Archive for 2007

Too Many Books

I recently read an article about going on an “information diet.” The fact that I can’t remember who wrote it, where I read it or many of the main points proves that I need to go one. The jist of it is that often we spend far too much time online and off reading, watching , consuming information and then doing what?…nothing. How many articles about financial advice do you need to read, before you put yourself on a budget, cut your credit card debt or make some wise investments? For most people, they never get beyond the information-consuming stage.

Recently I realized that I was in the middle of at least nine books. I was reading Despereaux in Spanish to my son, listening to Les Miserable on mp3, listening to Shadow of the Hegemon on CD with my husband, and reading Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, The Book of Mormon (in Spanish), The Engine of America, The Essential Online Solution, Babywise, and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. I think there were actually more than that, but I can’t even remember them.

I think overwhelming myself with reading material was a result of not being in school. During the entire school year, I always had to focus on the reading material for my classes and could barely find time to read one book per quarter that was not school related. Now that has suddenly disappeared and I have all the time I want to read and go back to the library for more and more books.

Additionally, it seemed to take forever to finish any one book…this past weekend I finally finished three of them! I often feel obligated to finish a book I’m not enjoying, so I can post the review on this site and so that not all my reviews are super positive. However, I think that will end. Maybe I’ll just keep a list of books I started that weren’t worth finishing. Hehe.

So by putting myself on an information diet I am going to schedule a maximum amount of reading time per day or per week. Also, I am going to do more with the information I do gain. The ROI from the books I have been reading has been nill. I need to change that.

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The Essential Online Solution: The 5-Step Formula for Small Business Success – Rick Segel & Barbara Callan-Bogia

The Essential Online Solution: The 5-Step Formula for Small Business Success
Rick Segel and Barbara Callan-Bogia

This book has not been one of my favorites, but I cannot really figure out why. All of the advice about building a professional, effective website and spreading the buzz about your business seems good to me. There’s info on SEO, word of mouth marketing, banner ads and adwords and adsense. Maybe it’s just not that applicable to my situation at the moment.

The five steps to small business success according to Segel and Callan-Bogia are:

  1. Uncovering Possibilities – Which looks at online buying and selling as a while and how you can fit into that picture.
  2. Building Practical, Powerful, Professional Web Sites that WORK – How to initially build your site, make it more effective, and avoid common errors that detract from your site.
  3. Positioning You as the Source: Creating Expert Status – Using blogs and podcasting.
  4. Creating the Buzz with Clicks and Clends – Discusses how to position yourself online and how to use pay per click and viral advertising.
  5. Sell, Sell, Sell – Covers how to use eBay and other programs to get your business going.

The section critiquing different websites for positive and negative qualities is very helpful for someone who is not familiar with the internet. Even if you have done a moderate amount of online shopping however, you already should have a pretty good feel for what makes up a good website. Advice given is that your site needs to be user friendly, personalized, simple and straightforward. Many good examples of sites that have these characteristics are given. It would be nice to have some bad examples to look at, but out of courtesy to the owners of those sites, they are only described in the The Essential Online Solution, not named.
All in all, if you’re not pressed for time, there are some interesting things to learn from this book. However, it is not a quick read, at least for me it wasn’t, and you probably know a lot of the information in it already. To be fair, part of the reason it took me a while to read was that I kept reading things I probably should do to promote myself and things to apply to my websites. I would stop reading, thinking when I got the chance I would make sure to redo the CSS code on my quantum tutoring site to enhance my SEO or other things like that, but I was never motivated enough to actually do them and eventually I’d go back to just reading.

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The Engine of America – Hector V. Barreto

The Engine of America: The Secrets to Small Business Success from Entrepreneurs Who Have Made It!
Hector V. Barreto

The Engine of America: The Secrets to Small Business Success from Entrepreneurs Who Have Made It! was written by former Administrator of the US Small Business Administration, Hector V. Barreto. I found Barreto’s book inspiring and full of useful information. With the stories of some of the most successful small-business entrepreneurs, he teaches the keys to successfully start up a company or grow an existing one.

The Engine of America gives a lot of the same advice that you hear all the time about running and starting a business. Therefore, it is a great book for someone just starting out. Additionally, the advice, although repetitive for those entrepreneurs who have been in business a while, is given in a way that keeps you entertained. Stories of successful entrepreneurs remind us that anything can be done, and help us keep an optimistic point of view.

Barreto gives sound advice about studying to learn what you need to know and planning your business venture to increase likelihood of success. Then he addresses the need to take risks, but to take calculated risks rather than just a shot in the dark. One aspect of business I don’t think of a lot is employees. I am far from that point, but Barreto addresses how to share your vision with your employees and how the people around you are a critical key to your success.

A large portion of The Engine of America is dedicated to specific tools for success that every entrepreneur can benefit from. From how to contact SCORE for free advice from successful businesspeople to how the Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you obtain financing to what government programs are available to small businesses. From his insider’s point of view, Barreto helps unlock the mysterious process of dealing with government organizations and programs.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s an easy read, but it contains a wealth of useful information. I especially enjoyed the quoted advice from successful entrepreneurs such as Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, and Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples.

You can read an excerpt of Chapter 4 Challenge the Conventional Wisdom or go to www.theengineofamerica.com for more information.

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How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business – Jeremy Shepherd

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business
Jeremy Shepherd

You would think that it would be difficult to find up-to-date information about online businesses at a public library, but I struck gold with this one…or maybe it was pearls. Once again proving that if you use your resources such as the public library, you can continue to better yourself and use your knowledge to your advantage.

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business is the perfect book to help you do just that. The book is well-written, easy to read, and provides you with the essential information to begin to do business online.

Jeremy Shepherd got started early in the online world. In 1996 he opened PearlParadise.com, and has become the leading online pearl wholesaler and retailer. His business, which started with the purchase of one pearl necklace during a trip to Beijing, has grown to be a multi-million dollar enterprise.

Shepherd’s book details how to save money while starting your online business, how to design and create your website, how to market your business, and how to use a merchant account to allow customers to pay you by credit card. He doesn’t even forget to give tips on shipping, which is oh so important to an online purchase, or to tips on avoiding fraud, which is oh so important to you and your business.

How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business gets right to the point, doesn’t talk down to you, doesn’t require a degree in Computer Science to understand, and covers all the necessary details of becoming an online entrepreneur. I love this book. Once I get an online business going, I think the library will have to ban me from checking out this book. I’ll either have to memorize it or splurge and buy myself a copy. (Amazon’s got it for just over $10 at the moment, so I imagine it would be worth the investment.)

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Guerrilla PR Wired – Michael Levine

Guerrilla PR Wired
Michael Levine

I think this is the first book about business and finance that I actually thought was not really worth my time in reading it. Maybe I normally just make good choices about which books look interesting and educational. This book was certainly not either of those.

Guerrilla PR Wired tries to capitalize on the Guerrilla name (as in Guerrilla Marketing and Guerilla Marketing for the Home-Based Business by Jay Conrad Levinson), but it is completely unrelated. The only thing “guerrilla” about it is Levine calling people with small businesses “guerrillas”, just as Levinson does. When I read “guerrilla”, I assumed it was part of THE guerrilla franchise and was fooled into reading it.

This book is very outdated and too simple to really be much use in public relations or online marketing. It’s expected that a book on online marketing will go out of date within a few years after its printing, but I learned things about the ancient version of the internet that I had no idea existed. Additionally, its simplified view of public relations doesn’t give the reader with much information to actually put together a PR campaign and execute one.

Although, as a person who had no idea what public relations were and what they intended to accomplish, I figure this book at least gave me the jist of the idea. One of the most useful things I learned was to pitch your news releases to local weekly publications. Then, larger publications can become interested in the story and then they might publish it….hence, big follows small.

So overall, there are probably better books to get you started in PR online and offline. Let me know if you have any suggested ones for me to read!

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Getting Business to Come to You – Paul and Sarah Edwards & Laura Clampitt Douglas

Getting Business to Come to You
Paul and Sarah Edwards & Laura Clampitt Douglas

Another great book for a small business looking to establish themselves and learn the essentials of marketing. Getting Business to Come to You focuses your attention on the most effective, low-cost methods of marketing and also gives very useful technical details on the process of creating your own marketing materials.

The four most effective, low-cost marketing methods are

1. Word of mouth. To have a business thrive and grow with only word of mouth marketing should be the goal of every entrepreneur. Not that you can’t give it a kick with some other methods when you want, but what sweet bliss it is to have your customers and new ones beating a path to your door with no effort on your part except your great reputation and service. The key is to get yourself into the mind of the people that matter…your customers. Focus your efforts on those people that will buy from you and get them to give you referrals. Everything else you do is in order to reach this goal.

2. Public relations. PR is your ticket to being established as a leader in your industry. Create a publicity kit and get the media’s attention. Use your publicity to get others to recognize your name and know that you are the expert in your field.

3. Direct marketing. Use it to control how often your business enters into the mind of your customer. A monthly newsletter or a quarterly sale or discount, that they are alerted to via direct mail or email, will keep you in their minds and keep them telling their friends about you.

4. Inventive advertising. New customers will be attracted to your business if you are effective at advertising. Being inventive is the key. Your copy has to stand out from the rest and you have to be creative. Experiment with different media such as bulletin boards, radio and TV shows, yellow pages, trade directories, etc.

This book has helpful lists of when a particular marketing technique is right for your business and when you’re just wasting money. It helps you tailor your marketing campaign to your needs. I especially enjoyed the technical details on such topics as building a publicity kit and writing and designing advertising copy that sells. Other topics were detailed as well, but these stood out as the most important for my business at this time. Read the book and see which ones stand out for you!

While reading Getting Business to Come to You I often found myself putting the book down to implement some of the things I had learned before moving on. For example, when it talked about focusing in on getting your name into the minds of your potential customers, I had to stop and write emails to all the teachers I know to find out how best to let math and science teachers in the Urbana/Champaign, Illinois area know that Quantum Tutoring is THE tutoring company that they should refer their students to. After reading the chapters on advertising I came up with a strategy to post flyers at football games and other local school events; after reading about public relations, I planned to get involved in the local parent teacher associations and set up a booth at the local schools’ career fairs. I also used the tips in this book to create my business cards and letterhead.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 3

Click here to read part 1 of this post.
Click here to read part 2 of this post.

Of course, setting up your company to serve as your employment only can limit your potential. After interviewing Jim Wilkie about his company At The Docks Marine Electrical, I was convinced that he could expand either the number and types of services he offers to his boat-loving customers or expand to regions outside his local area. His service of repairing electrical problems on boats while they remain stationed at the marina is phenomenal and very marketable. However, he is currently content to remain his sole employee, do what he enjoys, and as I’ve said, make a nice salary off it. In addition to limited growth potential, other disadvantages of remaining small are that you do everything (bookkeeping, marketing, budgeting, the actual labor, etc.) and that when you stop working for your business, your business stops working for you and your income from it dries up.

In the end, it depends on what you want to get out of your business. Will you be more happy just doing what you love or would you rather put in the effort required to create a larger and (potentially) more profitable business?

Both Quantum Tutoring and Quincy Massachusetts Voice Lessons were created to give Sara and me something to do and earn a little money in the mean time. Additionally, they are giving us a platform to learn the basics of business, marketing, finances, etc. Both of us could expand, and may do so in the future. However, for now the benefits of owning our own businesses are great and we’ve enjoyed creating our own employment opportunities.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post.

Creating your own business allows you better hours, greater earning potential and control over job security. Entrepreneurs often work much more than 40 hours a week at their businesses, because they have a passion to see it succeed, but this is not a necessity. Your own business allows you to use your time as efficiently as possible, set your own work hours and work as many or as few as you want. On the other hand, if you were to work for an employer, there are not very many job options in which you can work as little as 10 or even 5 hours per week and make more than minimum wage. Nor can you often work more than 40 hours, because employers would rather not pay you overtime. Additionally, because your job security depends entirely on the success of your business, it is completely under your control. You control your time, you (and the market) control your earning and you control your job security.

Keeping your business small allows you to avoid the difficulties of a complicated business structure and the hassles involved with employing others. My husband’s family owns and runs Cromar Painting, a contracting company. They have tried expanding in the past, but have found it more profitable to employ very few contractors and keep their operation simple. You can remain a sole proprietorship, never dealing with partners, incorporation and the taxes, finances, insurance, lawyers, and headache that go with all that. Less time spent on such things, means more time spent doing what you enjoy and getting paid to do so.

Click here to read Part 3 of this post.

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Create Your Own Employment: Part 1

I have recently begun to think of running a business in a new way. There are many benefits to creating a business for the sole purpose of creating employment for yourself. You create the job you want to be doing, and your business doesn’t have to be large and complicated. You may be limited in the growth that your business can achieve, even if your idea is the world’s greatest. However, many people simply create a business, so they can work for themselves and not for other people.

After reading and reviewing The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work & What to Do About It, I was convinced that the only smart thing to do in running a business is set it up so that it can run without you. This means systematizing everything in your business, so others can be trained to take your place in every position you occupy in the company. This way, you can expand, allow your business to grow, open more locations, sell a higher volume of merchandise, etc. But, what if you just want a job, that you enjoy, that pays well, in which you don’t have to answer to others? What if you don’t want to be able to run your business on a national or international scale? What if you just want to earn a few more dollars a month? At least for now.

Click here to read Part 2 of this post.

Click here to read Part 3 of this post.

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Back in Business

Enough about dentists already, right? I agree. Just for closure on the subject…I got one of the teeth looked at, and it turned out to only need a crown. Then I was referred to another (read “competent”) dentist who looked at the other two and determined that only one of those needed a root canal and there was nothing wrong with the other. Now I wonder if I ever really needed the crown I had done either. So that’s that. I will never go back to Western Dental.

As predicted my life has been crazy this past year. I had to put business and this blog on hold for a while, but we’re up and running again.

Sara has been able to do more on the business front this year than I have. She now has her own voice lessons and singing performances business. She currently works part time and studies full time at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. However, she has managed to create her business and teach lessons in her “free” time. She inspired me to write an article on creating a business for the sole purpose of creating employment for yourself, which I will do in the near future. She charges $30 an hour, so that beats earning minimum wage any day.

If you want a great looking website without all the hassle of learning to code in html and css, you can follow Sara’s example. She used a standard template for her website and customized it to fit her business.

If you want to create you own website from scratch, as I did for my new business, Quantum Tutoring, it can be a great learning experience. I recommend looking the this website for html and css code and this one for some useful style sheet examples. I knew nothing about creating, hosting or uploading a website two months ago. However, with a little help, I have been able to do just that. Just find a friend who knows about web hosting, and a bit about design, and then you’ll be able to do the fun, creative part.

In addition, I thought I’d try an experiment and create my own wikipedia page to see if it draws attention to me. I’m very new at this SEO (search engine optimization) stuff, so I’ll keep you posted on what happens. You can create your own wikipedia page here. Well, that experiment failed rapidly. Apparently Wikipedia has guys checking all the articles and they determined that I was not important enough for my own page. If you think you’re more important though, go ahead and give it a try.

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