Archive for Entrepreneurship – Page 2

How to sell on value instead of price

red-leaf-1In a recent blog post titled Be the Red Leaf, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing discusses the importance of defining, understanding, and communicating your unique value in order to stand out from the crowd. Being different is not being louder or having more ads. It’s about truly knowing what your product or service means to your potential customers. Jantsch listed three types of research every entrepreneur must do to uncover this customer-eye view of value: Read More→

The only reason for a small business blog

blog-viewer-statsRecently I had a conversation with a friend who has a small consultancy. Over the years we have had a number of thoughtful, helpful conversations and we tend to feed off each other’s futuristic tendencies. During the conversation I was encouraging more product development to capture his methodologies and to use as promotional tools.

The conversation turned to resource constraints — time, effort, money, etc. – and the need to spend some portion of time on futuristic efforts as well. He estimated that he needs to spend 5%-10% of his time on long-term futures thinking and planning. I think that’s realistic – 100-200 hours per year. I asked if he was spending an equal amount of time on product development. His answer was that he spent about 200 hours this year on developing new seminar materials, and 300-500 hours on his blog.

I was surprised by this, as the ratio seemed upside down to me. So I asked another question, “Do you track leads/sales generated from the blog?” His response, paraphrased, was that he only tracks it loosely, but it helps. Read More→

Two resources for direct mail marketing

postage-stampOne of the mistakes that many new internet marketers make is forgetting that the internet is just one, and often not the most effective, channel for reaching customers. Good ol’ direct mail – yes, the USPS snail mail – is still a very viable and effective channel to reach customers and prospects that may not live on the internet. The challenge is that many of us don’t have an easy way of using Direct Mail, and we don’t have time to research all the available options.

Here are two resources you can use to simplify and automate your direct mail communications: Read More→

Three Big Lessons from the Info Products seminar

As I mentioned, this past weekend I attended Fred Gleeck’s Info Products seminar. Before it recedes too far into my memory I wanted to list out three of the biggest lessons that I think apply to traditional business owners. These are what I call Aha! moments – moments when a misconception or prejudice falls away. Read More→

Fred Gleeck’s Info Products Seminar

I just got back from beautiful Saddle Brook, NJ where I attended Fred Gleeck’s Info Products seminar. Two days packed with very informative, and very helpful, presentations by some down-to-earth marketers and experts. Hype level was very low, and quality was gratifyingly high.

When you spend as much time studying internet marketing as I do you start to get really burned out on the hype and BS. It’s refreshing to hear real people talk about actual businesses and how they’re using legitimate marketing techniques to grow them. Read More→

The truth about internet marketing

NO_iconThe internet is awash with get-rich-quick schemes, scams, and outrageous claims about making money. Almost all of it untrue in one way or another. We sometimes think this is a phenomena limited to the internet. But it’s much the same as advertising was at the turn of the last century, when outrageous claims filled the pages of newspapers. The internet is just the latest incarnation.

We are now in the second generation of internet advertising and if one thing has become clear, it is that internet marketing works. This was not clear in the first generation, where billions of dollars were squandered in attempts at selling dollar bills for 95¢ and other poorly thought out schemes. The lack of testing and fundamental misunderstanding of trying to do image advertising in the first-generation led to the great bubble and burst of 2000. Today we are seeing much smarter, much better strategies put to use by large and small companies alike. Read More→

This may explain some of my outsourcing troubles

outsourcing

Although this woman speaks much better English than anyone I dealt with.

How To Experience Abject Failure

I know when I’m beat. I know how to cut my losses and get out. There’s a lot to be said for perseverance, but even more for not throwing good money after bad. What am I talking about? My outsourcing attempts with GetFriday.com. My God, what a disaster.

After 2 1/2 months I had exactly one – that’s 1 – single success with GetFriday. Every other task I assigned was a miserable failure. Even after getting a replacement PA who was, supposedly, experienced in web search and basic web skills I could not get even marginally relevant results when I asked for search data on specific topics.

Worse, when it became clear to me that this wasn’t going to work out it took nearly an act of Congress to get them to cancel my account. The entire affair was a disaster.

What I learned is simple – if this is the best the Eur-Asian nations can offer then we are in no danger of being overrun by a low-wage workforce. They demonstrated a lack of understanding, competence, response, and adaptability that was hard to comprehend.

I went so far as to start running my task descriptions by two of my colleagues to try and ensure I was being both clear and reasonable in my requests. The results I got were still stunningly inept.

In fairness, most of my colleagues asked the very basic question, “Well, what did you expect?” I don’t know, maybe something a little above abject incompetence? How about someone with enough self awareness to recognize when they did not understand a task and ask for clarification until they did?

If you read my experience with BellSouth tech support from 2006 you’ll see my GetFriday experience is neither my first encounter with such incompetence, nor is it any real surprise. I suspect the cultural and language barriers between a third-world workforce and US-based expectations are just too great to overcome. Or maybe it is something else. I do not know.

What I do know is that from now on I will stick with North American (and possibly European) sources for anything I want done. Given my experiences I do not think there is any non-repetitive task requiring foresight, intuition, or judgment that can be effectively outsourced to a third-world workforce. It may well be that if you can 100% script an activity, and spend enough time to get the workforce to actually read the script, and have enough patience for them to practice and fail repeatedly until they get it right, that you might eventually have some success.

But as a small business my tasks are not repetitive. At least not now. And they do require thinking – which entails all those things mentioned above. The third-world is simply not the place to get these things done.

Outsourcing The Big Tasks

It’s been a while since I updated my outsourcing efforts. I’ve been head-down in trying to get my major task — bookkeeping and accounting — under control. I have been trying to find the right solution for this for over five (5) years.

I am, apparently, unique in my requirements. I just fired my second accountant for failure to help me do what I need. But I can’t imagine that I am alone in what I want. I have a small service business. I am a consultant. I travel extensively. I am a sole operator. I have no employees. I need, and have needed, someone to help me setup a bookkeeping and record keeping system that I can understand, that meets all the requirements of the government for taxes, and for which I can outsource the day-to-day tasks of data entry, filing, etc.

Because I focus on my clients I do a very poor job of keeping my own paperwork in order. Oh, I invoice everything right on schedule. After all, I don’t get paid unless I do. And my client and project records are first-rate – that’s what I get paid to do. But taking time to do my own data entry, organization, filing, etc on anything like a regular basis just never seems to be a priority until there is a crisis. So I repeatedly end up at the end of the year with boxes and piles and stacks of stuff all over the place. And I know, I know, I am not alone in this.

So why is there apparently no one who offers this kind of service? How in the world do all the freelancers and free agents survive? Do they just do like me and spend two months a year under incredible stress trying to get it all together and spend the other 10 months dreading the process? Maybe. But I am done with that.

Previously, my VA helped me locate a very nice young lady with a nearby Staffing Solutions business. Christi has turned out to be a very good find. She took on the first part of my organization project and did a good job. We are now moving to the second phase – getting an accounting system established. For that I have gone through a rather strenuous research and screening process to locate an accountant who specializes in doing what I need.

For this I found the people at Intuit to be invaluable. I started with an online chat with a sales rep there, who gave my name to one of their sales advisors. Kelly turned out to be great. She helped me understand my options, the limitations of each, and what I needed to be looking for. She also made herself available to answer any additional questions and volunteered to help my (former) accountant setup my new system using QuickBooks Online Edition.

When that didn’t work out she helped me locate several more that were certified QuickBooks Advisors. That’s when I began my interview and screening process. I found two that were very helpful and knowledgeable. Both took the time to explain what they do, how they do it, and  talk to me about my particular needs and the limitations therein. This past week I selected a provider to get started. He is former consultant who worked much as I do now, so he understands (I hope) my requirements better than my previous providers.

This next Friday we will meet – me, Christi, and the accountant – to go over the setup and processes for getting all the data in and keeping everything up to date. Of course, I still have to get all the back data entered, and that will be a challenge. But Christi is going to tackle that as soon as we’re ready. This feels like progress.

I am also on my second Virtual Assistant. As mentioned previously, I’m using GetFriday – an India-based service that provides virtual assistant services. My first VA simply did not have the skills – either technically or language – to meet my needs. GetFriday was good about getting me a replacement as soon as I asked. I spoke with Venkat on the phone  prior to his assignment to make sure I was comfortable with his English and we are  working through some early tasks to see how it goes.

Working with a VA is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. It is a challenge for someone like me who has done everything alone for so many years. Finding the right tasks, communicating them clearly, doling them out in the right amount, etc, are all things I’m having to learn.

It’s also different in that my project work is conducted with a team of highly-skilled specialists and we all work to a common methodology. That means we all know what the other is doing, how it’s done, etc. That’s just not the case when you start using a VA. The type of tasks, and the level to which they can be done, are different. I want my VA to do all those sorts of routine, mundane, non-client tasks that must be done, but which I have neither the time nor inclination to do.

This might be keeping up with my personal calendar, sending reminders to me about friend/family things, or doing preliminary research on new car models for my daughter. It could be all kinds of stuff. I’m still learning.

The 4-Hour Work Week

4_2dhourworkweekGot a new book over the holidays – “The 4-hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris. One of my consulting colleagues recommended it a few weeks ago as being a good source for tips and ideas for some of the areas I’ve been investigating as a sideline the past few years. I love the book. I read most of it on a 2-hour flight from Atlanta to San Antonio, so it’s clearly a fast read. But it’s also a practical book, containing specific and usable ideas and recommendations in the areas of personal automation, personal outsourcing, product development, and removing yourself as a bottleneck.

This is what I call a “connector” or gap-filling book. I think you have to be at a certain point in your thinking on these areas in order for it to resonate with you. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit thinking about and poking around the edges of this stuff and made very little progress. I’ve read numerous books on time management and internet marketing and product development and PPC advertising and such. I’ve conducted a few of my own experiments. I’ve tried to find assistants and sources for doing tasks that are necessary but burdensome and low priority for me. But it just never worked like I wanted. There was never a serviceable “big picture” I could latch onto and I never got that mental “click” that happens when a concept gels in your mind and you can begin to make it your own. I don’t know why this is so hard in some things and so easy in others, but I’ve learned to keep striving for that “click” and I know it when I feel it.

“4-hour Workweek” was a constant stream of little connections and examples that fit together to form a proper big picture, such that things which previously seemed isolated and disconnected are now linked in an overall vision. This is important for me as I have no energy for pursuing small things, no matter their potential, when I can’t see a clear contribution to a the bigger goal.

I don’t have any interest in copying Ferris’ global vagabond lifestyle. But his approach to creating a low-pressure, low-risk, low-involvement business structure is compelling – especially if you have already been struggling to do many of the things he discusses. If you haven’t, Ferris’ claims may seem like just so much additional BS in a world already filled with it. But I don’t think they are. My goal for 2008 is to implement as many of Ferris’ strategies as possible, starting with the identification and outsourcing of my “boat-anchor” tasks and moving up to higher-level functions such as product design, marketing, etc. I will outsource as much of this as possible, and catalog my progress and failures here. It will be nice to have a theme for blog entries again.