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“He bought me my first computer for my 12th birthday. It was a ZX81, made by Sir Clive Sinclair and had a massive 1kb of memory, and I used a black and white TV as a screen.”

Colette Mason is a product creator, marketing expert, web geek, author and also an inspirational speaker. Colette Mason has been involved in the UK IT industry since 1993, working as an advisor at The Metropolitan Police, The Post Office, Fujitsu, London Underground, television broadcaster ITV, international investment bank, Euroclear, as well as the public sector, with the UK Government’s The Home Office. Colette is an entertaining speaker who provides a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes world of information technology, and how to create successful rewarding applications for businesses and their customers.

Colette Mason has launched her first kindle book to help businesses tackle the hurdles in social media. Social Media Success in 7 Days (Inspired Press, £19.99, Amazon) is the definitive guide to B2B and B2C Social Media Marketing and teaches how to build effective business relationships by using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

MO: You have a long history in web development, starting at the young age of 15! Can you tell us what initially drew you to this industry and how you got your start?

Colette: Looking back, I think the initial catalyst came from my dad, who was a trained engineer. He had seen changes taking place in factories, and spotted how much computers and electronics were being used by businesses and realized IT was going to be a massive growth area. He bought me my first computer for my 12th birthday. It was a ZX81, made by Sir Clive Sinclair and had a massive 1kb of memory, and I used a black and white TV as a screen.

I was an only child, so I was very used to coming up with my own entertainment ideas. Playing games or programming the computer was something truly interactive I could do, rather than just read an encyclopedia or assembling something out of Lego bricks.

I got a weekend job with a local company doing some manual work packaging their products ready for sale. I was a keen worker and got things done on time. The owner was struggling to manage all the addresses in his customer database effectively. I told him I could store the information in a text document on the computer, organized by sales area, and he could print out a list ready for the sales rep to take with them. I also said it will be easy to add and remove customers and keep it up to date.

He got me to show him what I meant, and agreed to give it a go. The rest they say is history!

Colette Mason - Product Creation and Personal Branding

MO: Some people may think that the information technology business would be a difficult topic to tackle during speaking engagements. What do you believe makes your presentations different?

Colette: I am different to a lot of IT people, I focus on how technology can be used to help people achieve something – I guess you could call that empowering – and how they can pick up a few basic skills and make a big difference to their business. If they want to take it further when they’ve seen some results, I love being there to help them achieve that.

I think the main reason that many people tend to avoid thinking about technology is that they have had a lot of bad experiences with it in the past. Either they blame themselves when they hit a problem with a website or one of their computer programs and think they’re stupid, or they’ve been bamboozled and ripped off by an IT salesman promising the earth, yet delivering very little return on investment – “old school” brochure based websites are a classic example of this.

I despair when I look at the number of businesses that have had really poor advice and shoddy service, because it’s made them think that technology and the internet will never work for their situation and they don’t want to waste any more resources on it – once bitten twice shy. I am dedicated to changing that.

I see a lot of IT specialists who like keeping things confusing, keeping back a piece of the puzzle back – so they can continue to line their pockets. Some might say that’s savvy marketing, but for me it seems very unethical.

I’ve seen the anguish and anger this causes when people try to do something for themselves. A crisis has happened out of hours, or they spot a new opportunity and can’t respond quickly – why should people be left in that position.

Once a client has mastered something, there will always be something new, a new angle or strategy that can be shared with them. The number of opportunities to work together aren’t going to diminish because the client has become self-sufficient with some of the IT work that needs to be done. That is much more of a win-win model that I think should be used more.

I have spent over 30 years looking at how people use technology and spotting where they get stuck and how to solve that, and now I really like to share what I’ve learned – and people love the feeling of not being held back and able to accomplish things on their own.

MO: Tell us about the process of launching a kindle book. Why did you decide this route rather as well as the paperback edition?

Colette: I like the idea of a Kindle book because people are used to paying for kindle books. With a lot of PDF based ebooks, there is a perception that because they are free to distribute, they should be available for free. Subscribers often get a free ebook for signing up to a mailing list, for example, and so they have been trained to expect premium content for free in this format.

That’s great deal for the end reader, but as an information publisher, it’s a real problem, the “freemium” model. By picking Kindle and a printed paperback version, it was easier to charge for the information because it has a higher perceived value.

In essence, a Kindle book is a very long web page written in HTML. I wrote the original text in Word and then exported the text out as HTML and then tidied it up so it was optimized for Kindle – that took about 5 hours.

I uploaded it to the Amazon website and it was available for sale in the US, UK and Germany within 24 hours.

Getting the paperback version on Amazon took 8 weeks using the process I chose. You can do it quicker but that was the leadtime to get it listed with the printing company I chose. As a person used to internet speeds, 8 weeks felt like an eternity compared with the 24 hours for Kindle!

MO: Can you offer us on social media tip from the book?

Colette: The key point for me is to remember social media is all about real people, and forming relationships with them. Always look at it from that perspective.

When you’re getting started, concentrate on who your prospects, customers and potential business partners are. Think about where you will find them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Do some searches for them by name, or look at some pages or groups that might be of interest – are they there? Then work out what is the most useful information you can share to get people interacting with you so you can build rapport with those people, and in turn bring in more business.

Once you have that “human” focused part straight in your mind, then you can start promoting your profile and building your following.

If you hit a technical question, solve it typing in some good searches into google, do some research then fix the issue. Social media is really changeable, so no one will ever know all the answers – whether they are an expert or a newbie.

Technically, things tend to get a lot more complicated when you start with automating, scheduling, tracking, using specialist tools and so on – the good thing is that basic human connection remains stable and closely related to how we live our real lives. You don’t have to get ultra-technical and overcomplicate things to succeed.

We’ve all had experience of automated telephone systems and felt the frustration when we want to talk to a real person rather than a machine. Focusing too much on the technology, heavily automating things with social media also comes across as “robotic” often generates the same feelings in company followers.

Don’t let getting stuck occasionally with a tech issue become a showstopper – remember the money is in the relationship with real people – not tech wizardry.

MO: You have had many positions in the IT industry since 1993. What has been your favorite position, and what made you make the leap to go out on your own?

Colette: I think my favorite one was with the UK Government Home Office. I was responsible for the intranet there. (An intranet is like a private website for staff members)

When I first arrived the intranet for the staff was truly woeful. It was dated, riddled with broken links and large sections of the site were bright pink! This was in 2006 and the site looked more like a 90’s throwback. It was inflicted on 16,000 people in the organization.

When we looked at the stats, on average, 1 person looked at 1 page during the course of a whole year – it was the worst performing website I had ever seen.

We decided to ask the staff what information did they need to access regularly and made sure that was easy to find, for example things like holiday forms or expense claim sheets – useful information not “filler”.

We kept focusing on what do you want to do on the site, and made sure that happened. We didn’t have any extra budget, it all had to come from reorganizing and repurposing what was there already.

When I left, the site had received over 8 million page views – much better than the 16,000 from before!

The most powerful lesson for me during this contract was that I could clearly see by asking people how they want technology to be incorporated into their working lives, and then making it work that way, it was truly successful. Those staff members who had written themselves off as “stupid” for not being able to work with a poorly designed website were delighted to see their suggestions had been incorporated into the new intranet – and loved being able to use it with ease.

Bringing about that change in mindset of the individuals and also the benefits to the organization due to streamlined processes boosting productivity is something I will never forget.

I decided to change from a freelance IT career working with big companies because there were no new challenges to learn from. I don’t want to sound flippant or boastful, but one of the projects I signed off had a total spend of $500,000,000 – where could I go after that? I’d got to the top of the ladder with as a usability consultant and it was time to learn something new – you only get one life and I want to experience as much as possible, not get stuck in a comfortable rut. This way I can fire up many more people to reach their true potential using technology and the internet.

MO: What are your future plans?

Colette: I am speaking at CERN in Geneva in November 2011 to talk about how freelancers and employees can use social media to promote themselves and reach out to organizations they want to work with.

My next project is creating a training course that teaches people how they too can gain worldwide recognition writing their own book and having a website that showcases their unique knowledge and skills – so they have the same opportunity to open doors for themselves as I have.

A lot of people think they have a book within them – I want to make sure that happens for them too.

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