Entrepreneur and Productivity Roundup – Fri Nov 09, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007 at 3:15pm by Site Administrator

More Freepreneuring: Free Rice
No idea if Free Rice is sustainable freepreneuring business model, but as Seth Godin said, it’s a lot of fun. Free Rice displays a word and four meanings to choose from. For every word you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice through the United Nations, in the hopes of ending world hunger. They have some very well-known companies advertising in little graphic ad banners.

While the questions do get tougher, I managed to help donate 300 grains, getting 30 questions right out of about 35. If you have a few minutes where you’re relaxing, go check out Free Rice and have some fun while improving your vocabularly.

Budding Young Filmmakers
Ben Casanocha has been impressing entrepreneurs both for his web project ComCate and the fact that he started it at the age of thirteen. Well another young man, a Canadian, is now twelve and has been making stop-motion movies with plasticine sets – similar to Wallace and Grommit- for a few years now, winning kudos all over the world. In fact, if I remember correctly, he has essentially bootstrapped his allowance over a few years into a filmmaking skillset that won him a $10,000 prize in a film festival.

Does anyone think this kid will not become a filmmaker in terms of his career choice? [Apologies but I can't seem to find any info about him online, don't remember his name, nor which TV network he was profiled on this week.]

Garage Startups: Holey Soles
Holey Soles, a Canadian manufacturer of clog-like footwear, apparently started in Joyce Groote’s neighbor’s garage [via Business Opportunities]. However, this is not your typical garage startup, as Groote’s initial investment was Cdn$80,000 in 2002 – from leveraged mortgages, etc. But considering that in just five years, the company is now expecting Cdn$20M of gross revenue this year, it seems to me that they’ve still applied some bootstrapping principles, reinvesting their earnings.

The footwear, sold in over thirty countries, is designed not to absorb bacteria and to give more bounce on hardwood floors.

Bootstrap Your Career With Blogging: 7 Tips

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 5:30pm by Site Administrator

Entrepreneuring might not commonly be referred to as a “career”, but it is as far as I’m concerned. Over time, I’ve met some very interesting bootstrappers. Some of them raised the capital for their businesses – including restaurant chains – through the oddest means – including selling drugs or even writing romance novels. Now that’s not to say you should do either, heaven forbid, but maybe you can find some creative way to generate funds for your entrepreneurial career.

While I’ve publicly admitted that my own websites/ blogs don’t earn a lot of money yet, I believe they could. (Most of my income is from freelancing.) I feel that with the right niche, you could bootstrap your entrepreneuring with bloging, if it’s your sort of thing. I don’t mean publishing a blog for your business. I mean blogging as a means to raise capital for the business you’ve been dreaming of.

Challenge
I’m making it sound easy, and it’s not. To make it work, there are a lot of things you have to do right, in synchrony. I’m also assuming that you have the ability to communicate clearly most of the time. Far too many bloggers do not communicate well, then wonder why no one reads their blog. Communication skills are important in business, as well as for blogging.

  1. Pick a good niche. Find a monetizable niche known to have high ad CTR (Clickthrough Rate). This is the lynchpin factor. Without the right niche, you’re better off working over time or raising money some other way.

  2. Be visible. Write anywhere from 5-20 posts per day, with word count/post decreasing as quantity increases. The more you write, the more search engine traffic you’ll bring in, provided your writing is entertaining/ engaging/ informative (depending on niche).
  3. Develop your own voice. To keep readers coming back, develop your own voice in a niche.
  4. Experiment. Try different post styles (see below) until you find something that works for your niche.
  5. Persist. Trying for a month or two and giving up isn’t going to take you anywhere. It might take a few months for your site to draw regular readers and/or search engine traffic.
  6. Be informed. To pull off an authority blog, you need to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know, learn. This of course requires a chunk of time for research.
  7. Promote. Use social media sites to promote your site and your best posts. This takes time and effort, something non-entrepreneurs tend not to want to spend.

Those of you balking at this advice, please leave the room now. It comes from someone who has concrete proof – in impressive monthly income – that this publishing frequency works – especially 10+ posts – for specific niches.

Approach
In addition to the points above, you have to take the right approach to the actual writing and research. Obviously, the more time you can devote, the more likely you’ll make this work.

  1. Start by writing small summary posts and apply the principle of kaizen to improve your writing. (Read this first if you’re starting in a niche that you know little about but want to learn.)

  2. Expand your knowledge so that you can summarize it succinctly in your posts. It’s actually harder to express the same information in fewer words, and takes knowledge of your subject.
  3. Add illustrations/ images/ videos, if suitable for the niche. Start with Flickr and YouTube, then expand your “sources”. Pay for quality pics if you have to, when you can afford it.
  4. Don’t dawdle. If you have an idea for a post, write up a summary. If after brewing it in your head for an hour, you have nothing else to say, post what you have then write an expanded post later. (Just make sure the summary is coherent.)
  5. Space out publishing. Some niches require that you post all day long. Wake up early, if you have to, and beat each busy period: morning, noon, evening by publish before those times, not during. (Of course, your time zone matters, depending on who your readers are.) What you don’t want to do is write 20 posts and publish them all in the same 30 minutes. Try to publish 1-5 posts per period, but with at least 10-15 minutes between any two. This is a necessity for staying visible in blog directories and search engines.

Post Style
Your post style is another important factor and depends on the niche you’ve picked. If you’re not sure, experiment. I’m doing that in a particular niche, where I have several partners and hired bloggers. These are small experiments, but should prove valuable. Here are the parameters:

  1. Voice: neutral or opinionated.
  2. Links, internal: with or without.
  3. Links, external: with or without.
  4. Images: with/ without.
  5. Word count: micro (25+), short (50-100), medium (200+), long (400+), or tome (600+).
  6. # Posts/day: 1 to many.
  7. Video: with or without.

The number of posts per day that you “should” do depends highly on the niche. However, generally speaking, the more content you have, the more often search engine spiders visit your site, thus improving the chances of lots of traffic. That’s a very nutshell explanation, but some niches absolutely require 10-20 short posts per day for a blog to be a success financially.

Of course, the more posts you do per day, the shorter the posts should be, if you are expecting to gain blog feed subscribers. It’s also less tasking to write 10-20 posts per day if they’re shorter.

Summary
The entire point of this exercise is not to blog about your business – which in this case hasn’t been launched yet. The point is to explore a possible means of generating startup capital to launch your startup. You can use a pseudonym if for some reason you don’t want to use your real name.

My colleague who earns five figures per month swears by most of the above information. As for niches, well, i’m not going to give away all my secrets just yet. However, if you’re clever and do a bit of hunting, you’ll figure out which niches I’m hedging my bets in, along with partners.

I have my regular freelance work that pays my bills. I’m hoping that my experimental blogging/ publishing will also help me start up my photography once again – possibly enough to pay for equipment and a live/work studio – pay for my entrance into film school, and then generate capital for when I do make movies. The double benefit is that I’ll already have a few of my own vehicles for advertising my films.

How to: Outsource Your Entire Life – 20 Professionals Who Can Do Your Dirty Work

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 3:37pm by Site Administrator

At work, most of us have figured out how to delegate jobs and outsource responsibility so that we can tackle the fun stuff. But what about in our personal lives? Fortunately, if you’ve got a thick enough wallet, you can pay people to do virtually all of your day-to-day chores for you: grocery shopping, cleaning, watching the kids, and even placing your bet on prime real estate. Put your feet up and read below to learn how to outsource your entire life with the help of 20 professionals who can do your dirty work for you. Just don’t forget to tip.

  1. Maid: Employing a maid can mean anything from having a live-in assistant who sorts the laundry, irons and cleans the bathrooms to hiring a team of professionals to visit your home once a week to do the heavy dusting and vacuuming. Whether you’re simply too busy with fundraising, shuttling your kids from practice to rehearsal or heaven forbid, both, put that mop down and let the maid do it.
  2. Virtual Assistant: What’s better than a personal assistant? A virtual assistant who you never have to meet! Virtual assistants are gaining more and more popularity as the business world continues to outsource employees to minimize overhead costs and accommodate work-at-home types who can manage small offices from home. If you’re an entrepreneur — or just a very busy somebody — you’re probably tired of answering the phones, scheduling appointments and doing the bills. Stop worrying and heap all of those pesky duties onto your virtual assistant, who will happily do your dirty work from the comfort of his or her own home. In a perfect world, the two of you never even have to meet.
  3. Personal Shopper: Who has time to shop for new shoes, a fabulous party dress and Christmas toys for the kids? Not you, that’s for sure. Hire a personal shopper to work down your lengthy list of groceries, holiday shopping and whatever else you might want, er, need.
  4. Driver: Busy bees like you are constantly zipping around town to meetings, consultations, special events, and maybe even home, if you’re lucky. Do yourself — and everyone else on the road — a favor by hiring a driver so that you can dedicate your full attention to your BlackBerry or catching up on some sleep in the backseat.
  5. Personal Chef: Wouldn’t it be nice to come home after a long day to a scrumptious, professionally prepared meal that you didn’t have make yourself or pick up on the way home? A well-trained personal chef will surprise you with delicious dishes that suit your unique tastes and dietary needs. Some personal chefs even bring all of the ingredients with them, so you don’t have to bother your personal shopper with an extra stop.
  6. Car Cleaner: Anyone can drive their car through a gas station car wash, but your baby just won’t get the same attention and sparkly shine as she would with a personal car cleaner. Flip open the phone book and find yourself a professional car cleaner who will pick up your vehicle from your home or office and give it a good cleaning inside and out while you get on with your day. Sure beats the garden hose in the driveway.
  7. Event Planner: If you have a party to throw or a wedding to plan, for heaven’s sake, don’t do it yourself. Event planners are paid the big bucks because they know how to transform an everyday birthday party into the social event of the season. You’ll save yourself from bartering with the florist, chasing down the photographer and trying to book a venue when you enlist the help of these professionals.
  8. Publicist: You don’t have to be an A-list celebrity to require a publicist. Budding entrepreneurs, CEOs and even debutantes need a little help with promotions and branding. Whether you hire one person to book you for events or decide to hire an entire advertising and public relations firm to get your name out, utilizing their professional PR services means less networking for you to worry about.
  9. Security Personnel: Top-notch security comes in all shapes and sizes: a 6’4 bouncer who’s by your side whenever your step outdoors or even a hired security guard outside your business to protect you from sketchy loiterers. However you decide to protect yourself from the common riffraff, just remember that security personnel are responsible for handling the ultimate dirty work, and you don’t need to get involved.
  10. Headhunter: Human resources professionals have enough dirty work on their plates with concerns about avoiding lawsuits, setting pay standards and promoting harmony among employees. That’s why they often need to hire headhunters to actually go out and find new job candidates. Searching through gigantic online databases and sifting through piles of resumes is tedious. If you’re looking to hire a new professional at your office, start with a headhunter.
  11. Dog Walker: Taking your dog for a walk after work might seem like a nice way to spend time with your pet and get a little exercise, but only if the weather is perfect and you didn’t have to pick up after bathroom breaks. Instead of depriving little Fido of his daily walk just because its raining or temperatures are boiling, hire a dog walker who, as long as you pay him, has to indulge your pet.
  12. Nanny: Don’t believe that taking care of kids is considered dirty work? Many parents love taking care of their children, even when they’re sick, messy and need a diaper changing. For those who don’t, nannies are a godsend. Live-in nannies prepare breakfast, take the kids to school, doctors appointments, play dates, and anywhere else they can think of to keep them entertained and out of the parents’ way.
  13. Bill Collector: If someone owes you money but refuses to pay up, it’s time to call the bill collector. Don’t bother yourself with making empty threats or following the perp down a dark alley at night (if you’re really creepy). A bill collector will take care of the messy business of getting you paid so you don’t have to.
  14. Interior Decorator: The wallpaper’s peeling, your carpet is stained, and all you can think about is redoing every bathroom, bedroom and sitting room in the house. Redecorating is an overwhelming job that often takes several months. Stop agonizing over which variation of sage green you want for the dining room, and let the interior decorator handle everything from pillows to candlesticks. When it’s all finished, you may not even recognize the place as your own home.
  15. Real Estate Broker: Moving to a new city can be exciting, but finding a place to live is usually excruciatingly difficult. It’s hard to pick the best neighborhoods, school districts and apartments if you don’t have the time or money to fly back and forth looking at properties. Using the services of an experienced real estate broker will also save you from haggling over prices and fighting for leases in more competitive markets.
  16. The Intern: This poor guy or girl is hardly a professional and often isn’t even paid, but the intern schleps around a lot of dirty work for a lot of people. Even if you work in a smaller office, chances are there’s an intern somewhere near you. Props to you if you can snag the unlucky student before anyone else can. That way, you’ll win his or her loyalty and can delegate your least favorite tasks like licking stamps, sending faxes and fetching coffee.
  17. Gardener: The gardener is a fancy term for anyone you pay to rake your leaves, mow the lawn or plant a few flowers. Thoughts of "the gardener" typically include either the elderly, incoherent British man or a hot young stud a la Desperate Housewives, but the sulky teen across the street will do. Throw him a pair of gardening gloves and go watch football.
  18. Private Investigator: If you suspect a cheating spouse or a drug abusing teenager is lurking away from the house at night, don’t jump in the car and follow them to their secret rendezvous: you’ll surely get caught. Instead, hire a private investigator to chase after them and obtain solid proof of their dodgy behavior.
  19. Wet nurse: If you’d rather not breast feed your infant but know that breast milk has more nutritional benefits than formula, consider asking a wet nurse to feed your baby. The price? In Los Angeles, wet nurses can charge around $1,000 a week.
  20. Excuse Yourself: While you can’t pay someone to go to the doctor for you, you can make it look like you went. Paying $25 to an Oklahoma company will get you a fake doctor’s excuse that is passable in many workplaces.

Stop complaining about all of your day-to-day chores and start outsourcing. These 20 professionals can help you with virtually everything, from planning a party, cooking your meals, gathering evidence against wayward family members, and even nursing your baby so you’ll have more time to work on your tan or catch up on your reading.

How to: ‘Fire’ Your Bad Clients, Make More Money and Restore Your Sanity

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 2:37pm by Site Administrator

Clients are the bread and butter of any business. Without them, your business simply wouldn’t exist. So it can be hard for many business owners to think about sending clients away, especially those just starting out. But it’s inevitable that you’ll have a client that taxes both your resources and your personal sanity to the point where it becomes necessary to let them go. Don’t worry, you’re not crazy to send business away. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business is to cut a client loose. It’s not always easy, but it will leave you with more time to concentrate on clients that are easier to deal with and more profitable.

Types of Bad Clients

Bad clients come in many flavors, but these are some of the most common offenders. If you’ve got one of these on your client list, consider showing them the door.

  • The Complainer: Don’t expect to ever do anything right for this type of client. Even if you deliver under budget and sooner than expected, they will still be disappointed for a reason they just can’t seem to communicate to you.
  • The Something for Nothing: These types of clients ignore the old adage and try to get as much out of you as they can for as little as possible. Often, they’ll get your initial estimate and expect the cost not to increase when they increase the size or duration of the project or keep adding on "little" things.
  • The Time Waster: Expect your time to mean little to these kinds of clients. They’ll be hard to get in meetings and when you finally get ahold of them, they won’t listen to what you’re saying. They’ll run you around with changes, pointless meetings, and time wasted waiting, and then complain how much they’re paying you.
  • The Aggressor: This type of client is the hardest to work with and the scariest to get rid of. They are often verbally abusive and threaten to sue for the slightest reason. Be especially careful when unloading these as they have particularly short fuses.
  • The Know-It-All: The know-it-all is sure that he or she knows how to do your job just as well as you do because they have a basic familiarity with the programs you use or read a book on the subject. What they don’t realize is that your experience and expert knowledge are really what they’re paying for. Nonetheless, they’ll question your every move and drive you crazy.
  • The Boundary Crosser: This type of client will ask you for your home phone numbers "for emergencies" and then call you on weekends and after hours just to check in. This kind of client taxes your personal life heavily.

How to Fire Them

Whether you have a client that fits one of these profiles or an entirely different breed altogether, when the time comes to part ways, do you know how you’ll go about doing it? Here are some tips on making the process as painless as possible.

  • Do it in writing. This will help to prevent misunderstandings and raised emotions. It will also give you a written record of your interactions with the client if you should need it to back you up later.
  • Make sure you get paid prior to terminating your relationship. You’re asking for trouble by firing a client who still hasn’t paid you, even though sometimes this may be the reason that you are firing them. As illegal and unprofessional as it may be, a jilted client may withhold payment for your services as retribution for letting them go.
  • Fulfill any remaining contractual obligations to your clients if it is at all possible or you may find yourself subject to the consequences of breaking that contract. If this is the case, you might want to bring in a lawyer to tell you your best options. Remember, you want to do the work you’ve promised to do, as your reputation is still at stake.
  • When letting clients go, be honest but not hostile or offensive. If you can’t think of any way to put your reasons for parting ways nicely, then tell them your business is changing directions or that you just don’t think you can complete their project in the manner or timeframe they hoped.
  • Don’t just leave your clients high and dry after you’ve let them go. They may not have treated you with respect, but that doesn’t mean you should return the favor. Recommend another business, preferably a competitor, to take the project instead.
  • If nothing else seems to work, jack up your prices. Either they’ll part ways with you themselves or the pain of working for them will be lessened by your increased paycheck.

While it might be difficult both mentally and financially to fire a client, in the long run you’ll be doing your business and yourself a favor. You shouldn’t let go of every client that is difficult, but if you’re hitting the brink with a client, it’s time to make a change. In reality, many clients that take up hours of your time are costing you more than they’re bringing in. By cutting these clients loose, you’ll have more time and energy to concentrate on bringing in new, more profitable business, and that’s really what business is all about.

Freepreneuring: 5 Ways to Monetize Free Content

Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 10:00am by Site Administrator

With a shift towards free content online, no doubt many entrepreneurs are wondering how they can bootstrap their business if they are not going to draw any sales revenue. It’s a scary thought.

I don’t profess to have a solid answer, but I do have some ideas. Here are a few ways that you can still monetize your startup, even while offering free content or services.

  1. Advertising. TV and radio were always based on free content supported by advertising. At least until Cable/ pay per view and satellite radio came along. If you are offering only free content, consider monetizing your website with relevant ads – preferably those sold direct, on a CPM (Cost per Mille, e.g., 1000) basis of pageviews.
  2. Freemium. The freemium pricing model seem to be popular with web applications providers. General access is free, but the features that make the application efficient for the target end users cost a few dollars per month. One non-web app that has scored millions of users worldwide with this model is Skype, the desktop VoIP software.
  3. Subscriptions/ pay per view. Build a subscription site where premium content is only accessible by members. This does require that you have initial free content to draw potential subscribers, and for you to build your authority online, in your niche. If you’re successful, the numbers are worthwhile. For example, several marketing sites charge $197-299/year, and offer very high quality content that is essential to some professionals. While building up your membership list, you might supplement with advertising.
  4. Freedom to pay. This is what Radiohead did: pay what you like. Stupid or brilliant? You decide. I was unable to find the “buy” link on their official site and ended up downloading someone else’s low quality copy. Very low quality. But I’m a Radiohead fan and would have paid anyway. And of course, if I’m in a city where they’re going to plan, I’m even more likely to go see these guys. This monetization model is very similar to “shareware” for software.
  5. Buyout. if you have enough capital to build your brand/ presence online, and gain substantial eyeballs in the form of free content subscribers, selling to the highest bidder is a great option. For bootstrappers, this has to be preceded by one of the other forms above, else you’re not likely to have enough capital on hand to reach this stage.

With the exception of maybe freemium and freedom to pay, none of these are all that new. Which monetization model you choose (or a combo) depends on what it is you’re giving away – knowledge or services. Products, on the other hand, are hard to monetize with any of these models.

The Pros and Cons of Offering Free Content Online

Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 4:59am by Site Administrator

Popular bands such as Radiohead are now offering free (or pay-what-you-can) music online. Because of this, it’s been speculated that record labels are amongst the businesses facing extinction, along with newspaper publishers and possibly even desktop software producers.

The Internet has of course gone a long way in being a platform for delivery of such content. And with software that runs in a browser, what need will there be for paying for desktop software? Text and other media content also gets distributed from torrent sites, mostly illegally, in violation of copyright laws. So, whatever type of content you produce, you might be wondering whether you can go on charging for it.

Now, only the most immature of people believe that content producers as individuals (programmers, musicians, artists, writers, etc.) should not get compensated for their productivity. But when it comes to reality, not all content consumers behave this way. It’s easier to feel like you deserve to take free content from some big bad company that traditionally made millions/ billions – whether or not they’re now suffering financial losses.

So what do you do if you’re a startup without a financial history? Before I answer that, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of offering free content online, from the viewpoint of the producer.

Pros:

  1. Makes your target market happy, thanks to the freebies.
  2. Gets them talking, passing on the word – the makings of being viral content.
  3. Viral content can generate massive amounts of web traffic.
  4. Brings you to the attention of people that might not otherwise know you.

Cons:

  1. Brings you to the attention of people that’ll take your free content and never buy anything.
  2. The extra web traffic could boost your site hosting bill, and if you have no sales to show for it, you are not going to last long if you’re bootstrapping.
  3. Those who sample your free content might henceforth expect free content, all the time, and when it’s not free, might violate copyright and distribute it themselves (after they’ve purchased a single copy).
  4. Free content might alienate those without Internet access (about 3/4 of the world’s population), causing them to stop buying your “offline” product.

These may not be the only pros and cons, though they’re the ones that have been most prominent in my mind, as a retired programmer, an amateur composer, and a hopeful future filmmaker. The existence of free content on the Internet potentially impacts my livelihood.

Now, despite being a long-time Star Trek fan (but not a Trekkie), I don’t believe we’re going towards any sort of “free” model globally, for everything. At least not anytime soon. It’s far too complicated to get into that financial model across the world, even with about twelve years of the Internet’s (public) existence behind us. It simply goes against a thousand years or more of human thinking, with many unanswered questions to boot.

That means that for a quite a long time ahead of us, there will be people who will expect to pay for content, and even desire to pay for it. So back to my question: how do you deal with the current atmosphere of free content online, especially if you’re up against content producers who might be doing it for free?

This is a question I hope to explore here in the future.

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