Posts Tagged ‘business advice’
Has the idea of home businesses change much in the past ten years?
I’ve been cruising forums recently to check for new home business ideas to write about. While there’s the occasional very novel idea, in general it seems to be the Same Old Thing rebranded and waved in front of the audience again. And novel ideas are risky — it’s not something you can just pick up and do unless everything is juuuuuuusssst right — like raising llamas for money. Yes, you can do that, but unless you’ve already got the farm and maybe a dedicated bunch of people who love llama wool and like llama meat, you’re probably gonna be in a world of hurt if you take that up as a small business.
So what about those top ten home business ideas? Scott Lindsay had a list that summarized much of what I found:
* Working online writing blog articles and data entry and website flipping – Finding these gigs can be difficult… a lot of people advertise their services on http://www.fiverr.com — and folks who need outsource work often find people there to do work for them. The downside of it is that it’s $5.00 per gig.
* Handmade and Personalized Products – CafePress used to be the big dog in this field, but Zazzle and Etsy are taking up a lot of the share after CafePress boosted its prices. I’m going to try Zazzle soon — right now I don’t have the time to send out things via Etsy, so I’ll use Zazzle and its order fulfillment service. The downside here is that you can’t just put up stuff and expect it to go like hot chocolate chip cookies on a cold day.
Green/Organic Products – This is a growing market, as people are looking for things like local produce and environmentally friendly suggestions. Here the market is probably more offline and local than it is global.
Home Staging – This is one I haven’t tried and seems to have some risk involved — basically you work with clients and get their homes (the ones for sale) ready to show to potential buyers. There’s an element of interior design here (or so I’ve read) where the “stager” may add furniture or suggest some pieces be replaced or change some pictures.
Financial Advisor – This one was on Scott’s list (and he adds that IF you have the training and experience…) but I’m not as certain that this is a really hot home business. There are a lot of companies out there with products and big budgets and a lot of salespeople. I think you’d do better instead to offer people a package to “get your financial records together for income tax season.” You CAN do taxes for folks — this is something I’ve done — and with the current software like Turbotax, it’s very easy to do.
Cosmetics Consultant – Ah yes — Avon, Mary Kay, and similar companies. These work if you have the right social circles and if you’re good at marketing or setting up fun parties.
Specialty Foods – Your kitchen will have to meet some health inspection standards but yes, it’s possible to set up a cake decorating business or a catering business. Before you go running off to the cake decorating business, have a look at http://www.cakewrecks.com and try to avoid the mistakes (and take inspiration from the good stuff!)
Card Making/Scrapbooking – This was on Scott’s list, and it’s another one I’m not convinced about. I think the angle here would be to offer to make scrapbooks and albums for special occasions — team up with a wedding planner, for instance. These things can be a “hard sell” — check your market first.
Cleaning Services – I hate cleaning, myself, and I’m one of those who would pay $15-$20 for cleaning help. This is one of those “evergreen” businesses — that and babysitting/child care.
Pet-Based Products – Pet photographers and pet artists usually find it pretty easy to find clients. If you are able to attend craft fairs and so forth, products with sayings like “I love my Burmese Cat” (I do! And my Siamese cat!) or paintings or keychains or bumper stickers (and so on and so forth) are a very viable home business. I know a couple of artists who specialize in cat-based art and do very well with it.
One that Scott didn’t cover, which I think is very viable is:
Adult Daycare – This is another home business that (sadly) has a growing market. I’ve done some volunteer hospice visitations, myself, and would recommend that if you are interested in this kind of business that you FIRST spend two months as a hospice volunteer. You’ll learn a lot about what to do and say — and you’ll get good contacts to help you grow this business. In addition, they’ll help you get the background checks (and a referral that you can use) that you’ll want to have on hand.
You can check out Scott’s take on this at the link below.
I’ve seen a lot of posts both pro and con about Google Analytics — the tool from google that is aimed at marketers and shows detailed statistics of a site. Some people swear by it, some swear at it, and most don’t seem to know it exists. After reading a number of posts and blogs on this service, I decided to cruise over and take a look at it for myself.
The first thing to note is that you can’t use it to snoop on what other people are doing. You have to have your own website and you have to be able to insert code into the site (which means that you may not be able to use it on some of the free hosting sites or free blog sites. Like Livejournal.)
If you have come over to the Dark Side and already have a Google account, setup involves loggin in with your google account and telling it what site you want tracked. Google walks you through the process and then offers you the code to insert in your web page header. There are also tools for WordPress blogs that automate the features.
Like every other analysis tool, it’s entirely possible to spend too much time playing with the pretty charts and numbers and creating reports — meaning you could be spending too much time chasing things that aren’t worthwhile. But quick overviews can tell you a lot about who’s coming to your site and why. You can use it to answer “what questions are people searching for when they come to my site?” You can also use it to answer “who’s sending me traffic” and “what were they searching on?” Unlike many other tools, this one is free, which is just the right price for beginners. The pie charts are interesting and the “quick and dirty” view of the top 5 keywords and the top 5 referral sites make it very simple for even the amateur to figure out where traffic is coming from and why it’s there. It allows you to create campaigns and track them.
So how does it stack up with other website statistics packages? On a very basic level, it offers the same things I can get from my current webhost’s (Allwebco) data packages. Allwebco’s packages give me up to the minute results, but Analytics has a time delay of several hours to almost a day. There’s also reports of small discrepancies in the numbers reported by Google and the numbers reported by webhosts. Comments on Search Engine boards suggest that it’s not really an issue for small sites.
I found some areas of the menu less than intuitive — it was annoying to click on “profile” and be delivered to my public Google+ profile when what I really wanted was the account information and code snippet to place on boards.
I haven’t had a real use for the advanced features and reports, since I’m running information sites and not sales sites. But it IS a lot faster than signing onto Cpanel right now and pulling up the reports, so I’ll continue to use it.
There are lots of website links and news headline links that tempt you to click because you’ve just GOT to know what the whole thing is about? Yeah… even skeptical me still gets lured into some places by the “gosh, that strikes me as curious” lure.
And then there are those “Oh there goes that Same Old Stuff again — I think I’ll go check out the Congressional Record instead” type of headlines. The art of making an interesting headline is part of making your website or your blog or your online store (or your artwork or your crafts for that matter) very appealing to others.
While surfing around the Internet this week, I came across a very nice ebook from the Freelance Writing (Free Ebooks section) site about the art of writing headlines. It’s a short read and free to distribute, so I’m including a direct link to it here.
As I read it, I realized that the article could be useful to just about anyone for creating titles and captions for websites, blogs, forum posts, photos — just about any internet activity. Heck, it might even make your diary of your Day at Facebook Farmville Farming sound so intriguing that the most jaded viewer would simply have to click on the thing just to see what it was about. Warning: at the end it gets rather predictable but there’s still good ideas there.
So… fellow bloggers and artists and business people, Google has made a decision that might affect how you’re contacting friends and customers — Google has let their subscription to the Twitter firehose expire. So it’s not going to continue the real-time search on Twitter. In a way, I’m not surprised because the amount of computing processing used to find and process the huge inflow from the TweetStream may not be worth the return. Now that they’ve started up Google+, a lot of questions are rising about what’s going to impact which websites. http://searchengineland.com/as-deal-with-twitter-expires-google-realtime-search-goes-offline-84175
Truthfully, this won’t affect most of us. I don’t look around for recent outrages or gossip to comment on so I can talk about what everyone else is talking about. It does mean, however, that Tweets aren’t going to do a lot to help your website ranking. In the past, Tweets could help search ranking. However, with Google’s latest “Content Is King” mandate, they’ve apparently decided that a zillion tweets from twitter accounts mentioning a website might mean “some marketer is promoting this — ignore this site.”
This WAS a tactic used by some people who wanted to increase their search engine ranking. However, as with most things, the over-eager ones who are only in it for the money hopped in with lots of spam (and they convinced their buddies that this was the Greatest Thing To Do to get your website to come up in the first place every time someone searched on Google.)
And this move actually turns out to be good for the rest of us — the SEE ME SPAMMING THE QUOTE OF THE DAY WITH A LINK TO MY WEBSITE (etc) folks will go off and try something else.
Should you still use Twitter to help direct folks to your website? You betcha. And Facebook and Google+. One of these will eventually come out on top as King of the Social Media, and you’ll be ahead of the game if you’ve already started using it.
There’s been some recent discussions on Internet entrepreneur boards about whether or not writing articles for other blogs (or article directories) that link to your blog is really that effective in the wake of Panda, Google’s latest algorithm. Does it make better sense to write a wide variety of articles (such as “general entrepreneurship topics”) rather than focused articles (like “marketing via email”.)
In fact, does it make a lot of sense to write a gazillion articles or article directories in the first place? Shouldn’t you just focus on your blog?
That really depends on how you view your blog. If you’re selling just one thing, (a marketing course, for instance) then what you really want to do is turn your blog into one giant ad and write articles for article directories that proclaim you’re the Greatest Guru Ever ™ and include links that point to your website.
But suppose we’ve just sat down at a Starbucks with a wildlife photographer who specializes in bird photos (we’ll call her Mimi Polyglo.) It’s a small business and was doing okay from art shows but with the downturn in the economy she wants to get more people to buy her bird pictures — and for that, she needs traffic to her site. Since you’re her bestest buddy ever, she’s come to you for advice… because…
…she’s just stumbled across articles from G.G.Ever ™ telling her she needs to start writing a lot of articles for article directories — that the only way to get crazy traffic is to start writing lots about birds and putting the free articles (for others to use on their websites or blogs) in article directories.
Is it really worth her time?
Well… probably not. People who cruise article directories are USUALLY not looking for a lot of articles about “how to photograph woodpeckers” to use on their sites. She could spend a lot of time writing (instead of photographing) — and that’ll do nothing for her sales. In the mean time, her highly focused blog may attract a cozy circle of friends who need to know all about woodpeckers, but this tightly themed blog is not going to do a lot to promote her work. If she hands out business cards, her site will be visited by once or twice by people who want to see photos — but there’s nothing that’s going to compel them to come back.
But if she expands her topics to include (for example) reviews of “best birding spots” and occasional reviews of cameras and other gear, she has picked something more compelling that will encourage others to check her site and maybe revisit it, hoping they can take a pretty bird picture of their own. They’ll come to find tips about birding hotspots if they’re taking a trip somewhere, though. If she monetizes it with some Amazon books on birding or on cameras, the chances of getting some money (as well as visitors) increases.
What about writing articles for birding blogs and birding sites? Well yes — IF she has something interesting to read (the wider topic) on her website-blog and IF she has the time to spend on creating articles for someone else’s blog as a guest author. But writing articles (in other words, “article marketing”) to place on article directories in hopes they’ll drive traffic to her website– no, that’s a waste of time and effort. You see, Google Adsense doesn’t actually pay you until you get $100 in earnings. You get about a penny for every 100 people who show up (but don’t click on anything.) She’d need about 100,000,000 visitors Desperately Seeking Woodpeckers to see a check from Adsense. She can kill herself writing traffic articles — or she can promote her art in other ways and use the blog to “make friends” with her customers.
So for her, expanding her blog topic to make her website more interesting and keep people coming back even if there’s no new photos, she needs to consider expanding her pictures and bird monologues with other topics that relate to Wonderful Winged Things.
And the same holds true of YOUR blog, too. But word of warning — don’t make it too diverse. If you have something to say in a field very different from your current blog, START ANOTHER BLOG. That’s why I have http://www.scienceweblog.com, among other sites.
Click here to leave questions and comments at our discussion board!
(in-joke alert for the photographer’s name … the state bird of Texas is the Northern Mockingbird — Mimis polyglottis)
Here’s the latest brain-bending alert: Content may not exactly be king on the Internet
Yep. All those hard written words probably aren’t as effective as you thought because the new Evil Usurper sneaking in to topple Content off its throne is “Pretty Pictures.”
Images are strongly attractive to people. As a species we are very visually wired (so much so that the “oh! look! video” channels in our brain can totally override a “if you listen to the actual words, the whole thing doesn’t make sense” circuits.) Although an interesting read is a bonus, layout and colors and pictures can apparently distract us from less-than-interesting content — or content that actually makes very little sense.
Anyone who’s lurked on social networking sites for awhile may have already begun to suspect this. Often you’ll see messages like “OMG! This just says everything” with a link to some sort of music video. This is particularly true when someone posts that they’re feeling sad. Not all of us are wired to appreciate this (my usual mental response is a growly “OMG! I have six thousand things to do and YOU want me to drop everything and watch this 4 minute video of your favorite song. How about I don’t but say I do and use that 4 minutes to do something I really need to do.” But I’m cranky and I’m not a Watcher. I’m a Doer.)
Beauty may not be everything, but it carries a lot of cachet. Dr. Brent Coker claims that attractive people are seen as more trustworthy (which could explain why women, as they age, tend to feel that society dismisses them more.) He created a tool called ‘Webreep’ (which isn’t free, by the way) to help take a look at websites and what people think of them. He found that they will stay on a site longer if it’s visually interesting — but — if folks can’t figure out how to find the information they want quickly or if it takes too long to load, then they’ll leave quickly.
You can check the details out at the link below. I’m gonna go tweak the site a bit…
The trouble with us is that we’re being trained to be easily fascinated. You know, the “oooh! shiny!” reaction where you’re walking along thinking about one thing and suddenly something bright and interesting (or new) catches your attention. Suddenly, all your well-intentioned plans go out the window as you go over to look at (and play with) your new toy.
This is a REAL problem in doing business on the web. I admit I get frequent cases of “oooh! shinies!” all the time — and the place I get it worst is hanging out on business forums. Someone will have a great idea for an ad or a great suggestion and I get energized and excited and want to run off and maybe explore that niche market, too. I know it’s a really bad idea but the shinies are so compelling I can’t help myself!
For instance, I’ve been toying with the idea of (simultaneously) serializing a steampunk novel I”m writing. But I need to keep this blog updated and keep on working on the Friends In Business site (which needs sprucing up and new articles and all like that… it’s just starting to see results now) AND I need to get some art done… and… and…
It’s all about focus and setting up a schedule. Here’s the strategy, though — if you’re having a really focused day when you’re totally on track and fired up for the task, spend at least 20 minutes on each task — scheduled in chunks of no more than 5 minutes. If you’re having one of those “the kids are yelling every 15 minutes and I have to watch for the refrigerator repair guy and the cat sounds like it’s doing something suspicious on the carpet” then make each five minute block a single task.
If things are really nasty or distracting, move it to 2 minute blocks.
If you start out with a huge list and at the end of the day it’s even bigger, you’ll go to bed unhappy. It’s better to take a short sprint and then attend to other things than sitting there for twenty minutes and spinning your wheels.
So chop each task up into 2-5 minute chunks. If, for instance, I’m going to write and it’s a horribly distractful day, I’ll put down “write FIB blog 2 minutes” and schedule “put away breakfast dishes 2 minutes”… and so on and so forth. You may not accomplish mountainous miracles but you can sure get stuff done.
This is where I use my favorite time management software. In addition to my laptop, I own an HP Ipaq (in this case, I’m synching my laptop, my HP pocket calculator and my Android tablet) and use them to kind of help keep me honest. I use Google Calendar for the main scheduling, but for the tiny stuff I use Essential PIM — I liked the free version so well that I bought the full version. Having had Palmpilots for many years (they do so many things that a phone doesn’t — more detailed calendar, lots of notes, and you can actually compose a long text there as well as keep a secure address book) I was very glad to find a software that worked on the laptop, coordinated with the HP, and could connect with Google Calendar (which synchs with my Android.) Nowadays it just doesn’t get much better.
I find I have to rework it frequently, because an inflexible schedule means I actually don’t get anything done. And yes (sigh) I do leave time for sleep, housework (well… SOME housework) and other stuff as well as writing and art.
I’m friends with a lot of writers and artists and costumers (because I do writing and art but not costuming) and we’ve all been hit by the down economy. It’s tougher when this is your only source of income and the real hassle is that when you’re NOT producing, you’re not really getting money. Meanwhile there’s a zillion other artists/writers/musicians/filmmakers/craftspeople out there slaving away trying to reach the same market you are.
Now, IF you’ve got a business that involves art or cartooning or writing or other things, you may have noticed that a LOT of the “how to get traffic” tips and “how to get sales” just don’t work for you. Yes, I’m positive that many folks get income from list building and “Squeeze pages” and so forth, but you can’t put up a 700 word sales letter to get rid of one piece of art or one simply fabulous Steampunk hat accessory. And it might not be useful for a book, either. And as for starting a newsletter, well, I can either actually WRITE a book and draw my webcomics (did I mention that they’re over here and here?) or I can go out and market.
But I can’t do both. So this edition of my “Fabulous Five” (actually, it’s SIX — more bang for your buck!) is for folks who do creative projects and want a bit more “buzz for their bucks.” One of these times I’ll have to do a Fabulous Five for people who have cats helping them on the Internet (my Siamese is giving his opinion and trying to “love” all over my keyboard)… but that’s a post for another day.
If you’ve somehow missed it, then run READ the first article in the “Three Micahs” series by MCA Hogarth. She’s putting it out as a book on Amazon as well, but you can snag some wonderful advice over at Friends In Business.
First up, let’s deal with one of my own personal “big mistakes” — having a personal website. I don’t have one as an artist. There’s some seriously good advice in this article about setting up websites for artists — and by the way, the advice would apply no matter WHAT you’re doing and what you’re selling.
An oldie but goodie — Start a Fan Page (a.k.a. Business Page) on Facebook. If you’re like me, you’re going “no. Just… no.” But the advantage is that you can put your gossip on one page and your business stuff AND samples on another page. Your friends love you, but sometimes the Facebook algorithm will totally ignore all your posts. And a Fan Page CAN be used in place of a web page for your art.
Another interesting read from Alison at the same blog is “how to choose your Twitter name.” Okay.. I know this doesn’t sound like a thrill a minute, but she makes some good sense in the article. It’s a pity I didn’t read it before getting my own Twitter name (Foxraven — and no, I just picked it because it sounded cool. I have yet to do any serious fox or raven (or foxravens) art. I should, but I’m not right now. The world will just have to deal with this.)
This article seems like it’s several years old, but I know a number of artists who also make part of their living at trade shows, swap meets, craft fairs, and street art shows. The wepage is pretty brief but it does include suggestions and ideas that almost anyone can follow.
And finally, there’s this web page about using “Google insights” to creatively tune up your website to make it easier for your fans (and potential fans) to find you. And yes, this would actually apply to blog posts if you’re setting up your personal artist page in a WordPress format.
I’ve been prowling around the Internet this week wasting time looking for the best advice on how to update the Friends In Business website. There’s a lotta distractions out there, let me tell you — and a lot of information. Sadly, much of it is pure garbage and some of the sites for people interested in finding ways to work from home are really out of date. But I did come across some fabulous stuff, so I thought I’d take some time and blog about it.
This week the focus was all about WordPress blogs. Lemme tell you, that’s a subject that could take YEARS to go through. I’m getting a handle on it now, after setting up and designing one in the past month. There were times when I thought my brain might explode. WordPress is beginning to make more sense now, but it seemed like it took forever to get past the first steps of “Okay… I got the blog installed and just typed hello world. Okay. Now what?”
Luckily there are people around who are writing all sorts of helpful things. So this week’s “Fabulous Five” are pages that I was SO glad to find this week.
First of all, a nod to Lee Dobbins, who owns the site http://www.websitepromotionblueprint.com/ She offers a series of articles called the Website Promotion Blueprint — and it’s free. What’s being discussed is NOT something that requires special skills or even something that gets you out of your comfort zone (like dressing up in a monkey suit and handing out balloons with your web address on them. Or cold calling. Come to think of it, I’d rather dress up in a monkey suit than do cold calling.) And while you’re there, sign up for her newsletter. It’s got nice tips in it, it’s not “in your face” every day, and when she makes a recommendation for something she also includes low cost and free alternatives to it. That’s a real boost for anyone who’s building a home business or thinking about trying to work from home.
Have you joined Google+? I’ve been invited in by friends and am kicking the tires and exploring the options. Right now, there’s a huge fuss over aliases and names (William Shatner got kicked from Google+ for awhile… for using his own name!) One thing they’re also banning is businesses as entities… so I can’t sign up as “Friends in business” — not that I’m interested in doing that… but I couldn’t anyway. I don’t know if it’ll replace Facebook for me but the conversations I’m seeing there are different (and there’s no Farmville update spam!) Someone pointed out http://gplus.to/ — a site where you can get your very own short form Google+ contact name. So I’m http://gplus.to/MelWhite.
Google+ can deliver interesting content, like this article: http://www.therealmikegriffin.com/2938/small-business-ideas-work-home-tips-bring-success/ One of the big gripes I hear from folks with home businesses is that it’s “distraction driven.” In some offices, bosses are the main distraction but they can’t compete with the “OMG! Laundry!” distraction that creeps up on you when you least expect it. Mike Griffin has some useful comments.
The problem with cruising around is that you can get far too involved chasing interesting ideas. Focus Booster (http://www.focusboosterapp.com/) is a pretty darn neat application that works on what’s called the “Pomodoro technique.” It basically is a timer for focusing on activities — set a timer for (for instance) ten minutes and that’s the ONLY time during which you can… ah… oh… chase down URLs about “Luke Skywalker” or “Freakonomics” or “Incredible Brownies” or whatever other thing just happens to grab your fancy. It will alert you when recess comes around.
Yahoo has a competitor … well, sort of… to Google Trends searches called “Yahoo Clues.” http://clues.yahoo.com/ In many ways, I like it better than Trends because it gives a nice picture of the data over time and it also gives you some idea who’s searching this — men, women, over 40, under 40, and so forth. I had entirely too much fun playing with the thing, finding out the demographics of who was searching for what and which terms were better than other terms! I you’re starting a home business or thinking about doing any sort of work at home business, this tool is one you need to bookmark and use!
And that’s the Fabulous Five for this week — stay tuned for something equally fabulous (or created in a chocolate brownie overload haze) next week!
In 2006, CBS news estimate that we’re bombarded with 5,000 ads per day and these days it seems like that number must have doubled! If you’re looking for advice on how to fix up your website or perhaps increase some traffic to your blog, it may feel like you’re getting 5,000 ads per hour — most of them long sales letters by people you never heard of, giving a lot of promises.
And asking for money. In one case (which turned out to be an old site and the product may no longer be available), I read that if I didn’t take advantage of the offer and purchase something RIGHT NOW, that the price would go up to $1,000. I looked at the price tag, the long list of promises, and didn’t see anything that compelled me to whip out the credit card and plunk down my cash.
I’m a “can I try the thing before I decide to buy it” kind of person. I like samples of books (if I’m in a bookstore, I’ll flip through the first few pages of a book to see if the writing appeals to me), I like to use shareware (try for free, pay for it if you use it.)
So with that in mind, I thought I’d start reviewing tools and sites that I’ve found useful. Yes, these folks are trying to sell you something but at the same time they’re giving you things you can use to let you decide if you want to pursue a closer relationship.
I signed up for one of Yaro Starak’s email newsletters quite some time ago and occasionally click on the emails to see what he’s saying. I dump a lot of these newsletters, but Starak’s website (http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/) actually has very worthwhile content and he makes sure that the people in his blogsphere are producing useful articles.
He recently promoted his “blog profits blueprint” with a “how to” video site (How To Blog – Why You Should Use WordPress | Become A Blogger) that’s really very good (and worth having a look at even if you hate video stuff (that would be me, by the way — hate having to sit through video)) and offers some interesting things that even experienced bloggers could make use of (never thought of using RSS feeds for the fiction that I write.)
While struggling with the site design, I came across this nifty tutorial for putting adsense into your WordPress blog without totally going ballistic all over your computer. http://catwchang.com/?p=127 I tried it and it works beautifully — Ms Chang is NOT responsible for my inept tweaking of her suggested code, though.
One new find that I’m still checking out is http://www.thenetgazette.net/ While I don’t agree that all their finds are gems, I’ve found some good stuff in the links they recommend. I’ll comment on some of those in the next installment.