Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Software for Luthiers - Third Time Lucky?

One of the frustrations with the first two products I offered for sale was that feedback from prospective customers was a scarce commodity. The few comments I did receive were made following purchase and were invariably positive, however, while it's always nice to receive such comments, they're actually less useful than those I might have hoped to receive: those which might offer constructive criticism, or indicate why a purchase wasn't made!

Thankfully, my recently released product, "Luthier's Journal", has attracted some active participation from potential customers. They have either suggested improvements to existing features or, more significantly, asked for new features which should result in wider appeal.

With their suggestions in mind, a new product has emerged which provides musical instrument builders and repairers with a software application tailored specifically to their needs. As well as the means to record instrument details, Luthier's Workbench will incorporate features which address the business needs of the professional builder or repairer. While Luthier's Workbench won't seek to compete with accounting packages such as MYOB or Quickbooks, it will allow the creation of quotes, invoices and receipts, as well as the tracking and reporting of outstandings.

With such encouraging involvement from the target market soon after the release of Luthier's Journal, I'm hopeful that both applications will evolve over time and not only continue to satisfy my customers' needs, but at last contribute something to my own success!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Luthier's Journal - A Sneak Peek!

Sometimes the need to earn a living keeps us away from the fun stuff! In my case, however, I've been able to soften the blow recently by combining my skills as a professional software developer with my love of guitar building.

Through frequenting the various instrument-building forums, I sense a growing trend in the lutherie community to measure, record and compare design changes from one instrument to the next. Some builders have gone to the trouble of cataloguing this information in one or more spreadsheets, while others seem happy with even more rudimentary paper-based methods.

Luthier's Journal is my attempt to provide a modern, easily-used software application which allows stringed instrument builders of all persuasions to document every facet of their lutherie pursuits. Whether they're operating on a commercial basis or are serious hobbyists, there are clear benefits in recording details of design features, materials, finishes, physical dimensions, weights and deflection measurements for each instrument's component parts.

For those who have turned professional, Luthier's Journal also provides the means to store customer and supplier details, record customer payments and keep track of outstandings at a glance. The Image Gallery feature is sure to be popular and allows linking of image files with individual instrument records.

Final pre-release testing is underway, but you can take a sneak peek on the Luthier's Journal web page.

With a little more work, I'll have the mechanisms in place to market this software product from my web site. Only then can I get back to the fun stuff!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Shareware Sales - a Reality Check

I'd like to share with you all my surprise at how wealthy I've become after my foray into shareware marketing.  In reality, however, the response has been less than wonderful and I can only report that my financial situation hasn't improved at all!  I was certainly excited and hopeful when I released my products for sale, but I don't think my expectations were naive or unrealistic.  After several months and a disappointing number of sales, I'm a little discouraged and perplexed.  

There have been many hundreds of downloads of the trial versions which implies that my products fill an existing need in the market.  Also, although feedback has been infrequent, it's invariably been extremely positive and very encouraging.  I am still confident that my products are well designed, realistically priced and useful.  I use my products on a daily basis as I continue with project and support work and find them invaluable.  Surely I am not so biased or unusual that others can't see the benefits too?  I can only scratch my head and wonder where I'm going wrong.  

Some possibilities are that:
  • There is a reluctance to make payments via PayPal, despite the fact that a PayPal account isn't required in order to use their payment facilities.
  • The instructions for setting up the first of my products - Project Monitor - are not clear enough and prospective customers are scared off.
  • My familiarity with the products has blinded me to difficulties experienced by first-time users.
  • Competing products are light years ahead of my own. 
Not wishing to give up, I have taken a long hard look at the wording used within the applications and have made an effort to simplify text used within them, recognising that English is not always the first language of my customers.  Where Project Monitor is concerned, I have also aimed for greater consistency in my instructions, replacing all instances of words like "relationships" and "associations", with the word "links".  Hopefully, changes as simple as these will assist new users to find their way around the applications and improve their understanding of the process involved in initial setup.

With a huge reliance on user feedback, I've also added a "Send feedback" link to my web site's product pages.  If I receive positive responses, it will reinforce my belief in the products.  If the feedback is negative, I will at least be in a position to evaluate the criticism and act on it.  Only time will tell whether people are prepared to make the effort to provide such comments.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Shareware Download Sites

With a software product finally released and available for purchase from my web site, it's time to begin the arduous task of submitting it to the myriad of shareware download sites out there on the internet.

If you're faced with the same daunting task, here's a link to a spreadsheet I put together using the search results returned by Google Directory. With apologies for the bad links and defunct sites it contains, please feel free to download it for your own use. If I get any indication that it's a useful resource, I may even keep it up to date in a spare moment - let me know of any notable omissions.

Google Directory returned a list of well over 200 sites, most of which - thankfully - accept submissions using the Portable Application Description (PAD) file format. In fact, many shareware download sites accept submissions only by way of a PAD file. There's a useful tool called PADGen available from the Association of Shareware Professionals which allows you to generate the necessary PAD file for your application. Click here to download the current version.

The simpler sites allow you to submit by way of a PAD file but do not give you the opportunity to review your listing before it's displayed. As there's scope in the PAD file to insert separate product descriptions of varying lengths, it's worthwhile considering that the site you're submitting to may use any one, or more than one of them in your listing. Make sure, therefore, that your descriptions make sense in the face of that inconsistency - don't simply extend the shorter versions.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's On The Workbench?

I guess my developer's toolbox has grown slowly as needs have arisen, but over the past few months as I put the final polish on a couple of saleable applications, acquisitions have become a more frequent event. As a software developer who has only recently thrown off the shackles of "real" employment to go it alone, there are several tools I've not previously had cause to use which have become indispensable.

For those of you who may be in the process of acquiring a suite of developer tools or updating their existing arsenal, here's what I use.

Primary development platform: C#, using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Professional SP1

Databases: Microsoft Access, SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition, SQL Server 2005 Express, SQL Server Compact Edition 3.0

Integrated help: Microsoft HTML Help Workshop

UML and Data modeling: Enterprise Architect

Desktop virtualisation: Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Version control: VisualSVN/Subversion

License key management: Infralution Licensing System

Purchasing: PayPal

Automated license key generation: IPN.NET

Application installation: InstallAware Express

FTP client: FileZilla

Web forum: AspNetForum

Please feel free to suggest any other items you feel no Windows desktop developer should be without, keeping in mind that as a fledgling micro-ISV I've chosen affordable - if not free - products out of necessity. I'm pleased to note some Australian products in the list!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Product 1 of n

After what seems an eternity, I find myself on the brink of offering a software product of my own for sale from my web site.

Rather than being born in one intense burst of developer zeal, Project Monitor has evolved steadily over the past couple of years, sometimes in brief fits and starts and at other times when the flow of other work has eased, in a slightly more concentrated manner. I've used my product on a daily basis throughout that time and I strongly believe that this - together with what's turned out to be a lengthy development cycle - has paid big dividends. In the course of using it continuously in one form or another for those two years, reflecting constantly on how it might be improved in terms of look-and-feel, functions and useability, features have been added, refined or even removed. In hindsight, I'm sure that this has resulted in an application that's more mature than would have been the case had it been conceived, designed, constructed, tested and unleashed on an unsuspecting world in a short space of time. If that's in fact true, it's gratifying to think that at least in that sense, the thoughtful, patient solo developers of the world can match it with the bigger players in the industry who sometimes seem driven by deadlines rather than product readiness.

I'm certainly excited by the prospect of finally having a product ready for sale but I must admit that my unbridled enthusiasm is tempered a little by reality - the recognition that having a saleable product is only one challenge among many and is really just the first step towards enjoying any measure of success.

The challenges now ahead in terms of promoting and marketing my product are unexplored territory for me, but whatever the outcome, I'm sure the lessons I learn will prove invaluable. I look forward in the months ahead to sharing my experiences with you - let's hope that in the fullness of time you're reading an inspirational success story rather than a cautionary tale!


Friday, June 6, 2008

The Software Licensing Dilemma

From the software vendor's perspective, there are many and varied opinions when it comes to licensing schemes. Personally, I've experienced the hassles involved when a software product is tied to a specific PC; when my PC was upgraded, the software no longer worked and the pain that ensued was significant. OK, I know, I should have been aware of the ramifications of an upgrade before it took place!

For any software vendor, attending to support issues like this is at the very least a nuisance; if that software vendor happens to be a sole operator, the implications can be more serious. As one of these sole operators, anything I can do to minimise support calls is desirable. To that end, I've decided to heed the advice of Infralution, the developers of my license system software, and issue individual license keys with few restrictions. The key is issued to the original purchaser on the understanding that the product will be used only by them and installed on a maximum of two computers. There's nothing to stop a dishonest purchaser from ignoring this restriction, but if they're keen to rip me off, I guess they'll find other means to circumvent a more restrictive licensing scheme anyway. As Erik Sink says in his excellent book "Erik Sink on the Business of Software", the best and most realistic approach is to provide the means to keep the honest people honest.

The CodeProject website has an interesting article entitled Piracy and Unconventional Wisdom which lends weight to the theory that an overly restrictive licensing policy may just turn out to be a rod for your own back. Let the vendor beware!