How I Work: Arranging Your Desk for Creative Productivity

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A couple of weeks ago, a happy coincidence made me realize I hadn’t rearranged my desk setup since we moved into our current offices at Creatuity almost two years ago – I read a brief article in Inc. that mentioned that people are more creative and less stressed when they can look up and see trees and natural light on the same day @PhilWinkle was awesome enough to retweet this tweet:

I decided to combine these ideas with my own unique twist to fit the culture and vibe here in Creatuity’s offices. Here’s my desk setup before I made these changes:

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Despite having a great view of a large, mature oak tree out of the windows in my office, I had setup my desk where when I look up, I saw my whiteboard wall (IdeaPaint) and the hallway outside of my office. When I would get frustrated with a task or felt mentally blocked, I would look up and either see a distraction in the hallway or a solid white wall – not very inspiring.

Here’s how I rearranged my office to take advantage of the view outside of my window, while switching my monitor setup around thanks to the inspiration from @jakeasmith:

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The side-mounted display and laptop are used for anything that might distract me – generally Twitter, HipChat, IRC, etc. So when I’m focused in, I just don’t even look over there. I’ve been using the primary monitor for whatever I’m actively working on, with the portrait-oriented monitors used for reference materials, my todo app (OmniFocus), terminal windows, etc.

My back is to my door, which took some time to get used to, but that’s why I moved my motion-activated Portal-inspired Sentry Gun so that it faces the door and alerts me when someone walks in. That means I’m no longer distracted every time someone walks past, and when I look up while I’m stumped or frustrated with a task, I see blue sky and the oak tree. I took this opportunity to add a small zen garden and plant to my desk.

This setup gives me everything I need to be productive and get things done close at hand, and keeps me creative.

If you have any questions about my desk setup, my office or why we encourage everyone at Creatuity to really personalize their space (which is why I have the mix of travel and gaming posters on the walls of my office), find me on Twitter as @JoshuaSWarren or comment right here!

How I Hire: Questions & Screening

Kalen recently asked on Twitter for tips on hiring frontend developers:

Many people responded with great advice – giving candidates a test project was a frequent answer, and a great step to take. However, even before you assign a test project, I think it’s important to evaluate each candidate on several things above and beyond just their development skills.

At Creatuity, I’ve built our hiring process over the years with input and ideas from books like Joel Spolsky’s (CEO of Fog Creek Software) book Smart and Gets Things Done and Tony Hsieh’s (CEO of Zappos) book Delivering Happiness. Combining ideas from these books and my experience growing Creatuity over the years and tracking the success of each person we’ve hired has given us a fairly unique approach.

In what will hopefully become a series of articles, I’d like to share this approach to help both other companies hire better and to help people who are applying at Creatuity understand how the process works and how they can impress us.

Today, I’d like to focus on one of the very first steps of the process – questions & screening. After someone has found our job posting (for instance, our PHP eCommerce Development Intern posting, or if that’s not an active posting when you read this, pick any of the positions in our Texas office from this list of open job positions at Creatuity and follow along on that one – the process is similar for both technical and non-technical roles), they’re faced with more than just the usual fields of name, resume and cover letter. We ask a few additional questions on the initial application, such as:

Why do you want to work in software development?

Do you find ecommerce interesting? Why?

Any other comments you’d like us to consider while reviewing your application?

These questions serve several purposes. We’re looking for a few different things:

  1. Did the candidate answer all of the questions with short, brief sentences, giving little detail? If so, that’s a good sign they’re applying everywhere they can, looking for any job at all, and not specifically interested in working for us or working in this specific position. That’s usually a bad sign.
  2. Do they seem passionate? Passionate about their work, their life, our industry? Passionate people tend to be successful people.
  3. Does their response seem well-written? Do they use text (SMS) abbreviations, or do they write professionally? One common thread I’ve seen in many, many books and articles on hiring is that no matter what the position is, written communication skills can be one of the biggest indicators of potential success or failure as an employee.

Based on the resumes and responses to these questions, we’ll generally select a large number of people to send a followup screener to. This screener is sent via email and consists of a few more questions. For instance, for our marketing internships, we’ll ask:

Why do you want to work at Creatuity?

When you visit our website at Creatuity.com what do you notice? How well do you think it communicates our value and our brand to potential clients, and what would you change about it?

We strongly believe in work-life balance and making sure our employees have an opportunity to pursue their hobbies and have time off to spend with friends and family. What are some of your hobbies?

What’s the most interesting personal project you’ve completed?

Include a link to your blog and Twitter accounts if you’d like, to help us understand your experience with blogging and Twitter/social media.

We strongly believe in our Core Values and want to find employees and interns that mesh well with these values – which of these values do you identify with the most?

This is also where we’d generally ask for a sample project (in the case of marketing interns, we give them a brief overview of our current marketing efforts and ask them to critique it and provide a course of action they would take for marketing our services).

This series of questions is designed to judge a few different things before we then select who we call in for an interview, such as:

  1. Their desire, interest and motivation level – the majority of candidates never even reply to these questions. If you won’t take the time to answer these questions when you’re looking for a job, what sort of motivation levels will you have when you’re working each day?
  2. Their basic level of skill in the field we’re hiring them for – we’ll dive into this further during the interview, but we want to get a feel for their experience before we get to that point.
  3. If they are really passionate about this field – if their most interesting personal project is related to ecommerce (our focus at Creatuity), then that means they’re really passionate about the field, and that passion will show in their work.
  4. Questions about hobbies, etc., allow us to start getting a feel for how they might interact with existing members of our team and oftentimes uncover strengths a person otherwise wouldn’t think to mention during an interview.

Once a candidate passes the initial application screening and answers these questions, we’ll generally schedule a phone or in-person interview. After implementing these steps, hiring definitely takes longer – a majority of the people who view the job posting don’t apply and a majority that apply don’t answer the follow-up questions. However, those that do make it through this process are much more likely to be individuals we would make a job offer to, and those individuals also tend to be much, much more successful employees.

Thanks to this process, turnover is very, very low at Creatuity – this, combined with our accelerated review process during the first two months of employment has almost entirely eliminated hiring mistakes.

The jobs we’re hiring for are all in our offices, so we always do an in-person interview as the last step, however, this process could be adapted and has been used with remote hiring as well – either through job postings or sites like oDesk.

If you have any questions about our screening processes, feel free to post them here or find me on Twitter – @JoshuaSWarren – I’d love to discuss my approach to hiring with you. Also let me know what aspect of the recruiting/hiring/onboarding process you’d like me to write about next.

I hope this helps Kalen and anyone else that’s looking for a solid way to hire great candidates.

Returning to my Geeky Roots in the Magento Community

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Over the years as I’ve grown Creatuity from a single developer (myself) to a company employing over 25 people, my average day has changed quite a bit. Originally, I did everything – sales, billing and all of the development work. With my background in PHP development (I’ve been working with PHP for over 15 years – I have to catch myself when I talk to our new developers and development interns, because I have found myself saying things like “Back when I started, we didn’t have all these object oriented features in PHP!”), the past 3-4 years as Creatuity has really grown have challenged me. I’ve found myself spending less and less time developing and writing code and more and more time doing things I had never done before that took me well outside of my comfort zone.

It’s been a great experience – I’ve learned more about business, management, hiring (and firing, unfortunately), marketing and what it truly means to be an executive in the past few years than I ever imagined I’d learn in a lifetime. I’ve also gone from working by myself to having an awesome team of developers, designers, writers, account managers, interns and other managers to work alongside. I’m incredibly proud of where the Creatuity team has taken us over the past 6 years.

Recently, I’ve found myself in an interesting position – I’ve stepped back from the breakneck 90+ hour weeks, working from the moment I woke up to the moment I finally crashed in the middle of the night on pushing Creatuity from a startup to a successful ecommerce development agency. We’ve grown to the point that I can allow myself a slightly less hectic schedule and know that our team will still work together to keep us moving in the right direction. As this has happened, I’ve been asking myself the best way I could spend the bit of additional time I find myself with.

The answer, so far, has surprised me a bit – while we have a team of Magento Certified Developers at Creatuity that do all the heavy lifting on our client projects, I find myself wanting to get back into development. And wow, has it changed. As I became more of a manager and less of a developer, I fell out of touch with the Magento development community; I didn’t have or take the time to pursue Magento Certification or a spot on the Advisory Board when I was asked about that several years ago. To put it another way – the last time I was spending all of my time on Magento development, implementing Magento sites and customizing them myself as a developer, GitHub – where so many community members freely share their Magento work now – was so new that I didn’t know of a single Magento developer using it. Most of us were still using svn, and there were no certifications, no study guides – learning Magento was a completely different experience.

In a lot of ways, these changes have put me off from getting back into the Magento development community – I feel somewhat like an outsider and fairly overwhelmed, and coming from my position as CEO of a Magento Solutions Partner, I am always worried it will seem like an intrusive attempt at social marketing by a company that should know better. However, I’ve been keeping up with quite a few Magento developers on Twitter and I’m slowly but surely sharpening my Magento development skills back up. Thanks to some awesome community members like Kalen JordanDaniel Fahlke, Phillip Jackson and Vinai Kopp, not only am I beginning to feel at home in the Magento dev community again, but I also have found some interesting opportunities surrounding my interests in writing, continuous integration and continuous deployment where even with my fairly rusty “hands on” Magento skills, I can contribute back to the community.

I’m renewing my interests in other areas as well – travel, craft breweries and writing in general – so expect to see a wide variety of topics from me here and on Twitter, but first and foremost, expect to hear about Magento and Magento development quite a bit. So, for my less geeky friends and family – my apologies, it’s about to get pretty technical in here. But hey, you can always keep up with my less technical goings-on via my Facebook and Foursquare accounts. And to anyone in the Magento dev community reading this – send me a quick hello on Twitter and let me know what you’re working on. I’d love to help out!

With special thanks to Nathan Castle for taking the excellent photo from Magento Imagine and releasing for the community to use via Flickr, which I’ve used as the cover photo for this post. Certainly the coolest photo I’ve seen of a large gathering of Magento geeks.  

Acknowledging The One Thing Standing Between You and Your Goals: Fear

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Fear, not a lack of time, money or opportunities, prevents us from reaching our goals. The first step to overcoming this is simply to acknowledge our fear.

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Wiktor acknowledging his fear at 10,000 feet

It’s been an interesting week, throughout which a random set of coincidences has led me to realize that the biggest thing that has slowed me down, that has kept me from reaching my goals and that has done the same thing to countless people I know has been fear. Not a lack of time, not a lack of opportunities, not a lack of money, but fear, pure and simple. Even when you look back to my last article, about no longer making excuses and just getting out there and doing the things you want to do (in my case, cooking more), you can see fear in the background. Fear of not having the right recipes. Fear of failure. Fear of wasting my time. I’d like to walk you through how I realized this over the course of this week.

Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Wiktor Jarka, recommended a book to me. Like most of his recommendations lately, it involved his favorite hobby – skydiving (the mere mention of which makes me fearful, I admit!). The book, Transcending Fear: The Doorway to Freedom, discusses how to recognize and move beyond fear from the perspective of the author, a world champion skydiver, test pilot and psychologist.

Midweek, I began preparing a presentation for this week’s Awesome Friday lunch at Creatuity. We’ll be watching psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk entitled “How to make stress your friend” (a great video that’s worth the 15 minutes to watch it). In her talk, Kelly quotes some rather surprising statistics from a study on stress and its impact on lifespan. Kelly references a study showing that people who have experienced significant stress in the previous year have a 43% increased risk of dying, but only if they believe that stress is harmful for their health. People who experience significant levels of stress but don’t view stress as harmful have a lower risk of dying than those who have relatively little stress. The belief that stress is bad for you is estimated to be the 15th largest cause of death in the US – killing more people than skin cancer or homicide! So it’s not stress that causes health problems, but the fear of stress – your outlook and thoughts on stress.

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As some friends have pointed out, yes, that is a very bright red shirt…

Finally, this morning, oDesk featured an article about my success on their blog and Facebook feed. Each time an article like this goes live, I receive a number of comments, Tweets and other messages from people who say they hope to be as successful as me someday, that they can’t imagine making the leap to starting their own business or freelancing, and they ask for advice on how to get started and how I did it. As I was reading some of these messages this morning, the book Transcending Fear and the stats from Kelly McGonigal’s presentation clicked together in my mind, and I realized that what holds back almost everyone I talk to about getting started as a freelancer, starting their own business or any new, exciting venture is simply fear.

My first impulse was to tell you about how to overcome your fear, how by defeating your fear you can become famous, rich, successful, whatever, but that is vastly oversimplifying the impact that fear has on the average person. Instead, I would like you to do something much simpler – acknowledge your fear. Admit that it is fear that’s stopping you from going further, from accomplishing more, from starting that new business. Much like changing your attitude about stress changes how stress impacts your body and lifespan, acknowledging your fear is the first step towards mastering it and using it to accomplish your goals.

I’m reminded of the ‘Litany Against Fear’ that the author Frank Herbert wrote in many of his books. One version, from a miniseries based on his work is a great place to start. If you want to start a freelancing career, your own business or some other equally daunting task, repeat this to yourself:

“I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will let it pass through me. Where the fear has gone, there shall be nothing. Only I will remain.”

 

Cooking and Reaching Your Goals

Don’t talk about it, be about it

Seeking Fulfillment Beyond Work

After spending entirely too many years focused on launching and growing Creatuity to the exclusion of almost everything else in my life, I recently decided to sit down and identify what I enjoyed in life and seeing and if I was actively pursuing activities that brought some sort of enjoyment or value to my life. Being a dedicated Omnifocus user and a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to productivity, I decided to sit down and create a Project for each of these activities I wanted to do more of, define the actions necessary to make it happen and just generally approach it like I would a project for work.

How Not To Become a Chef

One example is cooking – when we moved into our new house a couple of years ago, we went with the ‘gourmet’ kitchen with double convection ovens, a huge gas range and all the other trimmings someone who cooks often could possibly want, because I was going to cook more. Fast forward two years and I think I’ve cooked twice since we moved in. So, I setup a project called “Cook More at Home” and created some actions such as researching the best recipe websites, cooking apps, etc., because then surely I would cook more, right? I have the kitchen, the tools, the well-defined project and steps and access to a virtually unlimited supply of recipes and tips on the Internet.

A Complete Lack of Progress

Let’s fast forward a few more months, when I’m disappointed to admit I still wasn’t cooking more. Or at all. I’ve checked off some of the action items in my “Cook More at Home” project, but overall made very little progress on the project, and most importantly, I hadn’t cooked anything at home (unless the microwave counts). Then, I saw another developer on Twitter mention that he was looking for a good recipe app and I realized that I was pulling a classic developer/techie move – I was so focused on finding the best way to do something, that I wasn’t actually doing it.

No More Yak Shaving

I realized that I was using the fact that I didn’t know the best way to approach cooking, the best way to organizing my recipes and the best system to put into place to make sure I cook more often to stop be from actually doing the work of making this project happen. I was, as Merlin Mann discussed, yak shaving. Instead of running through the steps that Merlin lists in his article, however, I decided that, like most goals we set for ourselves but never manage to reach, the answer was simple: just do it. Stop talking about it. Stop making excuses. Stop coming up with systems and approaches and finding the best app. That night, I went to the grocery store, bought some ingredients and spent the weekend cooking. What I learned, and I hope you will learn as well, is that if there’s a goal that is truly important to you the most important thing you can do is just get out there and make it happen.

Be About It

Or, in the words of the famous 21st century poet, Busta Rhymes in his epic, “Pass the Courvoisier” – Don’t talk about it, be about it!

The Death of Books

Long live books!

Scribd – the new Netflix of Books

As you may have heard, today Scribd announced an all-you-can-read eBook subscription plan. However, there are some notable limitations to this $8.99 per month program – thus far it only includes 1 of the 5 major US book publishers, only includes books published before July 2012 and while it supports most devices, it does not appear to support ‘basic’ Kindles and Nooks – i.e., those with an electronic ink, paper-like screen. Even with these limitations, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the start of a new way we consume books, much as Spotify changed music and Netflix changed video.

The Beginning of the End of Printed Book Publishing?

Could this be the end of the printed book and with it, printed book publishing? With schools providing tablets loaded with eBook versions of textbooks, Delta pilots replacing the 38 pounds of books and maps they carry on every flight with Microsoft Surface tablets and Marvel comics providing access to a vast majority of their 70+ years of comic books via an iPad app, many people are calling this the death of the traditional publishing business and printed book.

Personally, I think we have a long way to go before traditional books and publishers disappear, but we will see consolidations and shifts in the market as these new technologies and business models take hold in the publishing world. Take a look at the music industry – services like Spotify and iTunes make it easy for users to make their music collection purely digital but you still have enough demand for physical CD’s keeping them on the shelves at stores like Best Buy – but the market has shifted enough that the independent record store is, unfortunately, a thing of the past.

For another example, look at video – Netflix and other streaming and online video services have all but put an end to the Blockbuster video rental stores so many of us grew up with, but they haven’t put an end to all physical sales of movies – Blu-ray sales actually increased by 28% earlier this year.

With independent book stores closing at an alarming rate throughout the world and the bankruptcy and closure of Boders Books in 2011, it seems we’re already in the midst of a shakeup of the book retailing world, and you have to wonder if printed books will end up like CD’s and Bluray’s – something you no longer rent or buy at a dedicated store, but instead visit your local big box retailer or department store for.

The Role of Libraries

One thing that sets books apart from CD’s and Bluray’s, however, is that we have a public institution dedicated to preserving, sharing and promoting books – public libraries. However, with the massive loss of value on their property tax roles during the recent financial crisis, more and more cities are cutting their spending on libraries. A 2010 poll of mayors across the US indicated that nearly 40% of cities were planning on cutting back hours, staffing levels and other spending on their local libraries, if not shutting them down completely. Libraries are adapting by providing eBooks, Internet access and other amenities, but it remains to be seen what role the public library will play in the future of books and book publishing.

Where We’re Headed

I love eBooks – especially after moving several times in the span of just a few years, lugging a huge book collection with me each time, I have developed a strong appreciation for the fact that I can carry my entire library with me in the palm of my hand on my Kindle, and that I can immediately pick up where I left off in any book in my collection on any of my digital devices. I miss, however, the social aspects of the printed book. While Amazon and other device manufacturers and even libraries are striving to change this, lending an eBook is still a painful, cumbersome process. There’s a certain feel, a certain experience that only printed books provide – poetry readings, teachers reading to a class and other similar events just don’t feel the same when they’re done with an iPad or a Kindle. Finally, there’s also a scary ‘big brother’ aspect to eBooks – in what they say was a one-time mistake, in 2009 Amazon deleted all copies of George Orwell’s 1984 (a book, in part, about government censorship and control of thought). While eBooks and eReaders are convenient, they obviously are much easier to track, control, censor and monitor than a printed book could ever be.

So, while I don’t think most of us are mindful of it, we’re at a bit of a turning point for literature and the sharing of knowledge via the printed word – eBooks have quite a bit of potential, and as more and more projects like the One Laptop Per Child project provide technology to empoverished children, I think they could be key to raising the average level of education in the world. However, if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose a vitial institution that’s been an important part of human culture for over 3000 years – the library. And in our rush for the convenience of eBooks, we could find ourselves making it convenient for those who would like to make sure we’re only reading the “correct” books that express the “correct” viewpoint.

Dr Blog or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love New Topics

My Blog This Year or: A Lesson in How Not to Succeed as a Writer

There’s a few secrets to success as a writter or especially a blogger, such as: post a consistent number of posts over time, write about topics that are timely, popular and you’re passionate about, and when in doubt, just write!

As you can see from scrolling through my blog, I’ve failed at all of these! I sat down and asked myself – why am I so horribly inconsistent with writing new blog articles? Is it lack of time? No, I make time to keep Twitter and other social media channels updated. Is it lack of interest? No, writing and blogging have always interested me. Finally, I realized, it’s that I have no idea what to write about, or the topics I do pick to write about are so daunting that I find myself overwhelmed and never writing.

So, I’ve decided to do a bit of research on how great bloggers find topics and use that not only as a jumping off point for a revival of my blog, but also as a topic idea for an article – this article.

How Great Bloggers Find Topics

So, I started simple – with a Google search for how do great bloggers find topics. My first result, interestingly enough, is Google Alerts – the service from Google that will email you any time a search query you’re interested in has new results. Interesting idea, but then I see the 2nd result is from @copyblogger – if you’re not familiar with copyblogger, the best summary of what Brian and his team does comes from a tweet earlier today: “We should just go ahead and designate @copyblogger as the official professional associateion for content marketers.” In other words, the guys and gals at copyblogger know a thing or two about generating great content.

The copyblogger article is titled 50 Can’t-Fail Techniques for Finding Great Blog Topics and I highly recommend reading it. I’ve broken their suggestions down into a few different categories that I find helpful:

  • Reading
  • Synthesizing
  • Networking
  • Challenging Others
  • Challenging Yourself

Finding New Blog Topics: Reading

A number of the ideas mentioned in the copyblogger list involve reading – reading Google Alerts, newspapers, magazines, small publications, trade publications, competing sites, your comments, competitors comments and your social media networks. You’re looking for topics that other people are writing about, and either writing about the topic yourself or even writing a reaction, agreement or disagreement with another author.

Finding New Blog Topics: Synthesizing

Taking the content you read or see and synthesizing it into new ideas is another source of a number of the ideas on copyblogger’s list, such as asking yourself what’s missing or what will happen next about a hot topic or even mining your hobbies for a unique take on a topic – the great example given by copyblogger here is a post titled 7 Things I Learned About Business From Playing Bejeweled Blitz.

Finding New Blog Topics: Networking

Networking and mining your network for topics is another frequent suggestion in the copyblogger list, with suggestions like talking to a friend, joining a blogger’s group, scanning industry conference schedules for topics , interviewing someone, debating another blogger in your industry or take part in an industry networking or local community event. This gives you a chance to get topic ideas from people who are actively involved in your industry while getting out from behind your computer to engage other parts of your brain in some creative brainstorming for topics.

Finding New Blog Topics: Challenging Others

In addition to challenging someone to a debate, copyblogger mentions riffing on a popular post, challenging your readers to overcome a pain point or problem they face, weighing in on a controversial topic in your industry, asking a question about an industry topic you’re undecided about or even just holding a poll to ask your readers what they’d like you to write about.

Finding New Blog Topics: Challenging Yourself

Perhaps the most challenging of copyblogger’s entire list of techniques for finding great blog topics are the items that cover challenging yourself. These range from the simple – getting out from behind your computer and out of your comfort zone – to techniques that greatly challenge many of us, such as no longer worrying you’ll look dumb, forcing yourself to just write something or even talking about your own mistakes. These techniques show your unique personality and help humanize you to your readers, so while they’re not the easiest techniques to apply, they can have the greatest results.

Practical Usage – New Blog Topics

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge myself to use these ideas, and especially these 5 overall themes I’ve picked up from the copyblogger article to write consistently about topics I hope you find interested. Catch me on Twitter as @JoshuaSWarren or post a comment here if you have any feedback or topics you’d be interested in!

Magento URL Key Optimizer Userscript

Do you duplicate products in the Magento admin interface? If so, you’ve noticed that Magento doesn’t change the ‘URL Key’ field by default, which means every time you duplicate a product, you have to edit this field manually. If duplicating products is the main way you add new products to your site (and for many Magento users, it is), you’re spending way too much of your time making this manual change, when Magento should be doing it for you.

I’ve put together a quick userscript (so this requires Greasemonkey for Firefox or Chrome -> see Userscripts.org for more information on how to use a userscript) that checks if you’re editing a Magento product’s title, and if you are, it automatically updates the URL key. This solves the case of needing to update the URL key manually while duplicating products, and has a nice added bonus that any time you change a product’s name, the URL key will be updated automatically.

The current version does some super-basic optimization on the URL key as well to make it a bit more Google-friendly, and I plan on updating it as time allows to enable automatic advanced search engine optimization of the URL key.

Install the script from Userscripts.org, or submit a pull request on Github to contribute!

Is your iMac locking up, freezing or beach balling?

Some time ago, I added a Crucial m4 256GB SSD to my iMac. The performance boost was even better than I expected – the iMac now writes data about 2.5 times faster than the stock hard drive, and it reads data over 5 times faster – considering how much time I spend working in front of a computer, this really improved my day!

What didn’t improve my day, however, was that some time ago, I noticed that my iMac would never wake back up after it went to sleep; I might get as much as the login screen to appear, but the time would be wrong and the password prompt either wouldn’t appear or wouldn’t function. I feared the worst – that the SSD or the original hard drive were failing. I tried changing the power saving settings, disabled powering down the hard drives when they weren’t in use, etc., but the problem kept occurring. Even if I prevented the computer from sleeping using the free utility Caffeine, it would still lock up at some point.

I was about to disassemble the iMac to replace the SSD (which is no simple task – it requires using suction cups to remove the screen, disconnecting the entire LCD and disassembling basically the entire computer) – that’s when I decided to try Google’ing for the problem one last time. Yet again, I couldn’t find anyone with the same symptoms as my iMac – specifically, beach balling on the wake/login/lock screen after the computer has gone to sleep. But I kept searching, and stumbled across a notice from Crucial about a firmware update for my SSD, which included a note about resolving issues when the hard drive is powered back up after being spun down or put to sleep. I didn’t think it would apply – after all, I had changed the System Preferences to disable ever powering down the hard drives, so that shouldn’t be possible. I decided to give the firmware update a try, though, since it would save me from having to disassemble my iMac!

Crucial doesn’t have a firmware updater for the Mac, so I downloaded the “Manual Boot File” firmware update package from the Crucial m4 firmware update site. I burned it to a DVD, and then rebooted my iMac, holding down the Option key on the keyboard to force it to allow me to select what drive or disc to boot from. The Crucial firmware updater appeared as a CD labeled ‘Windows’. I selected that, selected yes to allow the updater to continue, and then crossed my fingers. Once the firmware update completed, I rebooted my iMac, and much to my surprise, the firmware update completely resolved my issue!

So, if you have an iMac that you’ve installed a Crucial m4 SSD in – update the firmware! And don’t assume that the problem isn’t related to powering the hard drive down or putting the hard drive to sleep, because apparently even if you unselect this option from the Energy Saver preferences in System Preferences, OS X is still trying to put your SSD into a lower power mode.

Getting an SBA Loan for Your Small Business: Part II

Earlier this week I posted an overview of the SBA loan process, and presented a few steps to get started. Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty — the numbers.

The bank is going to look at a few things:

  • How much money you’re asking for.
  • The maximum amount of risk the SBA will guarantee. If your loan is for more than $150,000, the SBA will only guarantee payment of 75% — so for example, if you borrow $1,000,000 and default on the loan, the SBA is only going to reimburse your bank for $750,000 and the bank has to absorb the remaining $250,000.
  • What sort of assets you and your business have. Generally, if you can show personal and business assets that total at least 75% of the loan amount you’re requesting, your bank is going to approve your loan application. The wider the gap between your assets and this amount, the more the bank is going to look at your business plan, your financials and your resume to decide if they want to accept this risk.

Loans for the Lean: A Note on Assets

The last factor — assets — is likely the biggest hurdle facing oDesk-based businesses; as a virtual business, chances are you don’t have many assets. Instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, you have contractors and a laptop.

However, remember that the small things add up when it comes to assets, so it’s important to think of any and every asset you can when putting together your application. And going forward, when you buy anything for your business, you should check with your accountant to determine if it can be considered a business asset.

You should expect that because you don’t have as many assets as most businesses, your bank is going to need convincing that you are worth taking a risk on. As a result, it’s so important to work with a bank that you have some sort of relationship with. If the person evaluating your loan application knows you well, they will know about your successes working on oDesk, and you’ll have a much better chance of them approving your loan application. So my advice — even if you aren’t considering a business loan at this time — is to find a local bank, do all of your business and personal banking there, and get to know the employees in your local branch of the bank. Bankers don’t often encounter people who have built virtual businesses or who work online, so it’s going to take some time to educate them about what you do and your part in the future of work. But consider that an investment into the growth of your business.

The Final Stage: More Paperwork

When you get the good news that your bank has decided to approve your application, you get to celebrate accordingly — with the next round of paperwork. If you felt like you had to do a lot of paperwork to get to this point, hold on tight.

Many banks will hand you off to a ‘packager’ at this point, which is a consultant or business that does nothing but take all of the paperwork you’ve provided thus far, plus all of the bank’s paperwork and your answers to a number of questions, and convert it into the 500+ pages of documentation that are required to be prepared before a loan can be submitted to the SBA. The ‘packager’ is generally going to charge you anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 for their services; it’s wise to build this into the amount of your loan request. Once the packager has completed their paperwork, they will set up a time for you to sign this massive collection of papers and documents. Once it’s signed, it’s submitted to the SBA for approval.

If your bank is an SBA Preferred Lender (which is an important thing to look for when selecting a local bank to work with, if you are planning for or considering an SBA loan in the future), then the submission to the SBA is basically a formality and you should have a final approval of the loan at this point. If your bank isn’t an SBA Preferred Lender, then the SBA will review all of your documentation and make a determination concerning the approval of your loan.

Once you get to this final stage, your bank will set up a time for you to sign one last set of paperwork that outlines your responsibilities and duties under the loan. Once that paperwork has been signed, you may begin drawing from the proceeds of the loan to make the purchases you outlined in your business plan.

If you do not already have a business address for your company (and a corresponding lease), your bank is most likely going to require that you obtain a lease before you draw any money from the loan. It can be helpful to build this expense into the amount you’re requesting for your loan, and then find an office building or office park with executive offices nearby that you can use.

The process of obtaining an SBA-backed loan is a long, complicated process, and if you are operating an oDesk-based business, it can be even more complicated. But if you find a good local bank, are patient and write an excellent business plan, you will be on your way to funding in no time.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve had success obtaining an SBA-backed loan for your oDesk-based business, or if you’re thinking about trying the SBA loan process. Let me know in the comments section below!