Hi there, you may remember me from the appearances on https://crmtipoftheday.com and https://crm.audio. Over the years these became [somewhat] recognisable brands in our small but tight-knit
CRM Dynamics 365 CE Power Platform community. We have pins, buttons, and stickers to prove it.
I’ve been asked a few times to share what’s involved in building a brand like this. It’s time to tell the story.
What did we build over the last six years?
CRM Tip of the Day
- 1,298 tips and counting
- 70-80K page views / month
- 3K Twitter followers
- 750 Facebook followers
- Apple News - who knows
- Total of 11 shows and one master feed that includes all shows
- Each episode has 800-1,000 downloads within 30 days
- 20,000-25,000 downloads per month in total
- ~400gb downloaded per month
CRM Tip of the Day Videos
Our YouTube channel, https://youtube.com/crmtipoftheday, is a special case.
- 5K subscribers
- Average view time is just over 4 min. For the videos that are under 10 min long, that’s a lot.
- 2M minutes watched. To put it in perspective, it’s equivalent to over 33K hours. Minimum US wage is $7.25 so it’d be fair to assume that our viewers are paid on average $30 or more an hour. Which translates to $1M.
Our viewers spent over $1,000,000 watching Derik Bormann’s videos.
Which makes the next screenshot particularly upsetting.
It’s a team success but it’s not always been this way.
One to one
For the first time I dipped my toes into the CRM pond around CRM 3.0. I liked what I saw but there were gaps. In the product itself, in the documentation, and the best practices. Cue CRM 4.0, released in December 2007. It introduced multi-tenancy (making hosting a reality), added multi-lingual and multi-currency capabilities, introduced plugin model alongside with the Dynamic Entity concept, to name but a few. By that time, I was a convert. Adoption was growing, and community started to form around it.
How did you participate in the community activities back in 2007? Newsgroups. Download new posts, write the replies before anyone else does, upload back. Inspired by the legendary Michael Höhne from Stunnware (filtered lookup for CRM 4, anyone?), I was all over it and loved it.
My MVP award email landed directly into the spam folder (as they continue to this day) in July 2008. I was not expecting it, I was busy watching US Open. In fact, I didn’t know much about MVP program at all, I was just doing what I enjoyed, mostly late at night when the family was asleep. Those were lonely times, but the feeling of nongenderspecifichood was growing with every single reply marked as an answer.
Doing it solo is fine, it really depends on a personality. Consistency, perseverance, and active engagement are the keys.
One to many
Roll forward couple years to CRM 2011 which was a breakthrough from the technical architecture point of view. 9 years on, we still can’t let go SOAP interfaces. Newsgroups/forums became a speed dating game.
Read the SDK, dear.
Please mark this post as an answer.
That was the most common answer on forums. It was time to move on.
Did I mention that the product documentation
sucked was not very good? Surely, we can do better. I’m not convinced that we did a better job but, boy|girl, we gave it a shot. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Overview was the first ever CRM article published on TechNet Wiki in March 2011. By 2014 we’ve had over 150 articles about all things CRM. That’s not even counting translations.
When we started, I exercised whatever was there of my influence. I even applied, from time to time, the art of passively aggressive persuasion. What is the point of having an MVP status if you can’t wheel it out when you have a Wiki to maintain? In the end, it took a handful of dedicated moderators1 and couple years before we could walk away and let Wiki continue as a community effort. In retrospective, there was even more to it.
Looking at my posts, the wiki was crm tip of the day before tip of the day
What was different from my previous experience is that, what started as a single article from an individual, ended up as a collaborative community creation.
Starting something new that has a very broad reach, and engaging the community could be very rewarding. Prepare to negotiate and convince. Prepare to let your child go at some point.
But those unlocked achievements are going to stay with you forever or until TechNet is taken down, whichever comes first. In 2019, we’re still going strong with CRM 2011 guide!
Many to many
Microsoft lifted the game and, by the time CRM 2013 was released, documentation has improved to the point that made Wiki if not obsolete then, to a degree, redundant. And out of date. Nobody wanted to maintain documentation on the product that kept changing UX and navigation from vertical to horizontal and back every 2 years. What now?
I surely didn’t want to repeat my lonely days. On one [potentially] sunny [perhaps] afternoon I was soul-searching for something new and exciting to do. I believe I was eating fish’n’chips and poking the keyboard with my greasy finger when I came across https://office365tipoftheday.com/. What a great idea!
By that time I knew that doing something on a regular basis is a huge if not impossible undertaking. I decided to do some crowdsourcing.
Let’s do CRM tips every day! As a crowd!
That’s what I told my fellow MVPs. What I didn’t realise (nor, to my defence, did anyone else) is that the Office folks did a tip of a day. Like any day. Like once a month. Lucky for me, Joel Lindstrom and Jerry Weinstock took the bait. We figured that if every one of us did on average 1 2⁄3 tips per week, we are all set.
I have no idea how did we manage to survive first few months but once we ticked over a hundred, we just had to keep going.
Shawn Tabor briefly ventured into the tipping but soon figured out that he’d rather talk than write. Joel and I decided that other podcasts were boring and, since we talk a lot anyway, hello, CRM Audio.
Take a moment and look again at the YouTube stats above. You’d notice that we didn’t have much traction for two years. That’s 2 years of making the videos weekly. Did I mention that consistency, patience and perseverance are the keys?
And the rest is history.
If you do or planning to do something on a regular basis make sure you understand the efforts required. We do encourage and accept guest contributions (just email firstname.lastname@example.org) and I frequently hear people suggesting that by now we must be getting a lot of tips so that we don’t have to do much work ourselves.
Our audience is very familiar with this assumption, I wrote about it as a developer/architect in Tip #721: Tale of a small change, Joel chimed from administrator/customiser perspective in Tip #1073: The story of the small change.
This is what happens when we receive a tip:
- Read and understand. People can be very cryptic.
- Decide if it’s a tip at all. It won’t be accepted if it’s just a rehash of documentation or an obvious statement.
- If the submission has a pointer to an article elsewhere we need to go and read what is it all about. As a rule of thumb we do not cross-post tips already published elsewhere but there are some rare exceptions. If the topic is really good but too complicated then we might let the author do the explanation on their blog/media and post readers digest as a tip. But readers digests do not write themselves.
- Apply some google-fu to ensure it has not been done before and is not a common knowledge.
- Validate the legitimacy. Power Platform and Dynamics 365 are very broad subjects and even Joel does not know everything. Validation often requires asking the others who know this particular domain.
- If it’s an intricate tip then we must be able to reproduce it. That actually means trying to do step by step what author is suggesting. Often it requires creating a baseline by customising your instance (like adding suggested fields, etc)
- The other purpose of the “replay” is to capture screenshots. We do occasionally get screenshots from the author but they need to be extracted, resized, cleaned up, uploaded.
- Some tipsters are better writers than others. More often than not the tip needs some scrubbing.
- Clean up, format, check spelling, add screenshots
- Come up with a good title, tags, and categories
- Locate tipster twitter or linkedin profile, add a reference
- Think of a good cover image, find a suitable image in public domain (our preferences are https://unsplash.com and https://pexels.com). Download the image, crop and resize, upload, think of a good title, insert attribution into the tip.
- Add tip to the queue, schedule it.
- That was easy, wasn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong. As tedious as publishing might be, coming up with the idea in the first place is the hardest part, the rest is straightforward. But it takes time. Every day. Remember that if you decide to start your own grind.
As you can tell, I look after the tips. That’s the hardest. Joel takes care of CRM Audio. But looking after and publishing 11 podcasts is the easiest job in the world. How difficult can it be? Just talk, record, then publish. Right?
We celebrated tips 100, 128, 256. Once we tipped over about 600-700 we knew we have no option but keep going until 1,000. Now, in its sixth year, tipping has become a part of the daily/weekly routine, we just keep running, I suppose. We do allow ourselves a bit of a slack these days - we don’t religiously follow “tip every business day of the week except public holidays” mantra. Few years I would literally go around begging for a tip to maintain that daily schedule. These days? No tip of Monday? Meh.
Whilst technically we could just stop publishing, pulling out of CRM Audio is next to impossible with dozen or so other people involved. Joel is truly stuck.
There is a rewarding part as well.
When we publish a guest tip, it comes from the user Tîpp Jäår who happened to have a username mom. Lo and behold, according to the email we received couple years ago, our blog made it into the Top 25 Moms blogs in the world.
So there are moms blogs and then there is this.
Dear CRM audio
… I don’t really have time to read all the CRM blogposts about the new stuff. Also, I’m the only CRM specialist in an organization of 350. You guys not only keep me up to date, but thanks to you I feel like I’m not alone with the daily CRM struggles…
Belgium and Holland might not be that big, but the traffic is the worst. So I spend a lot of time sitting in my car, ideal for listening to podcasts. Keep up the good work, you guys are the best, and again, thank you so much!
As good as it gets. Thank you.
If this, or strangers stopping at a conference to say hello and say they read or listen, does not motivate you, then working with the community perhaps is not your thing, after all.
Since we added button to the site, people on average started spending 23% more time on the site. Don’t make me think is another key!
The one thing that seems to be lost in this cohort effort is the individual identity. When we started we didn’t know better, and we didn’t care or didn’t think about it much. To a certain extent I wanted to disassociate myself from the site. Perhaps, I was hoping to replicate Wiki success where socialistic notion of the the group participation and community goodness was somewhat trumping individual identities.
Tip of the day and audio are much more personalised and intricate affairs. In the hindsight, we should’ve taken care of our individual identities better, especially on tip of the day.
We did chat about the importance of individual identities on CRM MVP Podcast (I have no idea why we didn’t talk about it on our own podcast, probably because neither Joel nor Shawn offered me a drink). The irony of me blabbing about the identity importance is not lost on me, considering that a lot of my work is done under the name of Tîpp Jäår. But I hope to change some of that with the blog you’re reading right now.
People who made it happen
We’ve had people coming and going. We’ve received a lot of help and encouragement from other MVPs and from the broader community. Thank you all!
But I don’t think any of our creations would see the light of the day without these individuals.
Edits the podcasts so he can control what others say
Hobbit. Not a developer
Tip of the day grandmaster
The voice inside your head when using CRM
On MVP program
Microsoft MVP program is great. For a lot of MVPs, myself included, that became our second family, the professional one. The program has been getting a lot of publicity and people want to “join in” or, rather “how do I become an MVP”. There are blog posts and videos on the subject like “top 13 tricks to becoming a Microsoft MVP”, “the bulletproof path to MVPdom”, “milking MVP status of your employees”, and many others.
I’m not a big fan of those, to be honest. If you are a professional working with Microsoft products, you should be well aware of the MVP program and what does it mean. While the program fully deserves the attention, the DIY instructions most certainly don’t.
MVP status should be viewed as an award not an achievement. It’s a milestone not a finish line.
It’s not conquering a mountain peak, it’s a journey. Let me put it another way. Would you continue doing what you’re doing if MVP program didn’t exist? If your MVP status was taken away when you already were an MVP? If the answer is
no then perhaps you are in the program or trying get into the program for all the wrong reasons.
There are many channels available to express yourself. Podcasts, vlogs, training videos, public speaking, wiki, and many others. The predominant one is, of course, writing. However if you want people to listen and you want to build the audience, you have to deliver. Time after time. Just because you have one or two great ideas and would like to share them with the world does not mean starting a blog. There is a saying coined by the famous Russian writer and satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky (Михаи́л Жване́цкий)2
Writing is like peeing - do it when you can no longer hold it in
(ПисАть как и пИсать нужно тогда, когда терпеть уже невозможно!)
If your writing is sporadic, consider publishing elsewhere instead of your own site/blog. Community sites always welcome guest contributions. So do we.
On other things
Some random thoughts that may or may not help you get started.
- Decide on your channel(s). Writing, blogging, talking. Could be TikTok videos. Invent a new one.
- Go where your audience is. Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, local Walmart, whatever.
- Decide on the frequency. Do not overcommit (as we most certainly did for tip of the day and videos). If you’re planning a vlog, why don’t you start with a short video every week. You can always release out of band. Audience is less forgiving about missed appearances.
- Learn some basics about social channels and SEO. Whilst content is most certainly king, there are little does and don’ts you need to follow to promote your creation.
- If you’re blogging try to stay away from syndication. It is very tempting to say
yesto the requests, especially when they are coming from a community site moderator at Microsoft. If your content is valuable, they will get the traffic, not you. Yes, there is
<!-- more -->trick but it could be seen by some as a clickbait.
- Be consistent. In timing, in your opinions, in your persona. I would prefer the persona to be a real you but I know that some find it easier to play a role. Find by me, as long as you are consistent, we don’t have to be best friends.
- Invest into your undertaking. If it’s a blog, get a domain name, iknoweverythingaboutcrm.blogspot.com ain’t that exciting. Get SSL certificate (they are free), get some decent theme, perhaps spend $5 on fiverr.com and get yourself a logo.
Do what you love. Do what you do. Regardless. Be yourself. Keep your identity. Be careful about starting something under a company umbrella. Even if you are a one man band and the company is, essentially, you. I want to listen to an individual not Objectified Power Inc.
Working as a team. It makes the journey easier because you can draw on each other’s strengths and you can cover for each other when needed. Ensure that you gel, and have complimentary views or skills. The team of defenders or forwards only is never going to win any games whatever your ball sport of choice is happen to be. Our listeners find the ongoing banter one of the most entertaining aspects of CRM Audio (Usually I berate Joel about the lack of technical skills and, in return, he rubs my face in on customisations, architecture, and large scale implementations. Then Shawn trolls both of us about Field Service. Like cake in a face, it works every time).
Use your life skills. Can you draw? Why don’t you try illustrating a blog article?
Try something new and exciting. If you are genuinely interested in the differences in application designs created by left-handed people, I’m sure there will be enough left-handed application designers who would take interest in the subject.
Do not procrastinate. It’s never a perfect time.
The new adventure
CRM Tip of the Day and CRM Audio will continue. Perhaps with less rigour but by now it’s like brushing your teeth - the results are very shiny if you do it on a regular basis.
This site is a new start for me. I’m not a stranger to the personal blogging but I hope to create a new style where fiction, technical writing, videos, and other media come together. I do not know what it will look like in the end but we’ll see. I hope you like my new The Enabler persona. And you can tell by the domain name, it’s very personal.
George “The Enabler” Doubinski