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Friday, January 29, 2010

Great Ways to Tweak Your Blog (and Mine)

I read a great blog post yesterday on How to Build a More Beautiful Blog.  It contained some fantastic suggestions on how to make your blog look much nicer using free templates (and a little bit of basic html editing).  I've tried to figure some of this out for myself, but the posting makes it so simple I had to give it a try.  Here's what I did:

Added a new template

There are a handful of links listed, and this is the one I chose.

Edited some of the html
The post I read suggested to start learning html here, but I went on my own.  Trial and error is more fun!

The template I chose has a heading for a contact link.  Having no idea how to set that up I once again relied on the wisdom of the blogoshpere.  This blog post walked me through creating a contact page.  It even has a video, which I paused several times as I mimicked the instructions.

I'm shocked at how simple all of this was.  An hour or so of playing around and my blog looks much more professional.  At least I think so...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Working Without Micromanagement

A friend of mine recently invited me to a get together she was having with some colleagues.  It sounded like a great opportunity to meet some new and interesting people, but when she told me it was on Friday afternoon I passed: Friday is a work day.  "I thought you worked from home on Fridays" she said.  She was right, I do work from home most Fridays (one of the perks of my job).  But that isn't the same as having Fridays off.  I've had other people make the same mistake.  They assume if I'm not being watched I'm not working.

People who are self employment can work whenever they choose.  So how do they get any work done without a boss breathing down their neck making sure they are working?  Self employed people quickly learn that if they aren't working, they aren't getting paid.  How can I work from home once a week when my boss isn't monitoring my actions?  True, my boss wouldn't notice immediately if I slacked off when working from home.  But he would notice if my job weren't getting done.  In fact, my boss's boss, and her boss, would notice if I dropped the ball.  And then I wouldn't be getting paid either.  I guess I'll have to meet up with my friend's group a little late.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Choosing a Strategy for Start-up Businesses

One mistake that many businesses make is thinking they can be everything to all consumers.  That is a dangerous assumption and makes it difficult to market the company's products and services.  According to Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter there are three generic strategies that companies should use to identify and achieve competitive advantages:
  • Cost Leadership Strategy- Used when a company offers lower prices than competitors (Sam's Club provides commodity items in bulk for cheaper prices)
  • Differentiation Strategy- Used if a company creates goods and services that are unique (iPhone has features that other smart phones lack, like multi-touch)
  • Focus (Niche) Strategy- Used when a company targets very specific market segments (Curves gym for women)
Which strategy makes the most sense for start-ups?   Cost leadership is usually not where a fledgling company will find its advantage.  Competitors have been around longer will typically have better economies of scale and be prepared to fight a price war.  Differentiation can be a great way to charge a premium price for products and services, but it can be difficult for start-ups to reach prospective customers on a large scale.  This is why I love targeting Niche markets.  Rather than being a small fish in a big pond a new company can quickly become the big fish in a small pond.  Or better yet, the big fish in several small ponds.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    How to Find Your First Three Paying Clients

    I follow a handful of blogs regularly.  One that I've followed for the longest time is, which as the name suggests is a personal finance blog.  I've found several helpful hints there that I use in my own finances (like tracking spending with Mint).  Ramit Sethi, the blog's author, is in the process of launching a program designed to help people earn money on the side by freelancing.  Unlike most other advice I've read on the subject Ramit's advice is actually helpful.  In yesterday's post he points out how much time people waste in developing great marketing strategies for companies that don't yet exist.  His solution: go get your first 3 paying clients using the following 2 step process:

    • Who is your exact client, and where do they go to look for a solution to their problems? Do they read magazines? Go to the grocery store? Ask their priest?
    • Where are people already looking for solutions to problems, and how can you make a match between them and your service?

    • Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. 
    • By getting in your clients’ heads, you can write emails that engage and lead directly to paid work

    I highly recommend reading the full blog post.

    Want to earn more money? How to find your first 3 paying clients

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Funding a Small Business in a Slow Economy

    One of the biggest challenges for any small business is funding.  What is the best way to infuse your business with the cash it needs?  Current economic conditions make it difficult for anyone to get a loan, but small businesses take a larger hit than their larger counterparts.  An article on tells how banks have cut an additional $1 billion in loans available to small businesses

    Bank Loans- There are fewer loans available to small businesses, but this can still be a viable option.

    Venture Capital- Venture capitalists are taking full advantage of banking's reluctance to fund small businesses.

    Government Loans and Grants- The government has several loans and grants specifically for small businesses.

    Each of these can be a good way to get the cash your small business needs, and if you are able to secure funding you can find some great deals while interest rates are still low.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Are Other Corporations as Brave as Google?

    Since launching it's search engine in China in 2006 Google has received criticism for caving to the Chinese government's demands that they censor certain information (like Tienanmen Square).  I'm sure anyone with an internet connection has learned by now that Google issued a statement on its blog last week indicating that they have reversed their position and will either offer uncensored searches or leave the Chinese market. An excerpt of their blog post is as follows:
    We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.
    Check out Google's full blog post here.

    This is definitely a bold move on Google's part.  China has one of the most rapidly growing economies in history, and most corporations would give anything to enter that market.  So why is Google willing to risk a lucrative relationship with China?  The most common answer suggested around the blogosphere is that Google's founders are still a large part of the company.  These are two posts I read on the subject that explain it nicely:

    The Founder Factor

    Entrepreneurs: Risk Takers or Predators?

    This is why I love small businesses.  The founders are almost always the owners and operators of the company, so the company's priorities remain consistent.  Few corporations are able to maintain their original vision in the founder's absence (Apple is a wonderful example).  That's what makes Google's decision an anomaly in the corporate world.  Everyone else's priority is to provide maximum value to their shareholders.  Google's priority is "don't be evil." 

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Online Tools to Help Run Your Business Cheaply

    One of the biggest challenges facing any new business is controlling start-up costs.  Depending on your business's needs you might have to shell out a ton of cash on things like facilities, equipment, labor, materials, etc.  Why not save a few bucks wherever you can?  Here are a handful of ideas to help keep those costs to a minimum.

    Google Apps

    I'm a huge fan of all things Google, and I use many of their free applications (obviously Blogger is one of them.  Some of their other great free applications include Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Sites.  As your business grows you can expand your capabilities with their business package for $50 per year, per user.

    QuickBooks Online

    QuickBooks Online offers free usage for 1 user, provided you have 5 customers or less.  It's a great way to get started, and once your business grows beyond 5 customers (congrats!) you can upgrade to the Online Basic version for $9.95 per month.


    You can use the basic version of Skype with unlimited calls for just a few bucks a month.  Once your business grows you can upgrade to their small business platform and get additional features like the Business Control Panel, which is relatively inexpensive when compared with other business phone networks.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Fear of Complacency

    There is a post on  this week that discusses several excuses most of us use to explain why they can't make more money or start a new business.  Here is the full post:

    “But starting a freelance business is too risky!” and other reasons people don’t earn more money

    One aspect he mentions in particular is fear.  The following excerpt puts it nicely:

    Jonathan Fields puts it best:
    How do you handle fear?
    “Well, comes my answer, “that depends. Fear of what?”
    “Of failure, of course.”
    “Wrong fear,” I add. “You wanna be afraid, really afraid, take a look at what your life’ll look like not if you try and fail…but if you keep on keeping on for decades. That’s the real nightmare scenario for most people.”
    I'm sure most of us can relate to the fear of failure (I know I can).  We all know deep down that we must face that fear if we want to achieve, but how?  What can we do to move past this fear when changing careers or starting a business?

    • Effective Planning- Don't rush into new business endeavors without thinking them through.
    • Follow-through- Don't go into something if you aren't committed to it fully.
    • Support System- Have at least one person you can turn to for unbiased advice.
    • Fail- Yes, I know this isn't something we do on purpose, but honestly, once you fail and realize you're capable of handling it you will have something that is much stronger than fear: experience.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    How to Use Social Media to Connect With Other Entrepreneurs

    There was a great post on this weekend.  It featured a few great ways to use Social Media to connect with other Entrepreneurs.  Check out the full blog post here. The highlights:
    • Follow Entrepreneur Twitter Lists 
    I read through the top Entrepreneur Twitter Lists and found one that I like: Inc Magazine does a great job of incouraging interaction, not just broadcasting information.

    • Connect With Amazing Entrepreneurship Communities
    Hacker News seems to have some great posts, but as with any bulletin board you have to tune out some noise (like a post about killing programmers if for not knowing statistics).  I guess that's an unavoidable side effect of free form discussion boards.

    • Use Social Media To Find Local Events
    As the post says "there is no substitute for shaking hands and meeting in person."  I checked out Meetup and seems like a great resource to find local groups for just about anything.

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Struggling With Social Media

    In the past I have had a negative view of "social" features on the internet.  I had a MySpace account a few years ago and I didn't care for it. I really wasn't interested in trying to feel a connection with someone just because we were in the same 10th grade science class, so I eventually lost interest and deleted my account. I signed up for Facebook, but just followed a couple of friends and played a game or two.

    I took a Persuasive Marketing course last term (taught by S. Anthony Iannarino) that caused me to rethink my relationship to online networking.  I've since updated a long forgotten LinkedIn account and created a Twitter account.  I'm working on making my Facebook account more professional, but I'm beginning to run into the same issues as with MySpace.  How can I use Facebook to find new contacts and stay in touch with the people I want while tuning out the noise?

    I've found a couple of helpful resources like 32 Ways to Use Facebook for Business and How to Market Your Business with Facebook, but neither really addresses the issue of finding quality contacts rather than just having as many random friends as possible. I also found 8 Things to Avoid When Building a Community, which gives me something to aspire to.  For now I will try to learn as much as I can as I go along.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Are Kindle and Nook About to be Obsolete?

    2009 saw a major push in mainstream acceptance of eBooks.  Kindle was Amazon's best selling item of the year.  Barnes & Noble's Nook came out and was immediately out of stock (and still is).  Though there are a few differences they are essentially the same product: a lightweight reader with a 6" paper-like display for conveniently reading eBooks, newspapers, and blogs.  Both offer a few other features like mp3 capabilities, but both are primarily designed for reading.  That is why Apple will crush them both.

    Apple's upcoming tablet, possibly called iSlate, could be officially unveiled sometime this month.  This tablet looks like a super-sized iPhone, and judging by the functionality should have the same game-changing impact as its smaller cousin.  While Kindle and Nook simply offer electronic versions of books the iSlate will focus on interactive content.  This demo of Apple's tablet featuring an electronic issue of Sports Illustrated says it all: the content is supported by pictures, sound, video graphics, hotlinks, and more, all of which is fully integrated.  Though it will be more expensive (reportedly just under $1,000 compared to Kindle and Nook for $260) there appears to be more than enough features to justify the increased cost.  Oh, and I bet you can read books on it too.

    Update: as I was about to post this blog I learned that Apple may not have a free path to tablet dominance.  At least not if Google has anything to say about it.

    Update #2: I just saw that Microsoft is expected to unveil their tablet device, Courier,  today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Do Small Businesses Matter?

    There is always quite a bit of discussion in the news about businesses. On any given day there are articles about the stock market, international regulations, and of course federal bailouts. But what about small businesses? Don't they deserve out attention?

    According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy in 2006 98.2% of all firms in the U.S. had fewer that 100 employees (this breakdown by puts that number even higher at 99.7%). So why, then, do all business related news items revolve around large corporations? I think there are two main reasons:
    1.  Though small companies account for the majority of U.S. firms they provide only 35.6% of jobs.
    2. Most small businesses aren't publicly traded, so there are no stockholders clamoring for information.
    While these are both good reasons to pay attention to what the big guys are doing small businesses provide a substantial contribution.  According to the same piece on small businesses account for:
    • 52.6% of all retail sales
    • 46.8% of all wholesale sales
    • 24.8% of all manufacturing sales
    Let's hope that 2010 is the year that small businesses finally get the respect they deserve.

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    Welcome to My blog!

    I started a blog toward the end of 2009.  It was interesting, it was witty, in fact it was brilliant!  Okay, it was a few random snarky comments that I posted anonymously.  Realizing that the blogosphere has more than enough of that already I decided to scrap it and start over with a blog worth putting my name on.  So here we are.  My name is Pat Henry.  Welcome to my blog.

    I have spent my career working in a several areas including accounting, customer service, and legal. I have a B.S. in Operations Management from Ohio State University and I will complete Capital University's MBA program in December. Though there are a few instances of entrepreneurship thriving in corporations I'm particularly excited by small businesses and their ability to become anything.

    Here are some of the topics I will be posting about:
    • Small Business
    • Sales/Marketing
    • Finance
    • Technology
    • Economics
    • Social Media
    • General Business
    Of course I'll probably post about other things as the mood strikes me.  I plan to post 3 times a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  That being said I will aim for quality over quantity, so if I slack off while working on school projects I apologize in advance.

    Happy New Year!

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