Monthly Archives: May 2009

Do Not Blog Using Word

Think Before You Say Yes!

Think Before You Say Yes!

Lots of people hate Word.

I am not one of them.

I use Word constantly. I’ve studied it, written about it, taught it. I find that Word is much richer, much more versatile than most users imagine.

In short, I like Word.

But Word is word processing software. Word is not blogging software. Word creates all sorts of weird code in the background that tells Windows how to display and print MS Office documents. For instance, if you look at the code, you’ll see lots tags that begin “MSO”

MSO is not a tag that browsers understand. WordPress cannot parse it. Firefox cannot parse it. Even Internet Explorer chokes on it.

Software is code.

When you copy and paste a document written in Word directly into your blog editor, you are not just copying the words. You are copying the code. If you look at the HTML editor in WordPress after you paste in a Word document, you will see tons of awful code.

WordPress tries mightily to translate Office tags into PHP and HTML – but fails. Font sizes are changed from11 pt to X-small – and they look awful. Scores of nested div tags are broken or left open, so that only half the post is visible.

In extreme cases, your blog’s design is destroyed. Your sidebar may disappear, your header graphics may be displaced, your fonts may all suddenly change to Time New Roman 6 pt.

All this so you can use spell check?

Please – if you write offline – fine. Compose in Word, spell check in Word. But paste only plain text.

The simplest way to do this is first copy and paste your document into Notepad or some other text editor and then copy that document and paste it into WordPress. The add your formatting – bold, italics, etc – in the WordPress editor.

(You can also use the “Paste as Text” button on the TinyMCE visual editor.)


Get SnagIt For Free from TechSmith Until June 5

SnagIt

SnagIt

From now until June 5, TechSmith is giving a free, legal, licensed copy of SnagIt v7.25 to anyone who requests a copy – just for giving TechSmith your email address.

SnagIt is simply the very best screen capture program there is. The latest version is 9.1 and costs $50.00 – so for free, you’ll be a bit behind. But don’t wait – go now and download SnagIt if you don’t already own a copy.

If you have a web site or a newsletter – or if you are an eBay Education Specialist or any kind of teacher – or if you use PowerPoint or create info products – you need TechSmith’s SnagIt

First go here to request the software key:

http://www.techsmith.com/Covermount/covermount.asp?ID=8

Then go here to download SnagIt:

http://download.techsmith.com/snagit/enu/725/snagit.exe

(It is even possible that you will qualify for upgrade pricing to the latest version even with this free older version of SnagIt. What a deal.)

Starting A Membership Site – Price Considerations

Are You On The Right Track?

Are You On The Right Track?

In our survey so far, Membergate has come out on top in terms of features, support, and ease of use. But there is no denying that it is one of the most expensive solutions.

The difference between aMember’s $300 price tag and Membergate’s $4,000.00 one can be the difference between starting and giving up. Many people just don’t have the cash on hand needed to buy into Membergate. For some, even aMember’s relatively low fees are too high. So let’s come at this another way.

Here are a few questions to ponder while comparing software:

How complicated is your recurring billing? Maybe PayPal’s Subscription solution will work for you. If your monthly subscription fee is low enough (say, under $25.00) and you are willing to shoulder some administrative tasks in return for lower start up costs, you can run your billing through PayPal, e-Junkie, or even ClickBank without a Merchant Account. Is it ideal? No. Is it better than doing nothing at all? Infinitely!

How many members do you expect in your first year? Tracking members, re-issuing lost passwords, answering support questions, etc, will eat up a good portion of your time. Can you find a way to give your members the support they deserve without breaking the bank or burning yourself out? Since you can’t do everything yourself, can you find a piece of software – a plugin, a script, some custom written code – that will take care of some tasks? Elance and Rent-A-Coder have made it easier than ever to find freelance help (though the quality is variable).

What sort of software skills do you really possess? Can you learn how to administer a forum? Will you be able to add content regularly? Do you need to hire outside help just to insert a hyperlink? Be honest with yourself. If you can do it yourself, and you are willing to spend the time, you can save a substantial amount of money. If, on the other hand, you have to turn to an independent contractor for everyday tasks, you risk running up hidden costs that far exceed those you “couldn’t afford” to begin with.

Can you find partner(s)? Partners can help financially, of course. They also add skills, hands, time and talent. Someone to bounce ideas off of can be worth her weight in gold, if you are so close to the project that you can’t objectively calculate risk any more. On the other hand, do you want to split the profits? Are you willing to share authority? Can you delegate? Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. The right partner can make a business. The wrong one… well, just don’t go there.

What do others in your niche do? If there are other sites catering to your target audience, what sort of format do they follow? If your customers have come to expect a high degree of professionalism and functionality, an amateurish WordPress site could harm your reputation. On the other hand, if the client sees the web site as nothing more than a portal to a conference call or a bulletin board, you might skate by with a minimal investment.

If you are planning for success (and not just hoping not to fail miserably), when you’ve run through your checklist of  candidates, questions, and options, you’ll want to weigh Return On Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and not just out of pocket costs. How much are you spending to acquire members? How long will they stay? How much will you spend on tech help, custom scripts, and even your own sweat equity to keep your site running?

There is no one right solution. Many successful sites are built on WordPress, Free Conference Pro, and a low cost web hosting plan – with an investment of less than $15.00 per month. Others have found that their free site turned into a money pit or a straight jacket and have had to spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to migrate their users to a more stable site.

But even those who wish they’d started differently have one thing in common with wildly successful membership site owners – they started a site. Whatever you decide to do – even if you just test the waters with a free, but password protected, members only blog or forum – don’t let costs stop you. Take your first step and build from there.

Photo by macie3k Released under Creative Commons License

Starting A Membership Site – What Kind of Support Is Available?

Help Doesn't Just Fall From The Sky

Help Doesn't Just Fall From The Sky

Almost as important as the ability to securely and reliably handle credit cards, technical support for a membership site can be a make or break situation.

If your site is down, you cannot serve your current members or recruit new members. If you are responsible for site updates and backups and upgrades and new plugins – you may have little time left over for the real mission of a membership site owner: delighting your members and creating new content.

How do the Big Three – aMember, Membergate, and WordPress – stack up when it comes to support?

If you are very tech saavy, and don’t mind spending some time tweaking aMember, it can be a good mid-price solution. Generally, a normal install is a straight forward proposition and will be handled by the aMember staff. If you run into trouble, there is a trouble ticket system with a promise of 24 hour turn around. They also host a bulletin board for users to post questions and share solutions.

Membergate suggests (but doesn’t require) you host your site on their dedicated servers. This, of course, is another expense on top of the initial start up cost. However, the hosting fee is a dop in the bucket compared to the level of tech support it brings.

Membergate’s software is completely installed – along with a custom design – by the Membergate staff. The servers are monitored 24/7 and all server related issues are addressed immediately.

Membergate, like aMember, also has an active community of users who can post questions and receive answers from other site owners on the Membergate Support forums. There is a typical Knowledge Base FAQ with common questions and answers. Email and phone support are available as well.

Both Membergate and aMember get good marks from their users. Once again, the higher cost of Membergate helps cover extra service. A Membergate site is likely to run smoothly no matter the technical skills of the owner. An aMember site will run smoothly if you aren’t afraid of poking around under the hood.

And what about WordPress?

Once again – WordPress comes out a distant third. Although there is a huge base of open source developers and WordPress fans, there is no one responsible party to turn to if your site goes down. You are the responsible party. It is up to you to keep everything up to date and purring along.

If you are a sole operator, admin tasks and creating and posting new content probably take all your time. Whatever is left over is used for promotion. This leaves you little time to worry about the state of your software.

SUPPORT SCORECARD

Membergate = A
aMember = B+
WordPress = D

Photo by Army.milReleased under Creative Commons License


How To Choose Membership Site Software

Do It - Don't Just Dream It

The Sky Is The Limit - Time To Fly

You can start a membership site for free.

Or you can pay several thousand dollars for a complete content management solution that will include everything from forums to video player to payment gateway to shopping cart.

Which way is better?

You’ll hear plenty of partisans on all sides of this question touting their particular software. Some are affiliates, who stand to gain financially from convincing you that their program is superior. Some are happy customers who want to share their good fortune.

Even after you separate the hucksters from the helpful, you still need to ask yourself: Which solution is right for you? Let’s begin by looking at the three most popular solutions and weighing their pros and cons.

THE PLAYERS

Although there are many more solutions available, the big players are:

  • Membergate
  • aMember
  • WordPress

START UP COSTS

  • Membergate = $4,000.00+
  • aMember = $180.00+
  • WordPress = $0.00+

CONSIDERATION #1 – CREDIT CARD PROCESSING

Will you bill members on an automated recurring, monthly basis?

If so, how will the payments be processed? Are you going to accept credit cards or will you rely on PayPal?

Some marketers will tell you that a free platform, like WordPress, coupled with a free PayPal plugin is all you need. Don’t believe it.

For most people, PayPal is inextricably linked to eBay. Although your members may have a PayPal account, you will find that few of them will want to use it to pay for a month-to-month membership.

What’s more, PayPal acts like a debit card rather than a credit card. Money is immediately withdrawn from the customer’s account when a purchase is made. So if a potential member is weighing the choice of signing up vs. the cost of waiting awhile longer – waiting will almost always win and you will lose.

Finally, accepting PayPal as your only means of payment marks you as an amateur. In the physical world, real businesses accept credit cards. No matter how lowly the corner Mom ‘n’ Pop store is, you can use a credit or debit card to buy a carton of milk.

HOW DO THEY RATE?

Membergate – Membergate is fully integrated with Authorize.net (and other gateways) and a proprietary shopping cart. Setting up members and collecting payment requires no specialized knowledge. Membergate also includes automated recapture of declined credit cards, so members are less likely to slip through the cracks in a month where they may have cancelled a card or forgotten to update an Expiration Date.

Functionality: A
Ease of use: A

aMember – aMember supports a huge number of payment gateways, including Authorize.net, Clickbank, and PayPal. Shopping cart software is installed separately via plugin.

Functionality: A
Ease of use: B

WordPress – Of course, WordPress was never designed to do this work. All efforts to build a membership site on WordPress involve a compromise between security, functionality, and stability.

There is no built in way to accept payments – of any kind – with WordPress. Through the use of plugins, WordPress can be integrated with PayPal’s recurring billing system.

In this case, the strengths and weaknesses are all PayPal’s and are all well documented.

  1. PayPal will bill members monthly, but it will not recapture declined data.
  2. Depending on the plugin you use, the membership data will not necessarily be stored in your WordPress database.
  3. Automation is limited – again, depending on the plugin
  4. You may need to hire a third party to make your “free” solution work.
  5. Your third party plugin may just stop working without notice (Google “WordPress + PayBox” for a hair raising example.)

Functionality: C
Ease of use: D

CONCLUSION

Not surprisingly, the really expensive software, Membergate, does more, and does it more easily, right out of the box. Some of the money you invest up front for the software is recouped almost immediately in non-existent support costs. More is recouped in tracking and retrying declined transactions.

aMember also does a decent job of taking payments. Although it is not quite as solid as Membergate, it does include a large number of gateways and payment options. It is certainly worth investigating further.

WordPress leaves a lot to be desired on the payment front. Since recurring billing is the heart of a continuity program, any breakdown here can cripple your membership site.

Relying on third party plugins leaves the very foundation of your business open to catastrophe. In fact, I consider it so risky that it was enough to knock WordPress out of consideration when I chose software for the new Web Sellers’ Circle membership site.

FINAL WEEKS

These are the final weeks for free access to all the content on Web Sellers’ Circle. In addition to the open to everyone blog, check out the VIP Membership area. All you need to do is sign up for the newsletter to gain access to our eBook and Video library.

For now, it’s free. In June, we’ll have the completely revamped Web Sellers Circle up and running with tons of tutorials, classes, articles, and videos that will help you build a profitable business online.

Check it out.

Photo by aussiegall Released under Creative Commons License

How To Start A Membership Site

Time to Catch The Wave

Time to Catch The Wave

Recurring monthly income is the Holy Grail of internet sellers.

Everyone wants a predictable revenue stream that grows over time and appreciates in value but does not require an endless investment of time and talent.

Membership sites are the #1 solution for a growing segment of web site owners – including Ghost Leg Media.

Ghost Leg Media and CloverCity Sells have joined forces to produce a new membership site called The Web Sellers’ Circle. It’s a site dedicated to the needs of the online small business owner. We’re a resources and skill center, offering support, training and tutorials in topics ranging from selling on Bonanzle to producing your own DVDs.

We’ve got big plans and high hopes.

For the next few weeks, while we get the site architecture firmly in place, Web Sellers Circle will remain free to join – just sign up to view our exclusive interviews with internet entrpreneurs from Bonanzle, Vendio, MerchantRun, NeatoScan and more.

That’s just a small taste of what the site will offer.

As we get ready to launch, I’ll blog about the process of starting a membership site, including:

  • Choosing a platform
  • Finding a niche
  • Accepting payments

If you’ve ever wanted to start your own membership site, this is your chance to follow the behind the scenes progress. Learn with us as we gear up for the final preparations before throwing open the doors.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about Web Sellers’ Circle itself, please head on over to Web Sellers’ Secret and read about the Charter Members Sign Up package.

Photo by tylerdurden1 Released under Creative Commons License