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How to hire a web company – Who am I?

As part of my upcoming book, How to hire a web company.

Who am I?

I’m Steve French – I started Digital Tool Factory in 2002, and recently celebrated ten full years as an independent business.  Prior to that I worked at a .com startup that went nowhere, and then for an advertising agency.  That agency went out of business and I started Digital Tool Factory.  Actually I called it Creative Plumbing at first.   A poor choice in name but you have to start somewhere.


I originally started out as “technical muscle” for graphic design firms.  I had always specialized in implementing challenging graphic looks and feels.  That role eventually morphed into both the front-end and the back-end for websites and over the years the market for the front end development has become commoditized and I moved into back-end development, though with the advent of jquery I’ve gotten more onto the front side again as well.


I’ve always developed on the Microsoft Stack since 1999, largely for the reason that my boss at the time liked one particular feature of classic Active Server Pages.  I’ve stuck with the Microsoft Stack (defined as server and database) for many reasons largely because they solve the problems I have.


I’ve worked for many, many different companies for clients, in many different fields and industries and I’ve learned from all of them.  I am not naturally a good salesman or marketer.  However I am an excellent explainer and adviser on technical matters.  I’ve found that I have the same conversations with new clients, and the communication problems tend to happen over and over again.


That’s why I’m writing this book, to speed up the development process by getting the communication problems out of the way.


Nov 12

Written By Steve French


How to hire a web company – the new book from Digital Tool Factory

'Hire Us' photo (c) 2012, Dita Margarita - license: talking a to many potential, and actual clients lately I have decided to expand my internal checklists stock questions into an e-book called “How To  Hire A Web Company”.   After reading this book you should get from a search engine result to a successful Client-Vendor relationship much faster, and you will find the best company, and not the best salesman.  I will show you how the web company sees their clients, and show you how to move faster towards a successful website.


Think of the book as an operating manual for the client-vendor relationship.


My tentative outline

  1. Who am I – about my experience, company, and insights
  2. Who are you –   How web companies see clients.  A practical discussion of the differences between the needs of marketing and operations departments (as seen through the eyes of a web company).
  3. Personality types – and how they affect client-vendor relationships
  4. What are your needs – Broadly speaking of course – The five kinds of web sites
  5. What technology should the site use?  – The differences in what your web company cares about and what you should care about.  What you should care about, and what you should not care about
  6. Cheap and easy ways to make your web company feel loved (and get better service and a better deal) – this chapter will go into the non-intuitive things your web company will care about that probably never occurred to you.
  7. Checking references, what to look for and what to ask for
  8. Offshoring, Mobile, Apps, SEO and other hot buzzwords, what to care about, and what to watch for
  9. Checklists, checklists, checklists!
Most of the content will appear on the blog first – please stay tuned.  Any commentary will be much appreciated

Nov 12

Written By Steve French


How to raise your social status

One surprising  claim in David Rock’s book was that evolution hardwired a desire for zero-sum status in our brains.  That is to say, I feel good when I am somehow superior to someone else.  There must be a winner and a loser.  I thought the status claim was a bit dubious.  I’ve never felt like someone is dramatically above or below me in some social pecking order.  If it never applied to me, how can it apply to anyone else?

Now, after reading and listening to an interview with Pete Michaud on niche marketing I’ve come to think the desire for status is  absolutely true; I’ve just defined myself into an obscure niche where I tower an order of magnitude over everyone else and will be forever king

The activities that A) I care about, and B) where I compare more or less directly with others are:

  • Music: specifically bluegrass, specifically bluegrass influenced by 30’s country
  • Programming/WebDev: Specifically Server/html/Css/Photoshop
  • My startup company (hey, I’ve made it to beta, that’s more than most) – and I have the best visual contact manager out there.
  • Politics: specifically libertarian, utilitarian minarchist, practical Constituitionalist, properly informed social Darwinist
  • Trivia: specifically Atlanta, general military history and political thought
  • Economics: specifically the field of law and economics

If you add all those up no one is even close to where I am now, or where I’ll be in the future.  There will always be people who make more money, and for that matter, code better and play music better, but how many of them can hold an informed conversation on the legacy of Eric Hoffer and the history of private currencies in America?  None I would imagine.

So how to raise your social status and self-esteem?  Just be specific and niche it down.


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Jan 11

Written By Steve French


Zachary Burt writes one of the better blogs about positive psychology

As those of you who know me personally know I have a new obsession in the form of positive psychology.  My main gripe is that I cannot find trustworthy online guides on the topic (like one would for, say woodturning or baking).  Thus I was delighted to find the  blog of Zachary Burt.  He has not written a huge amount of content, but the posts are well written and well reasoned.  Check out his posts on entrepreneurship and positive psychology.


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Dec 10

Written By Steve French


Quacks, Business Coaches, and useful advice

Kill all real estate agents, lawyers and life coachesphoto © 2008 Alec Vuijlsteke | more info (via: Wylio)I recently came across this post about the phenomenon of Life Coaching and I’m in the rare case of disagreeing with the specifics while agreeing with the general theory.  The book in question, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock I have actually read and find to be well sourced, valid and useful.

That being said, I would recommend a sixth tell tale sign that the speaker just wants your money or attention, to wit the use of the Apple MacIntosh as an illustration of their theory.  I’ve heard this a couple of times, usually as it relates to the importance of focus, design, R&D, Marketing, knowing your customer etc.  Far too many companies are successful with the opposite of all of those attributes but they never get mentioned by the speaker.

Addendum: On the whole I favor coaching in general, self-awareness is essential to success and coaches usually provide that.   It is the systems that are suspect.


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Nov 10

Written By Steve French


I apologize for my earlier book review

My last post was a review of Work The System by Sam Carpenter.  In the book I erroneously conflated several themes and accidentally inserted a quote from a review in progress into the Work The System review.  I have taken the original review down it will not reappear.  I apologize for the errors.


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Jun 10

Written By Steve French


Everyone should read Brain Rules by John Medina

Brain CoralSeveral months ago I finished reading Brain Rules by John Medina and I’ve been raving about it ever since.  Medina is a noted brain researcher and the book contains the 12 things he wishes the lay public knew.

The 12 things (with my notes in bold and italic)

  1. EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. – The most important chapter.  Short version – if you exercise your brain will be smarter and it won’t get dementia.  I’ve put this to the test, and I am more focused with exercise than without.
  2. SURVIVAL | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too. – Not that memorable, good background information.
  3. WIRING | Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.- Not that memorable, good background information.
  4. ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.- Intuitive,  and general background information
  5. SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember. – Important, counter intuitive info on memory.
  6. LONG-TERM MEMORY | Rule #6: Remember to repeat.- Important, counter intuitive info on memory.
  7. SLEEP | Rule #7: Sleep well, think well. – The second most informative chapter.  I had always thought of sleep as a time of rest, it turns out to be a very active process for the brain.   Sleep is when the brain cleans and restocks itself.
  8. STRESS | Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way. – I had no idea that stress was the physical reaction that it is.  This is the third most important chapter.
  9. SENSORY INTEGRATION | Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses. – Good advice for graphic designers.
  10. VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses. –  mostly background information.
  11. GENDER | Rule #11: Male and female brains are different . – we knew this already, but Medina tells us how male and female brains differ.
  12. EXPLORATION | Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers. –  mostly background information.

From this book I have made the following changes in life Continue reading →

May 10

Written By Steve French


Beware aggressive salespeople – The power of “No”

the walls are coming downFor reasons unknown I spent most of yesterday dealing with salespeople.  One common component of all the salespeople was the instinct to “Close”.  The longer the contract period (these were all service companies) the stronger the close instinct.

Usually I just hang up on these people, but for fun I tried negotiating with them using the various Jim Camp “No” methods.  To my pleasure I was able to easily redirect questions and build need on my adversary’s part.    I was able to decrease the price (on average) 25% and got several freebies as well, if I ever decided to go through with any of the offers.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Unfurled


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Apr 10

Written By Steve French


Free Jim Camp negotiation book – “Start With No”

DiscussionI listened to an interview with negotiation coach Jim Camp on Mixergy and learned much from the experience.  He evangelizes (for lack of a better word) a negotiation strategy based on rules rather than outcomes, which rules out “win-win” as a strategy.    He also posted the audio copy of his book “Start With No” on his website, called (not surprisingly)  I’m listening to the audio version now and I’m learning useful things.  So far, the economic basis for negotiation (consumer surplus, gains from trade, etc) is omitted and he affirms several obvious points that everyone needs to remember and explains several subtle points in detail.

Recommended reading and listening.  I find it to be  10 out of 10 so far.

I imagine I will wind up buying his later book for highlighting and checklist purposes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pawpaw67


This post originally appeared on the Stronico blog – with the absorption of Stronico into Digital Tool Factory this post has been moved to the Digital Tool Factory blog

Apr 10

Written By Steve French


Ten great books for American business

After writing yesterday’s post on lessons learned from eight years in business, I thought I would come up with my listing of great books that have helped me starting out.Shakespeare and Company bookshop I follow Tyler Cowen’s notion that if you you finish every book you start you’re wasting time on crap.  On average I finish less than half of the books I start.   Since I’ve gotten a Kindle I’ve upped my selectivity considerably.  Before anyone asks, I have yet to finish Getting Things Done by David Allen.

With no further ado – here are the books I recommend to start out. Continue reading →

Mar 10

Written By Steve French


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