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The personal voice.

Joels' article ( regarding the "personal voice" in business is very interesting.  It explains why Joel run's his business the way he does and why it makes sense that the "business of technology" (Software/web in this case) requires such methods more than ever.

When I was on vacation in Cairo a few years ago, I stumbled across a small shop in an alley that sells various perfumes, carpets, and papyrus.  I just got into the city and was eager to explore.  The moment I stepped within a meter of the little shops open door, the owner stepped out to greet me and invite me in. For the next hour I sat in a super tiny room, on a second floor with no windows, surrouned by wall-to-wall paintings, sipping tea and listening to the stories that the man had about the paintings meanings, his family, his life, and if I liked the hibiscus tea.

Needless to say, I did walk out with a few artifacts, but most interesting was the amount of energy and time that the man dedicated in persuing the goal of satisfying the customer with a most personal touch.

To try an achieve this through a web page is impossible.  But sites like Joels' and a few others try with construction in a personal manner.  Text that is written by a human, not a robot, with an attitude about it and not Marketing suckup.

Business doesn't have to be cold and impersonal.  Yet a lot of site's seem to depict such an image.  Maybe because they think its "unprofessional".  Whatever happened to "tell it like it is"?  Or maybe its only something that can be pulled off by a small group, and not a conglomarete.

It definately made me rethink my focus regarding my businesses site.

Friday, March 7, 2003


Thanks for bringing this up. I like this topic. Agreed - the internet is often used the opposite for what its good for.

There are tens of thousands of little shops on the internet run by one person or a husband and wife or such, selling hand made baskets, historical costumes from the Renaissance or Civil War, strange pieces of art, original craft items and even unusual software.  Heck, somewhere out there there is an aboriginal tribe selling their pots direct from the outback via satellite internet uplink. Many of these sites lay their life story out for you and when you email them, they email you back. These are great places to get unique and original items and this sort of relationship with distant artists and craftsmen never would have been possible before the internet.

X. J. Scott
Friday, March 7, 2003

One quote mis-attributed to Mark Twain is, "Only presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we'."

Don't be formal unless you have to.  If you're a small business, act like it.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, March 7, 2003

My previous employer recognized the value of the personal voice at least in some situations.  They were a software development house and were particular about hiring developers.  It usually took code and writing samples and a couple of interviews.  But they were also careful in hiring receptionists.

He or she was the person who answered the phone and was the customers first point of contact.  They were always friendly and the best ones would get to know the customers.  And they did answer the phone during the day.  There was no automated attended implying to the caller that his time wasn't important; he could work through a menu of choices before talking to anyone at the company.

Although they did get music-on-hold they were even careful about the selections.  A few callers even commented, that while they might not like MOH, at least the piece they had to listen to was pleasant.

They didn't do so well with their web pages.  As the WWW was becoming common they were also getting larger, then got bought out, so all that personal voice got lost.

Friday, March 7, 2003

A previous employer definitely used the royal 'we'. There were two of us, plus a couple of freelancers, but he thought it would be a good idea to tell clients we were an eight or nine strong team. To the point of writing down what job each of these unpeople did.

Oddly enough, clients got pissy when their work wasn't done on time.

And guess what, employee (the real one) got pissy with working until 1am, and left. And employer *didn't see this coming*.

What a dick.

Saturday, March 8, 2003

This is a really good topic for discussion.

I've experimented with variations in the continuum between a personal voice and a corporate "we" in marketing and presenting my own small company to prospects.

There are a lot of factions arguing in both directions, especially in this industry.

The problem with the personal voice in the B2B market is that there is a proportion of business people who simply don't respect smaller businesses and who won't slow down and listen to what you've got to offer that makes your services or products unique. Example: a while back I sent my URL to a former classmate who is now an IT manager in another state. He wrote back that I needed a graphic artist to redo my web site because it looked too amateurish. (not that *he'd* ever have the balls to go out on his own, but hey, I asked!)

Shallow glib slickness seems to be the de facto expected style in our business. I know myself that a bodyshop type IT service agency usually underpays so it can't afford (typically) to hire anyone who is a serious developer for very long, but just try to get past the "preferred vendor" crap in larger companies. There may be a project in that organization just SCREAMING for someone who knows their stuff to save it, but the entire system wants to see vendors with head counts and an editorial "we".

Massive kudos to Joel for recognizing the lack of a personal voice in our field, and creating an effective marketing engine that uses it FOR his interests rather than AGAINST him. I'm sure none of it is set in stone and it's an ongoing experiment, but he's definitely created a new prototype for a successful business that doesn't feel stupid or marketese driven.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, March 8, 2003

"Massive kudos to Joel for recognizing the lack of a personal voice in our field, and creating an effective marketing engine that uses it FOR his interests rather than AGAINST him"

but don't forget that Joel markets to consumers or small orgs not fortune 500's

Daniel Shchyokin
Sunday, March 9, 2003

I have an old university buddy that runs his own computer installation and networking company. He set up a web site, and throughout it all tries to sound like he's got a large staff of experts just waiting for your project.

Since I know he works alone, I know he's lying through his teeth on his website. He claims his business is capable of all sorts of things that I know he can't do. If he ever gets an inquiry in one of those areas, he madly scrambles to find someone that he can subcontract that part of the work to.

I see a lot of other people doing similar things. That style of business is sure to cause problems for the customer. As a result, I would never use a business that claims to be bigger than I know (or suspect) it is, and I regularly recommend others against doing the same. I even recommend people against using my friend, because I don't trust him and won't put my reputation on the line for him.

If they lie about their own business structure, what else do they lie about? If they really were good at anything, wouldn't they make enough money out of doing *that* rather than trying to land jobs they can't handle?

I read a quote somewhere, "A business is only as honest as its advertising".

Darren Collins
Sunday, March 9, 2003


I think I know you. Do you mean our mutual friend SA? If so, I agree with you about his shenanigans!!

Met you at the Wedding?
Sunday, March 9, 2003

What do I care whether a company is personal or not? All that matters is that they deliver the goods. I have spent way too much time standing behind people in the queue at the supermarket because they and the cashier want to be "personal". I'm not interested in your grandmother's boils, nor the latest picture that your daughter (now six and a half, and ooh, isn't she tall for her age) painted at school. I just want to eat this food that I am desperately trying to pay for, otherwise I am going to starve to death!

Monday, March 10, 2003

Well that's one point of view Mr Anon, but not necessarily anything to do with this thread.

If you do business with someone, the chances are you will end up dealing with individual people with names and phone numbers and email addresses. You might even get to know their faces and go for a drink with them!

So it seems odd to bother with all this silly 'we' stuff, hiding behind an advert and a company name, in the first place.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Speaking as someone who's usually been part of a small org (doing document imaging no less), I know how this works.  It's hard for 6 or 12 or 25 guys to sound "solid" enough for the Fortune 500 to do business with them.  And, in document imaging, you have to admit that anyone who has closets upon closets full of old documents is probably Fortune 500, Fortune 500 wanna-be, or a serious bureaucrat.  (Did I mention one of those companies marketed almost exclusively to local government?  They may have been as small as us, but they were as skeptical as any of the big guys.)

I wrote a website in one of those cases, and encouraged them to strike a balance, not name the size of the company but to try and be personable and not "we" the life out of it.  Got several compliments on that, too, both from interviewees (who could guess that we were small but usually thought we were slightly bigger) and some customers and partners as well.  And then they went and hired a new marketing yes-man and he redid the whole thing in We-Speak, slicked it up a notch, as they were busy losing half their employees down to a dozen and looking for investors/partners/suckers in 3rd world countries.  Oh well.

Monday, March 10, 2003

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