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This is a Human Issue: Zao Stands with Refugees

We stand with our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors–not because they have a positive effect on our bottom line, but because they are human and worth the inherent dignity of humanity

Like many of my fellow Americans, I’ve found myself a bit dumbstruck over the events that have unfolded from our nation’s executive branch over the recent weeks. An eternal optimist, I’ve done my best to find silver lining in it all.

The bright side of all of this? Americans all over our country are banding together in solidarity to show their support for their immigrant and refugee neighbors.

“What is a web development agency doing spouting political diatribes?”

That’s what you might be asking. It’s a fair question. This is not a political issue; this is not a “left” or “right” issue. This is a human issue.

Many business leaders have already come out in support of immigrants and refugees because they run companies who depend on those populations and their skills, or they run companies founded by immigrants.

This is all good and well, but at the risk of being repetitive: this is a human issue. 

We stand with our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors–not because they have a positive effect on our bottom line, but because they are human and worth the inherent dignity of humanity.

None of this is (or should be) controversial. Many of us, in our dumbstruck state, are left asking ourselves, “What can I do?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if all of us do something, it will make a difference.

This is what we’re committing to:

Starting Local

To me, this is the most important part.

We may not all be able to go protest, or go to the ends of the earth and alleviate suffering, but we can all do something right where we are.

Zao Supports Refugees

Locally, Zao is committed to serving an organization who has been committed to serving Portland’s local refugee population.

Refugee Care Collective equips refugees to adapt to life within their first year of entry through partnering with local resettlement agencies and mobilizing the city of Portland.

We’re doing a matching campaign for RCC.

That means we’ll match anyone’s donation to RCC, dollar for dollar, in their name.

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If you hate these matching campaigns as much as I do (I mean, seriously, you want me to RT you and you’ll give a dollar? Come on. Just give the dollar.), fret not.

We’re giving $1,000 (to start) no matter what. We’d just love to be able to give it in your name, instead of ours. Just email your donation receipt to justin@zao.is, and I’ll hit you back with the matching donation in your name.

Other Pacific Northwest Organizations That Need Help

Latino Network

Latino Network is a non-profit that serves Latino youth, families, and communities. The news of the election has hit their community hard, and the support they offer the Portland-area is invaluable.

“At the same time, American voters made a choice to elect a President who has used harmful and divisive language that singles out Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, and other people of color.

I have heard from many of our staff members and community members about the deep fear that exists within our communities. Many of us, our families, and people we know came to this country as immigrants seeking a better life. Leaving one’s home to immigrate takes courage, strength, and a deep desire to seek something better for ourselves and our families.”

-Carmen Rubio, Latino Network Executive Director

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project fights for immigrant justice by providing direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education. Since the election, they have been doing a ton of work to continue to advocate for immigrants and educate social service providers in Washington.

IRCO

IRCO has spent the last forty-plus years working with Portland refugees and immigrants. Their goal is to “promote the integration of refugees, immigrants and the community at large into a self-sufficient, healthy and inclusive multi-ethnic society.”

Islamic Social Services of Oregon State (ISOS)

ISOS is a charitable organization that works with a network of non-profits and community service groups through financial and public assistance. They provide refugee services, as well as needy assistance, family crisis, and alliance support.

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

There are parallels to history in what has recently happened. We said never again. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education is an extremely important resource, particularly right now.

Hollywood Theatre

The Hollywood Theatre is a non-profit that screens special social justice related films and works with local non-profits (like Latino Network) to host screenings, with talkbacks, and gives the proceeds back to the organizations they partner with. Art has been a well-documented medium of political resistance and education, and supporting that is vital.

Regional Arts & Culture Council

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is serves Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties with grants for artists, non profits, schools, as well as advocacy, community services, and arts education.

Once again, art is a well-documented medium of political resistance and education–as well as an excellent therapeutic tool and a huge contribution to the community. It has been suggested that the current administration may eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would drastically damage many arts organizations–this one included.

The President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, Robert L. Lynch, shared a few things he has done, as well as how the community can rally against this, in a blog post on their site.

“I don’t take anything for granted with the will of an elected body, whether it’s federal state or local. Anything can happen…[s]o it’s important for the arts community to voice its concerns as much as possible.”

Robert L. Lynch, Americans for the Arts President and CEO 

Beyond Local

National Organizations That Need Your Help

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

These folks help protect and fight for the rights of those who have been uprooted, based in Washington D.C. They’re doing vital work and a great central hub for supporting refugees and immigrants.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

You’ve heard of the ACLU, and we have them to thank for blocking the unconstitutional ban that the world is still reeling from. They’ve decided to keep fighting–and these lawsuits are expensive. Supporting them is crucial.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

EFF has done important work for many years. Considering that Muslim Americans returning abroad were recently asked for their social media accounts for evaluation upon re-entry, the work they do is going to be more important than ever.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

BAJI works with and on behave of African American and black immigrant communities by building coalitions and initiating campaigns to push for racial and social justice. They’ve released their official condemnation of the recent executive orders, and will need support for the people they serve moving forward as well.

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

ILRC trains attorneys, paralegals, and community advocates regarding how to work with immigrants, and work with many different groups to shape public policy regarding immigration.

National Immigration Law Center

NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and strategic messaging about immigration issues.

What Else Can We Do?

Call your representatives and voice your opinion.

The Sixty Five makes it easy to find your reps, as well as provides a simple script for callers to use, which is especially great for those of us who get anxious regarding calling on the fly.


I’ve given a lot of thought to giving, and I want to make sure that we can have the best impact possible.

If you’re familiar with organizations that are having a significant positive impact for refugees and immigrants, or if there are other things you think we can do to help, I’d love to hear about them.

 

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What is the Discovery Phase and Why Do I Need It?

If you are one of our potential clients, it’s likely that you have been around the block and have heard the term “discovery” more times than you can count. The discovery process is the first step taken in moving from a prospective client to an actual client; it’s the time when a professional digs in deep, asking pertinent questions and figuring out what the client is seeking.

From what I can tell, this is becoming a standard in our industry. Why? Because building software (websites, apps, et al) is hard. One of our industry’s running jokes is that every project will be under-scoped and over-budget.

According to Hofstadter’s law, “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

This truth is magnified when estimates are requested before understanding the entire scope of the work needing to be done.

There are actually many reasons projects go over budget or time — some positive and some negative:

  • A key requirement is missed during the requirements-gathering phase.
  • A simple line-item balloons into days of work (For example,”Import items through ACME API” turns into days of digging through a massive API ebook PDF)
  • Crucial information is brought to the table late in the game. (“By the way, that API requires NSA security level clearance passed through a token.”)
  • Developers discovered a missed user-case problem and solved it without bothering to set up meetings/discussions/approvals.
  • A feature was given a bit more pizzazz than was scoped. (Developers get carried away!)
  • Straight-up underestimation of the work needing to be done and what it is going to take.

Building software is hard, but estimating software is even harder. After all, it’s rare for us to build the same thing twice. Though we work with WordPress, it’s actually quite impressive how little of our work deals with the actual blogging component. WordPress has the basic, expected features on lockdown, and so what we end up building is ways to make WordPress do something unique.

Uncharted territory

Let me remind you: Christopher Columbus’ intentions were to sail around the world to establish a shipping route to Asia. He estimated the distance to be about 2,300 miles (the true figure was much more vast at about 12,400 miles). This idea was controversial at the time; the prevailing theory was that the earth was flat. So Chris was spot on about the earth being round, but what he completely missed in his estimations was the existence of an entire continent between Europe and Asia. The United States of America is an example of massive scope creep.

What’s the point?

If we opt for skipping the discovery phase, we’re likely to run into this unfortunate truth: The short term gains are not worth the long-term pain.

At Zao, our goal is to give your project the best chance of success. The primary way we can help guarantee that success is by providing an accurate budget and timeline estimate (with some margin). As you have established by now, the primary way we establish an accurate estimate is through a discovery phase!

So enough about why…let’s talk about what.

What exactly is a discovery phase?

There are actually many ways to define a discovery phase, but the discovery generally involves gathering requirements, reviewing goals, identifying what is working, and what isn’t.

In order to do the work of discovery, we need access to all the relevant resources, which can include things like:

  • Existing scoping documents
  • Stakeholder requirements
  • Admin access to existing solution (CMS login)
  • Developer access to existing solution (FTP, GitHub repos, etc)
  • Access to relevant documentation
  • Project Review

Once we have access to all the relevant resources, we take time to review with you, the client. Some of the things we need to review together include:

  • Current pain points with your existing solution (This involves in-depth conversations, and likely a demo walkthrough or two)
  • The new proposed solution, and any of your accompanying wireframes, mockups, documentation, etc. (When possible, this can be accomplished through tools like InVision.)
  • Any of the gathered resources which require additional context (e.g. internal API documentation)

This review process is a great opportunity for Zao to collaborate with you. Our intent is to work alongside you as a trusted partner and help you maximize the potential for your project. We can offer industry-level insight based on our years of experience, and even help you to determine if the proposed solution is the best way to accomplish your goals.

In addition to the collaborative review effort, this is also the time we do in-depth research into your desired goals, and audit any existing solutions that we may be building with or on. These audits may include things like your eCommerce platform, web hosting provider, codebase, performance, etc.

Delivery of the discovery document

When we have completed the previous steps, we compile a discovery document for delivery.

This discovery document is the concrete answer to questions like:

  • “How do our requests align with our budget and timeline?”
  • “What will the individual components cost, and can I prioritize based on costs/effort?”
  • “What should be our MVP (Minimum Viable Product)?”
  • “Where does the MVP fit into our long-term roadmap?”
  • “How long will it take to launch our MVP?”

This discovery document represents a significant investment of time and energy and is the result of our collaborative efforts.

Completing the discovery phase and producing the discovery document brings a cohesion and clarity to the project that cannot exist otherwise, and provides a value far beyond the associated costs.

What…so what’s the point, again?

While our ultimate and obvious goal is to continue into the development phase with you, we also recognize that the discovery process may provide a broader insight into our working relationship. Zao is a small, focused team, and we recognize that not every project, timeline, or budget is a good fit for us. If, by the end of the process, it is determined that Zao is not the perfect fit for your project, the value you gain through discovery, and the resulting document is not wasted, and you now have much better clarity moving forward.

We’ve talked about the value of the discovery phase, but what if you don’t have the time, or budget for this important step? If we opt for skipping the discovery phase, we’re likely to run into this unfortunate truth: The short term gains are not worth the long-term pain.

Lacking the clarity of vision over the long-term work of the project, dealing with the surprises and scope creep, and pivoting on features mid-project — these are all very real risks of skipping this phase, which is why we consider it the first step in working together, and a high priority.


Have questions about the discovery phase? Or have any tales of horror of working without one? Let’s hear ’em!

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Small Teams Thrive by Working Remotely

One of nicest perks about being in the tech industry is the ability for employees/contractors to work remotely.

Obviously, if you own a brick and mortar store, you cannot have your employees work remotely because someone needs to stock the inventory, someone needs to manage the till, and someone needs to ensure the employees are getting their breaks.

However, when your product is virtual, the necessity to have all employees come to a physical location to perform their duties is nonessential. As a remote developer, you can literally work anywhere in the world…so long as you have access to the internet every now and then.

The flexibility of remote work improves quality of life.

Check out this post’s featured image. That’s my foot in my kid’s pool, taken while I was cooling off outside during a ninety degree day. I was able to write some CSS and get work done–all while I got to enjoy my kid’s laughter in the background as she played in the sprinkler. Having a more pleasant work environment is a huge morale boost. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I get paid to have it this good.”

While every organization wants to have the right employees, the impact of having the right (and conversely, wrong employees) on a small team is magnified.

Allowing employees to work remotely can position employers to expand their selection pool of candidates. This allows more flexibility when searching for a good fit for their company. At Zao, our team is spread out around the world. We have employees in Oregon, North Carolina, and Romania. We’ve tapped into unique skill sets and experience because we aren’t limited by physical proximity to our headquarters.

Remote work is also great for everyone’s bottom line.

Working remotely can also be a great bargaining chip. Lots of small companies have a smaller budget to work with. Many employees are open to taking a smaller salary in exchange for the perks that working remotely brings.

For example, employees can locate to areas where the cost of living is lower or be near an ailing family member. Employees can choose to buy groceries for lunch instead of eating out. Also, let’s not forget skipping the costly and often time expensive daily commute to the office. Working remotely prevents small companies from missing out on great talent because of budget constraints.

If your company values family and wellness, remote work is the way to go.

Most companies have core values that they do business by. It is very easy to have grandiose ideas of the dream organization, but much harder to make it a reality. Family is one of our core values at Zao. All of us have families. Working remotely adds a level of flexibility to our schedule to be present for our families. Even in crunch times, we can tuck our kids in and say goodnight before burning the midnight oil. Additionally, we can prioritize kid plays, sports games, swim lessons, anniversaries, etc., and show up for those moments we don’t want to miss.

To have our actions back up our core values at Zao is worth its weight in gold. Living with integrity, both personally and professionally, has benefits beyond what can easily be quantified. The byproducts include higher team morale, increased productivity, higher job satisfaction, and ownership of results. This equates to a more thriving and powerful team.

Do you work remotely? What are some of the perks you appreciate?

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Zao Client Spotlight: An Interview with Reggie Black of Cancer Tutor

One of the things Zao prides itself on is taking on complex projects that require in-depth strategy and not only solve problems, but add value to the technology our clients are using. We take a boy scout approach to the work we do: Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.

This means not only cleaning up what messes we may have found when we arrived, but leaving our clients with sustainable technology that benefits them in the future–both short and long-term.

We recently worked with Cancer Tutor, a website dedicated to providing valuable information on natural cancer treatment and prevention. Cancer Tutor is affiliated with and supported by prominent cancer researchers and the Independent Cancer Research Foundation, Inc., and aims to empower cancer patients to have unfettered access to information about alternative methodologies for their illness–and share their successes and failures.

You can read more about the work we did with them over at our portfolio (and check back–we may have another post here in the future delving into the technical dirty details of the work as well!).

Reggie Black, the head honcho over at Cancer Tutor, was generous enough to chat with us about why he chose Zao and how he felt about the project.

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If you’ve been wondering what it’s like to work with Zao or why our clients go with us, here’s some insight:

Why did Cancer Tutor seek out a developer?

We were building something new. Something that had not really been done before, there was no template or plugin to compare it to. So we needed someone who could dream as big as we can.

We get a lot of crazy ideas for things we would like to build. It takes a very special combination of developer and people-person to really understand what and how we want to do certain things.

Zao seemed to get “it” instantly. Even from the first wireframe we sent over, they understood our vision and direction. They were the first developers we had spoken to that took a genuine interest in understanding our project from day one.

Was there an emotional component to the problem you were looking to solve? What emotions did you or other stakeholders feel because of what was going on?

It was a little bit frustrating to hear some people tell us it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done through WordPress, and the fact that we had not seen others do it before to prove that it was possible made it difficult for us to express the vision that was inside of our head. It was very satisfying to be told that we could do it, and [that] Zao could tackle it. They happily accepted the challenge and took on every new problem that we threw their way.

What led you to choose Zao over any other agency?

Response time. Clear Communication. Hustle.

I sent them a wireframe and specs for the project late on a Friday night. I got a response on Saturday morning! Zao wanted to do video call to see each other face to face (which I love). I could visually see the wheels turning in their head and I could tell they were genuinely excited by the project.

During our first call it became evident very quickly that they had already done a very thorough analysis of our wireframes and asked us very hard questions about the project (which I also loved).

What was the solution to these hurdles?

Magic wizardry. I have no idea how Zao pulled off some of the stuff we asked them to do. It always got done, though.

What was the biggest takeaway or success of this project?

We launched on time! That was a huge success. There were so many moving parts between our internal team, designers, other developers, and Zao. There were many times during the project that we were flying by the seat of our pants. Zao always got their part done plus a little extra…without ever complaining. They displayed an incredible attitude throughout the entire project.

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How do you feel about your site now compared to when you were first searching for a developer?

The answer is now we feel like we have someone who can keep up with our craziness.

Me: Hey, I thought of this thing…let me tell you about it.

Zao: Yeah, we will have that done next week.

You guys get it instantly. One phone call and we’re on the same page. Even with the additional stuff we added, you were able to knock it out of the park

Are there any other comments or feedback you have for us about your project?

You guys have been, hands down, the most fun team we have ever worked with. “Making work fun again” should be your campaign. There were some incredibly funny moments in Slack and I really appreciated how you kept everything light-hearted.

Had we not gone with Zao, I know we could not have gotten this done on time. [You] were flexible with our crazy schedule and always got [the] work done.


Don’t be jelly! Getting your jam on with Zao is easy peasy; all you have to do is get in touch.

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Crucial Questions You Need to Ask Before Getting a Code Audit

Code audits are one of the main things Zao offers to our clients. Many of our clients are strategically looking at how they can expand their businesses, and a crucial aspect of that is making sure their technology is not hindering their growth.

There’s a lot of muddled information about what a code audit should look like, and many clients start their search for a code audit without any idea of what to expect, what questions to ask, or what they should be looking for when vetting developers to do the job.

Are you looking for a code audit? Here’s what you need to know and ask before you sign that check:

Code Audit Questions Clients Need to Ask

— What is the final deliverable I can expect from this audit?

Depending on your developer, the final deliverable can range from a simple confirmation that everything is working as it should to an in-depth delivery document that details what is working, what isn’t, and appropriate recommendations for improvement.

Nowadays, we all research what we’re spending our money on before we pay up. Whether that research is looking at Yelp reviews of local restaurants or comparing the best and the worst Amazon reviews on new products, we want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck. So often, though, clients don’t ask what they can expect to receive when it comes to code audits.

Maybe you just want a developer to look things over and confirm if everything is solid. That’s great! If you find a developer that will simply send over an email with a 👍🏼 and “Everything’s cool,” then they’re a good choice for you!

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If you’re looking for a more intensive analysis of your current code, you’ll want to find a developer who provides that. Since there’s no industry standard on what deliverable comes with a code audit, you’ll need to investigate to find the developer that is providing what you want.

Here at Zao, our code audits come with an exhaustive document that assesses our clients’ current technology with a specific eye on their needs and challenges, and includes recommendations that pragmatically account for budget, time, and priority.

We also provide a timeline that, should the client choose to work with us on implementing those recommendations, gives a realistic perspective on how long it will take for those technical goals to be accomplished. Lastly, we detail in each recommendation how and why this change adds value to our clients’ businesses.

— What kind of code do you audit?

Investigating the details of what to expect from your code audit is vital because some developers only offer specialized code audits. Some developers exclusively audit plugins, themes, or apps, whereas others are focused on auditing detailed eCommerce integrations or your entire site.

If you know you’re looking for a specific kind of code audit, finding a developer who specializes and focuses on that kind of development is key. If you’re looking for a full site audit, but the developer you’ve contracted with focuses specifically on auditing Genesis themes, you may not get the most effective and comprehensive audit that you need.

— Can you provide more details on code audits you’ve done? Do you have a sample I can look at?

When you find out more about the scope of a developer’s experience and take a look at a code audit sample, you’ll get a better understanding what the end deliverable will be–even beyond the initial response. You’ll get a better idea of how your developer tackles code audits and communicates the end result.

This information is crucial, as it helps you understand what to expect of your developer, and can help you find a developer who communicates in a way that works best for you.

— What kinds of clients have you worked with in the past?

Most developers have worked with companies that span a broad range of industries, and can tackle projects in unfamiliar industries like a champ. However, knowing if their experience includes working with companies in your particular niche helps you know whether or not you’ll need to explain specific industry nuances to them.

Your technology needs to meet your business’ needs, and those can vary slightly from industry to industry. Knowing your developer’s history with your industry can help you determine what kind of crucial information you need to communicate–or whether your developer is already in a position to take on those challenges without extra explanation.

Red Flags

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In an initial introduction, everyone is on their best behavior.

Job interviews are like dating. As Chris Rock says, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.” You need to know what red flags to look for when seeking out a developer–and how to look past the friendly representative to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.

— A dev who doesn’t ask questions

If you’re talking with a developer about a code audit (and potentially more work beyond that) and they don’t ask detailed questions about what you’re looking for, what your current technology is, what kind of pain-points you’ve experienced, and more, you have a problem.

You want a developer who is invested in your company’s success, in solving your technical problems, and bringing value to your business. A developer who doesn’t ask questions isn’t going to know what you need, nor have the full understanding required to adequately assess what is going on with your site.

That’s one of the reasons that we ask detailed questions and make sure we know exactly where our clients are coming from. We want to make sure that we have specific notes on what to look for and what they’re trying to accomplish with their technology. Even if our clients don’t have the technical savvy to articulate what they need done, by knowing their goals, their struggles, and their technical history, we can help by capitalizing on our technical knowledge to come up with creative solutions.

— A dev who can’t tell you in concrete, clear terms what you’re going to get

There’s a reason asking about the deliverable is so important. Code audits, without planning, can beget intangible results. Unlike design, there’s no Photoshop mockup, or unlike copywriting, there’s no first draft. If a developer isn’t willing to say, “Here is the end result you can expect from me,” it’s a huge red flag.

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Your developer needs to be able to set your expectations accordingly. You need to know what you are paying for at the end of this–and a developer who cannot tell you what you are getting for your money is not one you should hire.


We know vetting developers who, as far as you may be concerned, basically work magic on the internet, can be stressful. It doesn’t have to be, though. Now that you’re armed with these questions and red flags to look out for, you can assess which developer is going to be able to provide the code audit you need.

Have any other questions about code audits that we haven’t covered? Drop ‘em in the comments; we’re here to help!

Margin

One of the questions business owners get asked all the time: 

What advice would you give your younger self, just starting in business, based on what you now know?

This question, or variations thereof, can be a helpful way to frame mentoring conversations for new entrepreneurs. I always answer this question the same way, with a single word: margin.

The very best things in life happen in the margins. Too often, in both our personal and professional lives, we have no margin. Or worse, we have negative margins. A life without margin looks a lot like this:

  • No Personal Financial Margin: Living paycheck to paycheck (or gig to gig). No savings. No retirement. Sometimes late on bills. Get paid enough, but never really know where the cash goes. In constant anxiety about the state of personal finances.
  • No Business Financial Margin: Over-scheduled, over-committed, and under-paid. Unclear on what value you actually bring to the table. Trying to do everything – but never getting ahead.  If you have payroll to pay; you’re always hoping it gets funded on time.  If you’re freelancing – you are constantly tempted to go get “a real job” so you can make some actual money without working 80+ hours/week. Lots of ideas, but never any time to implement them. Always head-down, nose to the grindstone – never any time to think strategically.
  • No Emotional Margin: Aware of impending burnout, but don’t have time to deal with it. Getting internally frustrated towards professional peers for their successes and your apparent lack of success. Frustration in intimate relationships due to lack of communication, lack of boundaries with work, lack of being “present” when you’re meant to be present.

Naturally, there are countless other areas – but does any of this sound familiar? I think we’ve all been there, in some degree or another. Having no margin in life can be suffocating. It’s detrimental to your mental health, to your relationships, to your financial health, to your potential success in life – it affects everything!

Margin is so important, in fact, that if you recognize an area where you have none – it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment for you.  Drop everything, take a hard look at your mindsets, your choices and priorities, and what you’ve done to eliminate that margin.  Creating that margin requires an objective look – often times, an outside look – at the areas of your life that are killing you.  If you don’t belong to a mastermind, have a mentor, a counselor – some sort of objective perspective on your life that you’ve given permission to call you out – get it, now. The right people speaking timely truth into your life is transformative.

Marriages fail because of a lack of margin. Businesses flounder. Physical and mental health degrade.  Want more margin in your life? Say no. By virtue of the way time and space work – to get more margin than you have now (be it financial, mental, relational, etc.) – you need to say “no” to many things you are currently saying “yes” to. Margin creates magic.  If you ask the most successful people you know about where their greatest successes came from – I promise you, most of the time, it was from unexpected opportunity. If you have no margin, you eliminate the opportunity for the unexpected.

Besides saying no, getting outside accountability, and taking a good hard look in the mirror – what does creating margin actually look like? Here’s a very, very simple example.  Imagine you run a business.  You’re getting by, but just barely.  You’ve been growing at a steady 10% every year for the past 5 years.  It’s not astronomical, but it’s getting better every year.  Somehow – even with the increase in revenue – you’re still lacking the retained earnings that would give you some financial breathing room*.

If this hypothetical scenario is where you’re at today; do yourself a favor: make a budget.  Now (November) is a great time to start thinking about next year’s budget (potential fiscal year discrepancies notwithstanding).  But don’t just make a budget. If you made $100,000 this year – and you imagine that you’ll make $110,000 next year – don’t use your budget to spend $110,000!

Instead – create margin.  Rather than spending all $110,000 you imagine you’ll make in 2017 – go the opposite direction.  Create a $90,000 budget – and then stick to it, religiously. This observation is worth what you’ve paid for it, but here’s a few things I think you’ll find:

  1. Because of your intentionality in creating margin in one area, you’ll train your brain to create margin in other areas.
  2. You’ve perhaps never had any retained earnings as a business – theoretically, you’ll end your first quarter with $5,000 in retained earnings. This will feel amazing.
  3. With your intensified focus and newly created margin – you’ll end up thinking more deliberately and more strategically. Having cash in the bank will reduce your professional and personal anxiety and you’ll make better choices, get better clients, and have better profit margins.  You won’t see your standard 10% increase over last year – my bet? It doubles to 20%.

That’s the power of margin – it has a compounding effect on every area of your life. In the hypothetical scenario above – the business owner goes from just getting by, to ending the following year with double their annual growth, and increasing their retained earnings from $0 to $30,000 in one year.  Imagine a similar effect on your personal finances, on your mental health, on your relationships, your marriage!

I’m on a personal mission to find every ounce of margin that I possibly can in my own life – for the sake of myself, my relationships, my business, my team members, and my family. I hope you’ll join me.

  • This sounds hypothetical, but I guarantee you, it describes a significant majority of very small businesses (< 10 employees).

Our Audience

Blogging is sort of amazing to me. Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m objectively terrible at it. But I still think it’s incredible that we can put words onto a screen, press Publish – and then BAM! It’s out there, for the world to see.

Never before in the history of the world have so many said so little with so many words. Alas.

As our team grows, so grows the content we produce. Because I value clarity above almost anything else; I’d like to clearly define who we consider our audience to be. I haven’t really seen too many company blogs do this – the more views, the better! I don’t care loads about how many pageviews we’re getting – I just want to be helping the right people. Without knowing who we’re writing to, we do ourselves a disservice, and we do you a disservice.  You might not find yourself counted among our audience! (that would make us sad, fwiw. do something to become our audience, because I really like you.)

Without further adieu, three segments of our audience that we’re always considering:

Ourselves

That is, our future selves. Often times, we write something that is important at a leadership or business development level, or perhaps something that is inherently technical and geeky. We may publish this specifically because we know, in six months or so, we’re going to be Googling for that again. We’ll be delighted to find that our past self answered our query! In helping ourselves, scratching our own itches – we can be sure that we’ll be helping someone else in the process.

But sometimes, we also write to our past selves. Because, unlike probably most of you (wink wink), we tend to learn some lessons the hard way. When that’s the case, we write posts to give our past selves the wisdom to bypass those hurdles, and we hope that we can maybe help someone else who hasn’t yet stumbled over them.

Our Potential Clients

We have loads of clients, past and prospective, who have commented on the content (albeit limited) on our blog. We attract clients that we love because they get to know us, what we value, how we work, our personalities; all from our blog! I’ve found few truer things than this: you will work with people you like. We are almost never the cheapest or the quickest option for our clients – but they keep working with us because they like working with us. And often times, they know they’ll like us before they ever meet us – because of the content we produce.

Our Friends™

Some people like to call them clients, competitors, other agencies, other businesses, leaders, entrepreneurs etc. We just call them friends. Anytime we think we have anything that might be remotely helpful to other businesses, other developers, other product producers, or our current clients – we’ll publish it. Even if that means that we lose our own competitive “edge”. Sometimes this looks like systems and processes. Sometimes it looks like code.  Maybe it’s a book recommendation or a conference suggestion.  Maybe it’s pitching one of our friend’s products or courses! Anytime we can shine a light on something we think is helpful, we’ll do it.