Monthly Archives: February 2009

Good Advice – But No One Takes It

I see great riches in your future...

I see great riches ...

Do you want your next product launch to be successful?

Do you want to sell high-margin goods to willing buyers?

Do you want to repeat customers who faithfully buy your new products as soon as they are released?

Well – do you?

Doesn’t everyone?

Judging by the way new info product producers act – that is the last thing they want.

Instead, they have a dream. They want to believe, “If you build it, they will come.” Anything else is some sort of horrible marketing scam.

Here’s the truth: Every successful info product maker – in fact, every successful entrepreneur in any field –  offers one bit of advice – which every dreamer resists mightily.

Don’t fall into that trap. Be smart. Listen to the people who make money.

Find your market before you make your product.

First, find a group of people who have

1. A problem you can solve
2. Money to spend
3. A history of buying products on the internet

Then make a product that solves the problem for these people.

Of course, there is more to it than that. You must make a good product if you want repeat business. You need to learn to market your product. You need some talent and some luck.

But if you begin your career by selling ice chests in Siberia, you are making your life harder than it needs to be.

Photo by Eddie~S Released under Creative Commons license.


Sweat Equity Builds Small Businesses

Invest time, talent, and muscle in your dreams

Invest time, talent, and muscle in your dreams

The small business owner needs to do 1001 jobs.

At any given time on any given day, you may be a cashier, a janitor, a plumber, a bookkeeper, a salesperson, a customer service rep, a buyer, a shelf stocker. You may be writing a grant proposal or a business plan, applying for a bank loan or looking for venture capital.

To get your business off the ground, you wear so many hats at once, you look like a pagoda.

This is sometimes called “sweat equity.” You are investing your time, your muscle, and your knowledge to build capital.

Sweat equity is smart business.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW?

It is just as important to know when to hire someone else to do the work.

Even if you run a one person shop, you’ll never be able to do it all yourself. The trick is to hire out the right tasks – not just the boring ones.

You may have an MBA. You can write a successful loan application in your sleep, get an SBA grant without breaking a sweat, and read a prospectus as easily as a comic book.

And lucky you – you grew up with a father who was an electrician and a mother who was a plumber.

When you open your store – you can do all the managerial tasks and you can put in the fixtures.

But you can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, you’re color blind, and you wouldn’t know a serif font from a baptismal font. You’d better not do your own ads.

In this situation, a smart business person will recognize not only the need for advertising but also the importance of hiring a talented artist or copywriter. Offer your clientele only your best – which may very well mean contracting with someone who can do it better than you.

Evaluate each job with an eye on the bottom line. Can you invest your time instead of your money? Will the return be worth the effort? Or would you make more money in the end by hiring someone else to do the work?

INVEST IN YOUR BUSINESS

When I owned a garden store, I used to sweep the sidewalk every morning. You might see that as a menial task, better left to minimum wage or pick up labor.

But it got me out front, where I could see and talk to my customers. It gave me a street-side perspective on what passers-by saw when they walked or drove by. It told my neighbors (both business and residential) that I cared about our common good. And I enjoyed the feeling of proprietary pride I got standing in my doorway at the start of each business day.

You invest far more than money in your business. Find the magic balance between what you can do and what you can afford not to do. You’ll not only be more prosperous, you’ll be happier.

Photo by by world_waif Released under Creative Commons License

Back Of The Envelope Accounting Can Be Dangerous

Know what you owe

Know what you owe

Many small business owners fail because they rely on “Back of the Envelope” accounting.

That’s a fancy way of saying we sort of know what the bank balance is, but we haven’t reconciled the books or taken stock in quite some time.

If you rely on a daily online bank balance to tell you your bottom line, you may find that a large check, written weeks previously, finally cleared  – on the same day as your payroll. Your $7,000.00 balance is suddenly in negative territory. The checks bounced. Your most valuable salesperson and your most important vendor are both screaming mad.

There are plenty of things more pleasant than bookkeeping (root canal, for instance) – but there are very few things more unpleasant than an overdraft notice and a slew of bounced checks.

Avoid them – and the sky-high associated fees and charges – by taking a few simple steps:

  1. Keep an up-to-date check register.
  2. Know what is coming due (taxes, utilities, suppliers) before the bills hit your desk.
  3. Have a realistic budget – even if you can only project sales a month in advance.
  4. Order inventory based on advance sales or past performance – not on your fondest dreams.
  5. When all else fails, hire a freelance bookkeeper.

None of these steps will guarantee business success. But they are a simple way to start tracking your finances systematically. And that’s the first step to long term profitability.

Next in this series: Sweat Equity

Photo by by miguelb Released under Creative Commons License

How To Install WordPress On Your Own Computer

WAMP Server for Windows

Your Own Personal Web Server

If you spend time working with WordPress – that is, not blogging, but testing plugins, tweaking themes, modifying stylesheets, and generally just messing with the code – you’ve probably wished you could test your changes before hitting “Publish” on your blog.

Well, you can.

Installing the services needed to run WordPress on a Windows computer is hardly any more complicated than installing WordPress on a web host.

And it is free.

You’ll need three services: Apache, MySQL, and PHP. All three can be found bundled for easy download and installation in the WAMP Server (Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP)

The WAMP installation takes just a few minutes (it can take a bit of time to configure security on MySQL, if you choose to do so), and the subsequent WordPress install is almost as simple as a one click Simple Script install.

There are many tutorials on the web. I found this one, from SimpleHelp.net, useful.

Even if all you do is give various themes a dry run before recommending or installing them, you’ll save yourself many headaches. So be adventurous! You’ll find plenty of uses for your own web server.

Why Are You In Business?

Keep Your Eye On The Bottom Line

Keep Your Eye On The Bottom Line

When you own your own business, there are so many things that demand your attention, it is very easy to lose sight of what’s important.

Sometimes, in fact, we allow ourselves to become distracted as a defense against feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

When everything needs to be done – and done yesterday – you may as well just do anything at all, regardless of importance or priority.

Except that never works.

Failing to prioritize, responding only to crisis, jumping from task to task leads to being overwhelmed in the first place.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT

If you ask yourself, “Why am I in business?” the obvious answer is, “To make money.”

No doubt, you have a dozen more reasons to be in the particular business you are in, and a score of goals beyond financial freedom. But if your business does not make money, you will not be in business for long.

So your Number 1 task as a business owner is to show a profit.

Over the next few weeks, with tax time looming, Information Sells is going to look at some simple business practices and accounting rules that will make it easier for you to get a handle on profitability in your business.

If you have specific questions or areas you’d like to see discussed, please mention them in the comments.

Photo by peasap Released under Creative Commons License


Use The 301 Redirect To Avoid Broken Links and Google’s Wrath

A 301 Redirect Prevents Lost Visitors

A 301 Redirect Prevents Lost Visitors

You’ll eventually find it necessary to move or rename a web page.

However, old, out-of-date URLs will remain in your readers’ bookmarks and favorites, in other web sites’ links, in email sig files – in all sorts of places you cannot control.

When a customer who hasn’t visited your site in many months uses an old, out-dated link, they get a “404 File Not Found” error and the sale is lost.

Just as bad, Google has the old URL squirreled away in its vast memory – and you suddenly find a once busy site penalized or delisted because the link leads nowhere – even if all you did was change the htm extension to html!

You can avoid this problem with a simple bit of code called a 301 Redirect.

In the past, webmasters used metatag redirects or javascript redirects to send readers or buyers to a page other than the one whose address they’d typed into the browser address bar. Today, this practice is seen as inherently deceptive because it is used and abused by spammers and crooks.

To stay on the side of the angels – and on Google’s good side – use the 301 Redirect in a file called .htaccess

Here’s how:

If your website is hosted on a server running Linux or Apache, you probably already have an .htaccess file in the root directory. Use your favorite FTP program to download the .htaccess file to your own computer. (If necessary, you can also create a new .htaccess file by just opening NotePad and writing out the redirect command and then naming the new file .htaccess NOTE: do not use the .txt extension)

Before you make any changes to an existing .htaccess, be sure to create a back up copy. If anything goes wrong, you’ll want to revert to the original file, and the simplest way to do that is to just upload it again.

Open .htaccess in Notepad and add this simple command:

Redirect 301 /original/original.html http://www.yournewURL.com/new.html

Save the changes, being sure to change the File Type to “All Files” so that NotePad doesn’t add a .txt to the end of the file name. It must remain .htaccess

A few things to note:

  • There is no “http://” or “www.” in front of that first URL.
  • There is a single space between parts of the command: Redirect [space] 301 [space] old URL [space] new URL

At first glance, this may seem like arcane mumbo-jumbo. But it is really straight forward and not at all hard to do. A little time spent experimenting will be more than repaid in improved SEO.

A 301 Redirect can be also be very useful in other ways. You may, for instance, want to give shoppers an easy way to find your eBay store. Rather than hoping they’ll recall a complicated eBay URL, just send them to YourStore.com/ebay/ and use the 301 Redirect command in .htaccess to permanently send that URL to your eBay store.

If you’d like to learn more, Steven Hargrove has many scripts and detailed directions on his site.

Photo by by Number Six (bill lapp) Released under Creative Commons License

The Number 1 Secret Of All Successful People

Start where you are and keep going

Start where you are and keep going

In a recent pitch, Frank Kern said something that perfectly sums up the dilemma of many would-be internet entrepreneurs: “Nobody makes money from buying stuff. We make money by selling stuff.”

Kern was talking about people who rush from guru to guru, looking for the one system, the one magic bullet, the one seminar that will finally make them rich.

His advice?

Pick something and stick to it.

The secret to success is to work hard, stay focused, and sell stuff to people who want to buy it.

Listen up: this is Frank Kern, beach bum extraordinaire, talking – not your mother or your third grade teacher.

START WHERE YOU ARE AND GO FROM THERE

The hardest part of product creation is the beginning.

Everyone has at least one great idea, but very few ever turn those ideas into reality.

Many would-be product creators will say they’ll produce that DVD as soon as they have… a better camcorder … microphone …   green screen … two camera set up… a little free time…

For some folks, tomorrow is always a better time to start than today. Those folks never fail, because they never start. Of course, they never succeed, either.

You do not need a perfect outline to write an ebook, nor a recording studio to make a CD, nor a custom template to start a bog. You just need a GO! button.

Flip the switch and get started. You’ll already be ahead of 99% of your competition

Photo by by jam343 Released under Creative Commons License

A Short Manual To Get New Bloggers Started

Ready To Cruise Down The Information Superhighway

Ready To Cruise The Information Superhighway

Sometimes, when you hire someone to install your blog and do the behind the scenes work, writing your first post can be overwhelming.

I recently had a client send me an email saying his new blog made him feel as though he were behind the wheel of a new car for the first time.

That gave me a chuckle and an idea.

To help him – and everyone else – get over their jitters and get that first post published, I put together a 5 page manual covering just the basic first steps. It’s free, and you can download a copy here: The New Blog Owner’s Manual

If you want more detail, please take a look at my ebook, Blogging With WordPress. It isn’t free, but it is an in depth look at how to blog.

Photo by omniNate Released under Creative Commons License

Don’t Be Afraid To Upgrade WordPress

Time To Update Your Blog

Time To Update Your Blog

WordPress v2.7.1 has been released.

When you log into your Dashboard, you’ll probably see a small notice telling you a new version of WordPress is available and suggesting that you upgrade.

This is the first chance I’ve had to use the new core update feature that was introduced with WordPress v2.7, and I have to admit, I was a bit leery. But I back up this blog every day (using the WP DB BackUp PlugIn), so I didn’t think too much could go wrong. And if it did, I hoped I’d be able to recover.

So I pushed the button.

I’m used to the WP Automatic Upgrade Plug In. When it starts, it suggests you back up your database, and then it actually does the back up. Not so the new routine.

WordPress suggested I make a back up, I said OK, and the install started immediately.

Uh oh.

WordPress will not do a backup for you. The backup link only leads to a page in the Codex explaining how to do a manual backup (yuck). For your own peace of mind, download WP-DB-Backup and use it before you do anything else.

Luckily, the upgrade went smooth as silk.

The installation looks and feels very similar to the upgrade of existing plugins. There is no clicking “Next” to proceed and no step-by-step confirmation as there was with the old plugin. Just one click and you are done.

Personally, I preferred the very slight level of increased control available with the plugin, but if one click upgrades make it easier for most users to keep their blogs up to date – then I am all for it.

So go ahead – try the new update pocess and turn your pokey old WordPress 2.7 blog into the sleek, new WordPress 2.7.1.

Some Things Cannot Be Outsourced

Is Your Blog Just A Cut & Paste Ransom Note

Is Your Blog A Cut & Paste Ransom Note

I am surprised at how often I am asked if I write blog posts for hire. (Short answer: yes, I do, but you probably can’t afford me). After the potential client and I go back and forth a bit about rates, the next question is usually, what about hiring someone on Elance?

I believe every business can benefit from a blog. I also believe that if you are unwilling or unable to devote any time to blogging, then you should not have a blog.

Your blog is the public face of your business. It is a customer relations powerhouse. It is, at least ideally, a two-way street where your customers can sing your praises or air their concerns – and then get answers and action.

How is any of that going to be accomplished by paying $10.00 to someone in either Bangalore, India or Muncie, Indiana?

Will a blogger for hire know your business? Will they know your niche? Will they know what your clients dream about?

Then why on earth would you pay them to write cut and paste boilerplate that screams out, “You, my loyal customer, are not worth even the tiny fraction of my precious time that it takes to write a post”?

REPEATING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST

When the world wide web first became an every day experience, businesses everywhere scrambled to build web sites. Now, every product from cream cheese to Q Tips has a web site. Every business owner from a one person fix it shop to the largest multinational conglomerate has a web site. Everyone has a web site.

And a shocking number of them haven’t been updated since 2001.

When you walk by a store display that hasn’t changed in 6 months or a year, are you tempted to buy? Probably not. In fact, stagnation usually has a negative effect on consumer purchases.

Imagine this situation: In April, 2005, a salesperson convinced you to devote one of your store’s prime end caps to their latest product. They gave you shelf talkers, promotional flyers, maybe even discount coupons. It’s now almost four years later. Those “new” products are still on the shelf, gathering dust (literally). The shelf talkers are torn and defaced. You just couldn’t think of anything else to do with the shelf space, so you ignored the display. Some day you hope to get back to it, but right now you are too busy to stock the shelves.

Is there a store owner anywhere on earth who operates like this?

Or, more accurately, is there a store owner who wants to stay in business who operates like this?

Of course not. And yet, this is exactly the impression created by out of date web sites.

The public does not see your good intentions. We see only what’s on the screen.

“But that’s exactly why I want to pay someone to write my blog!” you say.

DO THE MATH

Let’s leave aside the argument about whether a typist for hire can adequately represent your business and look just at the dollars and cents involved.

How often does a blog need to be updated to avoid becoming stale? At least once a week, I’d say. Three times a week would be better. Daily would be optimal.

And what is the revenue generating potential of a low-impact blog? Realistically – close to zero.

What is the good will, the publicity, the customer loyalty created by a once a week, outsourced blog post worth? Again – realistically – close to zero.

And what is the lowest price you are likely to pay per post? About $10.00.

Surely, there is something better you can do with your marketing dollars than throw $500.00 or $1,500.00 or $3,650.00  down the drain.

DOING SOMETHING BADLY IS NOT BETTER THAN DOING NOTHING AT ALL

Do yourself, your customers, and your readers a favor.

Sit down with a pencil and paper and make a list of 5 things you want your blog to accomplish. And then write out what steps you need to take to reach those goals.

And please, if none of your goals involve delighting your readership – don’t start a blog. Spruce up your web site instead.

Photo by re-ality Released under Creative Commons License