Be Your Own Client

I am very intrigued about this business idea: “be your own client.” It sounds simple and logical, but it is easy to say and hard to practice. As part of investigating the idea for myself, I thought I’d flesh out some ideas here about what I’ve found so far.

There seem to be two schools of thought that propose “being your own customer”. One assumes that you are testing and using your products or services in order to be able to meet customer needs. The other is more specific: “fire your clients and become your own customer.” The first is general and a good practice, and the second is more specific and harder to do.

Be your own customer to improve your business

To research this one, all you have to do is perform a “be your own customer” Google search (keeping the quotes intact). When I did this, I found many sources for the “think from your customer’s point of view” idea in the product world. The basic idea is that if you use the products that you sell, your business will benefit. Your product will be thoroughly tested and constantly improved.

This is all good, but I didn’t find too much writing online about taking a more radical approach to “being your own customer.”

Be your own customer and fire your regular clients

This means changing the way you do business, not just getting to know how your business works by getting inside the mind of your average consumer. Instead of just using the philosophy as a guide or usability study, companies that practice this approach have the “be your client” as their main business philosophy.

The idea is quite a drastic one: throw all the clients out the window that you did work for over the years. Instead, create a commodity (service, blog, book, etc) that produces revenue. Essentially you are changing revenue models by consuming the very thing you produce; you are truly your own customer.

Jim and Jason

Two important proponents of this latter business philosophy are Coudal Partners and 37Signals. They talk often about being your own user, client, and customer. Since both of these companies are very successful in the web design and development industry, it’s definitely worth digging deeper to figure out how they found the value in this philosophy.

The way they put the idea into practice was to shift their business strategy from providing a service to producing consumable products that they themselves consume.

I first heard about this take on “being your own customer” at a panel at SXSWi 2005 on “Blogging for Business” where Jim Coudal mentioned that his blog has a business. I remember thinking, “that is so cool, it sounds great.” The questions I have now are: What are the benefits? What are some examples? How does it work?

Background on this radical approach

First, for some background, I recommend reading an excellent A List Apart article by the same Jim Coudal: Be Your Own Client. If you haven’t read it, go now, it’s worth it.

Good tips and testimonials from that article:

  • Your blog should have a business
  • There’s an amazing freedom in building something for yourself
  • If you want to free yourself from the tyranny of clients you have to become one
  • Jason Fried says, “When you are your own target audience you can’t help but make better products.”
  • David Greiner with Campaign Monitor “We focused on the features we needed and it turns out that thousands of other web designers found those features just as useful.”

Some related reading to help illustrate this principle:

  • From Being Predictable
    Lesson: Be predictable. Think like your users. Better yet, be your own user. It’ll be much rarer that you’ll come up a non-solution like this one.
  • From 200 Proof Marketing
    Lesson: Be your own customer… Become a part of a market before you sell to it, so you can better understand what the market wants.
  • Article on Six Sigma. This article’s ideas apply to the first school of thought in how to improve your marketing and business tactics.
  • From Your Site Better Be Your Best Employee
    Lesson: Your site greets more users than any team member in your company. Make sure it’s ready for it! Put more time and energy into it…And make sure it is the most impressive and helpful of all your resources.

Clear signals

It’s not an accident that a lot of the material that I found in researching this topic was from 37signals poignant blog, SVN. They are huge proponents of this philosophy, and they practice what they preach. Recently, Jason Fried pointed out in his blog entry The Tools We Use to Run and Build 37Signals that they in fact use their own software for all their own projects. This shows that they not only believe they product the best product out there, but they also can tie in the other philosophy of improving the products by using them constantly themselves in order to test and improve them. It’s a great combination of both of these principles that I have explored here.

Ask yourself

What would be different about your business or daily grind if you were your own customer?

Site Launch: The Running Shop

I am very pleased to announce a new web site from simpledream web studio, The Running Shop: Tucson, Arizona. Though the project did involve some visual changes, the bulk of the work was under the hood. The old site was static files built in HTML, and updating was difficult and didn’t happen much because of it. For comparison, check out the old site on

The new site is built with web standards technologies: CSS, XHTML, and JavaScript+DOM. To take care of updating the site content, the site is now framed out with CakePHP, which is the Ruby on Rails for PHP enthusiasts. CakePHP has lots of content management possibilities, and the result is what I would consider the ultimate in a lightweight CMS (since it isn’t intended for blogging like lots of other nice tools).

The project was lots of fun, mainly because I had lots of freedom with the design and code. I was able to put into practice many of the standards-based methods for web design and development that I talk and read about, as well as create a fresh, professional, and attractive look for The Running Shop.

If you are interested in more technical programming or design details, go see the Colophon page on the new site.

Secure Email with Gmail

Who you are:

A Gmail user who wants to improve the way you use email. (If you don’t use Gmail, ask me for an invitation to try it, then read my previous post about why Gmail rocks).

What you want:

A secure way to check your web-based email. By secure, I mean encrypted login (authorization) as well as secure reading, writing, and sending from any computer. This technique will work at home, the public library, or accessing a Wi-Fi hotspot with your laptop.

How to do it:

When you connect to Gmail, type in instead of The s after the http stands for “secure” HTTP. If you launch Gmail with that extra letter, it will force the program to keep you locked into secure mode as long as you have it open in your browser. In most browsers you should see a padlock or green key to indicate that you are viewing a secure web page. In Firefox, I noticed that the address bar (where the https:// is) changes to a nice yellow background to show that it is securely connected.

Why it’s important:

If you access an email program over the Internet, chances are that the email traffic you are sending is not encrypted, and can be read by anyone who is willing and able to do so. Secure email is important at home and in the office; it is even more important if you are accessing your email from a public terminal in a library, or using your laptop at the local Starbucks. By securely logging in to Gmail, you will ensure your privacy. And it’s so easy to do!

Update your bookmarks:

The best way to remember this technique is to save it in your bookmarks or favorites. In your browser, find your bookmark for Gmail1. Edit the bookmark by adding in the https:// at the front, save it, and start using always-on secure email with Gmail.

Thank you to Steve Gibson of Security Now for this great tip.

[1] If you are using Internet Explorer, send me an email (so we can chat a bit about getting a better browser). For Firefox users, select Bookmarks file menu, then open Manage Bookmarks. Find the Gmail bookmark entry. Right-click, and select Properties. Then you can add the s after the http and save the bookmark. Test it to make sure it connects securely. Safari and Opera users, I am assuming you know what to do.

[UPDATE: fixed a bad link.]

WordPress Meetup during SXSW 2006

If you are attending the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin this year, and use WordPress for your blog tool, you should come to the WordPress/blogging meetup during SXSW.

It’s going to be on Saturday, March 11, 2006. Visit to sign up, hope to see you there. Heck, even if you are just a blogger, you are welcome, I’m sure.

Windows MetaFile Vulnerability Checker

I already posted this here, but it is important enough for me to put it here on my business site as well. Sorry to those who will get this more than once!

If you are running Windows, especially XP, you should check your computer to see if it is vulnerable to the infamous Windows MetaFile vulnerability.

Steve Gibson, of has created an small tool to check your computer quickly and easily. Download it here.

If you are not vulnerable, it means you have either installed one of the previous patches or else you’ve used Windows Update to get the official patch (make sure you are using Internet Explorer for the MS Update page).

If the tool tells you that you are vulnerable, make sure to follow its instructions on getting the correct patch.

I just ran the MetaFix tool from Steve this morning, and am now good to go.

Upcoming Web Standards Meeting

The Tucson Web Standards Group kicks off 2006 with a meeting on Thursday, January 19th, at 6:30 PM. For location and more details, see our Event page on

2005 was a great year as the Group got “re-started” after some time in hibernation. Let’s keep it up!

New Site: Abstract by H

One of the most fun sites I have done went live recently: Expressions of Abstraction by H. Fun not only to code, but to design as well.

Due to the dominant nature of the artwork to be displayed, the design had to be subtle and minimal. I endeavor to make both of these attributes common in my design work, so it was a chance once again to build a solid design framework that gives way to powerful imagery.

With beautiful images as the main purpose for a site, it reminded me much of another project, Dan Davis Photography. The difference with Abstract by H is the artist and I decided not to do the usual black or white background, instead choosing a neutral dark grey.

For information about how the site was put together, see the Colophon page on the Abstract site.

Happy 2006!

Happy New Year! I hope your 2005 was wonderful; I had a great year. Simpledream is now 1 year old…I can’t believe it’s already been 12 months. Amazing.

A very big thank you to all my clients, colleagues, friends, and family for making this business possible. I could not do it without you! Thanks for your business and your support. I look forward to working with you more in the coming months.

Best wishes for 2006!