Monthly Archives: August 2008

Digital Zoom of Doom

When you are taking videos with the Flip – or, really, with any camera or camcorder – avoid the digital zoom.

Better cameras will be equipped with an optical zoom. This is an entirely different creature. An optical zoom extends the focal length of the lens. The number of pixels in the image will not change.

A digital zoom, however, merely enlarges the image. The pixels are scaled up by complicated mathematical calculations that approximate what “should be” in the image. This is similar to what happens when you try to enlarge a still photo beyond its native resolution. The picture becomes fuzzy and small details are lost.

As part of the Flip webinar, Cindy Shebley talked about ways to work around the Flip’s digital zoom. Generally, she recommended the old fashioned sneaker zoom: that is – walk closer to your subject.

This video offers a side by side comparison, showing the results of a digital zoom vs. just walking closer. Even though the “walk closer” shot never got as close up as the digital zoom, the details are clearer and easier to see.

[flashvideo width=”640″ height=”493″ filename=”http://ghostleg.com/flip/opticalzoom/opticalzoom.flv” /]

Flipping Out

Yesterday, Cindy Shebley, author of Easy Auction Photography, hosted a free webinar to demonstrate the amazing versatility of the Flip video camcorder. I was her guest, and I put together a few videos illustrating some of the techniques she described.

Although most people will just grab the Flip and begin shooting, the video below offers proof of why that isn’t always the best strategy. Of course, spontaneity is a big part of Flip videos – and you don’t want to sacrifice that. But if you know you’ll be filming, a monopod or an inconspicuous tripod can dratically improve your shots.

HANDHELD vs TRIPOD

For a small camera with a very small lens, the Flip has a surprisingly good image stabilization system.  The Flip invites you to grab your camera and start shooting on the run. It’s great for instant video.

However, if you want to improve the quality of the videos you shoot with the Flip, the first thing you should do is stabilize the camera. Whether you use a Gorillapod style tripod, a monopod, or a traditional tripod, the shot will always come out better. The image will be crisper. And your viewer won’t get seasick.

For this demonstration, we mounted one Flip on a tripod. Standing right next to the tripod, the photographer handheld a second Flip. You can see the difference. Pay attention to the small section of seawall showing in the bottom of the screen. It seems to be floating, even though it is a massive, concrete wall.

[flashvideo width=”640″ height=”493″ filename=”http://ghostleg.com/flip/tripod-handheld/tripod-handheld.flv” /]

Let The Sun Shine

This quick video is part of a series demonstrating different techniques for getting great results with the Flip. Cindy Shebley, the author of Easy Auction Photography, and I took a Flip Camcorder to the Mukilteo Ferry Dock on a bright, sunny day to demonstrte how important it is to keep the sun in front of the subject of your photos and videos.

When the photographer is shooting directly into the sun, the Flip tries to compensate by overexposing the subject. Note how much richer the colors are when the sun is behind the photographer.

This was bright, mid-day sun on a hot summer day. You can see that, even with sunglasses, I’m squinting constantly. An even better shot would have place the sun more to the side of the subject. Best of all would have been shooting either a little earlier of later in the day, when the sunlight was not quite as harsh.

Experts Will Help You Sell Your Books

Would you like to find some expert advice on how to sell your self-published books? Booksurge, the Amazon-owned subsidy publisher, hosts monthly webinars with book industry and self-publishing experts. They’ve discussed topics such as library sales, specialty markets, tradeshows, and holiday promotions as well as offered tips for best practices for manuscript submissions.

The next seminar is entitled Building a Powerful Presence Online. It’s scheduled for Sept. 19 at 6 PM EDT.

If you want to sell your own books (or CDs and DVDs) online, this free webinar would be a good place to start.

Who Tells You What To Sell?

Who Makes The Sale

What's for Sale?

Let me tell you a story…

Niche Store or Hole In The Wall?

For a decade, I owned an organic gardening (bricks and mortar) specialty store. We were niche before niche was cool. Back then, we were what the other stores called “small.” From the outside, we looked like a semi-derelict hole in the wall.

We wanted to rep a particular line of seeds. Now we already had an organic seed company and a gourmet seed company on board. But we also wanted a well-known and very popular regional brand. Unfortunately, for two years, that brand wouldn’t give us the time of day. They had territories they didn’t want to carve up. They had an image they didn’t want to dilute. They had all sorts of excuses – but what it came down to was – they didn’t want to take a chance on us.

You’ll understand his situation better if you know something about the traditional model of seed selling. A seed company sells a rack, pre-stocked with popular varieties. The retailer buys the inventory at the beginning of the season, and then returns the unsold seeds at the end of the year for full credit towards the next season. The retailer risks very little. A small seed company, however, can be badly hurt by a large volume of returns.

Our erstwhile seed seller had dropped by one night, after we had closed, and peered in our windows. We did not look like Smith & Hawken. We did not look a nursery. We looked like what we were – a store with just 1,000 square feet of indoor retail space and a bunch of dusty bags all over the floor. What our friend the distributor could not see – because we were closed – was our clientele. What he also missed was the Felco pruners and hand forged English spades and forks tucked in among the bloodmeal and diatomaceous earth –  we sold some very expensive stuff.

Remember – we were niche before niche was cool. We were selling to the long tail before Amazon existed.  Our customers were not just gardeners. They were passionate about a particular type of gardening. And they spent money.

Who Makes The Decisions?

So we investigated and we cajoled and we expanded our seed selection to include the regional brand’s competitors.

If the stupid seed seller thought we’d return their seeds unsold, we were willing to buy outright and agree to no-return terms. We were willing to demonstrate our ability to sell in volume by opening our books (at least the relevant portion – i.e., other seed orders). We were willing to do whatever they asked. What we were not willing to do was take “No” for an answer.

We knew what our customers wanted and we were determined to get it for them.

Eventually, persistence met up with luck when the sales rep for another large concern wondered why we didn’t carry XYZ Seeds. They turned us down again this season, we said. This rep realized that our clientele was the ideal market for those seeds. He knew that if we could sell his products in the volume we did, we could certainly meet the minimum requirements of the seed company.

And best of all, he knew the guy who owned the seed company.

“Let’s give him a call, right now,” we said, “OK?”

And so we did. And so we sold gazillions of those seeds and everybody made a boat load of money. Hooray! A happy ending for all.

Are You The Boss Or Not?

Many, many brands – especially popular ones and high end ones – have rules, policies, or preferences detailing who can sell their products or where their products can be sold. For instance, perhaps you want to sell a particular line of cosmetics. You know that as far as they are concerned

  • Saks 5th Avenue = Good
  • K-Mart = When Hell Freezes Over

The chances are good that you, as an online retailer, are neither Saks nor K-Mart. The old rules don’t apply to you. If you are endlessly and fruitlessly banging your head against a brick wall – maybe it’s time to try tunneling under or climbing over the wall.

It’s your business. Who is telling what to sell – your customers or your distributors?

Photo by Thomas Hawk under Creative Commons License

Who Are You?

What's Your Goal?

What's Your Goal?

Are you the type of person who likes to jump into a project with no planning? Are you impatient to start and see where it leads?

Or do you want everything to be perfect before you ever touch your keyboard? Do you need to map out all the possible problems (and the solutions), understand the software, and feel like an expert from Day 1?

Or are you the person who starts 15 projects at once, with no real plan or goal? You just start and then stop in a few months when you get bored.

We all have some quirks. We all prefer to work one way instead of another. What’s right for me may be wrong for you. But one thing holds true no matter how you organize your day – you need clearly defined, attainable goals. And then you need to act.

Goals and Actions

“I want to make money on the internet” is the sort of nebulous goal that can keep you from achieving anything. If you want to prosper, break your goal down, step by step.

  • I want to be an eBay Power Seller
  • I want to have an Amazon Web Store up and running by Sept 30
  • I want to have 20 blog posts by the end of September

Reachable targets will keep you motivated and they’ll help you move on to the next step.

If you love the adrenaline rush of jumping in without planning – ask yourself, “Now that I’m up to my nose in alligators, what’s next?” If you just downloaded a Joomla template and opened a web store all within 24 hours – and good for you if you did! – is your next step to sign up for a merchant account? Or to buy AdWords? What will drive your business forward? Stick with the project you started and try something new with it, rather than just looking for a different challenge.

If you need to know every detail about how shopping carts work before you are comfortable enough to start accepting credit cards, how will you get that knowledge? How long can you wait? Will hiring someone else to design the web site move the project forward, even as you continue to read and study?

Perhaps you just threw a pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. That’s OK – something is bound to work better than everything else. But don’t wait a month to get bored and then move on to something new. Instead, analyze what works. If listing 10 new items a day on eBay is making you money, but you would rather stick a fork in your eye than spend all that time listing instead of product sourcing (which you’ve discovered that you love) – can you hire someone to do the listings instead of abandoning them?

No matter how you work, you can be successful if you just know what you want and keep pushing towards it.

What’s the key?

  • Goals that are concrete and achievable.
  • Actions that move you closer to your goal.

Photo by keylosa Released under Creative Commons License

The Online Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit

What do you need to sell information products online? The list changes constantly. Some of the services I couldn’t do without might be meaningless to you. Even so, here’s the beginning of a list of essential web sites, tools, applications, and services that no online entrepreneur should be without.


WEB SERVICES AND ACCOUNTS

Email Accounts

You absolutely must have an email account for your business. No mybiz@comcast.net or mystore@aol.com. That’s just not good enough. If you haven’t done it already, register your business domain name and set up a POP 3 email account.

You’ll probably want an online account as well. Right or wrong, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL all still carry a stigma. If you want the convenience of web mail with almost limitless storage and good SPAM protection, get a free GMail account. Just don’t confuse personal and business accounts.

Blog Readers

Please don’t waste time constantly checking your favorite blogs for updates. Get a good online RSS aggregator. That’s the fancy name for a blog reader. Google Reader and Bloglines are free, convenient, and easy to use. Pick one.

Web Site

Web 2.0 hasn’t made the conventional web site obsolete yet. In fact, depending on what you sell and who your clients are, you may find that relying too heavily on your blog will cost you business. You’re going to register your domain anyway, and you need an email plan – so get a web site and put up at least few simple pages. Let your clients know who you are, what you can do for them, and why they should choose you over your competitors.

You may not envision a multi-site empire, but why get a single domain plan when Blue Host offers unlimited domains for the same price? I’ve used Blue Host for over three years without a complaint. Set your site up on Blue Host and you’ll be ready to grow.

Blog

You need one. Stop procrastinating. If you absolutely cannot bear to deal with the technical details, get a free blog at either Blogspot or WordPress. Just do it!

Photo Sharing

If you sell on eBay, you’ve probably set up an account with PhotoBucket or Auctiva to host your listing photos. But you also need a way to share your other photos with the world, not just with eBay buyers.

Social media is a real phenonenon. Your competitors are not standing still. The game has changed and if you refuse to participate, you’ll soon be left behind. Even if all you do is embed a Flickr photo in your blog, you’ll need a Flickr account. Start with the free account. If you find the 100 MB per month limit too restrictive, you can sign up for a Pro account. It’s only about $25.00 annually.

You Tube

Video is probably the single biggest sales tool at your disposal. If you don’t already have a You Tube account, you are throwing money away. This is not a fad or a trend or a flash in the pan. This is not even tomorrow. Video is already mandatory. Don’t be left behind.

TOOLS

Flip Video Camcorder

The little Flip has taken over the world. If you make DVDs or shoot professional video, the Flip will never replace your 3CC camcorder. But it will certainly supplement it. Professional videographers carry Flips in their gadget bags. Teleseminar hosts keep them in their briefcases next to the cell phone. Bloggers make room in the backpack, right next to the iPhone.

There is nothing that can compete with the Flip for value and ease of use. If you don’t have one yet, you probably dismiss all the oooing and aaaahhhhing as fan-boy silliness. Once you get one, you won’t be able to believe you conducted business without it. Like the cell phone, the Flip became an instant must have business tool.

Embeddable FLV Player

Sure, you’ll probably stream most of your videos from You Tube or Vimeo. But for crystal clear Camtasia tutorials, nothing beats the JW Media Player hosted on your own site. It’s free for non-commercial use. And the Set-Up Wizard makes installation a snap.

Screen Capture Application

Is it possible to offer any sort of training without using screen caps? Sure – some people still do it, but those people are what their rivals call “dog meat.” Come on – this is 2008! Screen caps have been a fact of life since at least 1993.

There are dozens of screen capture tools on the market. Many are free. But none of them beat Snag-It. It is dirt cheap at $49.99 and there is nothing it can’t do.

If you want to add a little more pizzaz to your instructions, download TechSmith’s Jing. It’s a free, lightweight screen recorder from the makers of Camtasia. Save yourself several hours a week in training and support calls. Build up a small Jing library that answers your most Frequently Asked Questions and email a Jing videos when someone needs help. Your clients will love you.

Holy smoke – that barely scratches the surface. There are many, many more amazing and empowering tools out there for anyone who takes the time to look. And the most amazing part is – things that you would have spent thousands of dollars on not that long ago are now free. Jing, Flickr, Blogger, GMail, unlimited hosting – the list keeps growing. These are hgh quality products just waiting to make you money. Are you using them?

How To Install WordPress with Fantastico

Many business owners begin blogging by opening an account at WordPress.com. While there are advantages to using WordPress.com as a hosting service, they don’t compare to the benefits of hosting your own blog on your own site.

Worry about complicated installation instructions and bewildering Linux commands stops many people from taking advantage of Open Source software such as WordPress. But there is no reason to hold back. It’s a snap to install WordPress on your web site if you have CPanel and Fantastico, which come as standard features in most Linux hosting plans. Although WordPress says that a normal, manual installation takes only five minutes, with Fantastico it takes about one minute. You don’t need any skills or network saavy.

This short video will demonstrate how easy it is to add a WordPress blog to your web site. Click the start button to begin watching.

Sorry – Technical Difficulties With Video – It will be reposted soon

If your hosting company doesn’t offer Fantastico, switch to a different web host! I’ve used BlueHost for the last 3 years and can recommend them highly. A quick web search will turn up many other Fantastico enabled web hosts.

Aim Your Bullet Points For The Heart Of The Story

Bullet Points Hit The Mark

Aim Your Bullet Points and Let Them Take Wing

This isn’t PowerPoint.

This is blogging. This is content. This is writing.

In this universe, bullet points are good. Or, at least, they can be, if their aim is true. Use your Bullet Points for good, not evil, and they’ll be an effective tool – even in PowerPoint.

Bullet Points summarize and break up long chunks of copy.

They tell your reader, “Here’s the heart of the argument. Even if you don’t have time to read everything, read me.” And, if your bullet points are artful enough, once the reader skims them, she’ll continue reading the rest of the copy.

But… and here’s the danger …crummy bullet points say, “Run! Get away while you can. There is nothing for you here.”

Good bullet points sell. Take the time to understand how bullet points work, and you’ll boost your sales. It’s as simple as that.

The Basics of Bullets

  • Bullet Points Are Headlines
  • Bullet Points Offer Compelling Benefits
  • Bullet Points Encourage Scanning
  • Bullet Points Hold Readers’ Interest

What did you notice about the construction of that list? Most importantly, the list obeyed the two most commonly broken rules of bullet points:

  • It was Parallel
  • It was Symmetrical

In a Parallel List, each point will have the same sentence structure. If you want to check for parallelism, add a short one or two word introduction to the beginning of your list and then read each point as though it were the continuation of the sentence.

For instance, if you are extolling the virtues of eBay, you might write…

eBay is:

  • The most visited ecommerce site on the internet
  • A simple and low cost way to start selling online
  • An addiction for online bargain hunters

You can see how each point follows the same structure, using the same parts of speech.

Now think about this type of commonly (poorly) written list…

eBay’s great because

  • eBay is the most visited ecommerce site on the internet
  • Driving traffic from you blog, you can earn a rebate
  • Save on listing fees if you own an eBay store

That second bullet point throws the list out of whack. The sentence structure follows no pattern. The first point starts with a noun. The second starts with a participle. The third whips your head around again by starting with a verb. There is no parallel structure from one line to the next.

But at least there is symmetry.

A Symmetrical List has the same number of lines and the same look from point to point. Writing long, complex sentences, or even short paragraphs, causes asymmetrical lists. Don’t let your reader get lost in a wilderness of words. Keep your bullet points short and snappy.

One thought clearly expressed = one bullet point.

Photo by Raziel. Released under Creative Commons License