Archive for March, 2017

WAM anxiety challenge launches

Friday, March 31st, 2017 | News

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we’ve just launched our 30-day challenge to help people reduce anxiety. It’s a free month of coaching where people get a different challenge to complete every day and a private support community to share experiences and access encouragement.

Pretty cool. But will it work?

The science says it will. The challenges are based on the lifestyle changes that drive improvements to mental health. I wrote about these in my book Technical Anxiety and look at them in far more detail in my upcoming book Do More, Worry Less.

But, of course, the science can say one thing: whether you can translate into success for people in real life is another. We’re working on a small scale: a few hundred people have signed up for the challenge. That is still enough to make me nervous, though. It needs to deliver.

We’re measuring the success as best we can so I will be able to write about the results next month. Until then, wish me luck!

Family parking

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | Family & Parenting

Family parking spots always seemed like an unnecessary thing to me. Sure, the extra space is nice. But that would be nice for everybody. Adults need to be able to get out of the car, too. It is not like families are disabled: why should they get preferential parking right next to the shop?

Now that I have a family, they still seem silly. I’m not going to unilaterally disarm by not using them, of course. That would be stupid. But I’m not convinced that any of us really need the parking spots to be there.

Indeed, they are not there in many car parks, and somehow we manage to survive.

Another oddity is that Homebase have family parking, but no changing facilities. That would have been a much welcome addition when Venla decided that mid-trip was the appropriate time to start screaming.

How to install Composer inside WordPress

Sunday, March 26th, 2017 | Programming

WordPress has an ancient and ugly codebase. When you are writing plugins, you often want to make your code less horrible and use Composer to bring in dependencies as normal. How do these things fit together?

The first thing I tried was to create plugin-specific dependencies list. Inside the plugin directory, I created a composer.json> file, then ran the install and uploaded it.

This approach works fines when you only use a dependency once and no other plugin uses the same dependency. However, when I wanted to re-use a library in another plugin I had a problem. If I included it twice it would crash.

Installing Composer globally

The solution I came to was to do a global install of Composer. I created a composer.json file in the root and listed all of the dependencies I needed for my plugins in there.

Then, in each plugin, I checked for the file and included it.

if (file_exists(sprintf('%s/vendor/autoload.php', ABSPATH))) {
    require_once sprintf('%s/vendor/autoload.php', ABSPATH);
    add_filter('the_content', 'simple_related_posts', 30);
} else {
    add_action('admin_notices', function() {
        echo '<div class="notice notice-warning is-dismissible"><p><em>Simple Related Posts</em> plugin requires <strong>Composer</strong>.</p></div>';

Drawbacks to this approach

This means plugins are no longer self-contained. You have to install the plugin and add the dependencies to your central composer.json file. That is messy.

With the code above, it does not check if the _correct_ dependencies are there. This is something you could add in. However, given the problem above, it seems like it would require so much manual management anyway that I would know what was going on.

Optimise for performance

If you are using Composer on production, do not forget to optimise the autoloader before uploading your files.

composer dumpautoload -o


Personally, I would rather lose plugins being entirely self-contained and benefit from Composer libraries. This approach works well for me because they are purpose-written plugins for my blog.

However, this approach would not work well if you were publishing your plugins as most WordPress users would not know what was going on.

5 reasons your community group should NOT use Facebook ads

Saturday, March 25th, 2017 | Thoughts

You’re on the committee for a community group and you have a big event coming up. Someone suggests you should do some advertising as it would be a great chance to get some new people in. Someone else suggests “let’s do some Facebook ads”.

It is understandable why this suggestion would be made. Flyers are a massive waste of money. Plus, everyone is doing Facebook ads now. It seems like a great way to go.

It isn’t. Stop right now and make sure you can answer all of these objections before proceeding.

Your copy sucks

The art of writing sales material, known as copywriting, really is an art. It takes years to become good at copywriting. I’ve spent the last three months working on it, including buying expensive courses from some of the best copywriters around and my copy still sucks. Not just a little bit: it’s rubbish. It doesn’t convert.

And whether you are a business selling a product, or a community group selling an event, you need to convert some people into customers, even if that is only showing up to your event. Saying “oh we have this amazing event” is not enough. You need to write compelling stuff. That takes a professional.

Who are you going to target?

Facebook ads work because you can target specific people. But how will that work for your community group? The best marketers spend ages zoning in on their ideal customer, then market to them, then retarget them after they have visited their website.

Nobody has visited your website because you’re a community group, and even if they did, you don’t have a retargeting pixel on there.

So you target “people in my city”. Which is the equivalent of sending a blanket mailshot out via the Royal Mail. Most targetted direct mail gets a 1% response rate. Untargeted mail can only dream of that.

Facebook takes time to work

Facebook is very good at working out who your ads should be shown to. But this takes time. You have to spend money before it works. When I started advertising for the WAM 30-day challenge, we were paying £0.60 per click. Thre weeks later we were paying £0.15 per click. Facebook worked out who my ads should be shown to.

But that only happened after several weeks and several hundred pounds spent on ads. The first £100-200 is basically a fee you pay to Facebook so they can work out who to show the ads to. Then you start seeing results. How big is your budget? Probably less than that, right?

People don’t trust you

People are suspicious of paid advertising. They should be: a company is trying to influence them. You might think that you avoid this being a community group. But you’re wrong. You’re in a worse position.

Why? Because it is even more suspicious. ProCook follow me round the internet with adverts for their latest cookware. They know I have been on their website so they target me on Google and Facebook (and all the websites who use their ads, which is everyone). There are ProCook ads everywhere.

But at least I know what is going on here. ProCook is relentlessly targeting me because they are trying to sell me a pan. That’s the deal.

With a community group, it is a whole different ball game. What are they selling? How are they funding these ads? Is it a cult? What is their business model that allows them to run Facebook ads?

People want to discover community groups organically, either by searching for something they are interested in or because a friend told them about it. Seeing paid advertising makes it look like a religious cult or government-sponsored initiative to shift state-provided services off their books and into the hands of private individuals.

There are better things to spend the money on

Like making your events even more awesome. So that people come back. Most groups do not have a promotion problem. They have a retention problem. You only need one new person to come along each week and you have one hundred members after two years of running. But most groups are five years down the line with 20 members.

Do people read long-form content?

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

We are told that everyone on the internet has the attention span of a gnat. You have to write short copy and get to the point immediately or people will leave.

This is not true.

What is going on here, and why do we have this misconception?

How do we know it is false?

Website spy on you.

Not in a freaky “we’re watching you through a camera” CIA way. But they are watching.

They use session recordings. Services like Hotjar, CrazyEgg and Inspectlet track what visitors do. Every click, every scroll, every interaction with the page is sent back to their servers so that the website owner can watch it later.

Everyone is doing this. Well, not everyone. I am not doing it on this blog, for example. But for big companies, e-commerce websites or anyone with an analytics team, they probably have it installed.

This should not freak you out. It is all anonymous: you haven’t told them who you are. The session recording they watch could be anyone.

Unless you are on Facebook. Then they know exactly who you are. Every time you hover over that pro-Trump article or dietary video ad, for example, Facebook makes a record of it. But then, you’ve already told them all of your secrets and uploaded all of those private photos…

Anyway, I do have the software on Worfolk Anxiety. Specifically, I use it to see what people do on my landing pages. When I pay for an advert, I want to see how effective it is.

What do people do? Find out below…

What does turn people off?

First, let’s look at what _does_ turn people off.

It is true that people do get bored easily online. It is not necessarily because we have a reduced attention span. But there is a lot of competition.

Back in the day, you bought a newspaper and took it home. If you got bored, you would probably keep reading anyway. The alternative was to put your shoes back in, walk back to the corner shop and buy another newspaper.

Not so with the online world. If you are bored of that Guardian article, the Telegraph is two clicks away. Or dog videos. Lots and lots of dog videos.

With all this competition, people have upped their game. They make content easier to read. They use short sentences. Regular sub-heads. They get right to the point and keep the content interesting.

All of these things should be done in any piece of writing. But with the online world being so cut-throat, online writers have been forced to do it much faster.

So what do people do?

When you do get down to practising all of these good writing habits, people read your content.

The sales letter for our free 30-day anxiety challenge is over 1,000 words long. That is longer than 95% of the blog posts I write. It is two pages of A4. But people read it.

There are two types of visitors that hit that landing page. The first reads the headline and then leaves immediately. The second slowly scrolls down the page reading everything.

And almost nothing in between. Once people start reading, they read it all.

The pros get much better results

I have spent a lot of time working on my writing. But, not being a naturally gifted one, I still have a LONG way to go. I am not under any illusion that it is otherwise.

So I highly doubt my content is some magical exception to the rule because of how good it is. People just have longer attention spans than we think.

Better writers know this. And use it.

Sean D’Souza’s sales page for his article writing course is over 7,000 words, for example. Someone was telling me about a Ramit Sethi sales letter that was 47 pages long: and didn’t even have a call-to-action until 75% of the way through.


Whether you are blog posts, articles or sales copy, one thing is clear: people will read well-written stuff. If they are interested in the subject matter, they are willing to invest the time in consuming it.

If you are losing readers, then it is not internet attention spans that are at fault: it is your writing. Make it more readable, and you will hold people’s attention to the end.

I’m sorry YOU feel that way (about OUR toilets)

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 | Thoughts

Earlier this month, we celebrated Elina’s birthday. We went big: giving Venla to my parents to look after while we went on a food crawl around Leeds. By the end of the night, I was taking pictures of toilet signs. Why was this?

First up: what exactly is a restaurant crawl? It’s what you imagine it to be: a pub crawl, but with food, as well as drink.

We started at Yo Sushi. Who charge £1.30 for tap water! I had the soft shell crab tempura, which was good, but not as good as Chaophraya’s version. We moved on to The Alchemist for a round of cocktails, before hitting up Yoko’s Teppanyaki who kindly squeezed us in, before finishing up with dessert at TGI Friday’s.

It was at this point, that I spotted the sign above.

If, for any reason, they do not meet your expectations, please notify one of our team members.

If the toilets were dirty, I think this would put me off speaking to anyone. Why? Because it implies that it is my fault. It is like when you say to someone “I am sorry you feel that way”. That is not an apology: it is making it clear that it is their problem and not yours.

Maybe they want to put people off. However, TGI seems to have a responsible focus on customer service so I will take it as an honest attempt to speak up.

A better way to word it would be to say “if the toilets are dirty”. It is pretty objective, right? The toilets are clean or they are not. People can then make a subjective choice about it. What they do not have to worry about is whether their expectations ae reasonable or not.

7 things I learnt from hiring content writers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we have an anxiety blog. Every Monday a new post is published. I have tried to up my game on this. A lot of the articles are over 1,000 words and I have done some deep dives on the problems and solutions I have encountered to provide valuable stuff.

However, writing a lot of quality content every week is tough, especially when you have other projects on the go. Therefore, I decided to try hiring some content writers to fill in a few gaps. 90% of the content is still written by me, but every month or so I may use an article written by someone else.

What did I learn from doing this?

You get impersonal content

When I wrote for the blog, I explore specific topics. I include personal stories. Indeed, the post is often based on something that has come up in my own life and I then expand into a well-researched article.

With content writers, you do not get this. They write from a more objective standpoint. This can be of benefit: sometimes it is good to have a fact-based article and does not wander into personal stories. Most of the time, though, people engage more with personal content. So the usefulness of such content is limited.

The content is more generic

When I select a topic for the blog, it is very specific. I write about one area of anxiety in a lot of detail. Sometimes, it is not even that related: maybe it is being productive when you have anxiety, for example.

Content writers take more of a broad remit. They will pick a large sub-section of the topic and write about that. This is because they are not familiar with the types of topics you cover on your blog. I sent them the link, but given the deadlines they face, it is unfair to expect them to read the entire blog. Therefore, they cannot get into the same gritty detail that you can.

They don’t include references

They all claim that they include references, but they never do. However, if you send it back to them asking them to put the references in, they will.

You sometimes get what you pay for

I tried a variety of price points to see what the quality differences were. At the low end, I hired someone to write an article for $6. On the other end, I paid someone $36. Did the quality differ? Yes, but not drastically. The cheaper writers were not terrible and the expensive writers were not amazing.

You do not save that much time

While hiring a writer does cut out a lot of the research and writing time, it causes management and editing time. When I received the articles back I had to check them for content and spelling quantity, then convert it into the format my CMS was expecting it in. This took a lot of time.

You need to use a spellchecker

I ran their articles through Grammarly. If there were a lot of mistakes, I sent it back to them to correct.

You need to be honest with them

One of the articles I was sent was rubbish. So I told her. Not in those exact words: I was gentle and gave specific feedback about the standards I was expecting. Nevertheless, telling someone their work is not up to scratch is an uncomfortable experience.

However, when I did, she was eager to re-write and improve the article. When I received the second draft, it was excellent, and I was able to honestly give per a positive review.


Hiring external writers has advantages and disadvantages. It does save you some time. However, it increases management time and gives you content that it not as good as you could write yourself. That is delegation, though: it is never as good as doing it yourself but allows you to do more.

Kenwood stick blender review

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 | Reviews

Our arsenal of kitchen gadgets now contains a stick blender. Despite my reservations about the reliability of my stand mixer, we opted for Kenwood because of a mixer of price and better the devil you know. Also, it has three blades, which is one whole extra blade than normal.

Gordon Ramsay uses a bamix, but that was out of my price range.

The model I settled on was the Kenwood HDP406WH Triblade.

User experience

Initially, I was pretty annoyed by the Kenwood. it has almost no instructions. What attachment does what? It is not clear. It is heavy and hard to lift for any period of time. It gets hot if you use it too much. The power cord is too short.

However, I always give myself a bit of time to cool off before posting a review because I know I usually feel different after a few weeks.

It has been useful. I realised the secret was to use physical force. It struggled to blend everything initially. However, it if you really force the thing down into the jug, it does the job. Whether this will have long term implications I am not sure. But there is really no other option: being able to blend is an essential product feature of a blender.


I have not worried about the other attachments. I don’t need them. Perhaps the soup blender may be useful, but you can do the same thing with the standard attachment. Everything else, I will continue to do in the food processor.

How to run Webpack Dev Server with PHP

Monday, March 20th, 2017 | Programming

You are making an awesome new JavaScript-based app in React. However, it needs to live inside an existing framework, such as Symfony for PHP. You want the hot-reloading function that you get with Webpack Dev Server, but you also need the content to be served from your LAMP stack because it creates the HTML wrapper page.

What do you do?

The answer is to run two servers: both Webpack Dev Server and your existing Stack. Here is how…

Configuring Webpack

Start by installing Webpack Dev Server as usual.

npm install --save-dev webpack-dev-server

Create a script entry in package.json to run it:

"scripts": {
    "start": "node ./node_modules/webpack-dev-server/bin/webpack-dev-server.js"

We also need to make one change to our webpack.config.js file. We need to tell the output to point back at the Webpack Dev Server. Otherwise, it will point at your LAMP stack.

output: {
    publicPath: 'http://localhost:8080/scripts/'

Super. Next, let’s configure the LAMP stack.

Configuring your existing server

This step is easy. All we need to do is to point the JavaScript at the Webpack Dev Server.

Let’s say you have this at the moment:

<script src="/scripts/app.js"></script>

Change it to:

<script src="http://localhost:8080/scripts/app.js"></script>

Remember that when you are building for production, you will want to take the changes out. The easiest way to do this is to have a dev webpack.config.js file, and a production one, and have your build tool use the correct one depending on the context.

Influence: The Science of Persuasion

Sunday, March 19th, 2017 | Books

I will admit it: I’ve been a bit prejudice. When I was recommended a book called Influence: The Science of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, I thought to myself “wow, that is a very Machiavellian-sounding name.

However, as I read the introduction to the book, I was soon corrected. Cialdini is a professor at Arizona State University. His research on influence stems from his own confusion as to how he continues to end up with magazine subscriptions, kitchen appliances and charity direct debits that he never wanted.

He is an academic, trying to make sense of a world in which compliance professionals (sales people, charity chuggers, marketers) keep hoodwinking him. Of course, a true master of the Machiavellian art would disarm me by leading to believe this. But, if so, fair play: I’m sold.

He did his homework, applying for sales jobs and following people around to see how they worked. In the book, he describes many commonplace situations that many of us have probably found ourselves in. Everyone should read this book, if only to understand what has happened to us so many times over the years.

He breaks the tactics down into a series of topics. I will discuss some of the most interesting below.

Contrast principle

Sell someone a less expensive item after selling them something big. For example, why are extras on cars so expensive? The answer is that once you have spent £20,000 on a new car, £500 for a slightly-better-looking tyre seems like small change.


When we are given a gift, we feel an obligation to give back. It is wired into us. This is a tactic used relentlessly by the Hari Krishna movement. They thrust a free gift into your hand, and then ask for a donation later.

I have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my shelf. And yes, I gave the guy a donation after he gave it to me.

It even works when you do not want the gift. At airports, Cialdini observed the Kristina’s in operation, scooping their gifts out of the bins people had thrown them in, to re-use on the next target.

I also fell for this in Milan. Around the major squares are groups of African men who put bracelets on tourists and then ask for money. Before I knew what was happening, there was a bracelet on my risk. And yes, I did give him a euro.

Cialdini points out that the defence strategy we most often use is to steer a wide mark around such people. Why? Because it is to hard to resist our natural urge to give back.


Concession is about asking for more than you want and then backing down. Say you want to borrow £50. Ask for £100. Then, when they say no, ask for just £50. Because you have made a confession, the other person will feel like they have to make a concession also. It also makes them feel like they have set the terms.

This can often be seen in extended warranties. “Do you want the 5-year super-protect plan? No? Okay, just the 3-year basic plan then?”


Companies love to get you to declare that you like their product? Why? Because people are driven to act in a way consistent with what they have said.

Charities do this all of the time. They will give you a free sticker or ask you to sign up for free information. Why? Because once you have expressed that you are in some way a supporter of them, when they ask you for money, you are far more likely to feel you have to.

Written commitments are the best. These were used extensively by the Chinese communists during the Korean war. They would get American prisoners of war to write essay contests and give away small prizes. Once someone wrote something positive amount communism, they would have them read the essay out. Maybe even put it on the camp radio. Step by step, American soldiers were broken down as their guards asked for more and more.


Bad times for ugly people: being attractive helps. People are more likely to help out and be more generous to attractive people. Shared interests are important too. Salespeople love to find out your hobbies so that they can pretend they do them too.

Similarity is a big key here. You identify with people similar to yourself. So, if you want to market to a certain demographic, you need to use an actor from that demographic.

Finally, compliments are also powerful. Cialdini tells the story of a car salesman who earned more than almost anyone at the entire company. What was his secret? Every month he sent a postcard to all of his previous customers with three words on the front: “I like you”.


Compliance professionals are experts at getting us to do what they want. We do this because we work on auto-response. There is too much data in the world for us to sort through all decisions and check everyone’s back stories. So we use social cues to shortcut these decisions. Salespeople know we do this and try and exploit it.

Cialdini suggests the best defence is to listen to your gut. If you feel awkward, even if you cannot describe why it may be that you have been pressured into doing something you did not want to do. If so, follow Cialdini’s example and say “I’m not taking your product: no click wurr for me!”