Tracking Your Time in 2010

Happy New Year everyone!  This time of year is an awesome time to review the previous year and make plans for the upcoming one.

Many of us charge clients by the hour regardless if we tell them that or not.  In a fixed bid project we estimate how long it will take to do the various parts of the project and then give the client a value based on those hourly estimates.

Reliable and accurate estimates are just the first step in making your business profitable.  The final step is going back and seeing if you estimated properly.  The only way to do this is to track your time on a project by project basis.

There are variety of tools available for doing this, but Task Timer, one of our products, is a very simple and inexpensive ($24.95) way of doing this.  Task Timer is designed to be simple and easy to use.  It’s as simple as pressing a button!

Setting up Task Timer isn’t much harder.  Add your project, add the major tasks you want to track, and add your initial estimates and start using it.  The new built-in estimate graphing gives you a minute by minute graphical view into how you’re estimate is tracking in comparison to your actual time spent.

For many of our consulting clients we give them a discount rate when they pre-purchase a block of hours (usually 40 hours).  Task Timer’s new estimates feature makes tracking the hours used really easy.  When the client purchases a new block of hours simply create a new task for the project and put the block of hours into the estimate field.  Task Timer is now tracking your bulk hours used for the client!

Many people who have purchased Task Timer have told us that it pays for itself in the first week!  We can’t verify their claims but we can say that when we created Task Timer and started implementing it for all of our projects we found that our billable hours rose over 15%.  It seems we were not very accurate reporting how much we worked on any particular project at the end of the day.  If we reported (really guestimated) our hours at the end of the week the numbers were even worse!

For additional information about Task Timer, please see this link:

Download links:

Mac OS X:


Tracking your time is a good reality check.  Were those products you were spending so much time on really worth it?  How much time are your blogging?  What about video production for those training videos?  For that big size month project what did you get right (and more importantly wrong) in your estimates?

Plan on getting a handle on your estimating skills in 2010.  Task Timer is just one of the tools you can use.

REALbasic Video Training

This will probably be the last post of the year so I can spend some quality time with my family.  Have a very happy holiday season.  For those celebrating Christmas, have a very Merry Christmas.  Have a joyous and safe New Years as well.

One thing that’s come up recently (and more than once actually) is the need for training materials for REALbasic.  I’ve seriously been thinking about doing video training sessions and offering them through the website as a subscription service and streaming video (physical DVD’s are a possibility but increases the initial startup expense and I want to avoid physical inventory that’s dated).

Any sort of video training will take a fair amount of time to complete.  Just covering the basics of REALbasic will take months to get something out the door.  Add in the Rapid Release Model and I will always be aiming at a moving target.  How many hours of video is needed to put the shingle out?  What’s a good price (keeping in mind that while doing the videos I’m not doing as much consulting work)?

My guess is that most RB developers reading my blog have been using RB for a while but I’d like to get your opinions on this as well:  How much of a beginner level versus intermediate and advanced material?  And even for beginner material do I even need to go so far as to explain what variables are?  In other words do I assume the student knows absolutely nothing about software development or has at least a little knowledge of some other language?

In that same light, would problem solving videos be better than a more traditional approach?  For example, I could do a video training on “How to Open files of a particular type” versus exploring the various things in the FolderItem.  Each approach has its merits and drawbacks.  What do you think?  I could argue both ways.

Regardless, the one thing I think that will happen is every video will be tagged with the RB objects used and perhaps even the object methods used.  So doing a search on FolderItem would result in a bunch of videos that use the folderitem.  If you did FolderItem.Item you’d might find videos that iterate through the items in a directory and so on.  The drawback to the tags is that any complete application examples will use a lot of different RB objects which then might make the tags worthless because a search will hit every video.

For what it’s worth, there is some existing REALbasic training.  They have 7 hours of RB training and a subscription gives you access to a LOT of other applications (which I could never offer).  I’ve watched all the free training and it seems to do an adequate job but it hasn’t been updated since 2007.  I plan on updating more often than every two years – especially if I can pay my bills from it!

I’ve also done a minor example application and recorded it.  With a little editing and speed up of typing sequences it’s at two and half hours and I don’t consider it done yet!  Add in an IDE walk-through, some Remote Debugging, and miscellaneous topics and I probably have 4 to 5 hours of relatively decent video footage.  I think I can do it, I just need some positive encouragement or negative feedback before I commit myself.

At this point, dear readers, I’d like your thoughts.  Good or bad idea?  What are the pitfalls that I haven’t thought of yet?  Will people actually pay for an on-going video series on REALbasic?  Should the emphasis be on beginner, intermediate, or advanced material?  Should I let the members determine the production order via an online poll?

No Face-To-Face Meetings Requires a Different Skill Set

I was reviewing this years client list and the work we’ve done this year.  We have a lot to be thankful for and we really appreciate their business and like to send them a small token of appreciation during the holiday season.  We hope they come back for more work and the gift, trivial really, is just a way of saying thanks.

I started thinking about our clients.  With the exception of a handful, most of them are not in the Kansas City area.  Heck, most of them aren’t even in the Midwest.  So what this means is that we never see our clients in a face-to-face meeting and have to rely upon phone calls (both traditional and via Skype), emails, instant messages, and the occasional screen share or video conference.

This makes managing a project harder in my opinion.  There is so much information that gets passed when you’re sitting across from a person that you’d be hard pressed to write it all down.  It’s hard to get that same level of info electronically.

I get a chuckle when I hear about companies looking to offshore their development work to developers in developing countries.  Sure, it’s possible and you might be able to save some money but there’s a hidden cost.

In an Cutter Consortium survey Link over 20 years and 8000 projects they found that offshore projects reduced the cost of projects to $3.2 million versus the $3.5 million it typically cost by doing it on-shore.  From a time perspective the on-shore project took 12.6 months and the offshore took 9.6 months.

The real kicker is that the defect rates for offshore projects were an incredible 7565 versus the 2702 for onshore projects.  So even though the offshore project cost less and took less time, the company had to fix nearly three times more defects.  In the long run I’m not sure the offshore projects saved anything.

In the same study Agile methodology came out looking like a winner.  The average agile project took 7.8 months with a cost of $2.2 milling with a defect rate of 1372.

Last summer we worked on an agile project.  It takes some time getting used to but after the initial learning curve the project went very fast and the client was very happy with the results.  If you have a big project you should probably think about using agile.

I apologize for digressing from the main topic.  Certainly one of the of biggest challenges with a long-distance client is communication.  I suspect this is why the offshore projects have higher defect rates.  Everything needs to be written down and communicated – mostly via email.  Throw in cultural and language differences and you have a recipe for misunderstandings (if not outright disasters).

A couple of things that I’ve learned is that the communication skill of each client is different.  Some can handle an email with a list of questions.  Others can’t so you end up with single point emails.  Email management is a must!

We use a bug tracking system and encourage our clients to log in and use it.  Most get it and love being able to track what’s been fixed and what hasn’t.  Others just won’t use it (despite regular prodding) and resort to emails.  Depending upon the size of the project, it might just be easier to transcribe those emails into your bug tracking system.

Long-distance clients need special attention.  They need reassurance that you are really working on their project.  For some clients we do a 3P report where we report on Progress, Problems and give the Plan for the upcoming week (sounds sort of agile, no?).  With the web becoming an integral part of our lives and business, learning how to work with clients from anywhere in the world is an important skill.

How do you deal with long-distance clients?  Do you try to have a face-to-face meeting with them?  Do you think you do anything special for your clients?

Finding Work for REALbasic

It seems appropriate during this week of Thanksgiving to give a big thank you to all the readers.  So a big, hearty, “Thank You!” for asking questions and providing some interesting feedback.

Whenever I start talking to REALbasic developers, I get asked, a lot, about finding REALbasic consulting work.  It’s not hard finding work, but it is not always easy finding good projects.

The difference?  One issue that comes up is that because it’s real and it’s basic means REALbasic it must be easy-to-use (read that as cheap), right?  Wrong!  Making a good quality REALbasic application requires some perseverance and some experience.  I can guarantee that the RB apps I make these days are way better than my early RB apps.  Experience counts in software development just like in any other profession.

Good projects aren’t always available.  Maybe you have to do an ugly project for next to nothing to hold you over until a bigger, better project comes along.  With consulting it really is a ‘what is the next project?’ world.

So where do you find work?  The first thing you have to do is set up shop.  Does your website say anything about REALbasic consulting and/or development?  It should because that’s the first way people are going to find you.  You should also have a previous projects page that talks about the work you’ve done.  Sometimes you can’t talk about a project in a lot of detail due to non-disclosure agreements, but you can talk generically about the type of work you’ve done.

In a recent ARBP survey word of mouth and their website were the two highest percentages, by far, of any of the topics.

Do you self promote yourself in the RB Forums and the NUG list?  If not, you might be missing out on some work.  By answering some questions on the forums and NUG (for free) you can get some free exposure and people get to know your name.  Do you think it’s a coincidence that regular columnists/writers for RB Developer magazine are mostly consultants?

Are you listed in the ARBP consultants list?  You should be.  It costs nothing other than signing up for their limited membership (i.e. free).

Finally, the REAL Software Consulting Referrals Program is a great way of getting leads.  People who think they want a REALbasic developer to contact them fill out a web form and you get an email.  It’s then up to you follow up on the lead.  It is somewhat pricey at $1000/year but one good project and will pay for itself.

In fact, I would call the program a bargain.  In 2008 REAL Software changed the program and nearly doubled the price to be part of the program.  I criticized them at the time and still think it was a bit heavy-handed but the quality of the leads has gone up and so has the frequency of leads.  I contact most of the leads twice.  First when I first get the lead and in a couple of weeks afterward.  Most of the time they tell me they only have one or two replies to their original post so this says to me that there are not a whole lot of people in the program.

Look folks, if they’re filling out a form asking for REALbasic work they’ve already sold themselves on using REALbasic.  You don’t have to sell the merits of RB – they’ve self-selected themselves!  It’s like shooting fish in a barrel from a sales perspective.

Do you talk about what you do?  You should because you never know who you’re talking to.  I went to an NFL training camp this summer and while having a drink at a bar where the players sometimes hang out I had a great conversation with someone that happened to work in software industry.  While it hasn’t resulted in any work – yet – it might in the future and isn’t that what marketing is all about?

So that’s it.  There’s no secret to finding REALbasic work.  Have a great Thanksgiving and happy coding!

2009 REALbasic Consultants Survey

ARBP  released the results of their 2nd annual REALbasic Consultants Survey.  The results probably won’t surprise many of you, but I think surveys like this are interesting.  If nothing else you can compare your rates with other consultants.

One of the more interesting questions, I think, is the “what are the biggest challenges in being a REALbasic consultant?”  Not surprisingly, Finding Work is a high issue and mirrors the 2008 survey results (which we did not publish in its entirety).   Bugs and Perceptions about REALbasic were also not significantly unchanged from the 2008 survey either which is somewhat of a concern.

For me, I was happy with the quality of REALbasic 2009 series until Release 4.  For many of our projects, though, we’re still using Release 3 simply because the new Reporting tool has too many bugs and the Build Automation was essentially useless for us.  Are you using R4 for production releases?

My question to you, dear readers, is if you feel that RB’s quality is better, worse, or the same this year than last?  Do you feel that the ratio of bug fixes to new features is right or should new features have a higher or lower ratio to bug fixes?  As an established user of REALbasic, do you feel that you are a valued more or less than a new users?

Finally, do you think the new Feedback application is going to help us shape RS’ priorities for 2010?

Larry Johnson Proves My Point

I’ve said this in a few posts, in RB Developer Magazine, and when speaking at REAL World:  Don’t say anything online that can harm your business image.

Take for example the latest flap in Kansas City over Larry Johnson’s Twitter posts.  Full store here:

I’m not going to defend the guy since this isn’t exactly new territory for the troubled Kansas City Chiefs running back.  In fact, I call him stupid for saying anything on Twitter about his coach, his team and teammates, or his host city.  As a member of any organization you represent the organization that pays you – no matter what.

The fact is, regardless of your business (and playing football is a business), what you say in public, whether in be at a conference, in a restaurant or bar, on Facebook, MySpace and, yes, Twitter can be used against you.  This is why you will NEVER see me talk about sex, politics, or religion because I know it will piss someone off (Even this post will most likely piss someone off but that’s the point!).

With me, I could lose a consulting client or two and maybe lose some software  sales.  I can move on.  I can change careers or I can make amends to rehabilitate my image.  A movie star, professional athlete or politician may not have that luxury and they may cost themselves a job and potentially millions of dollars in income.

Look, I know he’s human.  We all make mistakes and say stupid things.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I said something I’d like to take back.  But I’m not a professional athlete, politician or have a super high profile position and salary.  If I did, though, I’d be more circumspect in what I said especially if I knew the media was going to parrot what I said.  There are certainly plenty of examples of high profile people using social media properly and not airing their dirty laundry for the world to see.  Likewise there are high profile people in bad situations that keep their message positive.

In Johnson’s case he may have hurt his chances of every playing football again.  I expect the management and coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs and their fans won’t mind at all if LJ sits out the rest of the season and ends his career sooner rather than later.

How many times will they take the verbal abuse from a player that has always been a problem child?  LJ’s had more chances than most – mostly because of his athletic ability.  I think he’ll learn the lesson the hard way – through his paycheck.

Marketing: Getting the Word Out

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on our marketing.  Very early on we decided to start integrating social media into our portfolio.  As you’ve probably seen, we’re now active on Linked-In, FaceBook, and Twitter to name a few (the person doing our marketing is probably on a dozen more and, really, I don’t want to know all of them).  Part of our routine when announcing updates is to make sure we post on all of them as well.

I’ll be honest that I was a bit skeptical at first.  Maybe I’m just old enough to not ‘get it’.  I understand the importance of search rankings and all that but the social media thing has been somewhat of a mystery.

One of the first things we installed on our various websites was Google Analytics and I must admit that I get a kick out of seeing where people are coming from and what they’re search for.  Google Analytics is why I know people are coming from the social media sites.  I find it fascinating that some relatively obscure comment or article is drawing people.  As they say, the more eyes that see your product the better chance they’ll at least try it.  Leading them to your website is at least half the battle.

Since we’re heavily into Mac OS X software it comes as no surprise that a lot of referral traffic comes from MacUpdate and Version Tracker  Windows traffic isn’t nearly as clear cut and we’re working on how to get better exposure on that platform.  It’s obvious that the users of the two platforms research and consume their software differently.

I’ve heard some of the buzz about Woopra but I’ll wait a little bit before delving into it.  If you have any first hand experience with it I’d love to hear about it.  What is its strength and is it really useful for a small business like us?

The other thing we’re doing is making sure we get our press releases out.  I hate doing them myself because I have enough stuff on my plate as it is (and marketing speak is anathema to an engineer).  I’m glad to have turned that responsibility over to someone who likes doing them (at least more than me).  We are using prMac and it is obviously making a difference because of its distribution network.  I find links from all over the internet based on the press releases.

Certainly one of the issues we struggle with is finding the time to do it all.  We’re lucky, to some extent, by having multiple employees who can do a bit of everything.  We hired a part time marketing person to help us out with all this stuff.  I know a lot of you don’t have that luxury.  How do you find the time for marketing?  Do you have any marketing tips for the small, independent software developer?

Why ‘Cloud Computing’ Isn’t For Everything

This week it appears that Microsoft screwed the pooch and lost everyone’s data that was using Sidekick on T-Mobile.  Microsoft should have known better and had proper backups and Hitachi (who was doing an upgrade for them) didn’t check either.  Expect some major finger pointing (and lawsuits) going on in the upcoming weeks. Regardless, there are multiple layers of failure and plenty of blame to go around.

It’s why I chuckle when people talk about ‘cloud computing’ being the wave of the future.  I have no doubt that we’ll see more cloud computing but there are just certain things that don’t belong in the ‘cloud’ and should be taken care of by your own IT department.

I did a fair amount of work a few years ago on a commercial accounting application and every now and then the boss would get all excited about cloud computing and he’d kick the tires and make some noise about moving the entire operation towards it.  At first blush it makes a LOT of sense to have the software and data reside elsewhere because it puts the burden on the host company to keep the software up to date, upgrade the hardware on a regular basis, have regular on-site and off-site backups and have decent security.  And then you realize that its strength is also a weakness as the Microsoft case has shown.  You are depending TOTALLY on someone else doing the right thing.

The other reason is the data.  For many companies their data IS their business.  It’s their competitive advantage.  You really trust all the pipes between your office and the cloud computing servers?  Sounds paranoid but this is your sensitive data you’re talking about, right?  How many stories have been published about SSN and credit card numbers being compromised (at the minimum) and outright stolen (at the worst) in the past couple of years?

If you’re in a larger metropolitan area you probably have decent internet access, with decent speeds, that never goes down.  There are a lot of places even in the United States where this is simply not true. I’ve always enjoyed pulling the network cable from a computer when someone is on their high horse about cloud computing.  Tough to get work done when you can’t load the software or the data.  At least with the software and data on my computer and local network I can still get work done.  My job requires internet access and I can tell you that when my internet goes down I’m not very productive (and keep in mind that I’m in a top 40 metropolitan area with all underground utilities!).  I’ve also had web servers get attacked and be so unresponsive that they might has well have been shut down.

In the long run, can you go to your boss and guarantee (because it might mean the difference of having a job or not, after all) that the data is 100% secure, backed up and available 24/7?  Food for thought, no?

Interesting Tidbit on Where REALbasic Consultants Found Work

I’m analyzing the results of the latest ARBP survey (about REALbasic consultants) and I came across an interesting answer considering that the Colorado Summit is coming up next week.  In one question we asked how REALbasic consultants found work.  We had a set of canned answers with the option to add your own.  Several RB consultants  said in the ‘other’ response that they picked up work at Real World.  Of course the numbers are pretty low, but the fact that people went out of their way on the survey to include it speaks volumes.

This answer isn’t surprising, really, since the last couple of Real World events had companies trolling for RB developers.  To me, this has always been one of the best reasons to go to Real World.  I know I turned down work at Real World 2008 because I was already 100% committed to a project already.  Hopefully there will be a few at The Summit as well to make it profitable as well.  😮

There are still some slots available for the conference if you’re interested in going.  Hope to see you in Boulder!