Monday, September 22, 2008

Strategy for marketing companies to manipulate social bookmarking sites like Digg

It is a simple concept actually. Company “A” knows that there is a positive online newspaper article about them and they have also paid several blogers to write positive reviews about them or their product. Now they want people to actually see the articles. They pay a marketing company to get exposure.

The marketing company hires people to submit and vote for their client’s stories on social bookmarking sites, like Digg. People are willing to surf the net for pennies a site, there are people who will submit and vote for articles and blogs for money. It only takes 50 or so votes to make an article popular on Digg, so it is quite possible to manipulate the system to get articles popular. If you have a 100 people not connected in anyway submitting and voting on articles that they don’t have any connection to (i.e. don’t work for the company) then it would be hard to catch the manipulation.

The way it would work is that the marketing company would bulk email a list of clients stories URL’s a couple of times during the day. Each time an “employee” gets a list they start submitting the articles to Digg. If it has already been submitted they Digg it and move on to the next URL. Once a person has Dugg the list they email the marketing company that it has been completed. All the marketing company has to do is look at the persons recent Digg activity and they have proof the person did so. The “employee” could be paid 5 cents per Digg or Vote, 10 cents per story they submit and a $5.00 bonus for every article they submitted that goes popular.

It may not seem to be a lot, but if a person submits and votes for 50 stories in one day they would make at lest $2.50 for just voting. If they submitted 10 of the stores they would make at lest $3.00. Not much but if the 10 stories all became popular they would have made $53.00 just for a little bit of work. There are people who have the time and could use the money, even $2.50 with the possibility of $250.00 if they submitted all 50 stories and they became popular.

As people would be trying to be the first one to submit the story the order of submission and voting should be random again making it harder to catch. Also it you had a 1000 people willing to vote for money and you only gave each list to a 100 of them it would again make it harder to track or catch. This system would also motivate people to make stories popular, as they get a bonus out of it. This would be very cheep marketing. The cost to have a 100 people vote and make popular would be $10.05. So lets say the marketing company charges $25.00 per article, that would still be very cheep marketing for almost any company considering that when a story becomes popular on Digg it can receive 1000’s if not in the 10,000’s or more hits. This would be a winning situation for both company “A”, the marketing company and the people being paid to vote. Not so fare to anyone else though.

Please note that this is just a theory. I do not know of any one doing this, I just think that it is possible and would make people money. I used Digg as an example because it is one of the largest ones out there, but it could be done on any social bookmarking site. Would it be right, no but I think it would be an inexpensive marketing strategy that would appeal to many.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Running an online retail store is harder then it looks

At first when you look at it it seems easy enough. But when you get right down to it there is a lot of work involved. When you get started you have to decide between building a site, renting a site or shopping cart by the month. Both require some time and work to find out what is best for you in the short term and long term. Once you have you decided and things are set up the real work starts.

Unless you have a limited product line there is going to be a lot of work put into getting product into your shopping cart. It is not just a matter of slapping a picture on and the products name and price. No each product is really a mini add and should be treated as such. What information you have in the description and title are what is going to be used by search engines to find your product. Then the description that shows up under your link is what people are going to use to decide to look at your product. The competition starts way before people see your product. You are competing with millions for each view. Please note that was view not buy. Just because you get someone to view your product does not mean they are going to buy from you.

The idea is to market your product online with a description and key words that will attract the people interested in your product. There is no point in using key words or descriptions that will bring lots of people to your site, but only a few of them are people interested in your product. You want to focus on your target market and attract them to your website or online store hoping that once they are there they will buy something. These means you have to think about what you put into the description and title of your products. What key words will your target market be using to find the product? Are they in your description or title? Once it come up in a search will your description stand out from all the others? Will it attract your target market to your site?

So now you put some time into reaching your target market and they click onto your product, what will get them to buy? There are a million and one other web site’s selling the same or similar items, why should they buy from you? What are they going to see first your product or home page? If they are searching for a product your link should open to the product. So how you have your shopping cart set up is going to give people their first impression of your company. How it looks is going to influence people to buy or not buy. Other things that will influence people to buy or not buy are your prices for the product, product image or picture, shipping costs, shipping options, return policies, where you are located, overall appearance of site; feed back from other customers, your home page, about us page and any other information you provide. How much information you provide or don’t provide will help people decide if they want to do business with you and not the other million sites.

At all points of contact with potential customers you need to be marketing your company, store and product. This is from the fist search people use to find you, to how easy it is to use the check out to buy and pay for your product and how the product was shipped. Even how the product was packaged can influence a repeat buy or not. Once you have a customer you need to do everything you can to keep them. Word of mouth is still the best marketing tool out there. Once you have a customer keep them happy and hope they tell everyone about you. But first you have to get that customer, and that is not always easy to do no matter how great your product, prices and company are. It is not just a matter of putting your product out and having it available to buy. You have to put a lot of time and some times money into marketing your product, store and company even after you start making sales. The marketing never ends because there are new online stores showing up and you have to compete with them and any local stores that can and will sell to your customers. In other words the work never ends if you want to keep brining in customers and making sales.

So if you are thinking about opening up an online store because it is easy money, think again. You only get out of it what you put into it. If you plan to put product out and sit back and wait for the sales to come in, save your money and find something else to do. There is no easy money to be found on the Internet anymore, it is a highly competitive market that is becoming more competitive everyday.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Your trade show booth is as important if not more so then your product

If you are a whole seller you already understand how important your trade show displays are. They are what sell your company to the buyers. Having an excellent presentation of your product increase orders, just the same way as having a good commercial will sell a product. Your booth is your ad or commercial and you must use it to sell your product. Retailers are looking for something that will sell in their stores, but you have to get them into your booth before they will buy.

Wholesale and trade shows are nothing but extreme competition these days. It truly is a world market now. At some of the larger shows you can have companies from all over the world all with Trade Show Display Booths designed to capture buyers attention. It is no longer enough that you have great product, prices and reputation you need to have a Trade Show Display Booth that will bring in new customers as well as old customers. Your booth has to sell not only your product line but must also brand your company image.

A booth is no longer a table and walls with product and info packs and cardboard displays, now they are mini stores and show rooms. They have to be very professional looking and give a company image that buyers will be using to judge your company even before they look at your product. It can be more important to invest into your booth then invest in any other type of marketing as this is going to be what the people who buy will see when they are looking to buy. It will have more impact at the time then a flyer or catalogue later on. It is as simple as this, you are not going to make sales to the end customer and create a demand for your product if you cannot get your product into stores and your not going to make the sales to the retailers if you don’t have the right display booth.

Friday, July 18, 2008

You always need updated anti-virus programs on your computer.

These days you cannot have a computer online and not have some type of anti-virus program. If you don’t have a firewall and a million and one safety features your system is going to get hit with something nasty. Even with a top of the line security system your computer can still be hit by something designed specifically to get past the anti-virus program. That is why the best ones update all time.

We got hit with one that was designed to get past Norton, it turns out we were the first to notice. We contacted Norton and they spent 4 hours on our computer, found and copied the virus and then used what they had to send out an update to block it and prevent others from getting hit. Then they told us it was going to take months of work to analyze the coding so they could come up with a way to destroy it. We were very lucky that we have our anti-virus program set up to automaticly run a diagnostic everyday at the same time. We got hit a few minutes before Norton ran its diagnostics. With in those few minutes it hit and damaged a lot of our core data. I am so glad we back up everything. It is scary how much time people put in to nasty programs designed to damage or destroy your data or even computer hard drive, or to steal your information so that they can drain your bank account and wreck havoc in other areas of your life.

Not every one understands that you have to upgrade your security every year and that you need have whatever system you are using to update as often as possible. I know people who thought that they only had to buy the program once and never update it. Yes they lost their computer and had no idea why. Also don’t go with a system just because it is what you know. Computer technology changes fast and what is available to protect your computer has changed as well. Take the time to check out the top 10 anti-virus programs before you buy any anti-virus program.

We just made a change to Bitdefender from Norton and are very happy. However both of these can be found as #1 on any number of top ten anti-virus lists. You need to take the time to figure out what anti-virus program will be best for your budget.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How to get fired or promoted

Depending on whom you work for this will either get you fired or promoted:

1) Tell offensive jokes that target every race, religion, age, sex and more. Then get deeply offended when someone else tells one.

2) Take a two-hour lunch everyday. If possible eat at your desk playing video games, listening to loud music (Christmas carols if you have them), and talk on the speaker phone with a very personal call.

3) Show up late, have your two-hour lunch, go home.

4) Show up in anything but what the dress code is. Shorts and a tee shirt or club wear goes nice. If you do wear something that is in the dress code make sure it is all mismatched, rumpled and only half done up or on. Cross dressing will probably get you promoted before being fired because companies don’t want the legal headache of a possible discrimination lawsuit.

5) Spend your day talking on the phone with your friends, family and significant other. Use the speakerphone when ever possible. Have at least one very private personal conversation a day. Glair at everyone who looks like they are listening and say things like “What is your problem, don’t you have your own life you have to listen in on mine.” Then talk even louder.

6) Pass your work onto the next person only half done, put notes on it about how you would like it done. If they pass it back to you criticize them for the terrible job they did on it as loudly as you can.

7) Repeatedly go back to your boss asking, “so how do I do this again?” Each time you go into his or her office talk louder, look more confused, hold your paper work upside down or bring in the wrong paper work.

8) Ask the boss or the boss’s significant other, or children out for a date.

9) Spend your day making paper airplanes and seeing who’s cubical they will land in.

10) Randomly hold soapbox derby’s using office chairs. Try to get others involved. If no one will, have a race around the office to try and beat your last score. Make sure you do the celebratory lap throwing water on everyone and screaming I won at the top of your lungs.

11) Complain about everyone, and everything they are doing and then do what you just complained about.

12) Show up everyday in some outrageous costume and then refuse to dress up for Halloween.

13) Call in sick every Friday, and then hung over Monday.

14) Call in once a week with a sick kid, this works best if you don’t have kids.

15) Bring your kids to work and then try and get everyone else to watch him or her so you can do your work. If someone does watch them don’t do any work.

16) Bring your pet in. Set it up in someone else’s cubical. Place the litter box (if there is one) outside your supervisor’s office door. Spend your day talking to your pet and taking it for walks. This works great with real pets but to take it to the next level bring in a pet rock, talk to it and take it for walks, dress it up in different outfits and ask people for their opinion on each one.

17) Make your cubical a home away from home. Bring in a bar fridge, hot plate, microwave, couch or bunk bed, clothing rack, TV and a stereo. Start inviting people over, spend the night, and have a party.

18) Fill your garbage can and recycle box with empty alcohol bottles. See if you can balance empty beer cans around the top of your cubical, then build a wall to make an office. If this does not work, bring in a water gun or elastic shooter and tell everyone you are doing target practice for when you bring in your BB gun. Start shooting at the beer cans with the water gun or elastic shooter yelling "Incoming".

19) Start running a book making business from your cubical (taking money bets), run an online betting site on your work computer, have poker games in the lunch room all day. Invite VIP’s to play at them.

20) Paint your cubical. This works great if you use different colors for the outside and inside. Offer to paint everyone’s cubicles.

21) If all else fails throw all your paper work in the air screaming “I can’t take this anymore, you are all to normal!” and start taking off your clothing as you run around in a big circle crying. (When in doubt flip out)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gas prices are changing how we do business

The price of gas is changing how people buy. The higher the price of gas, the more expensive everything else is. This is reducing people’s disposable income dramatically. People are less likely to give into impulse buys; they want to feel they are getting great value for their money. They are less likely to buy something just because it is there and it catches their attention.

People are buying less luxury items, such as jewelry and purchasing necessities instead. Buying over the Internet is also down as the cost of shipping is up. Why buy something that has to be shipped when you can find a similar product at a local shopping mall and don’t have to pay for shipping. Just because an item seems to be a deal online does not mean it is once you include shipping and handling charges.

So how we market product has to change. You have to concentrate on the perceived value of the item, or that it is cheaper to buy from you then the local store even with shipping charges. Some places are even covering the cost of shipping. With fewer dollars available the competition for those dollars is becoming even more intense. I am quite sure that some small businesses and some big ones are not going to be able to survive for very long unless things change.

So the real question is how do we stay in business with a reduction in sales? For us it will be by cutting costs wherever we can. We are offering several different shipping options so people can get the one that fits their budget. We are reducing the amount of packaging that goes with products to reduce shipping cost. We are not purchasing any manufactured products for our inventory. Other then what we already had to put onto the website we are only adding our own handcrafted pieces to the website inventory. That is about all we can do. We don’t have staff to let go, other then ourselves. But until we make more sales we are not paying ourselves. It is going to be hard and our ability to stay in business will depend on how long this goes on for. We will be fine for at least a year. Hopefully things will be better by then.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I would like to win big at poker or the lottery someday

Every time I buy a lottery ticket, play a game of Bingo or Poker I like to think I can win big. So far that has not happened. I still like the occasional game of chance though. It is the idea that maybe this time I will win.

For me the lottery ticket is that you cannot win if you don’t have a ticket, and it only takes one. That does not mean I buy a ticket for every draw, but I usually buy a couple a month on the off chance I might get the big one.

Bingo was always a social outing. Yes I have won the big one a few times over the years, but that was many years ago. To be honest it was more that it was a night out with my friends with the chance of winning something. I have played some online bingo and it is fun and I can chat without leaving my home.

Poker I like to think of as a game of skill and chance. I love playing it at online casinos, and yes the 10-cent game is more thrilling then a free roll any day. The money does makes a difference, even just a dime, but I like to see how far I can get and if I can place. I keep to the 10-cent tournaments because I know I could spend a lot if I did anything else. I only gamble what I am willing to loose, which is about 10 cents. One day I hope to play a game face to face, not just online.

I do admit that I actually like watching poker on T.V. and like to read up on the game. Poker just never seemed like something that would make a great spectator sport, or that people would want to read about it. Seems it is, On Line Casinos has a community area for individuals blogs about gambling, forum discussions and more. I actually enjoy the thrill of a good game even when I am not playing it. Today gambling is news on some sites like On line casino reports. They have interviews with the big players, event coverage and even tips on how to play better. I guess money is not just made at the table anymore, big winners are celebrities now and are being treated as such.

Here is one of the stories found on “On line casino reports”. They actually do relevant and interesting news reports on gambling. Who knew it could be news?

I have found that I am not into sports betting, I guess you have to be big into sports to get into it. Though that is not actually the case because I have met a few people who will bet on anything and everything.

I am more interested in a game of skill like poker or backgammon, though I have never bet on backgammon. I guess I am not much of a risk taker or gambler when it comes to real money. I still like to play though. I did spend sometime looking around at different casinos to find ones that had free games so I could learn and improve my game. Then I ended up playing free rolls, won some money and started playing for money. Now all I have to do is go to an online casino guild to find what promotions are on, what the payouts are and more. It makes it easer to find a game I can afford to play in at a time I can play.

I have to admit that I have a long way to go before I could ever try to make a living from playing poker. For me it is just a fun game with as little or as lot of risk as I want to take. I don’t like to take a big risk, so I guess it will always be the penny tables and 10-cent tournaments for me. Unless I win the lottery, that is.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How you display your product helps create your company's image

How you display your product shows how much pride you have in it. It also develops the image of your company. It does not matter if you are providing information, giving away samples or actually selling, peoples first impressions go a long way to developing an brand image for your product and your company. You always want to make the best impression possible.

I love selling at festivals, craft shows and even the odd trade show. One of the things I learned very quickly is that the look of your table or booth is just as important as your product. If you do not look professional then people are not going to want to buy from you, or even take your information. Image is everything when it comes to sales. How people perceive your booth in the first few seconds is what they use to decide if they are going to come over to it or walk around it. So you know your staff and the booth need to look tidy, clean and professional to get people to come over. At the same time you need to stand out from all the other booths.

How you display your product will have an impact on how your booth looks, and if people will come over to look. Over the years I have developed a weakness for displays. I am always looking for the newest table top display. There are always better ones coming out. I use them to change and improve my booths look every year, and yet I have to try and make it so that people recognize that it is us and come over to see what new products we have this year. Having table covers with our name and logo on the front of the table makes it easy for people quickly identify that it is us. It also gives us a nice professional look to attract new customers. It really does make a difference in our sales when we take the time to maintain a professional but unique look to our booth.

I can also say as a buyer at a wholesale show how a trade show exhibits looks does determine if I check out their product or not. It also influences me in desiding to buy from someone. If they don’t take care of the booth, have a professional looking display of their products, and looks different from the 100 other booths all selling the same or similar products I am less likely to buy from them. If they don’t take the time to take care of their booth what quality of product can I expect from them? On the other hand if the booth is easy to identify, professional, and looks good I am more likely to trust their quality. It is like shopping at the dollar store where everything is crammed together or a fine jewellery store where everything is professionally displayed with each piece is placed with care and thought to its value.

If you don’t care how your booth looks or how your product is displayed then why should anyone care about your company or product. I had learn the hard way that if you don’t spend the money to make sure your booth looks good it does not matter what you are selling or giving away, you will not make sales or contacts. Over the years the quality and look of my booth has improved as I was able to afford better displays, table cloths and even a better looking booth. The more I invested into the image of my company the better I did.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What you need to know before contracting a web designer or developer

We learned a lot over the last few years about the do’s and don’t when dealing with a web designer. We had some real problems. I would like to keep others from having the same or similar problems. The first thing you need to understand is that there is a big difference between a web designer and a web developer. A web designer will make pages for a web site and are wonderful if you have an information site. Web developers create the coding and programs that web designers use to create the web sites. Web design is the icing on the cake; the web developer made the cake the icing goes on.

If you are doing anything that is more then just an information site I recommend going with a web developer or learn to do it yourself. If you have just an information site that does not require the integration of other programs like a shopping cart then a web designer is the right person to go to. However, if you have the time and inclination you can also pick up a great book called “Beginning HTML with CSS and XHTML modern guide and reference” by David Schultz and Craig Cook. My husband used it to create our new web site.

There are some wonderful web developers who can integrate existing programs and software into the pages they create for you. The main purpose of a web designer is to design the look of your website and that the programs being used on your site function well together. The more complex the site is the more knowledge and experience will be needed. You need to understand what you want and need your web site to do before you design how it looks.

This means that you need to find out if pre-existing programs will work for you and will work together with any other programs you want. If they do then great find a web designer, buy the programs and let the designer make your site look and work how you want it to. If there needs to be a lot of tinkering with the programs you are interested to make them work the way you want and together then you need to make sure your web designer can do the work, or find a web developer who can make them work or create a new program that will do what you want. Do not assume that a designer can do it; their job is to design the look of the site, not create programs.

That is the biggest thing most people do not know, a designer creates the look, a developer creates the programs and can create the look you want. We made that mistake thinking that a designer was a developer. We needed a developer as our site was more complex then what our designer could do and he used up our service contract with our shopping cart program provider to get them to do the installations of their programs. We know this from the from our shopping cart provider after we forced our designer to transfer our shopping cart licence to us. We now have to buy a new service contract if we need their help with the shopping cart program. This would not have been the case if we had hired a web developer. Know what you need for your website and hire the right person for the job.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Does negative marketing work?

I understand marketing and advertising. I know that Realtors leave their signs up, with a sold sign, after they sell a house because it reinforces that they will sell your home or find you one. It is a good way to get clients. Toy companies will create a cartoon with the sole purpose to develop a market for a toy line. It is the best advertising possible for a toy line. Stores always place the candies or other impulse products right by the cash register so you see them as you wait in line. This all makes sense; it all reaches a specific market.

Suddenly I am seeing more negative ads. The ones that tell you, "don’t drink and drive", "don’t smoke it kills you" and "put on a life jacket when boating." I have to wonder how well these work. It is easy to understand positive marketing and advertising because it is targeted to our needs, wants, desires and impulses. How effective is advertising at keeping us from doing something?

I completely understand and support why the Canadian Government is using negative ads and restrictions to reduce cigarette sales. I even use negative conditioning with my kids, young as they are. I tell them cigarettes are yucky; they make your teeth yellow and your breath stinky. I hope it has an impact on them when they are older. I have watched all the changes forced onto the tobacco industry, both to the companies that manufacture and sell cigarettes.

First it was the regulations on what they could show in ads, they could not be targeted to the young anymore. Then they could not advertise or sponsor events and activates any longer. You had to show id to buy cigarettes and can be charged for buying for or selling cigarettes to minors. Soon the negative advertising started with comments and pictures on the actual cigarette packaging. This did not seem to work very well. Though I did like the TV ad that showed teens how smoking changes their appearance, makes their skin shallow and their teeth stained, that it ages them. That one seemed to work by targeting vanity not health. There came kids against smoking ads, famous people against smoking and now people who are dieing of lung cancer or have lost people to lung cancer ads.

The newest negative marketing strategy came as a shock. Behind the counter at a corner store appeared to be at first glance empty shelves where cigarettes had been. Nope it was metal doors hiding the cigarettes. You can still buy them, but you cannot look at them. This is to try and reduce impulse buying I guess, or the out of sight, out of mind idea. It is going to be interesting to see how it works. It is becoming expensive to sell cigarettes with all these restrictions and fines. I wonder if it is still worth it to stores to sell them. I think that eventually it will not be cost effective and they will stop. If stores stop caring them then the Government will have effectively reduced sales of tobacco products with out actually banning it. But is it going to work?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When hiring someone to create a web site do your homework

In the last two years we have dealt with three different web site designers, and learned a lot what not to do, and how to do things on our own. We are upset about the time and money we lost dealing with the different people but at the same time we are grateful things happened the way they did. We now have a wonderful website that James designed and created on his own. He decided that instead of paying more and more money to get people to work on our site that he would just learn how to do it. Now he has 100% control of the website and what is on it. I was forced to learn how to market a website with both hands tied behind my back. Now that we have a properly functioning website I can use the tools and skills I had to use before, but ever so much more effectively. We learned and changed because of our experiences, but I don't want anyone else to have to go through what we did.

With anything you need to do your research. Put the time into finding the right person or company that fits your budget and creative ideas. Never forget that it is your website and needs to reflect who you are or your companies image. Don't just go with the first person or company that fits your budget. You are hiring someone to do a job for you. Treat this as you would if you were hiring on staff, contact references and find out what other people have to say. Don't just look at what is posted on the persons website as reviews, actually call them and talk to past clients. You’re the boss, not the other way around.

Look on the Internet for other sources of information. If there is something negative about a designer or company it is probably out on the net, it is just a matter of finding it. See how many websites have links back to the designer. Try to find a couple that indicate that they were created or designed by this person or company that is not being used as a reference. Contact them and find out their opinion. Sure it is going to take time and work, but it can save you a lot of time, money and effort on your part.

When you have decided on a designer make sure you get a clear contract that stipulates exactly what you want the website to do and look, when you need the site up and that everything needs to be purchased in your name or your companies name so that you own the website, not the designer. You may also wish to include the term functional website in the contract, small thing that can make a big difference. This helps both of you to know what is expected and when. This way if something was not done you can refer to the contract and have the work done. If you find that the web site is not doing something you want it to do now the web designer can refer to the contract to show you it was not included in it and you can either re-negotiate the contract or do another one just for that part.

It is important to make sure that you keep on top of the project, not just assume things are being done when and how you want. Our first designer took 3 months and no website. He had all sorts of reasons for why there was nothing to see, but we knew there was something wrong. Our dead line came and went and still no website. We put some pressure on and finally was told our website was done, take a look. Then came the sucker punch, before he would give us our site we had to pay 3 times what we agreedapone. Why because it took him longer then expected and he wanted to be paid by the hour, not the job. So after three months we had no website, but a nice lawyer.

The second designer agreed to do the work in a timely manner and within our budget. He came back to us after three weeks and let us know that a retail website of our site was beyond his experience. He was fine doing information sites. We accepted that and appreciated his honesty, but were also glad we had a contract.

Always make sure that you change your passwords once the work is done and if you need more work you create temporary passwords for the designer. Also make sure hosting companies, licences and software are all purchased in your name, or companies name or signed over to you once the work is done. The third designer was hired because he could get the site up and running in two weeks and we were 4 months behind schedule. We did our research, and got a very clear contract. He did give us a site with in the two weeks that appeared to be functional. We had some problems and concerns but that was explained away as issues or restrictions caused by the shopping cart. There were things that did not do what we wanted and some of his explanations did not make sense to me, but he would not talk to me and explained everything away to James as a problem with the shopping cart that could not be fixed. Eventually the only solution he would suggest was to buy a new shopping cart and pay him to do all the work again.

Every couple weeks something would go wrong and it was $50.00 to fix it, or there was an upgrade that would make things easer with the shopping cart but again $50.00 for the designer to install it. I kept asking for contact information for our hosting company and shopping cart company. He would not release the information, so every time something went wrong or we had a question we had to go through him, and yes it cost money. We started to question things, had some independent web designers look over the coding only to be told that there was malicious coding causing the problems, not our shopping cart. We tried to contact the hosting company and shopping cart company only to find everything was purchased in his name and there was no record of us purchasing anything. We demanded the license be transferred to us, why had it not been transferred when the job was done. We had to threaten legal action to get the licence in our name. At that point he severed business ties with us.

What we found, he had charged us for installations and used up our service points with the shopping cart company to do a lot of the work, so we actually paid for it twice. There was what is called malicious coding causing our website to not function properly, our products would not index on the Internet and we were limited to the smallest pictures for our product. The shopping cart company discovered this, and they insisted that it was deliberate coding designed to prevent the shopping cart from working properly. This could not have been done by accident. Then Canada Post previewed the non-functional shipping calculator and discovered something called a siphoning code. It was designed to invoice a customer extra for shipping on their invoice, show the correct shipping on our copy and then deposited the difference into his paypall account. I guess he did not expect us to test it when we got it, we just thought there was a problem with the Canada post calculator and did not use it. There were quite a few other coding issues discovered and we were looking at legal action when suddenly our hosting company shut us down and we lost the site.

It seems he had kept the hosting company contract in his name so he cancelled it without warning and we lost the entire site. Or at least he thought we did. What he did not know is that James was already in the process of designing a new site. It was a work in process still and we did not have the shopping cart up and going but it was there. It took 4 days to have the shopping cart installed and be a working site. We also had backed up the old site the day before. All we lost was some time, though we have to re-enter our entire product manfully due to an incompatibility between the old shopping cart and the new one.

Over all we learned a lot, are able to do things ourselves now and have a much better website that is just going to keep on improving and growing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I am so tired of people trying to rip me off

I run a small business and struggle like everyone else. I don’t have money to burn; I invest what I do have into my business and family. I expect value for my hard earned cash. So why do people constantly think that just because I have a company and I am my own boss that I have money to spend on what they think I need. I take the time to find out what I actually need and that is what I want, but consistently I run into people who think they can pull a fast one and make some money off of me and not give me what I actually need.

At first I thought that it was because I was buying things for my company so they assumed that I just did not care what I spent. Then I realized that people are trying to get the most cash they can out of everyone. I think that in some ways pushing or up grading a sale is what a good sales person does. They try to get the best sale they can. But at the same time I am more likely to go back to the person who gave me what I asked for and did not push me into buying more then I needed. I think that person has treated me with respect and I will buy from them again. The person who tried to push the sale will just annoy me and I am not likely to buy from them or the company they work for again.

The result of people actually ripping me off is that over the years I have learned how to build my own computer and web site. I am not going to have to trust what someone says I need because now I know what I need and how to build it myself. I really should thank the people who burned me because I had to learn to fix what they did wrong. I am in a much better position now because I don’t have to pay someone for a service anymore. I can do it myself. In the long run they lost out because if they had been honest and provided me with what I paid for they would still be making money off of me, now I just don’t need them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Be smart when starting and running your own business

Over the years we have built up our business the hard way, mostly with luck, hard work and unexpected opportunities. The biggest thing we have realized is that you have to be constantly learning and changing. Just because something works or sells today does not mean it will tomorrow. It is a lot harder running your own business then being told what to do by a boss.

If you are your own boss then you need to be smart about it. Put the time into market and product research. Don’t assume that because you can sell something at place A that you can sell the same thing the same way at place B. We started selling to a very large hobby group, with a very focused market.

I started buying and selling used items to a medieval historical re-enactment hobby group. I was doing what everyone else was doing and that was working well for me. I made some money and had fun. Then I started talking to everyone, found out what they liked and were searching for; Market research. I made sure that is what I brought in; Meet the needs of the target market. I ended up having people giving me shopping lists and they would pick up the items from me at the next event we were both at. This was great, I was making money and people where getting what they wanted. I soon discovered that I could not always find what people were looking for as used items. I saved my money and then started buying from wholesalers and designing my own line of jewelry; Created a new way to better meet the target markets needs.

Suddenly it was a whole new ball game. I was the only local merchant selling new product; Created a market. My sales when out the roof, I had cornered the market. I re-invested the money into more stock and displays; Meeting ever changing needs and building a brand image. Sales increased and I started selling all over Ontario; Increasing my target market. After about two years other people started to copy me and eventually I started to loose some sales as the market was small; Recognized a change in the market. I expanded to a larger market, selling at craft fairs and then moved to large festivals all over Ontario; Changing my target market.

Again I had an unusual product as everything had a medieval theme to it. This helped make us stand out from other vendors; Creating an image branding my company. However we had to learn how to sell at festivals, it was much different from selling at smaller group events. Both my husband and I had to be there, selling and creating; Expanding the business to meet customers needs in a timely manner. Before I had an established market and because we had consistent contact with our customers we could take orders and almost guaranty sales at the next event. Suddenly we had to earn peoples willingness to part with their money to buy from us with out the established relationship I had with my other customers. We had to develop an entire different way to market our product and ourselves.

We were very fortunate in that we only sold at juried festivals, this limiting the number of competition and pretty much guaranteeing that no one else was selling exactly the same thing as us. We also had several different product lines and prices, that all fit the theme we were able to meet the demands of several different target markets at the same time. As one of the only theme vendors we stood out enough that people brought their friends just to look at our both, and usually buy something.

It was strange because what sold at one festival was not what sold at the next. We had to be able to quickly identify how to market our product and our company at each festival. This was usually accomplished with our displays and even what product we displayed front and center. It was learning experience every festival. Eventually we developed a brand image as we did the same festivals every year. Again though people saw what was working for us and suddenly we have competition starting to sell at the festivals. So we are no longer as unique and different as we used to be. Time to make some changes.

Just over a year and a half ago we opened a theme online store,, yet again expanding our target market. We have spent the time learning about selling online. It is a completely different beast then selling retail to impulse buyers or established customers. There is no end to the competition so you don’t market your product you have to market your site and build a brand image. It is a lot harder then it sounds unless you have a lot of cash to throw around.

We have taken what we have learned have made some drastic changes in our website this month. We changed the look, redesigned how our site works, whom we market to and how we market to them. We are even changing our product from mainly manufactured product and some of our handcrafted pieces to a 50/50 split. We will slowly move away from pieces we buy from a wholesaler to what we make. However the key is flexibility to change with market demands.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I went for a internet marketing conference, not a sales meeting

Today I spent almost three hours of what I consider my valuable time at what was supposed to be a conference on Internet marketing for retail websites. What I was actually at was a presentation focused on telling me I could make lots of money on the internet, but I need to use this companies store front that is included in their hosting package. Come on people, I could not believe what I was put through. The worst part was that if I wanted to get the actual course for marketing it was included in the package as part of a full day of how to be successful using their store front and hosting company, but I had to pay the one time fee of $25.00 right then and there (which is $199.00 any other time, don’t you know!)

They tried to pressure me by telling me that I must not being doing everything I need to do in marketing my web store Medieval Magic, because if I were I would be rolling in money and would not be there. Um, actually I was expecting to have spent my time learning about other methods of online marketing and had hoped to find some new ways or better ways. I am always looking for a way to positively market our product and web site. Only a fool thinks that they know everything and does not understand that there are new programs and methods developed all the time. I am not a fool and did not like being treated as one.

What I did find shocking is the number of people signing up and handing their $25 for their new website. They don’t even have an idea of what they want to sell or who their market is, but they have a web site. Next week they are going to this full day course on how to be successful with their stores. These are set up to hold them by the hand and show them what to do step by step, including giving them a list of drop shippers and some one-on-one time with someone who is going to help them do it all.

The basic idea is that they are getting an out of the box web site, a list of drop shippers and instructions on how to market the web site. As this wonderful company pointed out, if these people are not making money they will not keep their website up and they will not get their $24.99 a month. They want people to succeed. They also want people to have multiple web sites as diverse income streams. All good ideas, except I feel it has more to do with the $24.99 they get each month for each site you have. The more sites you have reaching out to different markets, or using different branding strategies the more money they make off of you.

I may or may not be going as a guest with one of the people who signed up. It depends on them right now. For me it is just to make sure they don’t get pulled into the, "oh by the way to be successful you need to add these add-on’s to the original shopping cart." The company has already indicated that you need $5,000 of add-ons but they are selling them for $3,000 but they are willing to give you a deal on the day of your training. The sad part is that up until I heard about the add-ons I was actually comparing their price and service favorably to other companies I did research on when we were looking for a new shopping cart. I don’t like any company that said here is a web site and hosting fee, oh but your going to need to buy all this other stuff to succeed. I don’t think they are going to have much to add to my online marketing strategies, or at least not ones I am willing to use. It will be interesting to see what they have to say if I end up going, but I would not be upset if I don’t go.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Medieval Magic web site dealing with unexpected issues with hosting company

We were contacted by EWD Hosting to find out if we were going to renew our contract with them in June. James replied that we had already found another hosting company and would be transferring our web site to them. Within an hour our web site was gone and our account with EWD was closed, a month and a half early. So our slow building of the web site on our new hosting company has just gone into overdrive. Thank God James had just done a back up of our website so we have some of the data and pages. Gone is our record of sales. That was to be down loaded just before we switch over so it would be right up to date. Nice shock. Good thing we printed off the invoices. Now we have to do a year’s worth of accounting manually. Nice of them to let us know that they were going to do this. Oh wait; they did not let us know that they were going to close down our account a month and a half early just because we were not going to renew our contract in June.

The best part is that because our web designer did the contract in his name if there is any refund (and there should be) it goes to him, not us. We suddenly have no web site, and no shopping cart. It is a good thing that James has been building our new website for the last month and we at least have a home page up and some information pages. Suddenly we have to try and get our new shopping cart installed on a Friday night. I don’t know if we are going to be able to have it installed before Monday. I don’t know how long before we work out any bugs and can transfer the inventory over. We had expected to have some time to make sure the new site was complete before the other one was shut down. Now we are scrambling around trying to get every thing done fast. We are going to have to work out any bugs live. It is going to be interesting to see how things go and how people like the changes we have made. I just hope that we get the shopping cart up and running sooner then later and can download the inventory data successfully. Then all we have to do is put the pictures in and clean it up a bit. Otherwise we are going to be spending a lot of time redoing our inventory.

I just hope that people like the changes enough to forgive the time it is taking to change it up. I don’t like being thrown to the wolves like this by a hosting company that we had paid for our space till June. I am so glad that we started looking into this before Christmas and then actually started working on it in January. Otherwise we would have been completely hung out to dry and SOL with out any type of web site. We would have just vanished for a few weeks. Something told James that he needed to have what he needed for the new website months before our contract with EWD was up. He was in the process of getting the new shopping cart installed next week when this happened. So we are doing much better then we would have if he had not done all this work.

For those who love checking out what we have, please have patients and know that we are trying to get the shopping cart up as fast as possible.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Identity theft is everywhere, even my home

My husband received a phone call a few days ago from Canadian Tire. They had received an application for a Canadian Tire card that just did not seem right. The lady who was to process it decided to contact the person whose name was on the application. She took the time to do some research and found our phone number, which was not the same one on the application, and called us.

Yes, someone filled out an application for a Canadian Tire card in my husband’s name. I have no idea what caused the lady at Canadian Tire stop and investigate this one application but I am glad that she did. You see my husband was not the person who did this, though he had applied about 4 months ago. It seems someone went into our mail box and took out the "I am sorry but we cannot give you a Canadian Tire card right now but you can reapply in 3 months" letter with the form to reapply. Someone did so, but used their own address and phone number. We have no idea who’s SIN # they used, but it was not my husbands.

We are so happy that the lady at Canadian Tire felt there was something off with this application and put the time into finding our phone number and contacting us. I know that we would have found out eventually that someone was using my husband’s name, but it much better to find out before they use it. The good thing is that this lady also reported this to the police. The person can be charged with attempted fraud against Canadian Tire. I don’t know what kind of punishment that will get them but at least something will be done, even if it is just a slap on the wrist.

We are going to be keeping an eye on both of our credit records for the next little while. I am sure if they tried at Canadian Tire, they have tried using his name and maybe mine for other things. We are not sure if they actually got our name from our mail, though that seems to be the most likely place. They could have just picked a name out of the phone book and picked up an application at Canadian Tire.

I guess it is a good thing that our credit is to the max right now. I doubt that anyone is going to give more credit under our names at this point in time. That may change as we lower are debt load, but we are going to continue to be very careful. If someone has tried it once, they will try again. I never thought I would be happy about being in debt, but I guess there is good in all things if you look hard enough. I am thinking about looking into the Identity Theft Shield provided by Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., or Lifelock, or a similar service provided one of the many companies that seem to be popping up everyday. Protecting people’s identity is turning into a booming business.

Here is one tip that might save you some money and time: Do not sign your credit cards, put please request photo ID this means that before someone can use your card they must provide photo ID showing that they are the same person that the card is made out to. The first thing you are going to be surprised about is how few people even notice that you have that and not your signature. They will just ring it through. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy knowing anyone can use your card and the cashers don’t even notice. Second this will not stop someone from getting fake photo ID made in your name, but it will slow him or her down, add another step to the process. Anything that makes it harder on a thief is a good idea. It may give you enough time to realize your card is gone and report it before they use it. I am not so fond of the automated card swipes showing up all over the place, now there is nothing to stop someone from clearing out your account. There is no one checking to make sure it is his or her card. I think this is just going to make it easer for thieves, and harder for us to prove we did not buy something.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How safe is your identity?

I have been seeing the commercials, TV shows: fiction, documentary and talk shows about identity theft and how it is destroying people. Identity theft is a growing industry both the prevention and repair as well as the actual fraud. People are making money at both ends of this. You have to pay to keep yourself safe or to fix it or you end up with someone else’s debt in your name and your bank account cleaned out. There are books and websites telling you how to prevent it, and how to steal someone’s identity. This is a big issue, the fear of having your children or your own identity taken. So now you have to ask yourself how safe is your identity?

You may not think you need to worry. You are not rich so why would anyone target you? It is not a crime done to the rich but to the average person. It is more often a crime of opportunity. The people doing this don’t care that you only have $1000.00 or $300.00 a month to live off, they want whatever money they can get and will take it out of your bank and use your credit to get more. So if an opportunity comes up that they can get your information they will use it. What information about you is already out there, and where can someone find it?

Your mail and garbage is one of the more common ways to get your information. If you have an open mailbox or garbage area I can guarantee someone is going to look into it to see what he or she can get. What do you receive in the mail that has your important information on it? Have you ever not received a bank statement, or a credit card bill? Did it get lost, or did someone take it? What do you put into your garbage? A credit card application you did not want, a pay stub you don’t need anymore, old bank statements, credit card slips, a paid invoice or bill? All of this can be used to get information that can be used to steal your identity. What can you do to protect yourself?

Get a mailbox with a lock. Buy a shredder and use it on anything with your children or your own information on it. Contact your bank and find out if you can look at your statement on line or get it from the bank. Don’t have them mail it to you anymore. Contact your credit card companies and get them to stop sending out applications. You don’t need more credit right now, and if you do you will contact them about it. There are just a lot of simple things we need to do to try and prevent someone getting access to our information.

There is a lot of work involved. It seems that you have to contact your credit card companies every 9 months to request a credit freeze. Credit reports cost money and you should look at them every 6 months, for both you and your children. To make sure your not being taken you have to keep on your toes and know what is in your name. I am thinking that it is easer to let a company like lifelock deal with all the calling and paper work. I don’t have to make it easy at my end by having a mailbox with a lock and shred my paperwork, but I am the type that would forget to re-freeze my credit every 9 months. I figure I will control what I can and try to prevent damage from things I don’t control.

I am not sure if lifelock is here in Canada, but I am sure that there are other companies like it. Identity theft is such a growing crime that helping to prevent it is a great business to be in right now. Lots of companies are going to start showing up with the soul purpose to be the one you hire to keep your identity yours. If I had the know-how and contacts it would be a business I would start. I never thought I would support paying for protection. It is paying person A to keep person B from stealing from you. What a strange twist.

PS: I have just been informed of Identity Theft Shield provided by Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. for Canadians. Information about this can be found at

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Let NAFTA die. We don’t want it.

Someone who lives in the US stated that they should just close the boarder and not do business with Canada anymore because we are not grateful for all they do for us Canadians. Here is what I think.

First I must say that I am not Anti-American, I am Anti-American Government; which currently does not reflect American people. I love being a Canadian, with our Canadian health care that keeps us alive even when we are poor. I disagree with policies that let US people die from lack of medical care and fresh water. Could Katrina make it any clearer? And we tried to help and were told that our boats and planes would be fired upon because we were prepared to save people and feed them. It would have been days not weeks, thank you; people did not have to suffer or die. After that we were to think the US Government was operating with all its marbles? I do not think so.

NAFTA has been one sided for a long time. Canadians did not like it when the agreement was made in the first place. I remember how angry the soft wood lumber industry was then and is now. What I find funny is that for some reason we would sell our wood to the US for a low price only to buy it back as a finished product at a much higher price. That never made sense. I remember growing up being told that we had to sell to the US because we needed the money to buy their products, and the US was our only market. So we are now quite capable of keeping our wood, oil, energy and water for ourselves and make our own stuff with it thanks to some big changes both in attitude and economy. Our Government reflects that change.

We take pride in being Canadian and have come to realize that having the US threaten us with closing the boarder is bad for the US, not Canada. What did the US Government think we would do, curl up and die, cave in and give them what ever they wanted? No we started talking with other countries. So what does the US government do, start making it difficult to cross from Canada to the US. I sell world wide, even to the US and only in the US has an item be held up for three weeks at the boarder, an item that should have taken no more then a few days to be delivered.

Do you think Canadians like having the US be responsible for protecting us? No, that is one of the worst deals Canadian government ever made and we are happy that the contract will soon be over. It is Canadian land, not US. We have increased our military, supplies and equipment so that we can provide sufficient protection for our own country when it ends in next year. We were not interested in extending that contract.

Fishing in our water, no thank you. Keep giving away our natural resources for next to nothing and say thanks for the stipend you have been giving us, when other countries are more then will to pay market price, not a special price where we loose out. Canada in the 60’s became way to dependent on the US for everything, and the US became to used to dictating to us as a country. We as Canadians did not like this, so we don’t dislike the American people, just the attitude that we should be thankful for what ever the US is willing to give us.

I know that Canadians have realized who has the real power now. We do, and we will have more if we can get out of NAFTA. US as a country needs us far more then we need them. Wake up, Canadians are making good business decisions and no longer feel we have to sell to the US. Why should we when we get treated better in our dealings with other countries that don’t think they are doing us a favor?

I am Canadian and I am proud of the stand and decisions my Government is taking with the US government.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Debt consolidation sooner then latter is better

Most families are in debt. Credit cards make it so easy to spend more then you have and then you get stuck with interest rates that eat up all your payments so you don’t ever get ahead. All your doing is paying off the interest and a very small part of the principle. Then you find that you have to pay so much on the card that you have to use the card to live. You can never get out from under the debt load with out winning the lottery or getting some help. The credit card system is designed to get the most money out of you as possible. To clear up your debt with them you need to deal with people who understand how to best work within the system to get you out of debt.

There are a lot of debt consolidation companies out there now because there is such a big need. The good thing is that there are local debt consolidation places that you can walk in and deal with someone face to face or you can go with online debt consolidation where you can deal with it in your own home, when the time is right for you. Both have pros and cons all dependent on what you are most comfortable with. With walk in places you will need to make appointments with in their business hours. With using an online debt consolidation company you can deal with your debt when the time is right for you. Which is really good because what usually happens is there is a moment that you just cannot deal with being in debt anymore and you want to fix it right then and there. With doing it over the Internet you can get the process started right away. No waiting to get an appointment and then start the process.

The other problem is that people tend to be embarrassed about being in debt and will just keep putting off dealing with it for as long as they can. This is bad because it just gets worse, not better. The longer you don’t deal with it the more money you end up owing, and the more stress you are under. Dealing with it online takes out part of the embarrassment because you are not dealing with someone face to face. For some people it does make it easer. What is really important is to recognize that you are in over your head and get help. Find the right debt consolidation company for you and use them to get out from under the debt. The sooner you do so the better off you are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Translation services are still needed in this day and age

Over the years how people do business in the world has changed. We now can deal with anyone any place in the world. Some times people forget that English is not the only language people do business in. When you deal with people all over the world eventually you are going to need the services of a translator no matter what language you use. It used to be that you had to have someone on staff to do the translations for you or you had to send your documents to someone and wait for them to translate them and then send them back to you. Often if you had more then one language to be translated you would have to deal with different translators. So if you needed an Arabic translation, a Farsi translation (Persian) and a Hindi translation they would all have to go to different people. This was very time consuming. If someone is waiting for an order, confirmation or wants to do business with us we don’t want to be waiting a long time to get back to them. It is important to respond as soon as possible.

At one point we were looking at importing some handcrafted belly dance belts as well as some of the costumes from a company in India to sell at festivals. The costs were quite reasonable and the company we were looking at had an English website. It was still kind of daunting for us to think about importing. When you are dealing with another country and a different language you want to make sure that there is no confusions about anything. As we live in Canada we have experience with language issues and confusion just by going to a different province. When you deal internationally you never know whom you will end up dealing with and what their written language is. It is always best to be prepared. These days you can find companies that will translate multiple languages for you, and even better you can send your items by email, fax or as a computer file. This saves a lot of time. The sooner you can get a translation, the sooner you can make a decision, fill an order, make a sale, or fix a problem. As everyone knows, time is money, even when dealing with people across the world. Business is business no matter what language it is done in.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How to go from entrepreneur to successful manager

So you are an entrepreneur with a successful small business, you have grown enough that you need to hire people. You have to take time from "doing" to interviewing, hiring, training, motivating, supervising, disciplining, and firing. You have to depend on others to keep your business successful. You have to let go, trust others to do as good a job as you do. On top of that you are not going to have as high a profit margin as staff are expensive and increase your cost in many ways. You need to find quality, skilled people that are reliable because poor staff can damage your business. Now your role changes from doing what you love and do yourself to being a manager dealing with paperwork, payroll, scheduling, and employee issues. How do you become a successful manager and keep your business going?

To be a successful manager you need to know what the needs of your company and employees are and how to balance them. Keeping your staff happy is very important to keep up productivity and reduces turnaround. Most research has shown that employees who feel valued work harder, take less time off and are loyal to their employer where those that do not feel valued slack off, take more time off and are often looking for a new job. Taking the time to hear what your staff needs can be extremely beneficial to you, and your company. Your employees are the people doing the jobs, you never know what insights they have about their job that can improve the job or save money for the company. People are more willing to change or work harder or meet unusual dead lines when they feel a part of the company, not a clog in a big machine.

Being able to deal fairly and promptly with your staff and their concerns goes a long way towards the perception your staff has of you and their willingness to work with you. For example, if your employee has issues with scheduling and your able to help them out then they are more likely to put that little bit extra when the need is there. Treat people with respect, you hired them, if you did not respect them or their ability to do their job why did you hire them. If you no longer feel they can do the job, let them go with their dignity intact.

You also need to be consistent and clear in your expectations and instructions/directions to your staff. Train your people to do the job the way you want it done. Do not assume that they know to do it your way. Once they are trained trust them enough to let them do the job, but still be available for when they have questions, concerns or some thing unusual or unexpected happens.

At the same time you need to keep meeting the demands and needs of your customers. You cannot sacrifice the needs of the company to meet the needs of your staff. As important as it is to work well with your staff you have to be able to recognize that having a good relationship with your staff helps but is not all that being a manager is about. Getting work done is. You need to be able to fire people as well as work with them. Liking some one is not enough of a reason to keep someone if they are not doing their job.

Knowing what needs to be done and when is also very important. As is being organized and able to prioritize. You need to make sure that you keep on top of deadlines, make sure you have everything your staff needs to meet them as well as make sure your staff is doing what they need to do to meet them. If you are a good manager you will have staff you can trust to do the work, being a successful manager means keeping on top of it and keeping things on track.

To be successful you need to be well organized, able to prioritise and work well with people. You have to have an understanding of how to get the people working under you motivated and wanting to get the work done. It is a mix of talents and personality. Some times it is better to hire a good manager then doing it your self. If you are not as good at managing your people as you are at managing your business you could be doing more harm then good. Poor management can destroy a business as fast as poor employees.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Small business cash flow problems, credit cards solutions?

More business go under because of the discrepancy between the inflow and outflow of cash. What good is it if you have $1000’s in accounts receivable if you cannot pay your debts and daily operating costs today? This affects both small and large businesses, it is the way you handle the difference that counts.

If you have a cash flow problem you need to look at your payment terms and contracts. See what you can change. Can you do a % discount on the receivables if your customers pay in 15 days instead of 30 days? This can speed up the turn around from invoice to cash in hand. Also take a look at your budget, can you decrease the discrepancy by changing your budget. There are lots of ways to improve cash flow.

However, no matter how good your cash flow is you still have to deal with slow payers and no payers. This can have a large impact on your cash flow. Large projects can also place a strain on cash flow. So how do you supplement your cash inflow with out ending up with a crippling debt load?

Budgeting always plays a big part of business. You budget your expected returns and expenses but always try to leave a cushion of cash to off set the unexpected. Like having to go to court to get payment or having to write off a large account receivable, or actually getting an unexpected contract. When budgeting alone is not enough and you have to look out side for an influx of cash what do you do? Where do you turn to, what options are open to you? Well that depends on your existing debt load, how much you need and for how long.

Selling your accounts receivables is a good way to get ready cash with out going into more debt. The question is, will any one buy them and at what % on the dollar will they buy them. What good is selling off our receivables at a loss? It might help now but in the long term loses you money and throws off your cash flow and budget. Only use this when things are dire or you are selling off bad accounts you expect to have to fight for, or wait a long time for, or not receive payment.

A loan or mortgage lets you pay it off over a long period of time. This is good if you expect a long time between spending the money and getting a return on it. It is also good if you expect a long-term cash inflow from this investment of cash. Not so good a choice if this is for a short-term solution.

Short-term solutions, for when you expect a quick turnaround, are line of credit, over drafts and credit cards. If used properly these are great tools for day-to-day operations. Like when you have a cheque to be cashed on Monday but payroll is due on Friday. These options need to be used in the short term, when you can pay them off in days or weeks, not months or years. Real problems arise when people use these short-term solutions for long-term problems. These options usually have higher rates of interest then loans and mortgages can eat deeply into your profits if not paid quickly.

You need to know what your money needs are and find a financing solution that is best for each situation. All the planning, barrowing and such will not work if you don’t have a good understanding of your cash flow, develop a good budget and follow it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The value of human contact in branding and marketing

There is a lesson to be learned by examples set by some of the larger companies who have forgotten the value of human contact in branding and marketing. There is nothing like getting an automated system when you call a company verses getting a real person. I know of some companies that have lost a lot of customers, like me, this way. All you ever got was a machine you had to fight with it to get an answer or directed to the right department, then maybe you might get a real person. I am now dealing with a company that advertises that they have real people answering the phones. I know that a lot of companies have re-evaluated the cost savings of automated systems verses customer loss due to perceived poor customer service. Quit a few companies now advertise the fact that you reach real people when you call.

If you have a store and your customers spend more time looking for some one to help them then looking at products you have a problem. If the staff they find tells them it is not their department so they cannot help, you have a problem. Every thing people do or do not do when representing your company affects how people view your company. If some one gets poor service in a restaurant, they are not likely to go back. It’s the same in any area of business. Word of mouth is one of the strongest marketing tools out there; the people working for you have a direct influence on what is being said.

If you don’t have good people in contact with your customers you will not have a good relationship with those customers. This goes from the person who answers the phone, to taking orders, or resolving issues. If you are not going to take the time to help me I will take my business else where thank you. To day the customers control where they buy from, and if you don’t meet their needs and wants they will find some one else who will.

There are more companies out there succeeding because they know how important any and every contact with a customer or potential client is. People are willing to pay more when they get good service. People judge your company on how they perceive their treatment and the quality of your goods/product. I don’t care how good your product is, or what a great deal it is price wise if your employees treated me poorly.

The bottom line is customers want to feel valued. Having a person willing and able to help resolve problems effectively and efficiently makes some one feel more valued then having to fight with a phone system, or search on a web site for answers or dealing with an unhelpful person. Every person who works for a company represents that company when dealing with others, they are branding your company no matter how much marketing you do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Should you butter up your boss?

It seems like such a good idea at the time. Maybe if you butter up your boss they will remember that next performance review, job assignment or promotion. It cannot hurt to try, right. So how do you butter up your boss?

The whole point of butting up your boss is to get on their good side. You want to be well thought of by your boss and get some sort of benefit as a result. Are you doing this as a short cut, to bring positive attention to yourself, or deflect their attention from your work? Unfortunately how we do our job is not always what gets the promotion or raise.

There always seems to be some one who gets away with all sorts of things just because they are "friends" with the boss. As an extreme example, I remember one who would come in, sit at his desk and spend his shift on the phone with his friends and doing artwork. Some how he never had any problems keeping his job or meeting his quota. That was until the people above his supervisor noticed a change in staff productivity and retention. No one wanted to work when he did not, and some how he was reaching his quota but other people got fired for not reaching them. Lots of questions about what was going on. Turns out he was the supervisors boyfriend and they both got fired.

Now I would not recommend going to that extreme, but we all know having a friendly relationship with the boss can have its benefits. Another extreme example; at another job all of the long-term employees in the department were "friends" of the manager and supervisor. Some had started as school friends but all the long-term staff was a tight nit group who spent evenings and weekends hanging out with each other. If you did not have the time to hang out with the manager after work or go to their parties then you did not fit in and it showed in your job performance reviews. Several of the people would even bake and bring cookies or cake in to share with the department every week. The manager had a sweet tooth. You either conformed to fit in or lost your job or you found it so difficult to work with them you looked for other work. This resulted in the loss of quite a few skilled and educated employees and the retention of people who had on the job training but not the education.

In most places of employment things are not quite that bad but there is usually some one who goes out of their way to cultivate a "friendship" with their boss. They can be seen doing any number of things to get an in with the boss. Buttering up the boss with complements, gifts or finding ways to socialize outside of work. They always seem get the good assignments, or raise and some times the promotion.

Some people can argue that their work performance is what gets them the good assignments, raise or promotion and that buttering up the boss only gave them an edge. We know it works with some bosses, the question you need to ask before you try to butter up your boss is, will it work? And then figure out what will work with your boss without alienating your coworkers. Bringing in a batch of brownies for the whole department, not just the boss is a good way. In the long run though only you can see what will work with your boss, or if it will work at all. However, being friendly and helpful with your boss and co-workers should not hurt their opinion of you and may open up some opportunities for you.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to avoid sabotaging your career

There is nothing like the fear of success. So how do you avoid sabotaging your career? There are a lot of ways to sabotage a career. Don’t think that just because you have the job that’s it. You still have to keep the job, work with others and survive the politics. Being able to do the job, and doing it well is not enough.

There is nothing that destroys a career faster then alienating your co-workers. Trust me, management notices when some one does not fit in, or work well with others. No one likes some one who is disruptive to the harmony of the work place. If you don’t fit in will anyone recommend you for a better position, or more responsibility? You may even find yourself with out a job. Working as part of a team toward a common goal looks much better.

Take all jobs seriously. Doing poorly at one job can have a long-term affect. If you are looking for a job would you be able to use that job as a reference? Even if you'r boss gives you what looks like a make work job still do the work to the best of your abilities. If you don’t then how will that look, will they trust you with other jobs, more important ones if you slack off on this one.

Follow through. If you commit to doing some thing, do it, even if it is just picking up coffee. Other wise you are just full of empty promises and are not to be trusted. Not following through means you are not dependable or reliable.

Be truthful. Take responsibility for when you make a mistake. If you don’t know some thing then be honest about it and ask for help. Don’t hid it, dishonesty in any way will always come back to haunt you.

Be on time, both getting to work and completing your work. It is a sign of disrespect when you do not show up on time. Not showing up for work on time means you do not care about the job. Not getting your work done on time can be seen as you are unable to do your job.

Dress appropriately. Appearance does affect how people perceive you. If you dress like a slob, or like you don’t care it does not create a feeling of confidence in you or your abilities. If you don’t show that your respect yourself, why should others respect you?

Don’t make work your place to socialize or over share you life. There are times and places to make friends, and share what ever you want with them. Work is not that place. It is not professional for one; you are there to work. Being friends with your co-workers is fine, but do your socializing and chatting outside of work. Never say bad things about co-workers and keep your personal life private. You never know when you tell some one some thing if it can be used against you. It is office/work place politics, never give people ammunition.

Treat others with respect even if you don’t like them. You never know how you deal with some one is going affect how people see you. If you blow up at some one then you are a hothead, unstable and untrustworthy. If you keep your head, be polite, use your inside voice for what you are really thinking, it looks like you are diplomatic, a team player, and dependable.

Don’t take a job just because it is offered; make sure it fits your needs. There is nothing like a bad fit. If there are no growth options then how are you going to move your career up the next step? You are going to have to look out side of that company or be stuck in the same position. So you have to spend your time doing the job searching, find the right job, and establish yourself all over again.

Most of this is common sense. When you are stressed, or unhappy at work or with work it is easy to forget how this job can affect your long-term career. How what you do and say today can haunt you or help you. You never know when some one in your past can be part of your future, or how they can affect your career.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The pitfalls of telecommuting jobs

I work from my home, or I should say I have a home business. How much work that actually gets done depends on the day. There are a lot of pitfalls with telecommuting jobs and I fall into every one. The great plus about working at home is the flexibility. Unfortunately that is also the biggest pitfall out there. It is too flexible, you ether do nothing but work all the time or never get any work done. You’re never away from your work; it is always in your home waiting to be done. It is easy to get caught up in what you are doing and loose track of every thing else. Or you get every thing else done because you can always do your work later and nothing gets done. You want to sleep in, go ahead, you can just work latter. You can fit appointments in any time, but then you find your day is full of nothing but appointments.

Working from home can be very rewarding or the most frustrating experience ever, or both at the same time. To be able to work at home you have to be a self-motivator, police your self, be very organized and get the work done. There is no one to help you when you have problems; you have to rely on yourself. Sick days, what are those? People also expect you to be working all the time. So its 6 pm your at home so it is ok for me to call you about a job or to give you more work. What do you mean you have a life out side of work, other commitments? You work from home you should be available all the time.

People do not treat you with the same respect as they do people they see as having real jobs. You know, ones you have to leave the house for. It does not matter how successful you are or busy, you stay at home so you don’t have a real job. Friends or family call or drop in any time, they know you are going to be home. Do they respect the fact that you are working? No, you can make time for them. It is not like you have a real job where you have to go to work. If your kid is sick, you end up taking care of them at home. Why, well you were going to be home any way. How hard can it be to get your work done at the same time as taking care of your child? So what if you have a deadline or have to run around to get some things done. You work at home, so work around having to take care of your child.

For me I am lucky in that both my husband and I work on the business together. How well the business does is up to us. We help motivate each other, and help each other from falling into the pitfalls. It took some time because when we first started it was too easy to find the day gone and no work done, or we just worked 12 hrs non-stop. But we learned that we had to have an area that was just for work. It keeps our work life apart from our home life. Our commute may only be to the basement but it is still a commute. If I don’t make jewellery we don’t have any to sell. If we don’t put the items on our e-store we cannot sell it. If we don’t ship ASAP our customers are not happy and we lose sales. We control what we do and how we do it. We don’t have to answer to any one but our customers. We love what we do so the work gets done. That all said and done, I have to get back to work.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How promotional gifts ensure your company is remembered

Who does not have half a dozen or so company logo magnets stuck to your fridge? They work great as a promotional gift for the delivery food industry. Most people use them, so there they are right on the fridge, so you are usually hungry when you see them. Chances are if you are hungry and have the money your going to call them instead of going to the phone book and looking for some one else. This works for the delivery food industry because it reaches the target market, hungry people about to make or get food. It is also not very expensive with a long-term affect so it is cost effective. This promotional gift does not work for most other industries.

For a lot of retail places coupons can be seen as promotional gifts. They work to get people in, it can be seen as getting some thing for nothing, in this case money off or 2 for one. But people don’t associate coupons as a gift, and they only have a very short term affect. This also goes for food samples given in stores. You want some thing that is seen as a gift, and will have a long term affect so it is cost effective. Promotional gifts do not work if they are short term, consumable, expensive, not easily associated with your company, or not seen because it is not used, packed up or tossed.

There is a lot to think about when looking at promotional gifts for your company. One thing you have to remember is that it is part of branding your company. It needs to fit in with how you want to be seen. A cheep promotional gift is not going to work if you are going for a high-end image and an expensive one may not be cost affective. A nice quality key chain works for high-end car sales. People will use it, it reinforces positive feelings toward the dealer, this leads to positive word of mouth and repeat sales as well as having the customer using the dealership to service the car. As you already made the sale it is a cost affective promotional gift that ensures your company is remembered.

Gift certificates work in some retail situations. If you have a monthly contest then people come in to enter, so you get increased traffic. Increased traffic usually results in sales both in walk in retailers or on line ones. People will also check to see if they won or some one they know did, more traffic. The person who does win will use the gift certificate to buy some thing that will give them a positive association with your company. This also helps with word of mouth marketing. Every one loves to talk about winning, or getting some thing for free. This is a good way to get positive company branding.

However, you want some thing that any one seeing it thinks of your company. How do you find the right thing to use as a promotional gift? You need to take time, put the work into research and design. It is better to not give a promotional gift then spending money and time on one that does not work. Especially when putting a little bit of time and effort can give you one that does. You need to know whom your giving the promotional gift to, how they are going to use it or see it, and will it stand out from all the other promotional tools other companies use. Take a look at what other companies are successfully using, why it works for them, and what will give you the same results.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How to develop leadership skills

What is the best way to learn how to develop leadership skills? Well you can go find a book full of lists of skills and personality traits that make a good leader. In it you will find the same old list of skills and traits that are seen as being needed to be a leader. Or you could take the time to take a closer look at people who are actually in leadership positions. We all know that leadership is a combination of specific skills and personality. So lets find out what they really are.

When you look at some one you see as a leader what characteristics stand out? A leader may not know how to do a job or a project but they do know who can. A leader may not always be the smartest or the most charismatic person in the group, but they are the person taking action. You will notice that most leaders listen, voice their opinions and do. They take action and expect others to follow. They also tend to be organized and quick to grasp a situation and find solutions or the person who will. Not all leaders are well liked, but they are respected. People trust them to do what is expected. They show confidence in their abilities and a willingness to learn what they don’t have or know. Or at least listen to some one who does.

The skills you find these people to have may or may not be in those books about leadership skills. You will probably be surprised by what makes people in leadership positions stand out from those around them. No one is going to have the same mix of skills or personality traits. So know you have to figure out what is going to work for you?

What skills do you already have? What skills can you develop? You can see what things you need to work on and change with in your skill sets. Is there an opportunity for you to develop your skills at your work place? Don’t expect to be able to learn or change every thing over night and be a leader the next day. It is going to take hard work. Skills need to be practiced, a balance learned as you figure out what will and will not work for you and your personality.

So you see the skills, you may even have them all. Now you have to realistically look at your personality. What do you need to change or work on? How much do you have to change? Are the things you think you need to change in your personality just skill sets you need to learn? Things like positive assertiveness, anger management, communication, negotiation skills, or even time management. If you have to change a large part of who you are to be a leader your going to have to decide if it is worth it to you. If it is, start taking courses, classes, and seminars. You don’t need to try and do it on your own. See if you can take more responsibility on at work. Take the INITIATIVE, because that is what makes a real leader.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Making money on the Internet by writing a blog, truth or fiction?

People kept telling me that I could make money online, that there is contract work available for people who write blogs. I was quite sceptical about it; I could get paid to blog, right. I had to many of the get rich working from your home spam emails. I had one person telling me, on a forum, about how he was making so much money by writing web site reviews. I thought sure, and when are you going to ask me to sign up and give you all my information. Well strangely enough he never did. What he did was answer my questions honestly.

He had been writing a computer technical blog for years and one about software, coding and programming. The blogs built up a huge readership over the years. He had been approached about doing reviews for different companies, everything from the technical side to reviewing games, and programs. They would pay him to write about their product with a link back to their website. He started small and now gets paid any where from about $100 to $500 per article he is contracted to write. So of course everyone was asking were to sign up to do this. He explained that at this point he is usually contacted by the company directly to review their products or sites but that there are quit a few different companies out there that act as a middleman. They have bloggers register with them, and then will either offer them a job to write an article at a specific price or will let them bid on jobs and let the companies pick who they want to write the blog.

I was expecting him to tell us to all sign up to one company, as some companies will pay for everyone who registers under you. He actually told us to look on the Internet and find ones for ourselves. I liked that. He gave us the information we needed and then told us to do the work. I spent some time looking at some of the different sites that I could get paid to blog. I signed up for several to see how they worked. So far Smorty has offered me assignments that actually fits with my blogs. I have found Smorty easy to navigate and I don’t feel any pressure to take an assignment. I don’t think that I am going to make large amounts of money doing advertising blogs or website reviews. I do think that I can make a little money writing about things that interest me and I would probably have written an article anyway. Mind you I am only willing to write about things of interest to me no matter if someone wants to pay me or not.

I think that if you are already writing a blog then doing blog advertisements that fit with your blog then it is not a bad thing, as long as your writing the truth and just give your opinion on the site. If you are writing about some thing that is of interest to your readers, with a link to a site that has more information or might be useful then that is actually a good article, even if you were paid for it. However if you are thinking about starting a blog just to write blogs for money it is not going to work. People are not interested in reading ads about anything and everything, no matter how well written. Like every other business decision you have to do your research and don’t do something because someone told you that there was a lot of money to be made. The reality is that if you are writing blogs to make money you have to put time into it and the payout is not going to be the big bucks for a very long time, if ever.