Planning What You Write
|Published:||Mar 29, 2005|
|Author:||Michael E, Callahan|
For anyone who may not know me, in my spare time I look at a lot of software. It's the way I started out, and I still look at over 200 programs a week as a way to help software authors. And I still do it for free, just as I have since 1982. By the time you read this I'll have evaluated about 214,000 programs. Evaluating and reviewing software for over 20 years has given me an interesting and unique perspective.
I've seen a lot of truly excellent software, and I've also seen a lot that really needed more work. Either way, I always send the author a note. If the program is well done, then I send a note saying so. At the same time, if a program has a lot of problems, I'll send back a note pointing out things that could be improved, making suggestions, tossing out ideas, and so on. Over the last few years in particular, however, I've noted an interesting trend. There's not so much a problem with how the software is being written, but what is being written.
If you're going to write software to earn a living, you need to have a plan. Yes, I know that many shareware programs start out as something you write for yourself. Then it kind of evolves. Your friends make suggestions, you make improvements, and viola! You have a new product. Unfortunately, that isn't always the best way to be successful. I see many excellent pieces of software that perhaps 20 people in the entire world would pay for. And it grieves me to e-mail an author and tell them that. "Hey, great program but it'll never sell!" In order to be successful you need to think about the market. Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Who will be interested in the product? You want to have a program that will appeal to a large number of users. Look around on the Internet and see what people are downloading the most. Get a "feel" for what is hot and what is not. Keep an eye on new technologies. Formulate some ideas on the kinds of software you may want to work on. What is the competition? If you've decided to write a music-related program, it will help if you know what your primary competition is. It will also help to know what features they have. If you're going to compete in the market, you have to try to be as good as your competitors. You can also try to offer features they don't have, offer a better price, and so on. Often, if you can capture just a small percentage of a particular market, you can do very well.
Where can the product be used? Home? Small businesses? Large corporations? Schools? Part of this goes back to who your target audience will be. Remember that where your product is used, and by who, will be a big factor in selling it. That's also true of when people will use it. Historically, software users tend to pay for those programs that they use most often. In the early days of shareware, for example, it was the communications programs that sold the most. Why? Because people used them to go to the bulletin boards to get more shareware. So, in planning what you're going to write, be sure to consider how often users will use your product.
Why will they want to purchase your product? For all of the reasons that you give them. A program that does something and does it well. One that they use fairly often and that makes their life either easier, more interesting, or more fun. One that stands up to any of its competitors and sells for a good price. You create the incentives that make the user try your program and then buy it!
It would be wonderful if you could just write what appeals to you and then be able to sell it. It would be great if every program idea you had was a financial winner. But, in reality, it simply doesn't work that way. You invest your time and energy into creating software. In order for that investment to be a wise one, you need to carefully consider what you're going to create. Use the criteria I've listed and think about what needs to be written. The guy who makes the money is the one who builds the better mouse trap, or better still, the first mouse trap.
Use who, what, where, when, and why and keep an eye on new technologies. Things like key chain hard drives, DVDs, wireless networks, and other things that come to the forefront. Look around at existing software and try to find where there might be an opening for a new product. A product that does a job better or faster or simpler than products that are currently available. The key thing is to plan. Write what needs to be written, not what's easy. There are no simple ways to success. In 23 years I've only seen a few programs that were instantly successful and one of those was PKZIP. And what did he do? He planned and created a program that was better than what was available, and the world took notice. And YOU can do it too!
Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.