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Rural Housewife or Tech Entrepreneur? You Decide

Archive for the ‘eCommerce’ Category

Random Acts of Patterns

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Knit Purl GurlLast week, on Google Plus, I was introduced to the most amazing idea by the Knit Purl Gurl, Karrie Steinmetz when she posted…

Tuesdays are for RAP (Random Acts of Patterns)! http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/friends-of-knitpurlgurl/2319615/1-25#24 Please join in!! #knitting #crochet

Although I didn’t quite catch the marketing implications of random patterns until after I had gifted nearly 20 copies of my designs, Random Acts of Patterns is just brilliant on so many levels.  Here’s why…

The premiss is along the same lines of Random acts of Kindness, but in this case the idea is to find a neat pattern and buy it for another Ravelry.com user using the “send as gift” function that’s part of the check-out process.

There are 2 functions of this process that are very intriguing to me.  First, it’s a way to help generate income for independent designers.  The second is that it’s a great way to advertise your own designs by sending them out to random knitters.

From a strictly business standpoint, when I buy ad placements, I take a chance that I won’t have enough sales to break even.  For example, I purchased Ravelry ads a few months in a row.  The fist run I did better than break even on the cost of the ads by also making enough money to cover the cost of the materials used in the pattern.  In the second run, I didn’t do quite as well, but broke even on the ads.  The 3rd and 4th times were a bust putting me in a position where I needed more pattern sales to break even on all of the expenses.

There are many reasons why the same ads didn’t do well over time.  Summer months aren’t always considered as Knitting months.  People may have been tired of seeing the ads. Or any number of things.  While it is possible to hone in on the winning combination the idea of Random Acts of Patterns presents a whole new twist on marketing.

The main consideration with #RAPatterns, for the indie designer, is that patterns, once created, don’t represent revenue until someone buys them. The next consideration is although you might be running at a loss with materials and time put into the design, giving away promo, electronic copies, doesn’t create additional expenses. I always say that word of mouth has to start somewhere and this is a great way to kick it off.

Knit Purl GurlThe bonus of Tuesday’s being for #RAPatterns are the limits designed into the practice. Coupons, door busters, annual sales and all the rest are just ways companies train customers not to pay full price, for anything.  But a random pattern given only on Tuesday is more along the lines of winning a prize. There is no expectation that waiting will result in a discount so people buy when they’re ready to.

By participating in Random Acts of Patterns on Tuesdays you have a great way to get some patterns out in the wild where they might generate some buzz for your work all while keeping people guessing about your next move.  It also doesn’t hurt to be seen as generous either.

The next question is how this process can be adapted for other business models.  Are there businesses this wouldn’t work with?  Why not?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment, below.

PS, don’t forget to thank Kerrie for this amazing idea.  Click either knitter to visit her site.

 

Written by Karlie

October 22nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Ego’s role in Business Websites

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Learning to FishI’ve been advising one of my fellow SCORE counselors about the role of websites in business as we attempt to help one of his clients boost her sales.  In his latest email he said, “a web site must have a business purpose, not an ego purpose.”

I couldn’t agree more!

In this case, the issue is not that the client is a braggart, but that she’s unwilling to accept that she might have taken a wrong turn with her website.  I’m pretty sure I know where she’s coming from because I struggled for years thinking my websites, business cards and other materials were just fine because that’s what family and friends will say to spare feelings.  I can tell she doesn’t understand why, with all the positive feedback, the business is struggling to get off the ground.

I also assume she’s reeling from the sting of my reality check because I didn’t have many positive things to say in the website critique I was asked to give.   No item was safe as I did my best to explain why the color scheme right on through to the composition of her professionally shot photos could be contributing to the sites performance issues.

In her response to my critique she asked for a second opinion, and, I’m worried that she’ll keep looking until she gets an opinion she likes.

Hopefully she won’t have to learn the hard way that business is no place for the faint of heart.  If you’re not willing to accept the opinion of an “expert,” no matter what the field of endeavor, who has no stake in your success or failure, then you’re subconsciously choosing to wait for the competition to mop the floor with you.  Again, harsh, I know, but tough love is always a downer at first.

Shopping for complements isn’t going to save a business, but being your own harshest critic might.  If you intend to make a living by owning a small business, you need to check your feelings at the door and allow logic and honest feedback sort out the path to success.

Written by Karlie

January 19th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

BitNami – I think I’m in love

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Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’m a fan of beginning with the finishing touches whenever I can.  While the idea sounds easy enough, it’s not a fool-proof method of building business applications especially when you consider the prep that is involved.

To begin a website with the finishing touches, we need to start with the idea that any computer can become a server.  All you need are the appropriate applications to announce your presence to the world.

The thing is, the “appropriate software” is a list of things such as

  • an operating system – Microsoft, Apple, Linux, or another.
  • server software – Apache, LAMP, MAMP, etc.
  • the database – MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.
  • software for any languages your applications will be using – PHP, Ruby, Perl, etc.

After all those are up and running you’re ready to install your Content Management System, eLearning, Photo Gallery, or whatever else you might need to conquer the internet.

While this may not sound like too many steps, for those without a lot of experience, the process may not be as straightforward as it sounds.   The term “Dependency Hell” comes to mind when I think about how the process could turn sour.

This morning, however, I stumbled upon BitNami.  While I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, the idea has me fluttering with the first blush of puppy love.

BitNami offers to simplify deployment of many of the internet applications that I recommend to SCORE and Webpath clients like Joomla, DruPal and others.

I’d suggest you take a look at their site for complete information, but, in short, the beauty of BitNami comes through in the steps that follow the operating system in my list above.

Rather than downloading and installing all of the other components separately, the BitNami stack does it for you.  The server software, programming language support, database, and application come together in one tidy install.

Now I’m not saying that there won’t be tweaks left to perform, but when you’re jumping ahead to the spit-polish phase, BitNami can make it easier for you to get there.

Now I’m not all raves at this point.  One major shortcoming is that they’re lacking any sort of shopping cart system like OSCommerce or Magento.  But like most projects, a quick trip to their forums show me that you could request an application.  I even saw that OSCommerce will come down the pipe if there are enough votes for it.

I’ll be keeping my eye on BitNami because I think it holds a lot of potential to help small businesses get up and running faster.  Faster also means less money out-of-pocket.  Especially if/when the offerings grow and more of my favorite FOSS Internet suites are available.

Written by Karlie

October 1st, 2010 at 9:25 am

Keeping your Facebook Fan Page Perky

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By now we all know that social networking is about attraction and that constant blasts about sales and product updates is not that attractive.

For the On-Disk.com Fan Page I’ve decided to post at least one FOSS or Open Source link per day, since I’m pretty sure that sort of content would be most attractive to our customer base. So far, I’d say it’s working. How do I know it’s working? Not all of the fans are friends and family.  I did put a fan banner in rotation on our website, but other than that I’m not pushing the fan page out to my customers.

So when you’re up to your eyeballs keeping the business running, how do you find the time to keep your Facebook fan page perky?

One answer is StumbleUpon.

For me, StumbleUpon started out as the “Entertain me” button, but by using some of it’s features, I’m also able to find neat content for fan pages too.

It starts off assuming you’re already stumbling content that’s relevant to your industry.

The second step is setting your Stumble bar so that you can stumble for relevant content. If you click the image above, you’ll see where and how to select your topics.

From there, just hit the Stumble! button as needed to find a good page to share with your fans.

As a personal preference, I like to us the linking feature on Facebook status updates. While you can just add the link in the “What’s on your mind?” box, I think it looks better to save it for comments and add the link separately.

Written by Karlie

March 25th, 2010 at 8:11 am

The old Bandwidth is Like Water Explination

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I had a phone message come in from the SCORE office on Tuesday from a small business owner who has questions about expanding her business onto the internet.

While it may have sounded better to say that she “had” questions, I know that no matter how good I get with explaining the guts of eCommerce websites, there’s always more to know and thus, more questions to be asked.

One topic I always need to cover is the basics of hosting – specifically storage and bandwidth since those two factors effect the cost more than just about anything. The idea is to get the right package. One where you’re not paying for more than what you need or getting hit with overages every month – or worse, getting a limited number of visitors to the site. (better to get a big bill than have your reputation tarnished by poor site performance)

I’ve found that the easiest way to explain storage and bandwidth is to think about the data as if it were water. Most people can quantify and understand this analogy even if they’re not plumbing experts.

So in this analogy bandwidth is the pipes or hoses and storage is the tank.

To determine how much storage one would need for a website, we need to think about the content the site will be providing so that we can get a general idea of what we’ll be dealing with.

A full page of HTML coded text – without any images or fancy script functions (like Java Mouse over effects) would be a drop.

Add some graphical layout elements like small images to soften the corners of tables or a tiled background image you’ll bring your data up to 1/4 teaspoon.

A large header image adds another 1/4 teaspoon to the size of the page.

Of course you can rack up the file sizes pretty quickly with high resolution graphics (1 cup) and even need more space with HD Video (1 liter per minute)

So depending on what content you are thinking about I would hope you can begin wrapping your head around the data storage needs. At least in a Small, Medium, Large, sort of way.

Next we need to think about bandwidth allotments so that your visitors can view your content. While we commonly say that someone is visiting a website, the truth is, the content is being sent to their machine. So each time someone requests information the tap is running.

Bandwidth is measured by each byte of data that comes and goes and how many of them can move per second. Just as you can measure how much water your family uses, you can also measure the bytes coming in with requests and bytes going out with content.

When your hosting agreement comes with a transfer cap, think of it as being limited to a certain number of liters/gallons. So while this doesn’t provide a definitive number, it does help if you keep in mind a small number of people requesting a large file will have the same effect on your bandwidth cap as a large number of people requesting small files.

The bytes per second number will be a factor in how fast the data can be sent from your server. Will your users be trying to get a gallon of information through a drinking straw? Hopefully not.

Now I’m sure you’ll have more questions. If so, leave them in the comments below.

~Karlie

Rain Barrel by Bas van den Wijngaard

Written by Karlie

March 4th, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Full Spectrum Tech Writing – Defining the process

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My first blog post about Full Spectrum Copywriting was a little short on details. While I’m not a fan of excuses, I can say I left the post short because I’m not sure how much is too much for the blog.

With less than 20 full blog posts under my belt, please bear with me as I find my blogging rhythm.

So let me take Mel’s questions one at a time and see if I can’t clarify things.

How do you figure out what terms (and phrasings) are at what level of beginner/expertness?

Part of it is basic knowledge of the field you’re writing about. The rest is putting yourself in a position to see where the questions might come from. Can you anticipate the FAQ?

So let’s say On-Disk.com is listing a 6 DVD Repo set. First, I need a draft of what needs to be said. Since I’m pretty good with Linux jargon, my first draft will most likely exclude any entry level terms.

For the second step, I’ll look for variations that include opportunities to define the draft without the use of Jargon. Since I’m listing a Repo, I need to use the variations on that term in my listing — Repository, Extra/Additional software, etc — as I strive to find the lowest common denominator.

Lather, rinse and repeat for any of the other industry specific terms from my basic draft – Mirror, Package manager, Dependencies, and such.

Balance is key. You’re not trying to dumb things down or show people how smart you really are. Instead, think about how you can bring people up to speed without taking too much time to do so.

The inspiration for the technique came from my uncle John. He was the first person I ever knew with a PhD (Or at least associated with a PhD). Because I was still a child and feeling that he was probably much smarter than everyone else I told him so. He then explained that no matter how “smart” someone might be, if they can’t explain a concept to someone else, they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

How do you learn these terms if you’re copy writing for a field you’re encountering for the first time (or does that not happen much)?

The thing is, you don’t need to be an expert to take advantage of the full spectrum. Being on the middle ground is also a good place to start.

Most of the time, the copy writing process is more like a translation service. It doesn’t really matter what the product is, since the person/people on the bleeding edge of the technology usually know all the terms and jargon. They may also supply a draft for you to write from.

Have you ever done an experiment to see how much more effective full-spectrum is (over writing entirely for a novice or an expert audience, over writing with the reverse order – expert terms at the beginning, beginner at the end)? That sort of data would make an incredibly compelling pitch for FSC.

Not a formal study, but I do have anecdotal evidence to suggest the benefits.

It kind of plays into one of my other beliefs about customer service.

If one person comments, take note but use your best judgment on how seriously to take it. If a second person tells you almost the exact same thing, there’s no guessing, you’ve got a serious problem.

Full Spectrum copy writing developed as I wrote and rewrote listings and web pages so we could stop tripping up our customers.

~Karlie

Written by Karlie

January 18th, 2010 at 9:18 am

Full Spectrum Copywriting

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I’ve just been hired for what initially was billed as a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) job. The thing is, when I’m done, the website isn’t going to be optimized just for the engines. If I do my job well, the site will also be optimized for sales conversions.

Let me explain…

The company I’ll be working with offers a software suite to enterprise customers. The important part of these transactions is understanding how enterprise level decisions are made.

First off, most sales training makes closing the deal sound as if you simply need to get past the gatekeeper and convince a decision maker. As if the process is a linear game, like Mario trying to rescue the princess.

The reality in enterprise level B2B sales is getting the buying committee to understand how the products and services will benefit their organization. Knowing that each person is going to have a different point of view on how their company will best be served. For some it’s all about the financial commitment and return on investment (ROI). For others it’s integration into an existing systems.

This is where the idea of Full Spectrum Copywriting comes in.

When I’m writing anything that might be technical or only appeal to professionals in a specific industry, I assume the audience has both entry level and expert understanding of the topic.

To keep everything organized, I start with plain language and use more industry jargon as I go.

As someone reads down a page or goes deeper into the site by clicking second and third level links, it’s important they understand what they’re buying into before they get overwhelmed by terminology. By continuing into industry specific jargon, experts in the field should also be satisfied that the company might actually know what they’re talking about.

Just don’t get hung up on on what defines your unique set of technical terms since they’ll vary by the audience. For example, if I’m talking about how a product or service saves money, I’ll be sure to include details only an accountant would love.

This technique also works outside enterprise sales because you’re never quite sure who’s reading your materials. Even consumer items will have quite a broad spectrum of people who will need their questions answers.

One example would be a family contemplating a big ticket purchase. Will your customer’s spouse see the benefits?

We also try to use Full Spectrum Copywriting techniques at On-Disk.com since there’s always a good mix of expert and new users viewing the catalog. I’m fairly certain our customers don’t always run their purchases past a spouse or committee, but it’s really easy to assume the customer knows what you’re talking about or leave out the juicy, technical details advanced users might need to know before they buy.

I’d love it if you’d leave questions for me about Full Spectrum Copywriting in the comments below.

~Karlie

Written by Karlie

January 15th, 2010 at 7:13 am

Beginning with the finishing touches

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So here’s another general response that pops up all the time when I’m counseling at SCORE.

The question is usually something like “Is $1400 too much to pay for a 5 page website?”

So my answer is usually something like this…

If I knew more about the type of business, the better I could tailor my response here, but in general, you’ll want to go Open Source.

Open Source software is publicly licensed. It’s underlying code is open and available for modification and to top it all off, it’s usually been tested and tweaked a thousand times before you use it so you’re less likely to have problems or need support contracts.

Also, if you find something that’s close enough to what you want your site to do function wise, you’ll only be paying a professional to shine it up for you. So instead of months of custom code that will need complete bug testing you’ll be looking at a week or less to get things up and running.

You’ll also need to think about the site in two ways… What’s behind the scenes managing content, catalog and check-out process – usually the database portion of the website and your admin panel. Then how that data feeds out into your site.

The good news, the graphical layout is really a minor detail once the back end is working properly.

You’ll usually have a template of some sort (Cascade Style Sheet – CSS or XML) for the graphical layout with snips of code to indicate where the various components go. Menu on the left or the right – no problem. Don’t like the colors, again, no problem. Simply tweak the style sheet and all your information will fill in just where it’s suppose to go.

Every page will have a similar look and feel while allowing you lots and lots of dynamic space for content.

You might even be able to find an open source template that you can modify to suit your needs.

For instance, http://on-disk.com/ is http://demo.oscommerce.com/ We have modified the code and the database to meet our needs, but the sky’s the limit on graphical modifications. We’ve kept somethings the same, but there’s no need to be stuck with anything.

Another example is Webpath.net The back end is a custom wiki/blog hybrid that we created a long time ago, but the layout started out as a free template called Invention. I liked the general layout, but wanted it co-branded to the On-Disk.com website so the color scheme and graphical elements needed a quick change.  All in all, the updates took about an hour to complete and most of that was time I spent looking and deciding if I liked it or not.

But these are just examples. You’ll have lots of choices with Open Source Shopping carts, Content Management systems and loads and loads of templates to choose from.

Just think of your business functions in Must, Should and Can features. Knowing what you need will help you sort through options as you research components for your site.

What must the site do from the beginning? What should be included in phase 2. What can we integrate now for future upgrades so that we don’t have to re-write the code?

Have I overwhelmed you? In any case, let’s stop here for now. Comment with questions.

~Karlie

Written by Karlie

December 15th, 2009 at 3:41 pm