Personal

The need for Parliamentary reform

Something I wrote for the wonderful people over at Marketing Donut:

My view of the UK democratic process has changed almost overnight. Having sat through the excruciating second and third readings of the Digital Economy Bill, along with half of the Internet, it would seem my faith has been rocked.

I must admit this is the first time I had ever paid this level of attention to the passing of a law, and while the process is highly confusing, it was the ineptitude of those taking part that was so flabbergasting. While the Digital Economy Bill was highly contentious, it’s the manner it was passed that’s brought me to a startling conclusion: Westminster is full of people debating things they don’t understand. The truth of the matter is this, if we ran our businesses this way we wouldn’t last very long.

While many of the ideas appearing in party manifestos are admirable and most have merit, it all pales into complete insignificance against Parliamentary reform, the single biggest issue facing the UK democracy today. My vote has swung, both professionally and personally; I won’t tell you which way though - you’ll have to follow me on Twitter for that.

Posted via email from Benjamin Dyer

Open Rights Group

I have decided to join the Open Rights Group. I have been tracking them since they were founded in 2005 but the Digital Economy Bill fiasco has made me want to stand up and fight for our digital rights.

The Open Rights Group is a UK-based non-profit organisation, publishing expert commentary and putting media and politicians in touch with academics and practicioners able to explain ideas clearly. Our interests include privacy, identity, data protection, access to knowledge and copyright reform. Founded in 2005, ORG is a community of volunteers and renowned technologists, supported by a small team of core staff.

If you want to know more about ORG I suggest you head over to their website: 

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/

Vive le revolution.

Posted via email from Benjamin Dyer

Productivity Tips for Nomads

In the old days life was fairly simple. You had a place of work; which probably had a desk and all the essential office equipment: desktop computer, phone, calculator, Spice Girls calendar, etc. However, roll forward a few years and its amazing how that model has changed. Thanks to technology and a certain amount of liberalisation, most people can work anywhere.I am one of those people. Armed with my laptop, 3G stick and mobile phone I tend to work wherever and whenever it suits, on the train, in the office or at home.However there is a disadvantage to this nomadic lifestyle; keeping everything in sync can be difficult. Having a process is essential otherwise things fall through the gaps, and quickly.While I haven’t perfected it, here are my three essential productivity tips for nomads:1. In-box zeroAfter years of fighting, this has become a bit of a revelation to me.The principle is simple; the only things in your inbox should be the things that need your attention. To achieve this you need to learn to love your delete button. Like me I am sure you get tons of email and most of it, including (shock horror) things from colleagues only need our attention for a short space of time. My mantra is read, action, delete, or file if you think it might be important.2. Task listsI have started to become really obsessive about task lists; there is nothing worse than forgetting to do something. Use Post-it notes, scraps of paper, some smart software, whatever works for you, but it is essential to keep a list. However here is the thing most people forget, for a list to be useful you have to look at it regularly!Personally I consider myself in the upper echelons of the world’s note takers; I have ‘to-do’ lists everywhere. However I am terrible at reviewing them. To solve my conundrum I turned to Google Tasks. It works well for me and basically annoys me into submission.3. PresenceMost of us work in some sort of team and there is nothing more frustrating than a team member going AWOL. My third tip is about presence. Set up a simple way of letting everyone communicate their availability. At Actinic we tend to live in Skype chat, so there is always a constant stream of information going between the team members, but we also use an internal message board for keeping each other updated. Why not try something as simple as an open diary allowing people to log their week?While all of these tips may sound obvious, keeping all the plates spinning can be difficult. As nomads, our effectiveness in these areas defines us to our colleagues. While some of us are fastidiously organised, there are just as many of us that would forget our head if it wasn’t screwed on. There are lots of ways of achieving the three points above so I recommend finding something that works and sticking to it.What works for you?

Twoogling, goodbye HMV and a Google mobile: Predictions for 2010

I don’t know about you, but for me 2009 has been a very interesting year. Looking back to this time 12 months ago it’s amazing how quickly the pace of business and technology has kept up. So, in my last post of the year I would like to make my 2010 predictions!Small business2010 is an election year, and while governments of both sides are playing the prudence card I believe this election will be good news for small businesses. Both major parties are looking for obvious cost savings and thankfully the fattened calf of bureaucracy is looking like a slow and easy to hit target. What’s more, whoever inherits the keys to 10 and 11 Downing Street has five years of hunting behind the sofa for loose change, so I expect both parties to be promoting themselves as fiercely pro enterprise, today’s one man band is tomorrows multinational. Supporting small business with low cost tax breaks and incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship will help everyone, unless you’re in traditional retail.The traditional retailer, a.k.a bricks ‘n mortarNot good I am afraid; my crystal ball grows murky at the thought of what’s in store for the traditional retailer. If you managed to survive 2009 well done, if your business grew that’s exceptional and if you haven’t already I suggest you break open that bottle of Black Tower you were saving for Christmas.I am afraid I am going to predict even tougher times and I fully expect another major retailer going to the dogs, HMV is an obvious worry. However I don’t think its all bad news, 2010 is going to be the year multi channel retail finally becomes an established. We are all so used to buying online, over the phone or even, shock horror, in a shop it will become a very common practice. Those that adopt will probably thrive. As small retailers continue to look at innovative ways of constraining cost and the technology is now available at a low cost it just makes sense.TechnologyPredicting technology trends is almost an impossible task, so I am going to be a little bold and predict four major happenings, and they are all going to be about Google so please excuse my indulgence. If I get one of these correct remember this is where you heard it first.Twitter will finally reveal its revenue plan. It will be hastily constructed on the side of some Swiss cheese then purchased by Google for a cut price deal.Google will face a huge mobile carrier revolt at the launch of its Nexus One Android device. The phone, which Google are rumoured to be selling direct and unlocked will finally challenge the status quo. The share price of HTC, the manufacturers of the Nexus One, will rocket, which will then be invested back into Google’s new real time messaging service Twoogle. We will all mock but slavishly use it.Google Chrome OS will launch, there will be lots of hype but little traction as the 95% of computer users who don’t understand what utility based cloud computing is (real people) suddenly realise Minesweeper and Solitaire have been left out of this slimed down window to the web. Google will panic, rebrand Android as Chrome Mobile, there will be lots of hype, BusinessZone.co.uk’s website will crash under the traffic this post brings them.Steve Ballmer will be spotted Twoogling on a yet to be released Chrome Mobile device while holidaying on Thunderbird Island with Sergey Brin. When challenged, Steve will reveal himself (in Scooby Doo style) as none other than Bill Gates, the original investor in Google. The EU will spend £4bn in fax toner sending Bill the latest anti trust papers

New Year, New Resolutions

I absolutely love this time of year. As the clock starts to climb down to the end of 2009 I can feel a real sense of optimism. My renewed sense of buoyancy is partly down to our customers: working in the ecommerce industry the four weeks leading up to Christmas are their busiest. 2009 was a very tough year for all of us but there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in 2010.However, success doesn’t come without hard work and I am determined to make 2010 a successful one! Within this post I want to air my three new year’s resolutions for the business.Do less, betterIt may sound obvious, but for any business to success everyone has to be pulling in the right direction. However the start of a new year is a great time to sit back and review if you are pulling in too many directions.It’s far too easy to do too much. If you’re anything like me I hate turning down projects and opportunities. However doing lots badly isn’t a strategy for success. Doing 100 mediocre things with your business will only make you 100 times more average. Focus, pick a project, do it well and complete it, even if this means you turn down 99 other things.Talk to more peopleThe core driver of any business is customers. Customers, like puppies, are not just for Christmas - they need to feel loved and appreciated all year. My second resolution is to speak to as many of my customers as I humanly can. I want to find out how they tick, how their business works, and most importantly why they are my customer and not someone else’s. Anyone in a decision-making capacity within your business should be speaking to customers, not just sales and support.Be adaptableOne of my sporting heroes is the amazing Rebecca Romero. If you don’t know who she is, Google her, she is inspirational. Romero has won two Olympic medals in two different sports: rowing and cycling. And because of rule changes it looks like she will need to find a third sport to compete in for 2012. I want my business to be like Rebecca Romero, consistently excellent but not afraid to adapt.Why only three resolutions, well it would be impossible to complete the first one with a list longer than my arm. What are you going to do in 2010 to improve?

Interview with Business Computing World

INTERVIEW: Benjamin Dyer, Actinic’s Director Of Product DevelopmentActinic is a specialist UK-based company providing e-commerce and EPOS solutions for small and medium retailers. Founded in 1996, Actinic has supplied solutions for thousands of companies in the retail sector, both online and offline. Benjamin Dyer, Actinic’s director of product development, gave BusinessComputingWorld an insight into selling online. Interview by Christian Harris.BCW: What’s your job role at Actinic and how long have you been doing it?BD: I am the director of product development for Actinic. I am responsible for software development, quality assurance and third line support for all of our products and services. I also do a fair amount of writing for various blogs and magazines. I have been in this role for 15 months now.BCW: Do you consider yourself an e-commerce expert?BD: Absolutely, I would even go so far to call myself an ‘ecommerce nerd’ and many have.BCW: What type of job challenges do you face?BD: The biggest issue is simply balancing the needs of our customers. We have around 10,000 UK customers and when our software is running their businesses it’s a difficult juggling act to make sure we keep them happy and continue to innovate. A feature that is absolutely critical for one business isn’t even on the radar of another, so we have to be annoyingly pragmatic sometimes.BCW: Tell us about Actinic software. Why would anyone need it?BD: Actinic is desktop not server-based ecommerce software and has been around longer than most (since 1996). This brings a number of obvious advantages such as the data ownership and the ability to run a true multi-channel/multi-user retail operation within your own environment. Our software also has the ability to take mail order and telephone orders securely as well as connect with our EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) tills system. We also have an incredibly robust payments service, Actinic Payments, that offers complete integration with the software―very important if you are running a busy ecommerce operation.BCW: Actinic sells different versions of its software. What’s the biggest seller?BD: Currently it’s our ‘Business Plus’ software. This allows multiple users within an organisation to connect and control their e-commerce operations. Although hot on the heels of this is our Express product for people just starting out in e-commerce. It’s Web-based and there’s no contract tie-in, plus it is priced very competitively and we like to think it’s the simplest and easiest cart on the market.BCW: Are there any limitations with a turnkey online shopping cart system such as Actinic compared to a fully-customised solution?BD: In my experience the limitations are outweighed by the benefits. Actinic is tried and tested by thousands of users in some truly weird and wonderful business sectors. This has forced us to do many of the very difficult developments that often gets overlooked when looking at bespoke, such as tax inclusive pricing. Bespoke allows people to get what they want immediately, but it very often fails to scale as a business grows which can turn into an expensive nightmare. And there’s the issue of when the guy who programmed the site leaves, your site could be in jeopardy.BCW: Your software caters for sole traders up to high-volume box shifters. Give us an idea of a typical Actinic customer.BD: It really varies and it’s becoming an impossible task to pigeon hole our customers―they operate in every sector and some are well known names like the Royal Opera House, British Film Institute, the Scout Association, Vivienne Westwood and the Henley Royal Regatta. We have several customers that started out on our Express product with little or no e-commerce experience that are now turning over several million and using our top end Enterprise product. As we have a broad range of products it allows customers to grow with us, so if I have to choose a phrase I guess I would describe the typical Actinic customer as ‘ambitious’.BCW: Do you think it is important that UK sellers choose a UK-based e-commerce provider?BD: Yes, without question. It just makes complete sense both commercially and technically. I was recently speaking to a customer that has come to us from a competitor. His biggest frustration and the reason he is now using Actinic was down to our support centre being in the UK. His previous supplier did have a support desk but it wasn’t just in a different time zone, it was in a different day, totally unworkable. If he now needs help it’s a local call away. If you are buying additional services such as hosting, again making sure it’s based in the same geography as your customers is absolutely critical.BCW: Electronic point of sale (EPOS) can be confusing and expensive. How does Actinic make is simple for sellers to get on with the business of taking payments?BD: We get compliments about our intuitive and easy to use interface—many EPOS systems are overly complex. The nice thing about our EPOS offering is its pre-configured with software pre-installed, so the merchant really has very little setting up to do. We have also spent a lot of time developing a robust fail-safe architecture which means tills can carry on working even if the network fails.BCW: Search engine optimisation (SEO) is critical for success. Does Actinic software help sellers to get their site’s noticed?BD: Yes, we are very proud of how search engine-friendly our software is. Because Actinic is a desktop software, changes to the merchant’s site are uploaded when the product changes. These pages are static HTML and search engines love nothing better than HTML. Many of our new merchants often report up to a 20% increase in sales because of the search engine-friendly nature of our sites. It also helps that I have an absolute SEO obsessive on my team so we are always looking at ways of improving.BCW: You’ve helped develop lots of shopping sites. What are the main considerations someone setting up shop for the first time needs to consider?BD: The most important consideration at the moment is to make sure you research your payment methods. PCI DSS is a hot topic and it amazes me the number of site designers and implementers that are still recommending solutions counter to these policies. The simple fact is, if you are using a PSP (Payment Service Provider) you are compliant.BCW: What tips can you offer an experienced e-trader to help grow their business online?BD: It’s all about customer service. Selling online is still a huge growth market and unless your business is totally niche there are plenty of competitors desperate to snap up your customers. Use all the available tools out there to reach out and connect with your customers. Social networks have really helped too—why not try using Twitter or Facebook and bridge the gap between you and your customers.BCW: What are the biggest challenges facing Actinic today?BD: We have some interesting technology challenges ahead. Because of our model and the ability to configure and run our software in so many permutations we need to ensure our product quality is absolutely rock solid.BCW: What’s next for Actinic in terms of technologies?BD: We are currently putting the gloss on the next major release of our software, version 10. This includes some long awaited features and functionality, especially for high volume merchants. We are also busy working on some pretty exciting stuff in the bat cave.BCW: You must have seen hundreds of online shopping sites that use your software. Do you have a favourite success story?BD: Absolutely, we have a customer www.cultpens.com which is run by a fantastic couple. They gave up the London life to buy and run a stationary shop in Devon. Within a short period they noticed there was a huge demand for all sorts of weird and wonderful pens so they started a small online business. Today Cult Pens are one of the biggest pen suppliers in the UK—if you search Google.co.uk for the term ‘Pens’ they are no 2! I love this sort of success story and it’s brilliant to be associated with it.BCW: Anything to add?BD: Thank you for your time and taking an interest in Actinic.

Marketing your knowledge

Working for Actinic, we have a pretty diverse set of customers selling some truly weird and wonderful products. However, regardless of the product or service being sold I always come up against the question of online marketing and best practice.Looking back at the last few conversations I have had on the subject, most merchants I speak to use online marketing for one thing: sales. While this may be fairly obvious and there is certainly nothing wrong with it, I believe a lot of people are missing a great opportunity -- why not try communicating something other than cold hard sell? Let me explain a little further.Most retailers sell things they have some type of connection with. I have a relative, Andy who has a very successful sportswear business; he’s a former tennis coach. In his bricks and mortar store people often come in just to chat about the latest advances in running shoes or tips to beat the boss at next week’s golf tournament. While this may sound like a waste of time, Andy values building a relationship with customers as the most essential thing to his business. Customers come in for his advice and may end up walking away with a new pair of Nikes, and how to get the most out of them.But often this product knowledge fails to come across online.With your next marketing campaign why not use your product and industry knowledge to help inform and educate your customers? If you want to keep it product-focused detail the interesting features and benefits instead of focusing just on that sale. Or why not try emails with some useful tips or a follow up to check to see how recent customers are getting on with their purchase?No matter how diverse your products are I bet you’re the expert on them, helping to educate and inform is the best type of marketing there is.