All posts in Business

  • Outsourcing small jobs cheaply

    I probably have about 100 different ideas a week. They can be anything from future Applingua plans to completely new business ideas to something as simple as a blog post. Most ideas are instantly unviable, but there are often a few which get jotted down in The Hit List for future consideration. Unfortunately they often get left there simply due to time constraints.

    One such idea was a blog post I recently published to Applingua’s Blog, listing the Top 100 Paid Mac OS X apps and their localizations. I knew in order to make the blog post more valuable to me, my clients and the blog’s audience, I needed to delve a little deeper than just studying one app store. I also knew surveying 100 apps across several stores would take a lot of my time, which I needed for client projects.

    After weeks of putting it off, I decided to write a quick job on oDesk (if you are interested, the job post is at the bottom of this page). The applicants had to be able to navigate the Mac App Store proficiently, enter information into Numbers or Excel and do a little research on Google to find out where each developer was located. It’s a classic data entry job.

    Within 15 minutes I had 4 applicants. I sent three of them the job and asked them to do the research and get back to me in their own time. There was no rush.

    A few hours later, a guy called Ramon got back to me with the finished work. I was amazed not only by the speed, but also quality of his work and friendly replies. His portfolio told me he was based in the Philippines and is an iWork and iLife “expert” looking for all kinds of work including mundane data entry. Perfect. I instantly hired him again, asking him to do 4 other stores and then to amalgamate all 7 excel sheets to find a set of statistics. I provided the sums and short descriptions.

    A few days later all the hard work was done and all I had to do was quickly check over the stats and write the blog post. In total, my time ~1 hour. Had I done the store research myself, it would have been ~2 hours per store * 7 + amalgamation + statistics + coffee breaks + the data entry boredom effect. Easily 2 and a half days on one blog post. The post is an important one, but I can’t justify 2.5 days off client work for it.

    The point of this post is you can do this too. Look at your todo list, set aside a small budget and outsource all the small, time consuming jobs you can.

    Just because you don’t want to do them, doesn’t mean others won’t.

    Hi Guys! *** Max 1.5/2 hour job ***

    I’m looking for several Mac users in different countries to do some research for me on the Mac App Store.¬†

    I am looking to extend this blog post:

    You must be:
    – A Mac OS X 10.6.x or 10.7.x user. If you don’t know what this is, stop now ūüôā
    – Know what the Mac App Store is. How to access it. How to navigate it
    – Have Excel or Numbers installed to work on spreadsheet

    What you would need to do:
    – Look at the attachment to this project. There is an excel sheet and a screenshot. The excel sheet tells you what you need to record.
    – Launch the Mac App Store
    – Go to the Top 100 Paid Applications in your Country’s Store
    РClick on each app. 
    – Make a note of the available languages (See screenshots)
    – Now, the difficult bit: go to the developer’s website and find out where the developer works (USA, UK, etc). You may need to use¬† if it’s not obvious.

    Any questions, just ask!!


  • I can’t use two computers for business

    Despite years of wanting “the perfect setup”, an iMac in tandem with a MacBook Air, I’ve come to the conclusion it just doesn’t work for me. Sure, it’s nice going on the odd day out with the Air, knowing I can check eMails and do any emergency work if I need to, but if you spend a week or weeks away from home as I recently did, having two machines is a bit of a headache. Even despite the many cloud sync options available today.

    This year I’ve been fortunate enough to own both a MacBook Air and iMac. For the most part it’s been excellent. Work has been sync’d perfectly over Dropbox, making it easy as pie to pick up from where I left off during the odd day trip. But anything longer than a day or two and it starts to become a real problem.

    Applications get updated all the time. Maintaining two sets and having to keep them up-to-date not only hogs bandwidth, it takes time when I should be working. When I have big projects on, I forget command line tools or helper apps I’ve installed along the way. Not to mention app preferences, email signatures, keychains and the like (this was great in MobileMe, but is no longer in iCloud‚Ķ). If this were Twitter, we’d be calling it only a #firstworldproblem, but the fact remains that many people would like a two-computer setup, but I’m just saying I’m not sure it’s worth the extra effort.

    Then there’s the matter of iTunes and iPhoto. I like to have my photos on the move, but I hate having to double copy photos back on my iMac when I get home. The same for Music, redownloading everything from iTunes and keeping Playlists in sync. I’ve actually recently become a paid Spotify and I’m really happy with that.

    The cloud is supposed to be the answer to everything, but it’s not realistic with our current average internet speeds to expect people to store 50GB iPhoto or iTunes libraries online. For work purposes, Dropbox has been incredible and I’m constantly recommending it to people. But again, Dropbox is for documents and the odd media file and not really practical or big enough to sync my photo and music library.

    Things are changing however. I can see potential in Apple’s iCloud for example. They’ve tried to address the photo issue with Photo Stream and music with iTunes Match (US). I can’t help but think these are designed with silicon valley people in mind and not your average person who doesn’t live in a city. Calendars and Contacts are great, but the rest still feels like we’re in the early stages (for example, Apple’s productivity suite, iWork, hasn’t yet been updating on the Mac but has on iOS).

    So, I’ve decided to sell up. I want one Mac that is powerful enough to not hold me up when working, but portable enough not to break my back while travelling. I’m replacing both machines with the “Ultimate” MacBook Air: 13″, 1.8Ghz i7 (BTO only), 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD. I’ll write up my first impressions and post them shortly. Meanwhile the 11″ Air has been sold and the iMac will be going up shortly (contact me if you are interested).

  • Making money online

    For years I struggled to make real money online. Apart from making the odd website, staring at a screen doesn’t bring in cash. It’s a dream many people have, especially those who want to free themselves from their desk and become more “location independent”. Well I’m making money online now and I’ve learnt a lot along the way. I want to share with you what I know.

    This article already sounds like link bait, right? Just like one of those posters that used to litter lamp-posts “earn cash at home” or the countless spam emails you probably receive every day. Well it’s true to a certain extent you won’t be able to earn money online if you are not comfortable with your computer or if you don’t possess any sales drive. Finding work online requires you to be able to sell yourself and sell yourself well. There’s no manager to hand work out to you, you have to go looking for it and you have to tell potential “employers” why you are best for the job, no matter how big or small it is.

    Human Intelligence Tasks – HITs

    Anyone who has managed to navigate to this blog is already overqualified for most of the work on Mechanical Turk, a website set up by Amazon in 2005 to human-automate tasks. It works by developers submitting small tasks to the website which need a human to decipher results.

    An example: someone with a website would like to display summaries of wikipedia articles on their website. A computer can’t decide what sounds best, so the developer creates a HIT on MTurk. You apply, navigate to a list of wikipedia articles the developer specifies and then copy and paste a succinct summary of the article (maybe the first two or three lines).

    Pay is very low, but these tasks are quick. You can easily do several an hour to rack up some change.

    Qualified Jobs (Anyone with any skill, grad or non-grads)

    Can you proofread, administrate, project manage, write blog articles, edit photoshop files, make PowerPoints, edit CSS or HTML, translate or speak another language? Can you web design, write reviews, check spreadsheets, answer support tickets or take good photos? Basically, can you do anything semi-skilled? You will almost certainly find something for you on, or The work is usually time limited, but there are also positions that last 6 months to a year.

    An example: you know how to use some photo editing tools (like Photoshop, Gimp, etc) and a company is looking for some customer support. They want you to login up to 10 hours a week, answer as many support tickets as possible, and get paid for each email you answer. It’s nice when work in = pay out.

    Pay ranges from very low (simple admin / web research) to high (development / web design / etc). I have employed lots of translators in the past from these platforms and it works very well.

    Creative Minds

    If you are creative, you can make things and sell them on¬† You can take photos and sell them on¬† If you can design websites, sell themes for good money on¬† Hey, even if you have a good voice-over voice, or are just particularly attractive while holding a sign that mentions a company’s name, check out¬† There are hundreds of alternatives to these sites, but these are some big names.

    The post-Apple internet is crying out for creative people. If you can offer a few freebies to a developer or company, they’ll almost surely recommend you. If they don’t, you’ll have gained work for your professional portfolio. Win-win.

    Online to Offline World

    If you’re into manual labour, helping people with their shopping, building ikea furniture, cleaning pools, take a look at the likes of¬† This is a growing market and I imagine you’ll see a lot more from the likes of TaskRabbit in the near future.

    If you have a spare room or two then rent them out by the night on¬† You’re protected by their guarantee and you can also check out guest reviews from other hosts if you’re afraid.

    Live in a city? Rent out your parking space on People in big cities are making real money from this ingenious idea.

    Scared about your CV?

    If you do decide to go at it alone to fund your travels or just to get out of full-time work for a year or so, you may be afraid what effect it will have on your Cv. Well I can’t tell you that for sure and it all depends on the person interviewing you for your next career job.

    In my opinion, any one who has gone out looking for work (being “entrepreneurial”), sold themselves as the right person for the job (“sales & marketing”), budgeted their own expenses (“financial skills”) and managed their own clients, deserves to be praised for it. At the end of the day it will come down to how you sell yourself in the interview, but surely a potential employee who has worked for several different clients doing varied work and getting experience, is better than someone who “just” took two years off.

  • The best thing the Tories have done for me

    Everyone loves to hate the Tories. At least that’s how’s it been within my lifetime. Since coming to power in May 2010 most of us have been following what seems to be a constant juggling match with our most prized possessions: education, health, financial services (and, for a moment there, even our forests‚Ķ). But I can’t say I disagree with everything they’ve done.

    I’m a strong believer the UK needs a better “starting-up” scene. Notice I don’t use the term “startup”, which, in my opinion, has been taken over by the tech industry to mean fast-moving, insanely funded business ideas that appear to fizzle out as quickly as they begin. The UK needs people starting up companies not just in tech, but also in one of the many other industries out there. When I talk about a better starting-up scene, I mean a more approachable environment in which people are encouraged to start up their own companies. To realise their own ideas.

    One of the best things the tories have done came just one month after taking office during the June 2010 Emergency Budget.  George Osborne took the stage to announce several corporation and PAYE tax reforms, skip to 9minutes 50 seconds to hear it:

    The National Insurance Holiday scheme exempts all new companies outside of London from paying employer’s national insurance contributions for up to ¬£5000 per employee (max. 10 employees). This isn’t something to be sneered at. Unless you are paying yourself and your employees over ¬£43k a year, in which case you can probably afford the NIC contributions, this is going to save your company ¬£5000 a year per employee. Even if you pay over ¬£43k, you can claim the ¬£5000 in contributions.

    Let’s take the average annual salary for a person in Rhondda Cynon Taf, a county in desperate need of innovation and new businesses (source).

    Average Annual Salary (Gross): ~ £25555

    Monthly Salary (Gross): ~ £2130

    Employee Income Tax: ~ £300

    Employee NIC: ~ £185

    Monthly Salary (Net): ~ £1650

    Employer NIC: ~ £215

    For a new Ltd company with two employees earning an average wage, that’s a saving of ¬£430 a month in tax, ¬£5160 a year (¬£5000 recoverable). Pretty helpful. This money can be spent on other costs a company has or even as savings to make a more stable business. It even makes taking on new part-time and full-time employees more attractive.

    I’m not paying myself anywhere near ¬£43000, but the National Insurance Holiday scheme has meant that I can pay myself around ¬£150 more a month because my company has it in the pot. All I can say is Thank You, George.

    One more thing…

    I should add that there is one more thing I would like to see more than anything else in the UK. It was also touched upon during the budget but hasn’t yet successfully made it nationwide: The New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

    Germany has a similar scheme where unemployed individuals who are eligible for benefits (have to have worked and paid taxes for two years in a row), get Jobseekers Allowance (“dole”) for the first year of starting up their own company. I want this in the UK.¬†It needs to be easy to access, guaranteed and available to all. It needs to be advertised too, not just some little backdoor thing politicians can use to claim they are “trying hard”.

  • Newsletters made easy with Mail Designer

    Most businesses, big and small, send out regular newsletters via email nowadays. Services such as MailChimp make it unbelievably easy to legally collect and manage subscribers and, best of all for the majority of small businesses, it’s completely free.

    MailChimp do provide basic templates you can work with and, design-wise, they certainly aren’t bad. You can add your own images, edit text and choose different fonts. MailChimp offers you everything you’d expect a newsletter service to provide and a few nice surprises too.

    But if you’ve gone this route before, you’ll know just how cumbersome editing templates actually is. You have to click each layout box individually, requiring almost an entire page refresh each time you change a font or add a word. You have to laboriously go through each section (header, body, footer, etc) setting background and text colours. If I were an HTML email expert, I would be mocking them up in TextMate and importing my newsletters into MailChimp this way. Unfortunately, I’m not an HTML email expert.

    Enter Mail Designer.¬†equinux¬†are email experts and have been making Mail stationery for over four years now. It should be said, I used to work for equinux, but never got to see this product finish and left several months before release. It’s taken me some time to start writing a regular newsletter for Applingua and only used Mail Designer for the first time properly a few days ago.

    What is Mail Designer exactly?

    Mail Designer (MD from now on) is a WYSIWYG graphical HTML email editor. Think iWeb for emails. It lets you drag and drop elements into a page-style layout and includes some professional looking graphics to make your newsletter look a bit more authentic.

    Graphics, Layout Blocks & Textures


    Perhaps the most compelling reason to use MailDesigner is its design flexibility. I started with a blank template, although it is possible to start with a series of pre-made templates or even by importing one of equinux’s other stationery templates. Within minutes I had dragged and dropped a series of layout blocks and started writing my newsletter.

    Changing font, sizes and colours is just as familiar as in any major document editor like Pages or Word. You can change background colours and, what’s more, equinux have provided a huge array of textured backgrounds to give your newsletter a more natural feel.

    My personal favourite feature has to be the built in graphics. I used the “New” badge in this newsletter and I can see myself using the -10% star in the future. These can be added to any image area on top or behind your own custom images.

    MailChimp ready


    For many however, the most attractive feature of MD is its built-in MailChimp support. The process is so slick. With built-in MailChimp placeholders you can personalise your emails using information you’ve collected when users signed up, such as their first or last name. When you are finished designing your email, you just Share to MailChimp and it uploads seamlessly.

    As soon as the upload has finished, you are taken to the MailChimp template page to review the uploaded template.

    At this point there were a few inconsistencies between my document in MD and what I saw on MailChimp. Namely, some fonts hadn’t made the journey correctly. It wasn’t major and I’d always recommend you check over your template before sending it anyway. I did contact support however and they let me know they are on to it.

    Here’s what the newsletter looked like in MailChimp:

    But of course the proof is in the pudding. Here’s what the email looked like in Mail (how I wanted):


    In a nutshell

    It took me only a few hours to create and upload my very first Applingua newsletter to MailChimp. Designing it took very little effort and adding images was just a simple matter of drag & drop. If you’ve ever properly worked with emails before, you know how much of a nightmare they can be. I expected poorer results from the MailChimp export, but, apart from the one or two incorrect fonts, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

    I will definitely be using it for my second newsletter next month.

    Update: Promocode Available

    equinux have been kind enough to provide an exclusive promo code for my blog readers. Simply buy using this link for a massive ‚ā¨10 off the total price! Thanks Guys!

    Oh, by the way, subscribe to Applingua’s Newsletter


  • Pre-requisites to starting your own business

    A few of you will remember the government’s latest initiative to get the people of the UK starting their own businesses. The so called “Startup Britain Bus” has been touring the UK offering advice to potential new business owners. At least that’s what it says on the tin.

    Last week I drove into my hometown, Cardiff, where the bus was stationed for an afternoon. There will be people who have put a lot of work in behind the scenes so I don’t want to be too harsh in my critique, but it was, at least in my own opinion, an unmitigated disaster.

    I could rant here about how huge-corporation graduates from Microsoft, Intuit and Paypal were trying to sell their own products, but I think I’m going to leave things be. Instead I’m going to say what advice I would have liked to see, having already started up myself.

    I have an innate dislike of business speak. Ironic really considering I studied business at university, am an Economist reader and run a small business myself. I want to give you my three pre-requisites to starting a business, cutting out all the crap and confusion that normally accompanies these kind of things. Take from it what you like, but I believe they will set you on your path to achieving what you deep down have always wanted to do: start your own company.

    My three pre-requisites to starting your own business:

    1. Passion. You have to be passionate about your business idea. You are going to spend every waking moment for at least the next 12 months thinking about it. Don’t choose an idea because you think it’ll make you lots of money, choose an idea because you want to change the norm and do something new. Your main idea can be something old-hat, but make sure you are going into it with a little bit of you attached.

    2. Find out who you’re up against.¬†When I wrote my original business plan I (stupidly) thought that Applingua was a never-done-before business. A day into my plan, I discovered I was so very wrong. Don’t ever assume anything. Spend at least a little time googling who you’re up against. Phone a few potential customers and ask whether they’d be interested in your product or service. Fortunately for me, my potential market is big enough for several competitors.

    3. Get a support network. Don’t attempt to start your own business without a support network. This can be friends, family, a bank or an investor. Starting your own company will take a lot out of you and you will need people to vent to sometimes (friends, family), but also share in the good times too (friends, family, investors). You will want people to talk things through with, to give you an outsider’s view of what you are doing. Never ever be arrogant, always ask for people’s advice.

    Your support network will unfortunately also have to include some saved money. I would recommend at least 3 months rent plus spending cash. I had to move back home to my parents house in order to start Applingua. Living here is rent-free and I’m now thinking of moving out. I am very grateful for my parents’ support.

  • Q1: ROI on Time and Other Goodies

    During the recent The Big M Conference, Raam Thakrar of Touchnote gave a talk on app distribution and monetisation. While there were many great points to take away from that day, one thing Raam said has played on my mind since: ROI on Time.

    Perhaps it’s my fault ROI on Time had slipped my mind, I should have gone to those economics lectures in first and second year instead of hanging out at the SU bar. So what exactly is it? Well, the concept is pretty easy: how much salary did you forego to start your own project? It’s very similar to the opportunity cost principle. How much salary are you missing out on by taking or rather making your own path?

    It’s quite difficult to find a good equation for ROI on Time online, so I’ve decided to work out my ROI on Time by adapting the standard ROI equation. Comments are enabled for feedback on this post.

    ROI on Time equation

    The perfect opportunity to calculate my ROI and ROI on time came last week when I finished my first ever quarter at Applingua Ltd. The results did surprise me. My initial investment was low and I know I surpassed what I put into the company in my first 2 weeks, but my ROI on Time was actually higher than I expected. During my business planning, I estimated I couldn’t expect a salary before May. That turned out to be two months early in March. The ROI on Time result sits just short of 50%, so in a monetary sense, I am actually losing out (and should perhaps quit and join an established company again). I would be interested in Raam’s opinion on when ROI on Time should be measured, after one quarter, 6 months, a year?

    It got me thinking. Starting a company isn’t always about money. In fact, if money is your only reason for starting a company I would suggest you stop now. A graph showing my ROI and ROI on Time would only be showing a very one sided argument for going into business. As many people in my position know, you often have to sacrifice certain things such as a social life to put in the time and effort to get your company started. A break in salary also affects socialising. So here’s that equation:

    Social Life Equation

    On the flip side there are also non-monetary¬†benefits to starting your own company. Above all for me this has been the learning curve. I went from a basic academic knowledge of starting a company, to the practical rollercoaster that it really is. I now know how to navigate UK company regulation, from VAT returns to National Insurance Contributions. I’ve managed 11 freelancers over 2 different projects at once (with, admittedly varied success). I can’t even list the thousands of things I have learned from the industry itself.

    It’s difficult to create an equation for this. I tried first to quantify how many “things” I have learned. Difficult to quantify. I then tried to work out engagement: how often I am looking things up, how often I am seeking advice from others. Also quite difficult to quantify over the period of time that has passed. I then thought about it differently, about overall skills learned. Not those individual tidbits you learn everyday, but more the skills I could take away with me if I were to quit tomorrow. Again, not easiest to quantify, but there is distinctly a set of skills which are totally new to me now which I had no hope of learning before:

    ROI on Learning

    The results for social life and learning aren’t surprising, but I think they deserve to feature in any personal start-up ROI graphic. They are just as important as money to me and indeed if social life were to suffer for too long, I would certainly have to reconsider my choices. So let’s take the following graphic more as a benchmark to compare with Q2 and Q3 results.

    ROI on Everything


    So there we have it. The big winner is learning. The losers are social life and personal earnings. Company ROI looks strong and is good, but considering the small initial monetary investment, I’m aiming for triple that by the end of next quarter.

    All statistics should of course be taken with a pinch of salt. The old saying, ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ rings true just as much here as any other report you read. While on paper I am earning less than before, I am far better off than I was. I had to move back home to start Applingua, I’m not paying rent or bills and we share food payments. This is a huge part of everyone’s salary, but not mine at the moment. Living at home has also an a negative effect on the social life score, as I don’t benefit from colleagues sitting right next to me.

  • The wonders of Olark

    While working on Applingua I wanted to make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to get in contact. I began with a Contact Us page including a standard contact form, a Skype button and an AIM/iChat link. I figured Skype and AIM would cover the gross majority of my customers and was content with that decision.

    After a month Google Analytics informed me only 8% of all visitors ever made it to the contact page. Of them, 1 had written an email using the form and another 1 had initiated a Skype chat. Neither resulted in a project of any kind. This had to change!

    Over the next few days I redesigned the site to reduce the call-to-action steps. I dotted mailto: email links around the place in an effort to look more open. It has not quite been a month yet, but it hasn’t really made any difference. Of the several projects since going live, it’s been a ~ 60:40 split between direct email and Twitter contact, all but one initiated by me. Perhaps not the best news for my website. Perhaps also a¬†symptom of a small start-up.

    That’s when Joe of let me know about¬†Olark‘s free plan. I had heard about the service before from various web mumblings but always dismissed it on cost reasons. A free plan would be perfect to try it out.

    The service offers real-time chat directly on your website, creating a channel to your usual chat client. I use iChat, but anything that supports Jabber/XMPP or Gtalk will be fine. When I’m offline, the website chat appears offline too so not to give you the reputation that you ignore your customers.

    In terms of installation, it couldn’t be easier. I created an account, customized the look and feel and then copy & pasted the generated script before the close body tag. They provided easy instructions for adding the account to iChat and within 10 minutes I was ready to go.

    Olark on ApplinguaThat’s really when the wonders began. Within minutes I could literally “see” people on my website. Up they popped in iChat with a plethora of juicy information. I could gauge how long each spends on my site, where they are based, which browser, and even if it was their first visit to my site. What’s more I could see exactly which page they are looking at giving me the ideal opportunity to strike up a conversation.

    Olark in iChat with lots of juicy informationAfter a week of using the service I have to say I am impressed. It works without fail, allowing me to speak directly with my potential customers with no barriers. I can customise look and feel, add custom welcome messages and even create custom image “attention grabbers”, as Olark like to call them. Chat is no longer a customer’s last-resort or no long has that “do I really want to bother them” feel. It’s a direct channel sales tool.

    Pricing at first seems high, starting at $15 a month and rising to a whopping $149 for larger enterprise customers.¬†I’ve been using their free plan which allows 20 conversations a month for a week now. The allowance isn’t great and my dashboard states 7 used conversations have already been used in one week. However, when you consider 1 of those has resulted in a project and another has high-potential, that’s a near 30% success rate. Their pricing structure suddenly seems much more affordable even to a small company like my own.


    With chat on every single page, I no longer have any barriers to communication – exactly what I was trying to achieve when originally making the site. I have the go ahead on one project (worth several times the monthly basic Olark package) and another potentially much bigger project to come in mid-week. If you work with chat open all day anyway, I would highly recommend giving Olark a try. What harm can it do!

    I will let you know if I move to a paid package and will follow up in a few months on how things are going.