Monthly Archives: March 2009

Free Fash Encoder – Today Only

sothink flash videoencoder from give away of the dayToday, March 31, Give Away of the Day has the SoThink Flash Video Encoder for free.

If you want to host your own videos on your blog or web site – rather than rely on YouTube – you need to be able to produce those videos as Flash. It is the most universally recognized web format. Over 90% of computers have Fash installed and enabled. The figures are lower – sometimes significantly lower – for Quicktime, Windows Media, and other formats.

So make it easy for your viewers and yourself – convert your videos to flash.

NOTE: This version of the SoThink converter uses the H.263 Codec and MP3 audio, rather than the newer High Definition  H.264 Codec with AAC audio. Don’t let that hold you back from trying it. While HD videos are tremendous looking, many, many people have trouble streaming and viewing them.

H.263 still produces excellent quality for web viewing.

And, of course, Standard Definition videos are a thousnd times preferable to no video – by definition.

Download and install today.

How Much Does Free Really Cost?

Are the savings real?

Are the savings real?

Have you calculated the Total Cost of Ownership for your free software?

Are support calls killing you? Did your upfront savings turn into a downstream nightmare?

If so – you’re not alone.

When you start a new business, it is not only normal, it is necessary to count every penny, to try to find less expensive alternatives for costly software.

If you need to buy 3 or 4 licenses to Microsoft Office at $125.00 each, it is perfectly reasonable to at least look into using Open Office instead. The savings can be real and substantial.

If you need to produce only 2 or 3 PDFs a month, a free alternative to Acrobat, like as PDF995, might do the trick.

But what if you are printing your first book with Create Space? Can a free PDF program meet the printing requirements? Can you turn out a professional layout without professional layout software?

Assuming you are starting from scratch, a full, standard license for Adobe Acrobat costs about $300.00. A full retail copy of In Design runs about $700.00. Will that expense turn your experiment in publishing into another financial black hole?

How do you balance the need for professional level software and support against the need to pay the bills?

There is no simple formula, unfortunately.

But there are a few common sense questions you can ask yourself:

  • If this doesn’t work immediately, right out of the box, do I have the technical skill needed to troubleshoot the problem? If not – how much will it cost to hire a specialist? Would it be cheaper to just buy the expensive thing to begin with?
  • If I need to share my work with others, will this software be compatible? Will non-standard file formats make me look unprofessional to my peers? Will it cost me work and hurt my reputation with clients?
  • What happens if I upgrade my operating system and my free applications stop working? Will I be locked into programs with no upgrade path?
  • Will learning to use this software require special training? Is there any kind of documentation available?

You may find that a suite like Open Office meets your needs. It is upgraded frequently and documents created by it can be shared with others running traditional Microsoft Office applications. The interface is familiar enough not to require retraining. There is an active online community for support. If you are comfortable with it, Open Office could be a great way to save on software licensing fees.

On the other hand, you could find that the “free” software you built your business around is a bottomless money pit.

I know one business owner who has invested at least 10 times the cost of good, professional CRM software in a custom database. After years of tweaking, the database is still buggy. Client information is still difficult to access. Queries and reports are unreliable. At this point, even if the business owner never spends another dime, he loses. He’s lost time, he’s lost money, and he’s lost customers.

There is no magic bullet, no one solution that’s right for every business or every problem. But as a business owner, you must know when to fold a losing hand.

Track your costs. Be sure that free alternatives are not slowly bleeding you dry.

When the Total Cost of Ownership for free software nears or exceeds the TCO of  paid software – don’t hesitate. The situation will only get worse the longer you wait. Don’t try to find ways to recoup the money you already invested. It is gone. Instead, be damned and determined not to waste another dime.

Photo by AlexK100 Released under Creative Commons License

Banish The Phrase “Ethical Bribe”

The report is yours to keep...

The report is yours to keep...

Marketers use the term “ethical (or legal) bribe” to refer to the free come-on that makes you (the buyer) take the action they (the seller) want.

That action can be anything from subscribing to a free newsletter to signing up for a $3,000.00 online course.

The products may be wildly different, but the process is the same.

In order to lure the suspicious customer into giving you the chance to pitch your product, you offer them something valuable for free.

You may have learned this technique from Mary Popins, when she advised that “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Or you might have picked it up from a late night viewing of Reefer Madness, when you noticed that The Pusher gave away a free taste to create demand. Or maybe you attended a workshop to learn how to sell.

There is nothing wrong with offering a free “this,” if you buy “that.” It’s a time-tested tactic, tried and true; nothing more.

What is unfortunate is the relationship it creates in the seller’s mind, between herself and her customer. The potential customer is now a dupe, who has to be bribed. The seller has to append the word “ethical”or “legal” to remove the sleazy taint. There is no hint that the seller is proud of the product or that the buyer might want it just because its good.

The chances of creating a respectful relationship are diminished just by the words you chose to describe your actions.

WHAT IS AN ETHICAL BRIBE

What is an ethical bribe? It’s the offer of something the potential buyer will find valuable – a report, a video, a mini-course, a discount, a bonus – that the seller offers freely.

In other words, it is a gift.

So why not call it that?

If you have been using the phrase “ethical bribe” to describe the small enticements you offer your clients, try consciously switching to using the word “gift” instead.

Are those who accept your gift still sheep waiting to be sheared – or are they now valued partners in your business?

Which relationship is likely to be more fruitful in the long run?

Photo by mike@bensalem Released under Creative Commons License

To Get A Good Answer, Ask A Good Question

Where's the one who isn't there?

How many lamps are there?

Have you wasted time with tech support, listening to a detailed response to a question you never asked?

Now turn that around.

Have you wasted time on customer service, giving a detailed answer to a customer’s question, only to receive in reply some variation of, “No, I meant my other left”?

Some fields have specialized, technical language that makes it possible for practitioners of the dark arts to communicate effectively with each other – but the jargon can leave the rest of us out in the cold. Other areas use everyday language, but the results are so imprecise that it takes repeated, detailed questioning to get a useful response.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your customer support was right down the middle – precise enough to be immediately actionable but jargon free enough to be instantly understandable?

That may be an impossible dream, but you can inch closer to that goal through practice. Here are five simple steps to get you started

1. Make a list of frequently asked questions

This will help you narrow down the areas where you are not communicating effectively with your clients.

If  one out of every five customers has to ask if you’ll ship two items in the same box at a reduced price, “Hey stupid, that’s in the Terms!” is not the correct response. Especially if the question is answered in your shipping terms.

Is your use of jargon (“We gladly combine shipping”) instead of plain English (“We ship multiple items at a reduced rate”) confusing new customers? Should you reword your policy or description?

2. Have someone unfamiliar with your service read your copy and pay close attention to what they say.

It doesn’t matter if the nuclear scientist on the corner knows that you can’t sell Plutonium on eBay. Most watch buyers are neither physicists nor experts on eBay’s policies. If you are trying to sell me a watch with Mickey Mouse’s dog on the watch face, do not say it is powered by Plutonium, no matter how hard you laugh at your own joke.

Write clearly and accurately. Write to be understood, not to be admired.

3. Switch roles.

If you are selling, read everything you write – description, terms of sale, shipping and handling clauses, everything – as though you are the world’s dumbest customer.

You don’t know what FOB means. You don’t know what USPS means. You don’t know what PayPal is and you don’t know how to find out.

All you know is you want to buy that beautiful suede jacket for $250.00 and you have never bought anything on line before.

That is not a crime. That is a golden opportunity.

If you can ease a customer’s worries and make shopping with you a pleasant and simple transaction, you will create repeat business and customer loyalty.

4. If you can state something in everyday English, do it.

Avoid jargon.

Even if you are selling specialized items, try to describe them in common terms. Sometimes it will be important to use a technical description (for instance, you cannot sell a camera lens without mentioning focal length). But go on to define the term for the average shopper.

Maybe I want to buy a super-expensive camera lens as a gift. You can lose the sale by saying “150 mm, EOS DSLR, bayonet” or you can make the sale by saying, “Great 150 mm tele-photo lens for Canon EOS digital SLR, with standard bayonet mount.”

5. Put all the words in your head on the paper.

Don’t expect anyone to read your mind.

If you want the buyer to do something, say so. “Anyone should have known that” is not a sales policy.

 

Written communication can be confusing and frustrating, but you can take the sting out of it by consciously using simple sentences with common words. If you want to know whether your answers are helping or further confusing your customers, just turn the situation around. Read the answer, then ask yourself, “What is the question?”

Photo by kevindooley Released under Creative Commons License

A Free Replacement for Office 2007’s Ribbon

Both the Classic Menu and Ribbon In One Place

Both the Classic Menu and Ribbon

If you create information products on a PC, you probably use Microsoft Office.

And if you use Office, you’ve probably wondered about upgrading to Office 2007. I upgraded as soon as I could – the new features in Word and PowerPoint made it a no brainer for me.

But I still struggle with the way the Ribbon rearranged familiar menu commands.

If that’s a problem for you, too, take a look at UbitMenu, a free and effective way to bring the classic Office menus back to Office 2007. Instead of replacing or supressing the Ribbon, UBitMenu adds a tab called “Menu” When you open the tab, you find the familiar, classic menu and all of its commands.

I have only been using it for a short time, but so far, I like it.

I discovered UBitMenu through Office Watch – a newsletter for serious Office users. This is a terrific resource for eBookk creators who use Word in any incarnation.

Whether you subscribe (it’s free) or just browse through the archives, be sure to check out the discussion of Saving As a PDF vs. Printing To PDF for tips on getting your ebook to behave the way you want it to.

Useful Snippets of Code

1. FOLLOWERS CAN RE-TWEET WITHOUT RE-TYPING MESSAGE

If you use Twitter, you know that Re Tweets can be a great viral marketing tool.

But asking your Twitter followers to Re-Tweet is inefficient. They have to copy, open a new Tweet, paste, send… really, on Twitter, that’s a lot of work.

Anything you do to make it easier for your others to take the step you’ve requested increases the chance that they will do it.

I just picked this up this nifty trick from Frank Kern’s latest pitch. (I’m not an affiliate of Kern or Filsame and I’m not recommending the product – just acknowledging the source of the code.)

Add the message you want re-tweeted in this code, in place of ADD MESSAGE HERE:

Would you like to see how this works in real life, click the image below.


Easy way for your Twitter followers to reTweet your messages


2. CHANGE YOUR PERMALINK STRUCTURE WITHOUT BREAKING YOUR LINKS

You know how important good permalinks are to getting good Google rankings for your blog posts.

But you may not have known which permalink structure to choose in place of the default when you started blogging. As a good fallback, a lot of WordPress users suggested using the day and post name (Permlink Option #2 under Settings).

Now you have 100 posts and you want to get the very best rankings for your new posts without sacrificing the traffic, links, and rankings you’ve already earned with your older posts.

So you can’t just suddenly change the structure of your permalinks.

There are plugins that will help, of course, including an excellent one by Joost der Valk called Permalink Redirect

But if you want to make sure Google is following your links, it is a good idea to use a 301 permanent redirect in your .htaccess file.

If you want to remove dates from your permalinks, try adding this to the .htaccess file in your blog’s root directory:

RedirectMatch 301 /dddd/dd/dd/(.*) /$1

If you want more information about how that particular redirect works, check out Remove Dates From Permalinks on Blog Traffic Exchange.

Giving Content Away For Free Is Good Business

It Takes Two To Share

Sharing The Good Stuff

Do you hold back “the good stuff” until you see some cash?

Or do you give away content with real value to convince potential buyers that your product is worth a serious look?

“Moving the free line” is the new marketing buzz word. Internet Marketers compete to “wow” us with ever more amazing free content – which then lures us into buying astonishingly expensive classes.

Record executives, on the other hand, tried to prevent the legal owners of CDs from playing their music on any device they chose, imagining that this was the only way they could protect their profits. Instead of protecting the bottom line, they almost destroyed their industry.

Locking down content has failed spectacularly.

Anecdotal evidence that excellent free content boosts sales is abundant. The Baen Free Library revitalized Baen Book’s backlist. Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin sell more printed books with every ebook they give away. WordPress knocked off the blogging titan TypePad by using free GPL licensing. There are dozens of similar stories.

So how does “Moving the free line” work?

First, the free content has to be truly exceptional. Giving away something that no one would ever pay for is not likely to boost either your reputation or your sales.

Second, you have to have depth of inventory. You can’t increase sales of your backlist if you only have one title to sell. You can’t upsell people who buy an  introductory DVD if you don’t have any other DVDs available.

Third, you have to have depth of content. We’ve all seen movie trailers that contain the best five minutes of a new film. After watching the trailer, there is no need to see the picture. Just so, customers who buy your product based on a great pitch and a free sample, only to discover that the remining 45 minutes on your DVD are all fluff and repetition, will not be happy.

The internet leads people to expect free content. Whether it is born of the slogan, “Information wants to be free,” or the “It isn’t stealing if I just download it for personal use” ethos of some file sharing networks, the sheer amount of material available with the click of a button is staggering.

The genie is not going back in the bottle.

Information product producers can’t waste time fighting a battle that has already been lost. People now believe that you not only can get something for nothing. They believe you should get something for nothing.

Build a relationship of trust and respect with your customers. If you truly give them useful, worthwhile content upfront and still deliver value on the backend – then you can benefit from sharing the best stuff for free.

Photo by ryancr Released under Creative Commons License

Social Skills Are Lacking In Social Media

Screaming Social Media

Screaming Social Media

Some months ago, I made a short Camtasia video about YouTube’s Audio Swap feature.

Now, I must admit that I am not all that emotionally invested in the background audio for my videos.  In fact, it’s been awhile since I thought of any music as more than background noise.

I don’t define myself by my taste in music, and music doesn’t define the people I know.

But I didn’t give any of that any thought when I made the You Tube tutorial. I just wanted to point out a new feature that some folks might find useful.

Well GOLLLLL-EEEE! as Gomer Pyle would say. What a response!

Teenage boys and young men are very attached to their music. There has been an avalanche of illiterate, obscene, sexist, ageist, anti-gay and just plain stupid comments. Most denounce YouTube and announce that it sucks… various things.

These comments aren’t directed at me or my video. They are, rather, the cry of children deprived of a beloved toy. Their music is a defining element of their identity. In some way, it made their video meaningful. And You Tube took it away.

(Of course, the recording artists and record labels demanded that You Tube remove copyrighted music, but that’s too fine a distinction for these lads.)

Every so often, I wander over to YouTube and look at the latest sewage that has washed up in the Comments section. And I wonder, “Is this what the Social Web has come to? Will everything be dragged to to the Beavis and Butthead level?”

Foul mouthed kids on the web, screaming morons on cable TV, talk radio… it’s enough to make you want to read a book.

Photo by Andrew Mason Released under Creative Commons License

Obscurity – Not Piracy – Is Your Enemy

Ghost Town

Are You Selling In A Ghost Town?

I recently taught a class for Do It Yourself Publishers.

I love teaching this class, because it has become so easy for aspiring and first time authors to get their books on Amazon. In the class, I encourage new authors to explore all their options, including ebooks and audio books.

Invariably, someone is intrigued by ebooks but too concerned by the ease with which digital content can be copied, passed around, and pirated to follow that path

Here’s the sad truth: no one knows your book exists. And if you aren’t making any money from the book, why would someone else want to pirate it?

Piracy is a commercial operation. It is profit driven.

No profit = no pirates.

Simple as that.

However, there is another form of copying known as file sharing, where enthusiasts and fans pass around books and music and TV shows and movies that they love, sharing them freely with each other. Filesharing is a social phenomena. It is word of mouth marketing at its simplest.

Big business likes to paint file sharing with the same brush as piracy, but the truth is more nuanced.

STOP THINKING LIKE AN AMATEUR!

You are a published author now. Your challenge is to reach every single potential reader of your work.

Would you try to prevent libraries from buying your (paperback) book because entire cities will be able to read it for free? Or do you believe that the increased visibility and word of mouth publicity may eventually result in increased sales.

Would you prefer than no one ever lends your (paperback) book to a friend with the words, “You have got to read this book!”? Or do you want to encourage your most ardent fans to spread the word far and wide, and maybe even buy extra copies of your book to give away as gifts?

Then why do the rules change when the content is digitally delivered?

If someone buys your ebook and passes it on to a friend, do you profit more by treating those two people as thieves or as fans?

Obscurity is the enemy of first time authors. You cannot overcome it without help. You need talkers and shouters and fans of every stripe. You need to coddle, encourage, and nurture them.

Your challenge, as the publisher, is to take a potential loss and turn it into a gain.

  • Be sure that your web site is included prominently on every ebook
  • Always make it easy to purchase the ebook
  • Offer buyers a reward – anything from a forum to discuss the book to a podcast
  • Have an upsell ready and available on your web site.
  • Treat all your readers as valued friends

You won’t turn every lost sale into gold – but you will turn readers into repeat customers. Have some faith in the quality of your work. Let the people who like it enough to share it be the sales force you can’t afford to hire.

Photo by JC Olivera Released under Creative Commons License