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CAUTION: Don’t Be Another (Failure) Statistic


Caution!  Don't be an entrepreneurial failure!

Did you know that 60% of small businesses go under within the first three years of business, with two-thirds failing within the first 10 years? Those grim failure statistics seem so overwhelming, that some might say you’d need to be an absolute fool to start a business today.

But entrepreneurial dreams are hard things to neglect (thankfully).

So many eager beavers take the leap from worker to entrepreneur, in spite of the odds. Businesses who succeed can expect to lose money the first year, start to break even the third and finally turn a profit in year three.

That’s 36 months of a lot of hard work just to get to a place where you’re finally making something. Thank God for passion and perseverance. It’s at this three year mark when your business finally starts to run more smoothly.

Why do so many startups fail?

For starters, passion doesn’t translate into sound business practices.  You may be great at what you do or create, but that doesn’t mean you are great at running a business. Without having the basic fundamentals needed to run your business, it’s going to be tough. That’s why it’s imperative to conquer the ‘Laying the Foundation’ part of the Trailmap to Success.

Just like building a house, it all begins with the foundation. Without solid footing, you’ll struggle. So take your time to carefully plan every aspect of your business before taking the plunge.

Success is not an accident.

You may be asking yourself: where do I begin building my foundation?

First, before launching the business you are passionate about, you should do a lot of planning and pondering.

In studying businesses that have succeeded and those that have failed, the difference is planning. According to George F. Brown, CEO of Blue Canyon Partners management consultant firm, “Successful business leaders don’t go to work every day expecting a new adventure. They have a plan and know what to do. Over and over, in small businesses and large ones, I’ve seen the benefits of careful planning and the disasters that can result from a failure to plan,” he says.

In other words, you need to determine your vision.

Lack of vision is one reason for failure.

When your business vision is clear and concise, you won’t get stuck in the conundrum of working your tail off and not making any progress. The vision serves as the cornerstone of your foundation.

Consider things like the type of culture you want to create, the brand you want to build, the type of employer you want to be (if you want to even have employees), the type of customer you want to serve, the contribution you want to make to your community, etc.

Have you crafted an executive summary/business plan for potential investors? What’s the size of your market? Who actually is your customer (have you created a persona?) and what drives their purchasing decisions? Who’s the competition? Do you have mentors? Can you partner with experts? How can you test your idea? Where will your leads come from and how will you nurture them?

Lack of funds is another big reason for failure.

What are the financial risks involved? How are you going to fund your business? To determine how much cash you’ll need, develop a cash-flow statement that estimates your expenses and income. Be sure to research actual business costs rather than estimating or guessing based on your own personal experience as a retail customer. Be prudent and spend judiciously; limit your need for cash by avoiding long-term commitments, e.g. long-term leases. Can you (really) tolerate the financial risk at this time in your life?

Bootstrapping is definitely doable, but remember that it’s also challenging and stressful and exhausting pinching pennies all the time. It also slows growth, because there is definitely some truth behind the old adage: it takes money to make money.

Asking these questions will help you maintain focus when you do launch. Your company mission and vision is the biggest picture for your company — the why behind what you do. When evolving from employee to entrepreneur, you get a clean slate to design your role and decide which directives to pursue, so enjoy the period of creation and dream big.

Also, check out 50 Tasks in 90 Days to Start Your Business which details many foundation-building tasks required for constructing your dream business.

What makes your business unique?

Are you giving your prospect a reason to change his or her buying habits and choose you over a competitor? It’s not only what you sell, but it’s also the experience you create. Be original. Play into buyers’ emotions. How are you solving their problem? How can you make their life easier? How can you save them time/money?

Once you can legitimately solve the problems your prospective customers face, you’ll be that much closer to success…and sales!

Bottom line is that you must put in the effort on the front end to create a vision and lay a foundation if you want smooth sailing on the back end.

So suck it up. Do the work. Put in the time. Get ‘er done.

This foundation helps you stay focused, on track and climbing up the mountain of success. You’ll be glad you did when you hit the first of many bumps in the entrepreneurial road.

Live and Learn.

We’d love to hear your perspective!

How did you launch your business: with or without laying a foundation?  How did your foundation help you succeed?  Can you give an example of a problem encountered that was easily solved by having your foundation in place? Let us know; please leave a comment below.

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[GREEN] TIP: Just Google It

If You’re Stuck, Just Google It.

Laying the Foundation - Green TIPI can’t begin to tell you the number of times that customers, colleagues or friends have been stuck on something and don’t know what to do, so they’ve called and asked me.

Do you know what I do if I don’t know?  I google it.  Sounds obvious, I know. But many times, the obvious is un-obvious.

Yesterday, I had a customer ask me what to do because they got an error message when trying to open a document on their computer.  I googled the error message, and told her the answer.  Yes, you can copy, paste and search on a specific error message.

I’ve had a customer ask me industry-related questions.  I googled the question and looked for the answer.

I’ve had a customer ask me which software program works better.  I asked google for a comparison, and got the answer.

The information is there if you want to find it.  But, you do have to discern between real and make-believe.  For one, I don’t look at the first few search results because they are ads disguised as results.  I scroll down and then look for valid sources, keeping in mind that everyone is a blogger with an opinion these days.

A few examples of good question and answering websites (based on my google search just now … and experience) include:

I just want to remind you that not everything is a crisis when you don’t have the answer at hand. Perform a quick search before you panic; you may just be pleasantly surprised at how easy the solution is. 99% of the time I respond to those seeking answers with the statement that I just googled it, they always say, “I don’t know why I didn’t do that.  Duh!”  There’s a wealth of knowledge out there at your fingertips, just be sure to follow valid sources of information.

Happy googling!

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[GREEN] TOOL: Freshbooks

Do you need a simple accounting software?

If so, I highly recommend Freshbooks because of it is so easy to use. Freshbooks makes your accounting tasks easy, fast and secure — three descriptions that every entrepreneur desires.

I have been a customer of Freshbooks for over two years now, and I can say that the service they provide constantly exceeds my expectations.  As a matter of fact, of all the software programs I use to run my businesses, Freshbooks is my favorite.

The best part of Freshbooks is that I really never have to think about it!

Save Time. Freshbooks claim that their customers spend less time on paperwork, saving up to two days per month to focus on the work they love. I can attest that’s true.  Once I set up a customer profile, it’s so easy to navigate the few steps needed to send out an invoice. Better yet, once you set up recurring billing, you can receive email alerts directly in your inbox for when an invoice is sent, paid, viewed, etc. It really is “set it and forget it.”

Get Paid Faster. With Freshbooks, you can easily invoice clients from your desk or on the go (with the app). Freshbook customers are paid an average of 5 days faster than other software solutions. The thing I like most is that you can set up automatic billing.  That means that a customer can enter a credit card (one of their partners is Stripe) and click a simple check box for future payments and voilá – you have recurring revenue you can count on!

Grow Your Business. Freshbooks indicates that, on average, their customers double their revenue in the first 24 months. I can happily attest that is indeed true.

Other Features. Not only is it intuitive, Freshbooks will make your business look more professional. You can brand your invoices. Send out auto-payment reminders. Accept online payments. Track time (billed and unbilled) and manage team time sheets. Import expenses. Customize project rates. Review P&L, Tax Summary and Expense Reports. Import expenses and attach receipts (even photo images of them) to invoices. Get alerted on client activity (viewing invoices, paying invoices, etc.).

Partners.  From expense tracking and online payments to time tracking and proposal design, Freshbooks connects to many complementary and valuable apps and addons that help entrepreneurs run all aspects of their business. Some of those integrations include: Mailchimp, Basecamp, PayPal, Stripe, etc.

Support. I can attest, they have an award winning support team. And they are real human beings!

What’s the Cost?

You can start with a free trial which is perfect because Freshbooks really can grow with you as your business grows. Prices range from $9.95/month to $39.95/month depending on number of clients and staff. Compare pricing plans.

Finally, you can cancel at any time.

More Information

Website: Freshbooks.com

Live and Learn.

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[GREEN] TOOL: Todoist

Are you looking for a new “to-do”?

There is one task manager tool that I use all the time. Not just every day, but every hour. It not only is one of my most used tools, but it’s also a huge help when it comes to keeping my work organized on my computer.

Todoist helps you keep your desktop and your life organized.

First, create a project. Then create tasks related to that project. You can add due dates and set up reminders.  You can reorder them. You can even color code them. This tool is so intuitive and easy, you have to get it.

The main reason I love it, though, is because of the Google Chrome Plugin that allows me to easily save and organize important URLs without having to open up a new browser. This means I can always access my to do list when away from my computer as long as I can access Google.  Todoist offers plugins for Outlook and Firefox too. Finally, if you’re working in a team, they have a solution called “wedoist” as well (although I don’t use that solution).

Watch the Video

What’s the Cost?

Todoist offers a free option; however, I recommend spending the $29/year for the premium product. I did, and it’s worth every penny IMHO.

More Information

Website: Todoist.com

Screenshot: Here is the screenshot of my open Todoist chrome plugin. Note the red “TD” icon upper right which is what you click to add tasks easily):

.

Live and Learn.

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[GREEN] TIP: 50 Tasks in 90 Days To Start Your Biz

Is it time you start turning your dreams into reality?

Over the last three months, I’ve been working like a fiend trying to get my new brand building company off the ground.

In addition to the Resort Lifestyle Network that I manage, I had been providing consulting services on the side to generate additional revenue.  However, with more business coming in than I could manage, I decided to turn my ‘side gig’ into something more.

And thus my new online marketing company, Hammond Media Group, was born.

It’s possible to realize your dream.  Just taking the first step is all it takes.  Before you know it, you’ll have your very own business up and running.

Here’s a list of the 50 or so tasks that were completed in 90 days.  There is still a lot to do, but this is a great start.  Use these tasks as a checklist.  Use them as motivation. Use them for ideas.  Just do one of the tasks each day, and in three months time, you’ll be that much closer to living your dream.

I’ve included links where appropriate to make it even easier for you to get started.

Ready, Set, Go!

Business Set-Up

Website

Social Media

  • Embedded social media links (follow and share) on website and in email signature
  • Created a Facebook Page
  • Integrated MailChimp sign up form into Facebook page for list building (view sign up form on FB)
  • Created a Google+ Page
  • Created a Twitter account
  • Set up Twitter lists (clients, vendors, bloggers, etc.) to monitor conversations and manage news feed for resort sites and Hammond Media Group
  • Created a Hootsuite account to monitor twitter conversations
  • Created a Vimeo Channel for videos
  • Created a LinkedIn account for professional networking
  • Created a MailChimp account for email marketing / list building
  • Created a SlideShare account for presentations

Marketing

  • Attended Entrepreneur and Tech MeetUps to network and promote new biz
  • Ordered business cards, thank you notes and other printed marketing materials from VistaPrint
  • Set up email Auto-Responders based on different target audiences (huge time-saver for lead generation; learn more about the benefits of email automation)
  • Completed pro-Bono work for a worthwhile charity
  • Joined local area Chamber of Commerce organizations to network / generate new business opportunities

Other

  • Completed a website audit for a client
  • Set up an editorial calendar for a client
  • Completed two major proposals totaling approximately 30k in revenue
  • Worked out preferred partnership arrangements with two vendors

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[GREEN] TOOL: Lynda.com Online Training

What is it?

Lynda.com is online software training videos that really work.  Really. They offer classes for the very basic beginner who’s clueless about software all the way through to the expert who needs to brush up on their skills.

Whatever your line of business, you should get to know ‘Lynda.’

It’s no longer OK to get by in business life without knowing basic computer skills.  Actually, being naive about technology is ludicrous considering how much business is done online these days.  Even if you’re not launching a startup, there’s value for any business owner or manager to have a working understanding of technology as a way to communicate better with their technical staff.

So, if you want to stay current and keep your skills sharp…learn innovative and productive techniques…gain confidence and marketability…and be taught by experienced instructors, then you’ll find all that and more at Lynda.com.  Also, check out the competitor section below for other specialized options.

Currently, Lynda.com offers over 71,000 tutorials.  Yep–you heard that number right.  That’s one big library of learning!

Some of the classes I’ve taken include: XHTML and HTML Essential TrainingWordPress 3.0 Essential Training and Web Design Fundamentals (all of which I recommend).

Even better, if you want to take some business-oriented classes, you can do that too.  Classes such as PowerPoint tips, Online Marketing Fundamentals and Essential Training courses for PayPal,  Excel, Twitter, Gmail, LinkedIn (and much more).

And you even get a certificate when you’ve completed the course (view certificate example).

Why Do I Like It?

One of the many reasons I love Lynda.com is because you can learn at your own pace.  As we know, being a business owner makes time difficult to come by.  That’s why if you need to stop… rewind…or just come back to it later, picking up where you left off is super-easy with Lynda.com.

It really is the perfect tool for entrepreneurs.

What Is The Cost?

The basic package is only $25 per month.  You get anytime access to the 71,000+ library of tutorials, and there is no long-term commitment (you can cancel or put your subscription on hold at any time).  Or, upgrade to the premium plan for $37.50 per month and receive exercise files with your training.

The annual fees are $250/year for basic; $375/year for premium.

I recommend the monthly option because as entrepreneurs, we need flexibility.  Why pay for months if you’re not going to use them?  I for one have put my subscription on hold twice now, and then re-engage when time (and brainpower) permits.

Who Are The Competitors?

Some similar online learning companies include:

  • Learnable – Online learning for web developers and designers ($17/month)
  • KelbyTraining.com – Online learning for pro photographers and Adobe Photoshop experts
  • VTC.com – Computer software training ($30 for one month access)
  • Digital-Tutors – Learn to make movies and games
  • Tuts Plus – Learn creative and technical skills like design, web design and more
  • CodeSchool.com – Learn how to code
  • Code Lesson – Learn online, but with real instructors.  4-6 week long courses.
  • Udemy – Take a course…or why not create your own course?  hmmm…..interesting way to build your brand.
  • MarketMotive – Internet Marketing Certification Courses (SEO, PPC, Social Media, Web Analytics, etc. for $299+)
  • Team Treehouse –  Web design, web development, iOS (build iphone and ipad apps)
  • Peep Code – Learn what’s hot and new (Git, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, Javascript, iphone, jQuery, etc.)
  • Code Academy – Learn web design, web development, web apps — all for beginners ($6000 and this one is in Chicago for 11 weeks).

Video about Lynda.com:

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CAUTION: Don’t Hide Behind Your Computer


Are you launching an online business? Heed these warnings that will save you time and money. Tip: Don’t hire a website developer too soon.
For most of this year, I’ve been hunkered down, hidden behind my Dell laptop screen.

I’ve been working day and night in order to lay a solid foundation for my Resort Lifestyle Network business.  I’ve been building websites from scratch.  I’ve been doing lots of research. I’ve been writing a lot of content.  I’ve been playing around with graphic design and branding. I’ve been taking lots of online courses.  I’ve been building databases. I’ve been putting systems in place.

In other words, I’ve become a loner.

Anyone who knew me prior to 2011 would never have called me a loner.  Throughout my life, I’ve been told over and over again about my outgoing personality…that I never meet a stranger….that I’m a total extrovert…that I’m a natural born salesperson.

Anyone who has met me this year would probably say I’m some weird loser geek who sits and stares at a computer screen all day long and has no life.

Your Online vs. Offline Personality

So, which personality am I?  A little of both, I suppose.

I’m afraid living on the web really has more impact on who we are than we’re willing to admit.

This morning, my loner self chose to engage with a friend who’s having some difficulty in her real-world job.  Her struggles come from being a 43 year old Chatty Cathy living in a 28 year old Loner Larry environment.  She finds it extremely odd that her colleagues come into work, put on their headphones and stare at a computer screen all day vs. engaging with her face-to-face.

Her current office environment, albeit different from mine at the moment, resonated with me. So much so, that it left me pondering one very disturbing question.

Have I actually joined the Loner Larry crowd?

Now that I’m almost done with laying the foundation of my business, I’m gearing up for the promotion stage.  These natural business transitions are definitely a good time to stop and reflect before barreling into the next phase.

What I didn’t expect to happen during this brief period of reflection was that fear would envelop me.

Overcoming Fear

It’s natural to feel apprehensive when you bring your ideas to market.  After all, no one likes to be judged.  But my fear had more to do with the question:

What if I’ve lost my offline mojo?

As Brad Hunter wrote in the Subtle Benefits of Face to Face Communication:

“Online interactions often provide anonymity and an ability to present ourselves differently than we might ordinarily. The predominance of written communication gives us a way to edit our utterances until they fit the image we want to project, something which is not quite so simple in a real time environment. Since our words are our only connection to others, it is much easier to be duplicitous or even self-deluding.”

It’s been so long since I’ve ‘worked it’ offline that I’m afraid my out of shape sales personality needs to be whipped back into shape (along with my hunched over, out of shape body that usually comes with living the Loner Larry lifestyle).

I’m fairly confident that re-engaging will be just like riding a bike.  I just need to get back on that bike.

Although I participate regularly in online communities, telesummits, forums and hangouts as a sole proprietor, it’s scary to ponder how long I’ve gone without any real consistent offline interaction that one normally encounters in an office environment.

And I know that the lack of offline interaction negatively impacts my bottom line.

Engaging Offline Brings Quick Results

It’s critical that I engage my community, customers, affiliates and partners in a variety of ways to create the best possible results.  So over the last few weeks, I recommitted to raising my offline social capital.

When I changed the means of communication to phone calls and in-person meetings, I was immediately struck by the speed with which things happen offline vs. online paradoxically.  So much so, that I’m committing to having a minimum of three real phone calls or face-to-face meetings each day.

My offline encounters were more in-depth vs. skimming the surface. They seemed more deliberate and results-oriented vs. meandering happenstance.

Whether real or imagined, I was left with the feeling that it would have taken 1-2 months of online back-and-forth to reach the goals achieved in 30-minutes of intense and deliberate offline conversation.

Maybe it’s as simple as having too many self-indulgent distractions when working online that cause you to be less mindful or present when engaging with those on the other side of a laptop screen.

The Bigger Health Concern of Isolation

Loner Larry’s take note.

In his book [amazon_link id=”0743203046″ target=”_blank” ]Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community[/amazon_link], Robert Putnam argues that involvement in community actually increases a person’s biological and mental health. Biologists and psychologists have also shown that without physical contact, people become depressed and ill.

“Does typing ‘LOL’ on a keyboard have the same benefits?”

Hunter continues, “Malcolm Gladwell argued in [amazon_link id=”0316346624″ target=”_blank” ]The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference[/amazon_link] that much of communication is done non-verbally and emotions can easily be transferred from person to person without the utterance of a single word. If community loses its physical aspect, I believe that many of the subtle benefits that go along with physical face-to-face contact will also be lost.”

Resort entrepreneurs (or any lifestyle business owner) may rely more heavily on non-physical means of communication to  connect since they are less tied down geographically.

Hunter worries that “in such a system, the value of each connection is lessened and that the benefits we gain from each connection decreases. I think that in this world of the Internet, e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, pagers, faxes, and the World Wide Web, we should keep in mind the importance of face-to-face communication.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

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[GREEN] TOOL: Instapaper URL Clipper

Laying the foundation for your online businessWhat is it?

Instapaper is the best thing I’ve come across all year.

It’s been around for quite some time, has 1 million registered users and was named “Best Publication App of 2010,” but I hadn’t heard about it.  So I figured it’s worth sharing just in case you missed it too.

For quite some time now, I’ve been searching high and low for a simple tool that would do exactly what Instapaper does: save webpage urls.

Instapaper allows you to easily save those URLs for later when you do have time to read them, so you don’t just forget about them or skim through them like I normally do.

I love it. It’s free.  And it takes less than one minute to install the “read later” button in your toolbar.

I tried Evernote with all its bells and whistles, but I never took the time to learn it or use it, because I don’t have time to spend an hour figuring out and adopting another tool.

It’s simple.

I wanted an uncomplicated tool to do one task and one task only: save a web page url with the click of a button.

It’s time consuming to sit and read everything my eyes fall upon when I’m browsing through 500 feed items, responding to email, chatting, and watching Dancing with the Stars or some other background noise that only serves to distract me.

Yet, well-written content is out there, and I do want to read it — just not when I’m in information-skimming, speed-overload mode.

How to use the tool.

As the website states, Instapaper is designed to store links you’d like to read once and then discard. There’s no limit to how many articles you can store, and your archive of read items is kept indefinitely (unless you delete from it).

But Instapaper isn’t optimized for keeping track of thousands of pages like Evernote.  This tool isn’t the right solution to collect, categorize, tag, filter, and search the contents of every web page you’ve ever found.  See screenshots below.

It’s compatible with the iPhone and iPad.

Once you’ve found those great web pages, read them at home or on the go even without an internet connection. Simply install the Instapaper app and download your unread articles when you have Wi-Fi or 3G coverage, then read them on the train, on the bus, in an airplane, at the bank, or in your favorite chair.

The universal app for both iPhone and iPad costs $4.99.

Like Instapaper’s web interface Text option, the app downloads a mostly-text version of each page, using ideal formatting for maximum readability on the iDevice.  You don’t need to zoom in to read the text, and you can’t accidentally side-scroll when reading a long column.

Screenshots.

Here is the screenshot from my account that depicts how simply the articles appear.  Notice you can archive your article, edit it (edit the title and add a summary), share it, move it (to a folder you can choose to set up) or delete it.

Here is the screenshot of how your saved articles look on the iPhone and iPad:

Live and Learn.

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~ by Connie Hammond ~

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[GREEN] TIP: Do You Need a Founding Partner?

Laying the foundation for your online businessDon’t Go Solo

Are you running your business all by yourself?

There’s something to said about sole proprietors.  They get to call all the shots and make all the decisions.

Entrepreneurs also get to carry all the burdens and work all the time.  Although it can be extremely exhilarating launching your dream solo, it’s an exhausting and isolating endeavor too.

There’s a myth out there about the sole entrepreneur who has the idea, starts the company and gets rich.  While there might be cases where success does happen – more frequently there is a team of two, three or four individuals behind those successful companies bringing their ideas to market.

Since there are pros and cons to having a founding partner or multiple teammates helping you pursue your dream, consider all options before forging ahead on your own versus bringing in a founding partner.

People, People, People

Building a great company requires a combination of talent, persistence and luck.

As the old real estate adage goes, the three most important success factors for any business are ‘people, people, and people.’ Foremost among these, of course, is the management team.

In an early stage company, every position is critical and must be filled with an A-Player. Successful entrepreneurs don’t settle for anything less. They don’t hire their friends or cut corners simply because it’s expedient or less costly.

If you haven’t found the A-Player yet, then wait.

It is far better to have a hole in your team than to fill it with a weak player who will need to be weeded out down the road.

Finding A Teammate

Sole proprietors need teammates who can broaden their network, bring more ideas to the table and actually help implement their idea for their new company.

So, where do you find that A-Player?

There are places you can actually go to look for your teammates.  Startup Digest has the most extensive list of “co-founders wanted” and PartnerUp is another website that connects founding partners.  Or, check out Founder Dating, a new service for finding the right co-founder.  Heck, you can even search for #founders or #jobs on twitter to surface individuals looking for early stage team members.

The Kauffman Foundation has an iStart.org platform which allows you to search ideas that have been vetted and submitted.  Sometimes you’ll find winners of national business plan competitions.  Find an idea that you like and then contact the entrepreneur to discuss potential collaborations.

Part of your success as an entrepreneur will be determined by your ability to sell other people on your idea.  Use the process of finding that A-Player as an opportunity to hone that that much-needed sales skill.

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CAUTION: Don’t Be Domain Happy


Don’t do it.

When I decided to branch out on my own, I spent an entire weekend brainstorming like a mad woman.

They say when you lose track of time, you’re most certainly following your passions.  Clearly, I was on a roll and loving every minute of it, so I guess you can say it was a passion-filled weekend.

One of the biggest brainstorms that came out of that weekend was the creation of Sharing Profiles, LLC and how my network of websites would work together to form my “conglomerate.”

(Seriously. I’m not joking here…I’ve always been one to dream big.)

I was hell bent on staying local since local was all the rage, while being flexible enough to scale.  Thus, my website planning began in spite of the fact I hadn’t performed one google search on “website strategy” or “domain strategy”.

Consider no initial research to be mistake #1. 

Take my advice and do yourself a favor.  Do some research on buying domain names before you jump in feet first.  Or check out this thread on Quora regarding negotiating the purchase of a domain name.

Start Small. Think Big.

I started putting together the pieces of the Sharing Profiles website puzzle that would fit nicely into my “sky is the limit” strategy.  I went vertical.  I went horizontal.  I even went global (and then I back-tracked just a bit).

First up was figuring out the resort branch of Sharing Profiles and those resort-based domain names that I needed to secure.

I focused on the geographic location for each resort town I wanted to target initially (ie. Aspen, Vail, etc.).  Then, I focused on the verticals where “sharing profiles” would make the most sense to that local market.  For example: Hire Me (employment), House Me (housing), Buy Me (products), Meet Me (friends), Love Me (romance), and Help Me (charity).

Obviously, Hire Me was the first vertical I focused upon due to the economy.  Aspen was the first resort town I targeted because I called Aspen home.

And with that, HireMeAspen.com was born.

The second stage of my website strategy was determining other industries where people might share their profiles (ie. mentors, renters, artists, etc.).  The good news is that you can go high and wide with the Sharing Profiles concept.

Unfortunately, that’s the bad news too.

I settled upon:

  1. Colorado resort towns
  2. The six verticals (ie. HireMe, HouseMe, etc.) for each Colorado town
  3. Geographical family (ie. AspenProfiles) for each Colorado town
  4. Education (MentorMeAlumni and HireMeAlumni)

Consider overkill to be mistake #2.

Easy enough?

Ummm…no.

In an effort to start small while thinking big, I didn’t realize what a headache and needless expense it would be trying to maintain so many different websites and domains (duh!).  Remember, I was still in the naive planning stage.

And my domain challenges didn’t stop there.

Besides being overly aggressive when it came to building my “empire,” I also got bitten by the “what if someone else buys it before I do?” bug.  It’s a fear-based syndrome that is best to avoid at all costs.

Consider paranoia to be mistake #3. 

You’ll want to consider domain names which have strong keyword potential for search rank which can also cause you to lose focus and gobble up more than your fair share.  You also may want a plural version (where applicable) or different versions of your domain name (.com, .net, .biz, etc.), but I didn’t go that route since the .com’s were available.

“What-if sick” and “domain happy,” I purchased over 40 domain names (to start) ranging from $9.99 (1 year) to $29.99 (3 years).

When all was said and done, this illness cost me over $850.00.

It wasn’t so much the outlay of cash that was the problem as much as it was the outlay of time when it came to managing and executing this well-intentioned yet a bit naive domain strategy.

If only I knew then what I know now, I would have purchased two domain names to start.  Why?  Because Sharing Profiles.com and HireMeAspen.com are as far as I got before I pivoted.

You will pivot too.

You can trust me.  You can also trust retired serial entrepreneur (8 Silicon Valley startups, no less), author and Stamford professor, Steve Blank who wrote about pivoting in his article: Why Startups are Agile and Opportunistic — Pivoting the Business Model.  I also suggest reading his book: [amazon_link id=”0976470705″ target=”_blank” ]The Four Steps to the Epiphany[/amazon_link].

Anyway, upon launch of that first Hire Me website, I realized immediately that:

  1. My market was too small.
  2. Building and maintaining the necessary social media sites (twitter, facebook, slideshare, etc.) for each domain was absurd and next to impossible for one person to handle.
  3. I’d bitten off more than I could chew with my overkill strategy

Back to the drawing board.

So, like I said, I pivoted.

Now, instead of the old 40+ domains, I have seven new ones which are part of the new Resort Lifestyle Network.  They are Resort Workers (employment), Resort Locals (news and information), Resort Pix (best of), Resort Entrepreneurs (business owners), Resort Renters (housing – to come), Resort Lifestyle TV (videos – to come) and the Resort Lifestyle Program.

This revised approach is much easier to manage — but it still could be simpler.

I realize that sometimes you just need to take the leap and get your feet wet and I’m all for bolting out of the gate, but it’s also good to take a deep breath or two before blissfully charging up a storm on Go Daddy.

Bottom Line?  There’s so much more to a domain strategy than I have even begun to touch upon here.  But when it comes to actually buying the domains, know that it’s so easy to be over zealous and over spent when attempting to lock a name down or create the universe.  Be realistic, practical and smart.

Live and Learn.

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~ by Connie Hammond ~

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CAUTION: Don’t Hire A Developer…Too Soon

Don’t do it.

When I started planning my first website, the first thing I did was call the smartest developer I knew and trusted.  Unfortunately, that should have been the last step in the startup process, not the first step.

The truth is, I had no business going into an online business without doing my homework first.

Keep the control.

When you hire a developer without basic knowledge in place, you’ll soon realize that your hands are tied because you can’t make updates or even the most minor edits without engaging your developer.  Don’t put yourself in this precarious position.

If you are going to have an online business, you have to learn, at a minimum, the basics of website development: Basic HTMLSEO, Use Cases, Wireframes, Membership Sites (we recommend Wishlist Member), Squeeze Pages, Email Marketing (I use MailChimp), Payment Processing, etc.  Not to mention, you should learn the design basics (check out this exceptional article on visual design basics).

Don’t shortcut this step.

Before hiring a developer, please do yourself a favor and go to Lynda.com, pay the $29.00 monthly subscription fee (which you can cancel at any time), and access Lynda.com’s online training library.  Then dig in and actually take the classes (you can even learn at your own pace, so no excuses).

One of the first classes I recommend is WordPress Essential Training. It takes 5.5 hours, and it can be a bit tedious for the novice.  But endure it.  It’s worth it if you’re launching an online business via a self-hosted WordPress site (which I recommended doing). Trust me, it will be time well spent.  That way you’ll have an idea of what you’re developer is doing. Go to Lynda.com for more information and to sign up.

Spend wisely.

Had I just taken the time to take some online courses in the beginning, I could have saved over $20,000 which was the development fees that I paid on the front-end of my startup and instead spent that money now that I know what I’m doing.  Granted, my interactive website, HireMeAspen.com, had lots of customization and complicated functionality like posting profiles, connecting users and ratings / recommendations.  It was also built to scale and will serve as a great foundation for profile sharing on the Resort Workers website.

My trustworthy developer did a fabulous job and delivered what I asked.  However, I should have gained the necessary knowledge about which features are worth pursuing and which aren’t before blindly spending the money and forging full steam ahead.

Mostly, I would have known how to engage my developer in a more productive way vs. naively trusting his opinions.  Knowing what I know now, I would have asked more questions, acted more deliberately and learned more about technology and market needs.

I wish I would have spent that money more wisely out of the starting gate.

Take Your Time

Had I just waited a bit longer and started with the most basic product features, I would have known what’s really involved in launching a site. I would have known that no matter how gung-ho you are, there is a natural learning curve that is difficult, if not impossible, to bypass quickly.  I would have known that it’s not necessary to have all those bells and whistles on your website that you think you need. I would have known about the Minimal Viable Product.

I would have been able to discern which features were nice-to-haves vs. ones that could really impact sales.  For most (not all) online entrepreneurs, a do-it-yourself hosted WordPress site will more than suffice for the Round One learning curve.

Minimum Viable Product.

As Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley-based retired serial entrepreneur, will tell you: your goal in the beginning should be simple: to launch the most basic, minimum viable product you can get away with so you can test your idea in the marketplace as soon as possible, and then change course or pivot as needed.

Your vision will evolve based on what you learn during the first year of planning and launching your online business…guaranteed.

To be clear, I’m not saying spending money on a developer is wrong; it’s just the timing that matters most.  In my case, it was premature when launching my first online business to hire a developer without knowing more about technology (since I was launching an online biz), fine-tuning my vision (including my target market) and testing the waters.

My developer did a fantastic job by delivering a custom site built from scratch that functions properly.  He did what I asked.  I just asked the wrong questions and wanted the wrong things.  (And if you shirk this advice and hire a developer anyway, at least be sure to have measurable deliverables, firm deadlines and a no-frills, get ‘er done and roll ‘er out policy).

Bottom line? I wish I had hired my awesome developer during Phase Two vs. Phase One.