2014

“At least you’ve got legs” – and other highlights of a rollercoaster year

There’s a blog post coming in the next couple of weeks about our resolutions for 2015 – our Pomegranite resolutions that is. Like trying not to dress the same unintentionally every time we have a client meeting. Seriously. Every. Time.

But before we start looking into the New Year, let’s maybe look at the one that’s just winding down. And when I say “winding”, I mean spiralling so bloody fast that the weeks seem to be collapsing into each other like babushka dolls on tik.

Here are my five highlights of 2014 (look I know I use five a lot but it’s a lot less than 10 and I like the number, ok):

1) Our random dance breaks and spontaneous karaoke sessions when it all just gets too much sometimes. Seriously – you have no idea how much they help. Not just because you can’t not laugh at Liz’s pseudo-twerking, but because it tends to put things in perspective.

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2) There have been a few moments this year when I’ve marvelled at our partnership and how we are finding our unique roles more and more as time goes on. For example, when I chat to clients, I tend to just dive right into the business side of things. Not Liz, though. She will sit down and say: “So how are the cats?” And that’s something I’m grateful for. Someone to have those kind of conversations for me. And to remind me to have them myself sometimes.

3) Happy clients. Man I love happy clients! When you’re able to deliver what you promised and then add a whole bunch of cherries on top of that – the reaction from speechless, squealing, dancing, crying (the good kind of tears, hey?) and generally thrilled clients is really why we do what we do. (Also – I love that we have the kind of relationship with our clients that they feel like they can actually squeal in front of us.)

4) Liz likes to theme her outfits, which I have mentioned before. One day she came to work in stylish black pants, a fitted black T-shirt, black leather pumps, and her hair in a chignon. She reckoned it was called “Chanel”. Having not yet had my first cup of tea, my filter wasn’t working yet. “Or backstage worker?”

5) I’ve just had a little scroll through memory lane (you guys also stalk yourself on social media sometimes right?). It’s one thing to have a sense of how far you’ve come in a year, but to actually look back and see the progression, to remember a lot of the crappy days and to know that they are so few and far between now – that is the biggest highlight of all for me. On 15 January, I tweeted:

“At least you’ve got legs.” Liz trying to look on the bright side for me.

Weirdly, this wasn’t at all related to the whole Oscar debacle. It really was Liz trying to think of positive things in my life. (I know.)

And now, on the other side of 2014, not only do I have legs, but I’ve used them to climb this freaking mountain (metaphorically speaking, guys – I know it’s hard to know sometimes in Cape Town). And the view from the top is bloody amazing.

2015, I see you! Let’s play.

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code

Code in two minutes: The internet is yours

I’ve been doing a night course on HTML and CSS coding through Friends of Design for the last few weeks. I’m doing it becuase I want better control of the websites we build and to be able make precise tweaks and changes to them. At Pomegranite, we build websites on WordPress which allows us to create slick, professional sites that are affordable for the client. Ninety-nine percent of the time, clients don’t need complex, custom-coded websites. And if they do, we hand them over to trusted agencies who can provide that service.

Self-hosted WordPress essentially comprises of two systems: the first is a content management system which acts as an interface between you and the website, saving your images and posts and giving you the tools to edit the website. The second is a theme or template which is like a ‘skin’ for your website and manages its design. This is where it’s handy to have some coding knowledge to manipulate these themes.

Learning to code (I say this with a pinch of salt because hardcore coders study for years) has been a pretty mind-blowing experience. For most people, the internet is another world, created and controlled by others, that we can only make a mark on through social media, which is itself contained separately within the greater world-wide-web. When I started editing the code of WordPress themes, Sarah and I referred to it as “entering the Matrix” and rejoiced when I did something and the site didn’t explode.

But the truth is, the internet is made by people, creating code. To scratch beneath the surface, all you have to do is right click and select “inspect element” to see the code that props up the site you’re viewing.

Coding is becoming more and more accessible to people other than nerdy hackers. Just check out organisations like Code for Cape Town which runs a three week holiday programme that introduces grade 10 and 11 girls to the world of web development for social impact. What’s also great is that you don’t have to wait for someone to teach you to code. There are tons of resources online to get you started.

Codecadamy is the one I started with. It’s super simple, fun and effective at teaching you code. They use a system where you’re walked through the code on one side of the screen and it shows the effect on the other side of the screen. So not only do you never feel lost, but you see instant results.

codecadamy

It’s free, it’s fun, you can login with Facebook and Gmail.

So go ahead, give it a go!

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five things lately

Five things lately

So let’s start with this: in exactly one month it will be Christmas. ONE. MONTH. I’m not really sure how that even happened. It’s been one hell of a year, in so many ways. And not just because we now have a fancy system that basically does all our invoicing for us.

Because Liz gave you a very informative, business-y post last week about that very same invoicing system (if you missed it, please feel free to absorb the wisdom here. Also – there are cat pictures.), I thought I’d share five random things that I’ve learnt/experienced lately.

1. Owning your own business sometimes means late nights and stressing about finances. And sometimes it means bikini shopping on a Wednesday afternoon.

2. When your client sees her new website for the first time and is so completely chuffed that she struggles to make words – that right there is the stuff. The reason we do what we do. Sure, paying rent is awesome. But moments like that – they are my affirmation.

3. Tax. Oh ALL-THE-EXPLETIVES-ALL-OF-THEM. Liz reckons that this is how we feel about tax:

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[Source]

For me, it’s more like this I think:

panic

[Source]

I can now tell you that I know the difference between PAYE and provisional tax. The provisional tax deadline is in January 2015. The PAYE deadline is NOT. Failing to understand this means a FULL-on panic when you realise that your actual deadline is tomorrow. It also means paying the wonderful people who come to your rescue in snapdragons (boys – those are flowers) and beer.

4. Being able to advise friends on how to start or grow their own businesses – because you’ve been there and you’re still working it out – is pretty great. It’s a wonderful thing seeing so much potential in people you admire, and being able to see ways in which you can help them take off. Even if it’s just telling them how amazing they are over a beer.

5. The more I see of the business world, the more I really think that we are all just faking it ‘til we make it. Especially when you start your own thing. The amazing thing is to get to a point when you see how well your projects are doing and how far you’ve come – when you hear the words that you are making as you sit in a meeting and you think: “Holy s@#%, we really do know what we are doing. That was some great advice I just gave. I would hire us.”

“Invoicing? Ain’t no thang”: advice for small businesses

I never thought I’d catch myself clapping for glee about… software. I also never thought I’d do chair dances about getting coding right. But here we are. Having your own business does things to you. When you start out, you have to do the best with what you have. We’ve grown over the past eighteen months so we decided to start investing in systems to help our business run better. For us, that meant investing in a good time-tracking and invoicing programme.

Like everyone except accountants a lot of people, Sarah and I feel like this about accounts:

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(Source)

But we both feel like this about tax:

cat 2

(Source)

So we did the best we could, which at that stage was accounts in Excel, quotes and invoices in Word and us in between. This system was fine but it was pretty laborious and we were pretty certain that we were working far more hours than we had actually quoted for on most jobs. As we grew, we wanted accuracy and efficiency and so the search began.

I looked at loads of software with invoicing and time tracking functionality and Zoho came out tops for us. It had everything we wanted (and loads more), it was affordable and it had the perfect balance of automation and customisation.

Here are my top five favourite things about it:

1. Logical navigation

Each client has a profile which you assign projects to. You time tasks associated to each of these projects. For example:

Client: X

Project: Website rebuild

Tasks: Content editing, website design, SEO implementation.

2. Simple, easy time tracking

The time tracking is simple: you name the task and hit the timer. What if you forget? You can input it manually.

3. Beautiful, automated invoices

Once you’ve decided how you want to bill clients, set up and customised an initial invoice design from loads of templates, it just takes one click to generate an invoice for a client. It pulls through all of your information, all of their information, the project information, the tasks and their descriptions as well as their logged times and puts it into a beautiful, professional-looking design.

4. Super slick process

From there, you can email off the invoice from within the Zoho or save it as a PDF and send from your own email programme. Once the client has paid the invoice, you mark it as such and all of that information is fed through to your reports. You can even design and automate a thank you email, which also allows for a personal message to the client.

5. Information-packed reports

The thing I get the biggest kick out of is the reports. You can set a budget of hours that you’ve quoted the client for and see how many you’ve worked through at any point in the project. This gives you great control on your investment in a project so you can pull back and speak to the client when you can see that you’re going to need more hours or add more services when you’ve underworked a project. The financial reports let you see the growth of your business and that’s the most exciting thing of all.

WCCT 2014

WordCamp wisdom: 10 takeaways from the 2014 WordPress conference

I realise that it’s been a while since WordCamp – which we went to on 23 October – but we got so much out of the conference that I thought it was worth another quick blog post to share some of the nuggets of wisdom we came away with.

So – here are our 10 takeaways from WordCamp, some of which are from talks and others from our own observations:

  1. “It’s all well and good getting traffic to your website, but your site then needs to be good enough to convert that traffic into leads.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  2. “Google Analytics help not just with marketing decisions but with business decisions too. There is no more guess work as the cold, hard facts are there.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  3. “Focus on where the value lies. Speak to your customer – what do they actually need? Don’t give them any unnecessary fluff.” (Matt Cohen)
  4. “All innovation begins with vision. It’s what happens next that is critical.” (Matt Cohen quoting Eric Ries)
  5. Emma Jane Dicks and Code4CT are teaching young girls to code and changing perceptions about women in the IT world. Looking at the demographics of the WordCamp conference (95% male and white) it’s clear just how important the work is that they’re doing. Read more here: http://code4ct.com/
  6. “How a website it written is just as important as the design.” (Noel Tock). We couldn’t agree more with this point and believe that our words background and subsequent approach to website creation are what sets Pomegranite apart in the web development world.
  7. “The biggest compliment you can give WordPress is to just use what you need and leave everything else out. It’s a tool.” (Noel Tock) In other words – don’t blindly follow the theme. Rather focus on what your website actually needs.
  8. “You don’t realise how even educated web users use your interface. UX testing is crucial.” (Dave Perel)
  9. “People are not clicks. They aren’t conversion rates. You need to have a personal touch.” (Nick Haralambous)
  10. And my favourite of the day, something we all need to be reminded of sometimes: “It’s just a job, you do it to live. Not the other way around.” (Tomaz Zaman)

Why people leave your website

You’re in a crowded exhibition hall meeting lots of new people in your industry. What draws you to a person only to decide it might be a better idea to fake a bathroom break? What gets you hooked, makes you want to take a card, and place an order there and then?

Think of your website as one of these people in this room. In a sales environment, the aim is to attract attention to a product, generate interest and make a sale. Your website is your flyer, your yellow pages entry, your marketing pitch, your brochure, your voice online. The aims are similar. There are aspects of our websites that attract users but also aspects that repel them. It’s important to be aware of both.

Getting a user to your site is only the first step. Creating a site that makes them want to explore further is the next challenge – and the final goal? Converting that view into an interaction. The longer someone is on your site, the more likely they are to move further through the sale process.

There might be elements of your website that put users off and click that ‘x’ that you might not even be aware of. This handy infographic from the lovely folks at KISS metrics highlights some key points about what makes users leave a website.

Click to enlarge the infographic.

leave a website infographic

 

WCCT 2014

WordCamp 2014: A summary

Going to WordCamp was a bit of a last minute decision – but one I’m so glad we made.

Having worked on WordPress for about a year and a half now, we feel fairly comfortable with the platform, but we liked the idea of broadening our WordPress horizons somewhat and seeing what the frontrunners in our industry are up to. So we registered and went along not really knowing what to expect.

First impression: So many guys. So many guys in one room – in Cape Town. Seriously, I kept marvelling at the sheer number of them throughout the day. It was weird. But not entirely unpleasant. Let’s just say there is a reason they call it “bro-gramming”.

Coming from a words background, it really drove home the fact that we approach website creation so differently. We start with the story – how are you different from the competition? What picture do you want to paint of who you are and what you do in a way that sets you apart?

It was interesting to see that, while we are comfortable with WordPress, the hardcore coding side of things is not our strongpoint – and that’s ok. Because we have something to offer that is a lot less common in the “bro-gramming” scene: writing and communication skills. Having chatted to a few developers and speakers from the conference, it was exciting to see how we fit into this world and the role we would like to carve out for ourselves.

We found the talks really interesting and entertaining (nerd humour included), and, being women, felt the need to talk-all-about-it-and-how-inspired-we-felt after each one.

We took so much from the talks, in fact, that we’ll be running a series of blog posts over the next little while, as there is just too much to communicate all at once.

But we left the conference full of ideas and chuffed at the networking opportunities the day afforded us.

For now, here is a brief summary:

Organisation: Great – Liz especially loved the goodie bag and struggled to play it cool in the beginning. Thanks WooThemes!

Speakers: Awesome – especially Tomaž Zaman, Founder / CTO, Head of Product Development at Codeable.

MCs: Hilarious. Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues – you guys definitely added another dimension to the standard conference vibe.

Catering: Delicious. Sarah particularly loved the doughnuts. And popcorn. And muffins. And chicken kebabs.

Thanks WordCamp – I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again in 2015!

To see all the tweets from the conference and the nuggets of wisdom people took home, check out #wcct.

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue - Greenpoint Stadium

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue – Greenpoint Stadium

What happens when a brand collaborates with its Instagram followers

There’s nothing quite like a hopping on a bike and feeling the breeze in your hair on a sunset bike ride along the picturesque Sea Point promenade. Childhood memories of riding with “no hands” for the first time, the flying sensation of high speeds, near-collisions and scraped knees come flooding back. You can’t help testing your bell – brrrrrring brrrrrrrring – for safety purposes, of course.

But how do you communicate that experience on a website? Having been long-time customers of UpCycles, we got chatting about their website and before we know it, that question was ours to answer. So we checked out UpCycle’s social media presence and found that people had such a blast that they LOVED taking photos of their joyrides. And you can see the what a good time they’re having. So we let them tell the story of what it’s like to rent an UpCycles bicycle by collaborating with them on the UpCycles website.

Here’s a taster of what Instagram users happily contributed to the Upcycles website:

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The result?

We used a grid design because we were working with generally square pictures of a relatively low quality (having been shot on the fly with phones most of the time). We used a small slider on the homepage and built links to important pages around it. We got across the important information as succinctly as possible with maps and clearly listed rates and contact details. We also incorporated their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds to show off their online communities.

We had a lot of fun developing this site on a tight timeline and budget – and even more fun hearing how thrilled Jared and Shannon from Up Cycles were when we showed them the end product.

Upcycles website

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A little bit of gratitude

A friend of mine had a close call this weekend. Something awful almost happened to her, but, luckily, since she had her wits about her, she managed to come out ok – thank goodness.

But it made me think. About life and things. There is so much that is wonderful in my life. And one of those things is my business partner. I don’t think I say thank you enough – and life is too short not to say what you feel.

So:

Thank you for making me laugh. Every day. Mostly with you, sometimes at you. It makes all the difference.

Thanks for planning your outfits according to themes. I particularly loved “urban sangoma”, closely followed by “Canadian mom”.

Thanks for coming in to work one night while you were supposed to be on leave, because of a tricky project. Seriously – that was pretty awesome of you.

Thanks for explaining fractions to me in your babysitting voice that one time. Html columns can be hard, you know.

Thanks for listening to me thinking out loud about appointments with electricians and my grocery lists with, what I can only say, is very impressive feigned interest.

Thanks for switching easily between conversations of equal importance – SEO best practice and what the hell Mary is doing with Lord Gillingham when he is just such a “blah” character.

Thanks for being there, always, without question – whether it’s building a website together late on a Friday night (because we’re “working on our careers right now”), or helping me try and make sense of the curve balls life throws at us sometimes. Also – thanks for arriving with chocolate that night.

Thanks for the dance breaks, the emergency muffins, the morning cups of tea (which you can sense I sometimes need before I can make words).

Thanks for being a partner in the true sense of the word – with me every step of the way, in life and business.

(Side note: I am aware that this is starting to sound vaguely like wedding vows – please note that we have no immediate plans to marry.)

There’s no one else I would rather be in business with. And I am really excited to see where Pomegranite takes us – or, I suppose, where we take Pomegranite.

It’s been one hell of a ride so far.

My five favourite things about Hootsuite

When I first used Hootsuite, it felt like I was sitting at the control panel of a spaceship. So many columns, so many posts! What if I end up like George Clooney in Gravity!? But once you’ve got the hang of it – which doesn’t take long at all with this helpful beginners’ guide – you’ll never want to go back. It makes managing multiple social media accounts a breeze, but even for just one account, it helps you run your social media better.  I still feel like I’m in spaceship, but now it’s looking down at all the busy planets of Facebookland, the Twitterverse and LinkedInland.

Here are my five favourite things about Hootsuite:

  1. You can manage it all from one window.

    Research has shown that 42% of adults are using multiple social networks so your brand had better be there too. Hootsuite is essentially a dashboard which supports social network integration for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, MySpace, WordPress, TrendSpottr and Mixi (I’ve never heard of the last two either) without you having to hop from window to window.

  2. You can schedule posts.

    This cultivates the practice of planning your content which is crucial to good social media management. Being able to schedule posts means that you have to think ahead: figure out what’s coming up, what you want to highlight, what kinds of interaction you want to foster and what content you want to share. This awareness gives your content structure, saves you time and completely eliminates the dreaded morning feeling of, “Oh crap, what am I going to post today?” which generally ends up being something lame, which helps no one.

  3. You can see action quickly and easily.

    All of your notifications show up on your dashboard so you can keep track of interactions immediately. You can also read through all of the feeds of all of your platforms in one place. Not only that, you can see your private messages, set up lists and see what you’ve scheduled.

  4. You can dip in whenever you like.

    While you can schedule your posts ahead of time, there is nothing rigid about the platform; you can jump in to share something spontaneous or join a conversation at any point.

  5. You can shorten URLs in a flash.

    For the times when characters need conserving, Hootsuite has a built-in URL shortener. Simple, quick, easy.

Quite simply, Hootsuite helps you work smarter. It’s integral to efficient working methods like How to Spend Only 10 Minutes Per Day on Twitter.

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Five reasons why I love Instagram

Instagram is one of the fastest growing social media platforms – particularly in South Africa. And I just love it.

Are you on it? Because you should be. Here are five reasons why it’s creeping into my heart.

1, With Instagram filters, even your driver’s license photo looks good. True story.

2. The character limit is quite generous, and sometimes the captions are even lovelier than the images. There is something about the artsy vibe of Instagram that tends to inspire people to think of more creative captions. Being a words person, I sort of love this about a visually-driven platform.

3. You can be inspired by such a wide range of posts and people to follow. No matter what time of day I check, the following are always in my feed: incredible travel destinations, awesome fitness inspiration, beautiful poetry (tip: follow tylerknott – seriously. Just do it.), and little windows into the lives of my friends.

4. The short video feature – just enough to entertain you, not long enough to get boring.

5. While you may get a kick out of following celebrities on Instagram and getting a first-hand snapshot of their “real” lives (once they’ve been selectively filtered and cropped), it’s the rare glimpses into reality that I love most. Case in point: Anna Kendrick. And photos like this one, which is captioned: “I would just like to remind everyone of the reality of the situation.”

anna kendrick

You can follow me @skgurney and Liz on @123_liz_is_me

christmas office party

The importance of a dance break

Dancing is rarely associated with office culture except, perhaps, in the regrettable case of Christmas parties when a few sad strings of tinsel and too much free booze compel people to reprise their famous air guitar solos.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. At the Pomegranite office (which we share with the awesome Agriprotein crowd) we take fun dance breaks seriously. It’s not about dancing well and it’s not about looking cool (as the story of how it started shows). Bored of working on our accounts, I decided to recreate this amazing music video:

It was so good that Sarah had to take a photo (everybody cheering me is just out of frame).

dance break

Spitting image right?

Since then, we’ve been cranking up a great tune, having a singalong and moving our bodies. It’s about getting out of your head and back into your groovy body for a little bit. The benefits are SO worth it:

  • getting up and moving gives your back and stiff muscles a break
  • the music (and laughter) help clear your mind and improve your mood
  • those couple of minutes are transportative – you return to your desk renewed
  • having some fun and (most importantly) not taking yourself seriously bring your office mates closer.

So go, turn up something you can’t resist and get on down!