despite the things I’m not digging, I would highly recommend trying out this well thought out tool for your next team project. If you look through the team members you’ll see the team  is a bunch of super smarty pants; this doesn’t always guarantee a great product or outcome, but in Asana’s case it does.

I can already see that everything would come to a screeching halt without it!

It’s Back! The Friday Link Bomb. I’ve got a ton for you today, since it’s been awhile:

helpwanted

After several frustrating experiences trying to find help on ODesk, I created a job posting that gets right down to brass tacks:

This is a short project creating 7 images in Adobe Photoshop for eCommerce product listings.

I’ll need you to make a screenshot of an Adobe Acrobat PDF file paste into and manipulate it in Photoshop.

I’m looking for long-term help. If this project is successful and I feel we are a good fit, it could lead to much more work.

You must have these key skills:
– Good to expert Photoshop level
– Proficient in Adobe Acrobat/Reader
– Good English skills. Perfect English is not a requirement communication should be easy to understand

Please, no bullshit. By bullshit I mean:
– Accepting a job and then suggesting a ‘friend’ instead
– Applying without sufficient skills in Photoshop or Acrobat
– Applying without speaking GOOD English
– An unwillingness to work online with ODesk tool until trust is established
– Adjusting or attempting to adjust rates in the middle of a job
– Multiple emails asking for a job after refusal
– Multiple emails haggling or reducing rates after refusal
– Multiple emails attempting to change fair feedback
– Disappearing in the middle of the job

These are all things that I’ve experience with ODesk contractors in the past. If any of the above occurs I will immediately pay you for the time worked, end the contract and leave corresponding feedback.

A successful engagement would include:
– Quick, responsive, well written communication
– Questions when something isn’t understood
– A more detailed estimate for the job, after watching a short screen cast
– The right skills for the job
– Ability to follow instructions
– A willingness to learn
– Honesty

If you have good Photoshop skills, are eager to learn and are interested in long-term work helping with an eCommerce site (product listing photo production, product listing data entry) this could be a great first assignment.

I’m organized, tough but fair, friendly and honest.

Please include a cover letter and provide a (ballpark) estimate of how long you would need to complete the job.

Upon acceptance you’ll receive access to a short screen cast of the task as well as detailed written instructions.

Needless to say there wasn’t the usual Tsunami of responses, but I’m finding the ones that have responded are more qualified and understand what I’m going for.What do you think? Have you used ODesk or ELance? What’s your experience been?

3 reasons I don't want funding

Like many micro-entrepreneurs I’ve entertained the idea of pursuing funding from private investors. But every time I’ve even stuck my toe in the water (conferences, listening to lectures, talking to others) I get totally turned off. A friend whose running five start-ups asked me why. When I had to put my answers into black and white, here’s what they were:

  1. I absolutely can’t stand having a boss or anyone telling me what to do. Especially some old dude(s) (or young dudes for that matter)
  2. I want to build something between a lifestyle business and a small business. Of course one that generates a very comfortable amount of revenue but over time (several years)
  3. I want to create something that I enjoy doing/running. Not try and blow it up as fast as I can, sell it and make as much money possible (for someone else)

So there it is. Like The Chairman of the Board, I’ll be doing it Myyyyy Waaaaaaay!

What are your thoughts? Ever think about looking for outside financing? Through which channels?

Image

After my last two think-y no image (!) posts, I decided it’s time for some pictures.

I’m a Pinterest addict and have a couple of Steal This Process boards, like this one for planning ideas and this one with inspirational quotes related to working.

The other day I came across a productivity app in my feed, and it occurred to me that a board with these types of apps, with a quick indication of where they fall in the Steal This Process frame work would be helpful. So here it is!

I hope you enjoy it!

I’m changing my commerce platform. It’s going to be painstaking and slow.

I made a guestimate at the beginning of the year about how long this would take. It was, of course, completely wrong. And that’s okay.

Here’s what happened:

First I listed all of my requirements (all the things I need my shop to do). Then I started narrowing down the list of online shops that offered the features I need.

Some of my key requirements are that the shop must be multi-language and multi-currency and I also wanted a hosted solution.

I soon fell in love with Shopify. It’s hosted, they’ve got gorgeous themes and a back end that is beyond intuitive. I test drove and came this close to pulling the trigger.

BUT

They don’t really offer a multi-lingual/multi-currency solution. There’s a  plug-in (or app as they call it) that kinda sorta does it, but it’s limited. In the end I concluded that relying on a third party solution for such a key feature is a bad idea.

So I shelved the project. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘There isn’t any other product out there that can do what I need’ (except Magento which I wasn’t about to touch with a ten foot pole) ‘I’ll just have to wait until Shopify internationalizes’.

This was February and my original goal was to get the new store launched by end of March (ha!)

Then I discovered Prestashop. It isn’t hosted, but they offer a support package  and could otherwise do what I need. I got it set up and started to play with it.

As I got familiar with how it works I came up with a high level plan and a target launch date. This plan and launch date changes by the day. The reason is, the more I learn about the platform, the more I understand how I’ll have to organize my shop information, or shoot products or even how I’ll offer services. I also learn more about what I’ll be able to do myself and what I’ll need to get help with.

The point of all this is that it is very difficult to plan for something you’ve never done before. This situation is a perfect example of the phrase ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’.

It’s important to take a (very generous) stab at an estimate, but more importantly it’s good to get your hands dirty with the task – creating a proof of concept (or a ‘spike’ if you’re familiar with agile processes) – and make adjustments to your plan as you learn.

Stay tuned!

It’s been a challenge, but I’m forcing myself to do less each day.

I set a goal for myself this year to only tackle two big rocks a day. When I did my monthly review at the beginning of March, I realized I wasn’t really doing this. The goal was at bottom of my list, and I realized I was treating it like a fluffy ‘nice to have’.

It’s scary to do less. It feels like if you take your foot off of the gas, everything will come to a screeching halt. But it doesn’t.

I’ve found that Not trying to do 4 or 5 different big tasks a day for one hour has allowed me to enjoy my work, not fret that I’m not getting it all done.

I was glad to watch this interview between Marie Forleo and Arianna Huffington (who I’ve always admired) discussing her new book Thrive. Arianna is tapping into something we are all feeling lately – overwhelmed.

The second benefit I’ve noticed in the last few weeks of really doing this, is that I’m more focused. My mind isn’t shooting in a skazillion directions at once. I know I’m going to do one or two things today, and I’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

Having my plans in place is still critical – it’s really about de-scoping  when necessary and adjusting timelines if I realize they’re impossible.

I’ve been trying to put this into practice for awhile, and honestly feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it.

 

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I was invited to give my Steal This Process workshop at an Etsy European Team Captain summit last weekend. I was flattered to be invited, and the weekend was pure delight. It reminded me how much I like Etsians and how great Etsy is.

I was invited to present, but learned plenty myself.

A few years ago I organized the first Etsy Germany street team, but stepped down, cranky and exhausted a year or so later. A little secret: I love project set-up and structuring work, but I’ve always HATED managing people.

Listening to team captains exchange ideas and share projects reminded me a lot of my own frustrations, but also illuminated great ways to organize a group to accomplish great things. It also made me think about how I’d do things differently if I was going to do it all over again.

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Here are some of my key take-aways:

1. Break larger groups into smaller ones for real impact. Katja of KM Berlin and captain of the Etsy Berlin Street Team shared how breaking the larger 300+ team down into more intimate ‘success teams’ of 3-4 people really made a difference in getting results out of activities like shop critiques. Meeting with a small group of people you know, like and respect and getting their honest, constructive feedback is much more useful than posting a link and waiting for comments on a thread.

2. Experiment and get things in writing. Anabelle of Second Hand Sandy and captain of the Dutch team Ka-Ching Collectief (how great is that name!) had me taking zillions of mental notes as she told the story of how she got together with a few like minded sellers to organize a po-up shop in Amsterdam. The first one was a bust but the second one was a success. A big lesson learned was to get everything in writing for and from all parties to avoid unpleasant surprises like extra space rental costs after the event has already been planned and advertised.

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3. Great design and branding matter. Margaux of Antonin + Margaux shared a beautifully designed presentation that included lots of the fantastic graphics she uses for her Nantes Etsy team events. Beauty and well put together collateral motivates and engages people to take what they’re doing seriously.

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4. If you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Karli, the dynamic force behind Designosaur and the captain of the Brighton Sellers team amazed with the innate leadership skills and management best practices she seemed to put into practice unwittingly(?). She actively recruited busy people to become team leaders and basically wouldn’t take no for an answer. They acquiesced and proved to be exactly the right people to create an engaged and motivated team.

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6. There’s strength in numbers. Aiste who runs Drop of Amber and is also a leader of the Etsy Lithuania team shared how the group banded together to take on the Lithuanian postal service when they unexpectedly changed their policies right before Christmas – and won! As a result of this experience they ultimately went on to negotiate a group discount shipping rate with DHL.

7. Select and work with equally motivated team leaders. This was demonstrated by Francesca of Ethereal Flowers and captain of the Etsy Italia team who, with several other motivated team members organized a 500 person craft camp. Or Nafsika, who makes beautiful handmade jewelery and captains the Etsy Greek street team. Along with some key team leaders, she managed to build a strong team and organize successful offline events despite the challenging economic climate.

8. Knowledge sharing builds community. Limor who runs Limitz, an Etsy store that sells guides in Hebrew to help sellers get started and improve their shops, began by continuously and generously sharing both her professional expertise and the knowledge she gained as an Etsy seller to any and all new comers. This lead directly to a large and vibrant Etsy Israel team.

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9. Good (or bad) tools impact effectiveness. Moishe, an Etsy engineer lead a requirements definition session and topping the list was group convos (the ability to send a mass emails to your team members). I had forgotten about that. Not having the right tools to do the job made me want to give up on more than one occasion. I’m sure Etsy has a massive backlog of features to get to, but it’s clear they are listening and I left the session confident that they’re on track to fix some of the biggest issues.

It was truly an inspiring weekend, and one of the first things I did when I got home was join the Creative Lab Munich Etsy team and the Sieben Machen Team! The summit reminded me that working in a team can beat trying to do and figure out everything yourself.

rollerderby

I’ve been invited to give my Steal This Process workshop at a summit for Etsy Europe team captains this weekend.

The focus is a little different, I usually talk about how to apply the 6 STP steps to individual biz owners. For this workshop I need to tweak it a bit to talk about how to use the processes with teams.

Here’s the gist of the changes I made:

  • SMART goals are just as important, and even more so in a team, because the clarity of a results based goal is key to getting people to act and tap into their own natural motivation.
  • Scope and estimation may focus more around ongoing activities rather than discrete projects (although those certainly may exist as well).
  • Planning is more low-level. Leading and participating on an Etsy team is going to be one of many tasks in an individuals overall life. A baselined, low level plan let’s each team member gain a realistic sense of how much time they can dedicate to team activities.
  • Executing is primarily about three things: Attracting and keeping the right people on the team, delegating work and finding ways to keep others motivated.
  • Keep reviewing simple and short.

I’m curious to see if these ideas will resonate with the team members. When I started the first Etsy Germany team a few years ago I did a lot wrong, the list above is the things I’d consider if I were to do it again.

Image courtesy of vjpaul

Before we march into March!