A couple of years ago I had a small epiphany. Sitting at a conference table with a group of website designers and consultants, I realized my presence on that day was largely superfluous. Not much of a revelation, you might think, we’ve all had that feeling in meetings. Except that I was the architect of the online product that was under discussion, and a lot of money was being spent in pursuit of its development.
This was just one of many, many meetings with the outsourced designers and in-house IT staff of the multinational service provider that was my partner in a joint venture to develop and deploy this product. At its heart the product was a vast collection of online legal and financial information written and designed by me, all of it specific to the joint venture. In other words, I was heavily invested in this process.
Not that you could tell from that meeting. It wasn’t ageism that saw me outside this inner IT circle, though I was in some cases decades older than the consultants. At that meeting I realized the consultants saw the product mostly as a means to showcase their expertise, which was reflected in conversations that largely disregarded the needs of the ultimate customer, the end users who would source it online. Though these consumers would be the final arbiters of its success, the IT consultants pursued an agenda of ever more demanding and time consuming technical “fixes” that in fact seemed to needlessly impede the usability of the product.
There was clearly a disconnect here. As a lawyer and writer, I understood that the product was all about the end users. For the consultants who bandied around state of the art analyses of SEO and meta tags and other technical issues of website design, every meeting seemed an opportunity to consult with each other. I was ignored not because I was older, but because I was irrelevant.
What I did not share with them was my knowledge of the provision of online legal and financial information, which extended back a decade to the development of Law4U, the first Australian private online legal information provider, launched by (then) High Court Justice Michael Kirby. This was followed by LawMatch, an online legal referral service that has matched 7000 clients with lawyers. In fact I knew much more about their deliberations than they realized, but I also understood the weight their vaunted proprietary skills carried with other stakeholders.
I decided to exert some control over this consultative process because the value proposition of the product, which was really about the provision of plain English legal and financial information, was being lost. I had a clear view of “what is the product?” In the real world the technology was the means to transmit the information, not the product itself.
Over the next year, during which there were significant delays in the development of the online architecture, I worked diligently to not only educate myself about every aspect of the online process (including the social media, SEO, the planned blog and website etc), but also to replicate those processes in a series of templates and exemplars. In other words, I tried to create a bridge between the information and the technical aspects of the website, including an understanding of the need for optimised content. When I wanted to make a point to the experts, I made it with online templates of what I expected, not with words that could too easily be dismissed. Ultimately the venture collapsed because of a change in management structures, including the loss of all that work. I wondered whether the knowledge I had gained could inform other mature professionals.
The morning after – the Project begins
Early the morning after the collapse of the venture, nursing a long black and a splitting headache, I wrote the following at my local café (transcribed here verbatim as it was written at the time – I can show you the original):
Mature professionals can live without high priced website consultants, but not vice versa.
Content optimisation and social media are not foremost marketing tools, they are communication tools and therefore ideally suited to mature professionals who often excel in this regard. It does not detract from the “professional” relationship if a few basic rules are followed.
The rate of return on an investment by mature professionals in content optimisation can be quantified and explained.
Despite what is promoted by consultants, not every professional should invest in content optimisation and social media, but should be armed with enough information to make a cost-benefit analysis.
Age is an advantage, not a barrier.
Content optimisation and social media is a way to increase and complement the traditional word of mouth marketing professionals already know and trust. It is not “marketing” with the same linear projection as traditional marketing.
It can be strategically integrated into any professional business in a way that does not disrupt existing business models.
A hard sell by consultants will not convince skeptical professionals that a digital medium can enhance human interaction.
Professionals are entitled to be creative when that is compatible with rates of return, client retention and revenue growth.
Content optimisation and social media is a means to level the playing field with larger competitors.
Smaller professionals will lose in a commoditised market. Content optimisation and social media is a non-price differentiator that overcomes the commoditization of professional products.
Everything can be presented in Plain English. A few basic skills go a very long way toward this goal.
Loyalty is generated when professionals use online content to educate their clients to better understand their service. This is the preeminent use of professional blogs and online content.
Before I left that café I had decided to put down in writing what I had learned from the doomed joint venture, and then see if I could get it all online by myself, without any assistance from web designers, IT specialists or consultants.
Why “mature” professionals?
Because no one speaks on our behalf, that’s why. Mature professionals, 40 or 45 or 50 or 55 or 60 (legal, financial, accounting, insurance and others) are disenfranchised in the online world, as though we are “past it”. As I write in one of our MatureMedia Guides:
“Countless mature professionals strive for a more strategic outlook, or resolve to get advice about the internet. Why do these intentions remain dormant? In part because many mature professionals are emotionally tied to the cultures of their businesses, and though they despair at inertia, they fear even more the consequences of thinking (and acting) outside the box.”
They also fear dealing in an area outside their training and apparently beyond their critical assessment. It is therefore a real pity that there are no peers to provide assistance, specifically to facilitate the entry of fellow mature professionals into the world of online content.
I also wanted to champion the idea that ironically, those who feel alienated from technology sometimes have the most to gain, because they come armed with decades of business and professional experience. For them, mastering the technology is the easy part. At the same time, readers just starting out in the professional world, or those with limited resources who cannot afford assistance, will gain the benefit of real world experience, written in plain English by someone who knows where they might want to go. The Project is for every professional, no matter what your age. I just wanted to recognize the contribution of mature professionals. But all professionals can utilize the information on this website.