aStore / Amazon

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How Hard Can It Be? [OBSRV] Coping with the learning curve

Mark Pilgrim in "Dive into HTML5" estimates 99% of web sites have HTML errors - can you cope with this?
One of the advantages freelance work affords me, is seeing a broad range of people. One clear observation recently is how people react to certain content marketing (i.e. editing, copy writing, graphic design) work. Sometimes I assume people new to the field will eventually learn. With learning and experience also comes confidence and maturity. Sometimes, the confidence show up as the ability to handle pressure, change and even failure. Handling difficult situations is the most valued quality in an experienced professional. Just ask a surgeon who opens up a chest and "suddenly" finds a "complication". Or a lawyer facing a new fact from a witness during a trial. Sounds a bit over the top? Yet this is what I see on a daily basis. It comes in small ways. Small coding mistakes (HTML Tags), language and actual product description mistakes, navigation mistakes (buttons that don't work), and finally, problems with large functions like plug-ins and JavaScript functions. The mistakes are not necessarily going to influence a reader's impression, most times they are not even visible. Yet, some people react in strange or extreme manner.

What I learned the last few weeks is how wide this reaction ranges. It may seem obvious, yet somehow I am still surprised. Just the last few weeks, I got screamed at for a small writing snafu (surprised negatively). All the way to a serious discussion with a financial services marketing manager on social media, content marketing and financial audience technical level (surprised positively). I hope for less emotional reaction range when mistakes or surprises happen. My best explanation to this broad range of reactions, is simply as a reflection of broad content marketing use in business. Besides making my skin a little thicker, dealing with broad range of people's reaction is a sobering experience. But the most interesting observation is the ability (and inability) of some people to achieve certain level of work quality. Or even the ability to manage work not directly under their management. While internet content quality covers a wide range, comes from many different writers, artists and editors, there is an expected standard level in many areas. Small and medium size companies (up to 500 employees) are expected to have a certain image, style and content as a bare minimum. Today, HTML5 "responsive" designs (automatically adjusting for small screen sizes / smart phone and tablet viewing) are a standard format. The same goes for standard company content. For the most part, people I meet, both experienced and novice, agree on basic content for a site (product descriptions, company information, etc.) Most novices are not experienced enough to estimate work effort (on their side). Most also do not think forward to estimate the use and impact on their business (i.e. marketing, sales, support). This is not a big problem, most people will find out for themselves quickly enough. With any new situation we try and learn (We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.). 

My advice to most people (new and experienced) is not to feel uncomfortable and certainly don't get emotional. This is especially the case when working with people not under your direct management (i.e. consultants, freelance specialists, service providers). At first, learning something new and keeping your cool is hard. But that's the point of learning something new. You don't get to feel comfortable until you are a master of your domain. There is more to learn than you ever imagined. The field of internet content is endless. In addition, there are many technical details which will snag you along the way. You can't learn everything. You can't even be an expert in a serious content specialty without feeling frustrated along the way. So if you need to get help in how to handle stress, try whatever works for you. You may need to try a few thing before you get into your own rhythm (or path to walk in). If you can't write full time, try editing, promotion, copy writing (fact checking, grammar checking). There are countless ways to jump into a new position or learn a new profession. From the now classic "Who Moved My Cheese" to the recent "The First 20 Hours" there is plenty of help in learning new skills and getting into a new profession. But be careful of slippery sales schemes that will make you a top flight JavaScript programmer in three months (or a software tester, UI/UX designer, SEO expert...)

How Hard Can it Be?

When you look at a single product or a small company site, it looks simple enough, not hard to do. Right? Then you look at many sites, the first impression is the same: "if all these companies can do this, I should be able to do it!" Hold on a minute, not so fast with your answer. Can you write good copy? Text that will be clear, flows, explains and evokes emotion or gets "take action" response? For most of us the answer is... probably after I work on it for a while, but not on the first try. So the answer to "how hard can it be?" is... it's hard, at least to make it great or even good enough, the FIRST TIME AROUND. The same applies to page design, user interface, navigation, information organization, graphic design and photography... you get the point. It's hard when you have to compete with the best or even just good experienced professionals. But... not all of us have to compete with Amazon and Facebook. And, we can hire at fairly decent prices writers, designers, marketers, site organizers and lots of other useful helpers. So don't get scared away by the first "this is going to be hard"... keep on going, even after the first 20 hours!