Get a free advice session on marketing & promoting your business

Christmas goodiesIn the spirit of Christmas generosity, I’m giving away a half-day of consultancy to a local startup or entrepreneur who needs help marketing and promoting themselves.

Cambridge and East Anglia are full of clever people doing amazing things, with many solo flyers or startups creating great products. In some cases, you might just need a little boost to get the word out about your product. For others, it’s such early days that you haven’t thought much about marketing yet – you just know your idea kicks ass.

With years of experience in marketing and working with Pepsmedia, nothing excites me more than a promising new business idea, so let’s hear what you’re working on.

Participating couldn’t be easier, here’s what you need to do:

  • You need to be a startup or entrepreneur in the region with a business, project or idea and would like some marketing and promotion coaching (Note: You can be based anywhere but we may run the session online if you’re too far away!)
  • Leave a comment below (or email vero@pepsmedia.com) with your idea, and what your marketing/promotion challenges are or will be in 2011
  • Do this by end of day on December 23rd

I’ll announce the winner around Christmas day (Internet access and family commitments permitting!), who will then be able to redeem their consultancy session in January. The session will either be held at the Pepsmedia office, somewhere local and convenient for everyone involved or, if need be, as an online session.

How will I pick a winner? I’ll choose the startup or individual who I think would benefit the most from this session. If there are more than one great contender, I’ll pick a name out of a hat. You don’t need to be a technology startup to participate; Whatever your market, leave a comment now for your chance to win a free advice session.

How to Market Your Own Application: An Alfred App Case Study

Those who have followed the Alfred development in the past year will know that we’ve discovered a lot through building our own community around it (possibly the most awesome community out there!)

Last month, I gave a talk at Cambridge Geek Nights, sharing some tips, tricks and discoveries we’ve made while developing and marketing Alfred. Did you know that posting a sneak peek screenshots could get you hundreds of excited tweets? Have you considered collaborating with other app developers on co-promotion?

We’ve since had the opportunity to work with other startups on getting visibility and marketing their product. Think we can help you? Drop me a line and tell us about your app!

Twitter's other spam problem: Username chaos

A few months ago, Twitter published a State of Twitter Spam blog post. It claimed to have reduced spam from fake accounts to little more than 1%, lowering the number of offers for prescription drugs, dodgy online scams and invitations from busty babes. We complain about Twitter more than we praise them, but this deserves a “well done!”

What’s on the increase and quite possibly trickier to control is the noise created by users who don’t understand how Twitter works – usernames in particular.

There seem to be a few trends:

Retweets as replies

Users in Malaysia and Indonesia seem to use retweets as a way to “thread” conversation. As a result, the oldest words get truncated. As Veronica seems to be a common name, I’ll often have more misappropriated foreign tweets than real @replies in my stream.

Failing to understand usernames

The next flavour of Twitter spam is due to users who don’t understand that @Vero or @Jake or @Bob are really someone’s usernames and use them willy nilly.

I often see “@Vero’s house for a party” and hope that some stranger isn’t on the way to my place with a couple of crates of beer for an impromptu gathering.

What’s next?

I’ll be interested to see how Twitter tackles this kind of issue. Having steamed past the 100 millionth user some time ago, the noise level is quickly becoming deafening.

Unlike classic spam where a user publishes the same thing hundreds of times, this can’t be fixed as easily as it’s a user education issue.

How could Twitter handle this?

Why You Should Avoid Mass-Emailing Using the "To" Field

This may seem like an obvious blog post to most readers. If that’s the case, just move along, nothing to see here.

However, if you’re wondering why people have been giving you snappy responses and a stern look when you include them on mass emails where all recipients are in the “To:” field, please take a seat. I’ll explain why you’ll find yourself on the naughty step if you do it again.

First, when emailing dozens of people at once, you’re sharing the recipients’ email addresses with everyone else. Everyone, including aunt Wendy whose old computer is crawling with malware and nasty things that can harvest their address book. And including that careless salesperson who is quite happy to add me to their spammy mailing list even though I’ve never agreed to it. If you think that’s acceptable behaviour, then you should have no problem with me taking your personal mobile number and plastering it all over the city, right?

And secondly, in particular when you’re in a business environment, it looks awfully unprofessional to email customers or prospects openly. If you’re sharing a prospect’s information with no regards for their privacy, why should they trust you with information like credit card details? You’ve lost a sale right there.

Do yourself a favour and learn to use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field of your email client when sending group emails. Even better, use proper email marketing software (Campaign Monitor, MailChimp and many more) and present yourself like a real professional.

Note: I’ve created this post to ensure I can send this link to email marketers and friends who don’t understand why it’s inappropriate to send mass emails this way. Feel free to link to this post if you also need to explain it to someone.

Amazing launch party cake

Alfred App: 0.7 launch cake

It would be an understatement to say we’ve got great friends – they’re downright awesome! For our end-of-summer BBQ, which was also a bit of a deadline/launch party for the Alfred Powerpack, Lee made us an Alfred bowler hat shaped cake!

What better way to celebrate having been recluse shut-ins for months, working away, than by having a great day with friends? Even the rain stayed away for most of the day.

More photos coming soon, I’m sure, but I had to share this one!

[Photo credit: Michael Dales on Ember]

Three Reasons Why the Mac Community Makes Me Happy

As some of you know, in recent months, Andrew and I have been working on Alfred, our very own Mac productivity app. It’s been exciting, sometimes tough, but definitely enlightening. And finally, the fruit of our labour, the Powerpack, is nearly ready to be released.

We’ve met and talked to tons of Mac users, developers and bloggers. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a talk on social networking for business at the Apple Store in Cambridge, meeting more recent Mac converts.

While I’ve been a Mac user since the late 80’s (thanks grandpa for the hand-me-downs!), it’s only in the past few years that there has been enough of a community for it to really become exciting – which brought me to make these observations.

The enthusiasm of Mac geeks is boundless

This energy could have something to do with Apple’s approach – superlative “everything changes” descriptions – or with the feeling of being a trailblazer by always being on the hunt for a shiny thing more beautiful, more efficient and more undiscovered than the last shiny thing.

Sometimes, I admit, Mac users (myself included) love our gadgetry and possibly annoy those who don’t feel so strongly about their computer setup. But then, if that’s our personality, it’ll be either Macs, cars, stamp collecting or some other obsessive compulsive passion.

From the more practical angle, we spend an obscene number of hours a week at the computer so why not make it an environment that’s a pleasure to use?

So we just celebrate it! We post pictures of our desks on Lifehacker’s workspace Flickr pool, we publish our favourite apps on iusethis and show off our gadgets to anyone who’ll listen. (Or is it just me?)

A great willingness to contribute and participate

As our Mac productivity app Alfred is growing, I can’t begin to count how many offers to beta test, help out and write about it we’ve received. Sure, some are self-serving and coming from bloggers who are mainly looking for an exclusive sneak peek into the app, but all have some sense of altruism, where the ultimate objective is to make the Mac community better.

We have asked for feedback on Twitter, with questions like “Which colour scheme do you use?” to “Who’s still on Leopard and why?” Simple yet important questions, to which we sometimes received in excess of 100 responses within a few minutes from posting. It’s difficult to express how useful this instant feedback has been.

Aside from the practical or technical responses we received, the general chatter about the app and positive comments on blogs and on Twitter have been the fuel to our long evenings and weekends of work. Looking back at the Alfred favourites page is all the motivation we need to keep going sometimes.

The openness of Mac developers

I’m sure most people have worked this out but I’m not a developer, so it’s news to me. Through exchanging with Mac developers who use Alfred, meeting nice folks at CambMacDev and other events, it’s become clear that most Mac developers are willing to lend a hand, share some useful tips or offer feedback.

Even as the non-developer that I am, I’m enjoying the exchanges, gaining some great business insight that will help me shape the future of Alfred. We’re lucky not to be dealing with the Russian roulette that is the iPhone App Store, but there’s still a lot to learn about the Mac ecosystem.

Overall, it’s just a great fun ride to date, and it’s only the beginning! Who knows where the next few years will take us…

[Image credit: Itty Bitty Mac Earrings by PixelParty on Etsy]

Competition Winners: Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers and More

My oh my, you’ve submitted some great gaming stories from the 80’s and 90’s for my competition last week!

Clearly, we all remember the uncertainty of whether a game would load successfully or not. Blowing into the NES cartridge hoping that we could get the dust out. Patiently waiting for games to load from a tape. As Simon points out, while the games and 3D demos were the best thing out there back then and are still brilliant in our child-like memories, it’s probably best not to revisit them now – it just isn’t the same. That still doesn’t stop a few of us from threatening to get our old console from the loft or find one on eBay.

After reading through all of your entries, I picked winners using a cat and a Random Number Generator (Disclaimer: no cats were harmed in the winner selection), ensuring that those who’d contributed great entries (like photos!) got an additional chance at winning.

So with no further ado, here are the winners! *drum roll*

ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers

Tom Music wins for his many awesome comments, but in particular for the late night sneaking to play Super Mario 3 without getting caught – and feeling like a stealthy ninja for it.

More info about the ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speakers.

Creative Zen 16GB in special edition red with EP-3NC earphones

Max, at comment #17, was brave enough to post a picture of life in the 80’s. For that alone, a prize was deserved! A patient sibling, Max seemed to even let the other kids have a go – as the eldest, I was rarely that nice to my sisters. (see comment #18 for my little sister’s views of games back then) 😉
More info about the Zen 16GB and the EP-3NC earphones.

Thanks to Evelynne and Sherlyn at Creative Labs who made this competition possible! Also, a big thank you to everyone who participated and don’t go too far – there will be more stuff to give away in the coming weeks/months if you all behave yourselves.