[SSB#16] Creating a digital product under lockdown.
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Welcome to the 16th edition of my newsletter "Supersonic Business", a fortnightly publication by me, Laura Landmark, with a focus on business growth, value and performance management, in other words, all things that make a business better.
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Sandnes, Norway, Monday morning, 20th April 2020 🌄
"Supersonic Business" is sent from me, a Management Accountant, to those that have a leading position in SME's (small/medium businesses), and especially their accountants. The vision for the newsletter is to share information, tips and tricks to build healthy, thriving businesses from the 'inside out', it is written from the finance and administration perspective.
I hope you enjoy [SSB#16], write to me on email@example.com if you have any feedback or questions.
This weekend I was talking to my daughter, she was telling me about her day. She had driven her car to get a few groceries, where she met a friend at the supermarket. She did a bit of shopping, before going to work at the burger restaurant. She has a part time job to save money towards furnishing her basement flat.
This might not sound particularly exceptional, apart from the fact my daughter is 10 years old!. Of course, she didn't do those things in 'real' life, but in an online interactive game, where she met with her real friend (like a real real person that lives in our street.. she is not allowed to interact with strangers!), and they went about their imaginary day.
The weird thing was, that when she was describing her 'virtual day' to me, it actually sounded more real than my 'actual day'. Her online day sounded like the 'old normal', whilst we are now dwelling somewhere else, somewhere between 'life as we knew it', and 'life as it is going to be'.
The five stages of professional development through Covid 19
I am not sure if we have hit 'new normal' yet. My friend Daniel Richards of My Firms App (the global leader in apps for accountancy firms) gave a speech some weeks ago, where he hit the nail on the head. He describes the general situation with Covid 19 from a professional perspective. The words are his, but I added the timeline.
Covid19 stages of professional development = Curiosity -> ShellShock -> FireFighting -> Proactivity -> ‘NewNormal’.
Curiosity "oh, there's this thing called coronavirus" (Jan / Feb 2020)
Shellshock "flipping eck, it's on my doorstep and we're all working remotely...." (Feb / Mar 2020)
FireFighting "let's solve our own business challenges, & figure out what we need to do to help solve our clients issues - crikey, they're getting in touch and some are not paying" (Mar / Apr 2020)
Proactivity "we're about ready to get back on the front-foot and take back some semblance of control, the best we can" (Apr 2020 ie NOW!!!)
NewNormal "interesting world this, glad we innovated during firefighting and proactivity and cared for our clients, we're in a good position to thrive again now..." (The future ?)
At the time Dan gave the speech he estimated we were somewhere between shellshock and firefighting. I could certainly resonate with that, I went about for a few weeks in the middle of March feeling very weird, and not quite ready to deal with things in the way I would normally.
Easter was a milestone though. It offered time for reflection, reprioritizing and regrouping. After Easter, things have stabilized a bit, and although things are not the same, I am getting back into a new rhythm with new energy and enthusiasm
Apart from feeling a bit weird, I have spent some time recently in a very important state of flow. I have been fulfilling a career-long mission to make a special forecasting tool for accountants. This is so they can gain foresight on what is about to happen in a client's business based on the current state of play, with the ability to run simulations for scenario planning, since these days nothing is linear!.
I know there are other forecasting tools available, but I wanted to make mine as intuitive as possible. I started planning the scope of the tool as it became obvious that times were changing. Lockdown in Norway started relatively early and gave me the perfect opportunity and drive to create something new.
My design principles
The important thing about the tool I wanted to create was that it should be
detailed enough that the accountants are confident in using it to support their clients as a decision-making tool
simple enough to be able to quickly verify, interpret and communicate the results to the client,
powerful enough to be able to create different versions of the future, in order to plan for A, B, or C.
cheap enough that using it is a no-brainer. As long as the accountant can charge out approximately 5 minutes of time per month in consulting they would have covered the cost of the tool.
focused enough that it details an appropriate time period. Planning horizons have shrunk considerably over the years, and especially now, from the five-year plans of yester-year to the five-week or five-month plans of today.
automated enough that it rolls forwards effortlessly, every Sunday you get a new in-depth snapshot of the next 100 days (3.5 months)
flexible enough that you can easily plug in your own assumptions about operations, financing, and investments.
We, accountants, have a tendency to stick to the comfort of our historical accounts and shy away from offering proactive advice about the future. We are wary of being wrong, but forecasting is a mindset that requires anticipation, not perfection. We are not looking for one perfect number, but a range of likely outcomes falling within certain guardrails.
Painting by numbers
Based on my shortlist, I wanted to, metaphorically speaking, scoop up a big chunk of any companies history in my arms, and throw it forwards onto a blank canvas, and then be able to splat it with big splodges of current reality. Not a particularly technical explanation, but that's how it felt!
Actually, just before this happened I was in Postdam in Germany at a Monet art exhibition, and there was an old black and white film of him doing exactly this in 1915.
The 74-year-old Monet was in his beloved flower garden at Giverny with his water lilies (his favorite subject of later years, he actually painted around 250 water lilly paintings).
He had his massive canvas set up in his garden, and his various brushes and he was blobbing and stroking paint to create his masterpiece, whilst puffing on a cigarette with a dangerously long piece of ash, which I am sure must have added a bit of texture to the paint!
Anyway, maybe that somehow inspired me, the painting that is, not the smoking! I am not sure, but my point was, I wanted to be able to paint a clear picture of the future, something that you can actually look at and decide, "is this the future I want, or can I do something to change it" before its too late.
I love Abraham Lincoln's quote
"The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it." ~ Abraham Lincoln
So, several weeks on, where am I at? The product is ready, I put the final formulas in place, last week and will run my final control checks this week. It has become a project of passion that I have completed mostly in my spare time for want of contributing something really useful to the world right now.
Now the practicalities of completing this in my spare time under lockdown is that the normal rules have not applied. Sleeping at night has become part sleep / part work.
Rising at 03:30 at night to tinker around with my forecasting tool has become a bit of a habit. I wake up bursting with the excitement of getting a bit more built whilst the kids are sleeping and before breakfast & home-schooling and 'regular job work' begins.
Somehow knowing that I can do all of this in my PJ's in the comfort of my home office with my beloved cat Pai by my side makes sacrificing sleep not only bearable but enjoyable.
Trying to be quiet as a mouse means that I drink only water till approx 5am by which time I am literally gagging for a hot cup of green pepper tea (my own special recipe!). This is always quickly followed by a fresh coffee and a big stretch.
By 7:30 when the kids are waking I feel full of achievement and satisfaction and ready to devote myself to them and their needs.
During the day I also catch up with my customers to help them as best as I can, those that are still working that is. As well as contributing to keeping the wheels of our own business turning as smoothly as possible in these unusual days.
Why have I completed this in my spare time? you might ask? Do I not have anything better to do? you might think!
Well, I guess it's like writing a book. You feel the drive to deliver something spectacular and speculatively to the world. No one has asked for it, maybe no one will use it / read it, but your creative self has something that needs to express, and once you start and get into the flow, stopping is out of the question.
So what began as a simple idea became a mission of passion, pride, and curiosity. Could I really make this work? I believe I have fulfilled all my original intentions, the model is simple, quick, intuitive, and it is READY!
Now the really hard work begins (for me!), I need to figure out the marketing bit. So many questions and considerations, so much to learn, hats off to marketing people!
I have researched tones of stuff around running webinars and launches. I have answered my own questions, like what should I use for my webinar, Teams, Zooom, Meet, for example? What even is the difference between Google Hangouts and Google Meet?, how many people can I invite?, can I record? and the list goes on.
Other 'simple' things needed researching and answering, like, how to set up a slide show on my laptop so I can present my screen, but still see my audience?. Where should the light be, in front or behind? How do I invite people to a webinar and get them to register...ohhh... Landing Pages..that's something else to learn!!!
I am doing it though, my product is ready, my landing page half-built, my script for a short SM video scribbled down, and a valuable 'freebie' for my webinar participants is created and ready to share.
Lockdown has been a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing. Time to learn, grow and develop, plus spend oodles of time with my lovely family, cooking yummy food and weeding my garden. These are things, certainly the weeding, that just don't normally happen in the hustle and bustle of 'life before Covid'. Yesterday I even hung my washing on the washing line to blow about in the warm Norweigan mountain air, because I actually have time to wait for it to dry, and the radio DJ decided he had time to play the whole Guns n' Roses November rain!.
I am of course not saying that I am glad Corona happened, but I agree with the saying that life happens for us, not to us as another good friend Rita often says. And this disease and period of isolation and social distancing has made me the equivalent of a writer, holing up in a cabin in the woods to pour their best words into the proverbial typewriter.
My model is only available to accountants in Norway since it is set up to run against specific Norwegian software, but the principles are universal, so if anyone wants any advice on setting up a weekly rolling forecast, then PM me and I will see if I can help.
When you arise in the morning, think what a precious privaledge it is to be alive, to breath, to think, to enjoy, to love. Markus Aurelius
Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn if you would like to know more about how we use technology to make life in business easier and the way forward clearer.
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Books on the bedside table this week.
This is a really good wake up call about the world we created for ourselves full of diversions and 'happiness' vs freedom and character.
It is quite controversial and will not resonate with everyone, but I think it is really worth a read as it gets you focusing on the things that we should be caring about and thinking differently.
Always end with a thanks!
🙏There is only one person on my mind today, and that is the fabulous Captain Tom Moore. Thanks to Captain Tom, for his amazing contribution to the UK NHS, 'he is a legend' as Prince William said.
Something to watch
Here is Rita and I having a coffee morning a few weeks ago at the beginning of my model building journey. Several weeks later, by the end I was just glad to get it finished, making it so dynamic took way more creativity than I originally anticipated!
Thanks for reading & see you next time
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