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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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[BLACK] TOOL: Stripe Payments


Making Money

Charge it. Cha-Ching.

Are you looking for an easy to use credit card processor for your company?  Look no further. One of my favorite business solutions is Stripe, a software tool for collecting credit card payments.

Positioning itself as the ‘payments infrastructure for the internet,’ Stripe is the perfect solution for those looking to build a marketplace, mobile app, online storefront or subscription service.

Stripe Features

Do you need to accept payments quickly and easily? Stripe is not only easy to set up, but it doesn’t entail a long application process. You can be up and running same day. Do you need to accept payments from anyone, anywhere? Stripe currently supports businesses in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and many European countries.

Do you need recurring payments? With their subscription APIs and webhooks, storing customers’ cards on file is easy. Go ahead and collect the customer card upfront for background billing later. Stripe also offers flexible billing periods, coupons, trials, secure checkout (SSL) and more.

Pricing:

It only takes minutes to get started and there are no setup, monthly or hidden fees. It’s just 2.9% + 30 cents per successful charge. Transfers arrive in your bank account in 2 business days.

Sign up:

Visit the Stripe website.

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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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CAUTION: Don’t Rely On Gurus

Don’t do it.

After spending most of the past year laying a solid foundation for my resort-based websites, I found myself listening to guru podcast after guru podcast instead of concentrating on things that really mattered to drive my business.

I was of the opinion that everyone else (except for me) had uncovered the secret to online success. If I could just listen to each worthwhile podcast or attend the ‘mustn’t-miss’ webinar, I, too, would learn the secret and be on my way.

Three things happened that not only changed my mind, but more importantly, corrected my course.

The Perceived Experts

There were two back-to-back instances that didn’t just make me take pause, they stopped me cold in my tracks.

I was following one social media guru who I thought had all the answers. First, I noticed her healthy twitter following and her impressive guest lineup for her webinars. I opted-in to receive her free manifesto and purchased one of her online courses on social media.  I even participated in her members-only social media groups.

And then I decided to take the day off, away from the computer. Relaxing by the pool with my podcasts fired up and ready to go, I had the first “oh, say it isn’t so” moment.

This nice guru of mine was being interviewed as a guest entrepreneur for another podcast. Truth revealed, she was barely scraping by and admitted to almost throwing in the towel numerous times.

Here I was, thinking she was making well over six figures a year when she had just surpassed four. I did learn some things from her, but to assume she was the ‘be-all, end-all’ because of her following and connections was a miscalculation on my part.

By the way, you’ll start noticing, once you hop on the guru train, that clusters of gurus begin to form in order to build each other’s email lists via guest posting and webinars. It’s not a bad short-term tactic, but it seemed to me to be more about tit for tat than forging real partnerships focused on bringing genuine value to the end customer.

Mistake #1: Don’t believe everything you hear.

I invested less time in following the second guru.

He appeared to have credentials and came recommended by yet another guru in the circle I followed (one who actually walks the walk), so I was almost hooked when our less-than-impressive encounter occurred.

I registered on his website for his enticing offer to be considered for one of the free spots in his mastermind class. He clearly knew of one proven online secret: the money is in the (email) list.

He got this sucker’s email address.

Yet, instead of gaining access to his ‘expertise,’ I was given random reasons why we weren’t a good fit — one being the name of my company of all things. Another reason?  He wanted members of his mastermind class to possess a robust email list in order to help promote his business.

After I provocatively pushed back, he conceded. I unsubscribed after seeing others complaining in his email threads about similar tactics.

Mistake #2: Believing you can get something for nothing.

It was at this moment that my chutzpah returned, and I finally realized it was time to quit looking outside myself for some illusory magic potion.

Guess what? The secret is that there is no magic potion other than putting in the work.

Interestingly enough, when I stopped looking at the gurus and started looking in the mirror, I realized I possessed more sales and marketing experience from a longstanding sales and marketing career than they had since graduating from college (or not) just a few years earlier.  I’m guessing I also made more money.

Because I came from a corporate sales environment, I was under the wrong impression that my past experience wouldn’t translate into this new online world.

Mistake #3: Thinking online sales is completely different from offline sales.

With 20+ years of solid sales experience, I know one thing for sure: sales is sales is sales.  If you can sell offline, you more than likely have the ability to sell online, given the right tools.

Because of your experience, you’ll know that it boils down to offering value where demand exists.

Yet, since there are so many new variables that impact an online business, ranging from community development to search results, it’s easy to become sidetracked in the confidence department.

Confidence Builders

It wasn’t until I reinstated my confidence and started unsubscribing from those pundits who didn’t deliver real value to my work day that I got back to doing real revenue-generating work.

For one, the time I saved from emptying my inbox of guru solicitations has been nothing short of amazing.

Since unsubscribing, I have used that extra time to complete Technology Entrepreneurship e-145 which is a course offered through Stanford University (it is one of my endorsed programs).

This third ‘eye-opener’ was time well spent.

If you want to succeed in any online business, I suggest you start there, learning from the best (really).  This course, which was difficult and time consuming, was inspirational, educational and invaluable.

I just learned that out of 2,000+ teams who participated in Stanford’s foray into online learning, my Food Compass Team Project is one of a handful being considered by Stanford for promotion of their online course.

This compliment (and my team’s five star rating) drives home the point that when you stop looking to others for all the answers, it’s amazing what you’ll uncover — all by yourself.  You’re more competent than you think you are, and the truth is that no one knows your business better than you do.

Now, if you’d just start taking the time to listen to your intuition over their podcasts.

Bottom line?

I may have been prey to some of the self-proclaimed gurus who didn’t deliver, but that’s a thing of my past.  If you don’t have proof (such as a solid Alexa ranking, huge community or a professional write up vs. a guest blog post) or years — not months — of experience backing up your claims, count me out.

You need some feathers in your cap if you’re going to be called a guru in my book.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are many experts, both online and offline, who can teach you more than a thing or two, so don’t rule out building partnerships and learning wherever you can.  I just recommend choosing your gurus wisely by teaming up with accomplished entrepreneurs who have built real businesses and/or products that generate real revenue.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past year — but my primary focus from the start should have been testing and confirming my hypotheses about the market. I’ll continue to use Lean Launch Lab to do more of that going forward.

And although I will still follow a few of the proven gurus who have taught this old dog new tricks, I’ll be refocusing my efforts and trusting myself more.

I hope you’ll do the same.

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[BLACK] TOOL: Shoeboxed


Making Money

Ready to eliminate paper clutter?

As entrepreneurs, we’re always collecting receipts. Yet, it seems like we never have any spare time to organize them.

Shoeboxed.com is ready to come to your rescue!  Consider Shoeboxed your full time virtual assistant that saves you time and money (especially during tax season)!

Shoeboxed takes the pain out of paperwork.  All you do is send the paper documents (receipts and business cards) by mail via the supplied envelope or upload them via your mobile phone.

Shoeboxed will scan, enter the data and categorize the receipts before posting them into your secure account.

Why I like it.

For me, the most appealing thing is the ability to just ship off all your receipts (in a shoebox!) and have them scanned.  So no matter where you are in your fiscal year, you can bring you receipt organization up to date without scanning one thing yourself.

That means your time as an entrepreneur is free to spend on more important issues.

With Shoeboxed mobile, you can just snap a photo of the receipt or business card on the go and upload it directly to your account.

Watch the video to learn more.

Pricing:

It’s free or you can get a paid account for $9.95/month.

Sign up:

Shoeboxed.com - Scan Receipts and Business Cards

Live and Learn.

If you enjoyed learning about this tool, please share it with others below.
Thank you for your support.

~ by Connie Hammond ~

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[BLUE] TOOL: Brand Yourself



Do you really need a free and easy way to manage your online reputation, Google ranking and personal branding?

Yes, you do.

We were all taught that a firm handshake, professional attire and a strong resume were the necessary pillars of a good first impression. Unfortunately, this philosophy is no longer enough.

With the advent of social media, making an unforgettable first impression in-person is no longer the only thing you need to worry about.  Whether you like it or not, you’re being ‘googled’ by your friends, families and love interests as well as by the people who do business with you.

Brand Yourself is a great new tool that helps you control your personal brand online.

So, what does your online reputation say about you?

Search engines like Google are an incredibly important part of your reputation, but unless you know how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) works — which most people don’t — or unless you have thousands of dollars to spend on a traditional online reputation company, there is nothing you can do about it.

Until now.

The founders at Brand Yourself decided to put the power of SEO and online reputation in everybody’s hands, regardless of how tech savvy or wealthy they might be.  Their goal was to make it as easy as possible to help anyone improve their own search results and online reputation.

Brand Yourself believes people should be able to control their own online reputation without spending thousands on an online reputation company.

The Difference

The problem with most Reputation Management services is that they’re focused on the reputation of businesses, not people, using the same model for both.  For the average person who’s just trying to improve the search results for their own name, it simply doesn’t make sense to pay a reputation service thousands of dollars.

Brand Yourself is the only product concentrated solely on helping individuals control the search results for their name.  They’ve cut out needless complexity and focused squarely on creating a simple, effective solution that’s easy for anybody to use.

Why Do I Like It?

I was actually blown away with how easy their user interface was.  When I signed up for my profile, I had to stop and take notes because it was so incredibly easy-to-follow. They walk you through, step by step, the different ways you can improve your rankings, starting with declaring whether or not your current Google search results are legit or not (positive or negative).

I love the simple online profile that you create which is easily shared with others or placed in an email signature (not to mention that the profile becomes another positive addition to your search results).

Also, the tool lets you submit links that you actually want people to find when searching for your name.

Finally, Brand Yourself helps you improve your search results the right way (no black hat tactics).  You can view their SEO philosophy here.

How Much Does It Cost?

Their basic features are 100% free and their premium features are incredibly affordable (just a few bucks a month).

More Information:

WEBSITE: BrandYourself.com

LEARN MORE ABOUT SEO:


Live and Learn.

Get the latest TIPs and TOOLs:

     

~ by Connie Hammond ~

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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

Get the latest tips and tools!

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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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Corporate or Entrepreneur Path? Choose Well.

Should you go for it or play it safe?

This open letter was written by the CEO of Ooga Labs,  James Currier, to the engineers at his alma mater one night.

“Don’t make my mistake!

So you’re going to take a cube job with slow Microsoft, bureaucratic Oracle, or with some boring financial company?

C’mon! Do you want spend all of your life wearing modest habits of charcoal grey, driving your Volvo on the salty roads of the drab East Coast, paying 50% of your earnings to taxes, and hanging out with narrow minded people, congratulating yourselves on improving a feature of a widget of version 12.1b.4 of some software, or maybe improving the financial return of some rich bald dude in Greenwich, CT by 0.2% above the S&P Index?

Has no one taken you aside and said, “Wait! You’re about to waste 10 years of your life figuring out the path you chose out of college is crap!”

No one did to me either when I went to Princeton, and it took me until I was 31 to get my ass out to San Francisco and do tech start ups. Don’t make my mistake. Save yourself now. Even if you don’t work for me. I mean it.

Out here, you think about the future. Out here, you are surrounded by colorful, dynamic technologists and entrepreneurs who are really making a difference, pushing the edge.

Most people think that working for a big or known company will give them good experience. That’s kind of like saying learning to sit still for dental surgery is good experience. Sure, it’s an experience, but there are life paths where you don’t have to have dental surgery, or work for a big company, to have the best life. In fact, I would argue that you learn the wrong things working for a big company, and that it’s actually not good experience.

A good experience is when you really make something happen in the world. Big companies teach you how to work through layers of bureaucracy and how to solve problems in very risk-averse ways — in short, how to make something happen in their organization. A big company is not the safe career choice. It’s the risky choice. It risks your mind and your life.

Oh, and one more thing. Initially, your friends and family may not understand why you didn’t take that “safe” cube-job with the company whose name they know, but in two years they will understand. They will love using the websites you build, and they will talk often with their friends about it. They will see you having a vibrant life, pushing the edge of what’s happening, and they’ll be proud to know you.

Take a few minutes and reconsider your first “starting point” out of college. It sets up a direction that takes some time to change. Aim yourself in the right direction. Again, you don’t have to come to Ooga Labs, just get to the Bay Area and join a startup. You will never regret it.”

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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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[DOUBLE DIAMOND] TIP: It’s Time To Burn Some Bridges

Get the right mindset for your online business.Everyone thinks that burning bridges is a horrible thing.

But when you’re an entrepreneur in the start up phase of a business, burning bridges is not only a good thing – it’s a necessity for success.

As you cross the bridge over the great divide from employee to entrepreneur, you must burn that bridge down or else you’ll find yourself constantly distracted, looking back over your shoulder.

Burning bridges keeps you from backstepping into past illusions of safety and grandeur.

When I talk about burning bridges, I’m not advocating that you write off old colleagues or telling an old boss to go jump.

What I am talking about is firmly saying ‘no’ to those nagging options that keep appearing which only serve as tests to your entrepreneurial resolve.

Don’t be like a child.

Consider a toddler who’s learning how to crawl.

With each step, he strays further and further from his comfort zone in his quest for independence. But once he crosses a threshold to a new room, he realizes “momma” isn’t in sight and goes scurrying back to safety. Once he discovers she’s there patiently waiting for him, he starts the process all over again.

This tireless zigzag pattern of reassurance works great for a child who’s in the process of flexing his independent muscles, but this fear-based pattern can wreak havoc on success when you’re an entrepreneur.

It all boils down to commitment.

Until you’re fully committed to success, you’re never going to grow your business efficiently and effectively because you’ll lack focus, constantly question yourself and ponder too many ‘what if’ scenarios instead of moving forward quickly, with resolve.

In an interview about who’s most likely to succeed with Charlie Rose, Paul Graham (cofounder of Y Combinator which is a funder of startups) indicated that “there are some people who just get what they want in the world. If you want to start a startup, you have to be one of those people. You can’t be passive and wishy-washy.”

Paul Graham talks to Charlie Rose about Character Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

He goes on to offer the five keys to entrepreneurial success: determination, mental flexibility, imagination, naughtiness (someone with a gleam in their eye; you don’t want obedient employee types) and friendship (founders who are already friends). Notice how determination was #1. Make no mistake about it, becoming truly committed – in spite of the risks involved – is one of the hardest challenges you need to face before you can truly move forward. An entrepreneur, by definition, is a “risk-taking businessperson.”  They are by nature daredevils – the ‘Evil Kneivels’ of the business world if you will. They’re constantly pushing the limits of safety, getting out of their comfort zones and taking risks to grow their business. And as entrepreneurs move forward with this daredevil mindset, failure is an almost constant companion on their journey.

Failure is your friend.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘fail fast and fail often.’  Although rarely intended, failure should almost certainly be expected. Too many people are afraid to fail, but those failures should be viewed as learning opportunities on your path towards success. You’ll experience lots of ‘mini-failures’ during the startup phase when you’re testing the waters in a big way. When failure starts showing up, it’s easy to run back to your old, safe life which once existed. Security blankets can show up in a variety of ways: a tried and true tempting corporate job offer which looks like the safer bet, obtaining a not-so great loan just to give you some breathing room or taking on even more dreaded consulting work that really only serves to keep your eye off the prize. Pretty soon, the mere distraction of looking over your shoulder to make sure there’s a safer option available starts to become a liability.  With each retreat back to the illusion of safety, you lose your energy. You lose momentum. You lose focus.

Keep your eye on the prize.

We’re led to believe that being uncomfortable is a bad thing. But I encourage you to consider the alternative. Being uncomfortable may be just what you need to propel yourself forward when many others give up. Are you tired, exhausted, and broke? Have you completely run out of gas?  Good. Get out of your comfort zone. Burn those bridges. Commit.  

Live and Learn.

We’d love to hear your perspective! Have you been acting wishy-washy and fear based? Do you need to recommit in a big way to propel your business forward? How do you cope when life gets tough and failure rears its ugly head?    

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~ by Connie Hammond ~  

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[Video] 5 Shortcuts To Finding Your Passion

 

In this video, Jen Gresham of Everyday Bright explains to Leo Babauta of Zen Habits how to determine if your passion is worth pursuing.  Is your hobby just a hobby, or could it translate into a real money-making career?  She offers five shortcuts that will help in your decision making about what passions are worth pursuing.

This video also discusses the anti-passions and why you can’t ignore them, why passion isn’t everything, the #1 mistake people make when choosing a passion and advice for the extremely passionate (do you have to choose).

Passion Webinar: Jen Gresham on Careers from Leo Babauta on Vimeo.

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[BLUE] TIP: 15 Ways To Gain Credibility

Promote your online business.

How Can You Look Like An Expert?

Many entrepreneurs need to be perceived as experts (or at least knowledgeable) in their respective fields in order to establish trust, attract and retain customers and build their community.

But what do you do when you’re still fairly green and trying to make a name for yourself in your industry?

Luckily, there are many options available to help you build your online and offline reputation. With a bit of effort and time, you can go from a little unknown entrepreneur to a highly respected, quoted, retweeted, reshared, befriended, oneplused industry leader.

First, it’s important to remember that integrity and credibility go hand in hand. It’s no use building a solid, credible reputation if you’re just going to throw that hard-earned reputation away by not exhibiting trustworthy behavior.

15 Things To Do Now

Here are 15 things to do that will set you apart from your competition and get the snowball rolling.

  1. Obtain client testimonials that discuss the benefits and results of working together. Be proactive by asking for client feedback / testimonials during (or shortly thereafter) your working relationship.
  2. Seek out speaking engagements. At a minimum, start attending relevant conferences, seminars, webinars, telesummits, etc. and be sure to follow-up with new contacts.
  3. Produce accurate, informative and well-composed content (ie. blog posts, podcasts, videos, etc.) that demonstrate your expertise and personality. A few examples include expert interviews, online training and product reviews.
  4. Create case studies or success stories that show how your expertise solved a problem by saving money, time or aggravation.
  5. Expose your content to other outlets for wider distribution (ie. write a guest column, be a guest on a podcast, send out press releases, etc.). Get to know your press contacts and position yourself as a commentator.
  6. Image is important. Make sure all online and offline elements (ranging from business cards and website development to post quality and grammar) exhibit professionalism as well as brand consistency. It is also wise to have an active presence on at least one social media site (ie. Facebook, twitter, google +, linked in, you tube, etc.) to demonstrate you’re not living in the dark ages.
  7. Write blog posts (or audio/video) on a regular basis to demonstrate you’re active in your industry and on top of the latest and greatest news and happenings.
  8. Create guides, tips and how-to’s that you can share with your target audience.
  9. Produce in-depth, thought leadership pieces about your industry and include your personal experiences, the problems you’ve faced and how you solved them, the tools and software you use for increased efficiency and why, etc.
  10. Connect people. If you know of a resource (not just people — places and things too) that will help solve a problem for a fellow community member, make an introduction or share it.
  11. Author (or co-author) an e-book.
  12. Initiate and comment on discussions on social media networks and on blogs. Ask and answer questions.
  13. Re-tweet or share articles/posts that will be of interest to your target audience.
  14. Seek to demonstrate your expertise and capabilities through your bio or about me page online.
  15. Last but not least, the most important thing you can do to establish yourself as an expert is to “act as-if.” If you don’t believe you’re an expert, no one else will. So start walking the walk and talking the talk.

What other ways do you think entrepreneurs can/should evidence their abilities?

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 Assume You Know Your Audience


Don’t do it.

When I launched Hire Me Aspen, I thought I had a pretty good handle on who my target audience was.

After all, I was targeting someone just like me.

The idea of my website arose out of a genuine concern about the economy and living in a resort town: “What would I do if I lost my work-from-anywhere corporate job and needed to freelance on the side to make extra money while I launched my business?”

Plus, there’s a frequently heard saying circulating around resort towns that goes something like: “When you live in a resort town, you either own three homes or work three jobs.”

So I knew there was a real possibility of my having to work side gigs to make it happen and stay where I loved.  And I knew this old adage proved my theory that there would be a definite need for my service.

(Mistake #1: Don’t base your market research on hypothetical sayings).

I was qualifed for a variety of side jobs, but getting a babysitter gig or something casual like that when you’re not 15 years old could prove challenging for a middle-aged corporate executive-turned-resort-entrepreneur.

I certainly had side-job skills, but how would I get the word out that I wanted to earn some extra money?  There wasn’t an efficient way for me to market my multitude of services (ie. writing, dog walking, personal assistant, etc.).

So with “me” in mind, I created Hire Me Aspen.

(Mistake #2: Thinking everyone thinks just like you do.)

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to jump right in, believing that there will be a hungry audience for your outstanding services.

You trick yourself into believing, “Hey, I’m a fairly normal person (in the scheme of things).  I’ve discovered a need that wasn’t being met.  I’m extraordinarily intelligent.  I’ve got what it takes.  I’m going for it.”

And with those misguided thoughts, you’re off and running.

Well, I’m here to tell you to slow your roll.  First things first.  You have to do some homework to get it right.

Start With Personas

So, what exactly is a persona?  The following description is paraphrased from wikipedia.

In marketing and user-centered design, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use your website, brand or product in a similar way.

Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of your users and help guide decisions about your products and services.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a real group of customers.  In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. 

For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for marketing and design. 

Check out this article which also includes an example of a persona: How to Use the Power of Personas to Connect with Your Target Audiences.

Personas help you have clear and succinct understanding of who your target market is.  Personas help you decide which products, services and promotional materials you should be producing.  Personas help you develop meaningful and relevant content that drives sales.  Personas help you determine what content your audience would likely search for, subscribe to and share (in social media).

It’s also a good idea to market to someone’s potential (or who they want to be) vs. who they are right now.  When Marlboro launched their Marlboro Man marketing campaign, they were targeting cowboy wannabes.  The average Marlboro customer looked nothing like the man in the ads.

Having a deeper understanding of who that person is can be extremely helpful when formulating your business strategy.

Tell a story.

Are you a good storyteller?  If not, please learn.  Being able to articulate a user narrative is an important part of the business planning process.

I love listening to Stanford e-Corner podcasts whenever I can because I always learn something new about running my business.  Just the other day, I listened to Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, share his thoughts on the power of user narratives in one of those podcasts.

“Your user narrative should read like a play,” says Jack.

You have to get into the mind of your customer to write your narrative.  They don’t have to be written in stone.  They just have to be written.  Consider them a work in progress which will continue to evolve and change over time as your company evolves and changes over time.

Here is another example of a narrative which demonstrates the detail and structure needed for it to be a thorough exercise.  It’s important to note what a narrative is not:

“I went to the store. I got some milk. I checked out and went home.”

In this brief example, there is a character and setting, but there is no conflict. The story seems to not go anywhere.

In other words, when composing your user narratives for your business, be sure to ask yourself about the challenges your customers face and how your products and services solve those challenges.

Bottom Line? Taking the time to write out (vs. think out) your user narratives is critical for reaching a truly targeted audience.  Otherwise, you’ll just be throwing darts with a blindfold on where your marketing efforts are concerned.

Live and Learn.

I’d love to hear your perspective!
Have you taken the time to write out your personas or user narratives? Or, are you a “wing it” kind of business owner?
Please share your comments below.
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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 ~