Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category
Not all entrepreneurial ventures need to be grandiose, million dollar money makers. In fact, many of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years are moonlighting in small businesses to help fill gaps in their family budgets. A part-time business might be just the thing you need to bring in a few extra dollars for your family too.
Starting a business for your spare time also has some major advantages. For one, you don’t have to quit your day job so your regular paycheck and other benefits aren’t going anywhere.
Second, starting a small business in your spare time allows you to bootstrap the business. If your goal is to earn extra money, starting with a small amount of seed money, allows the business to grow at a pace that is equivalent to the money you earn so you invest in the business instead of making loan payments. Plus any money you don’t pay the bank for interest on a line of credit is money you get to keep.
When thinking about what kind of business you might be able to bootstrap in your spare time, I would suggest you start by evaluating your current hobbies. My guess is that you probably already have a basic kit of tools and know a little about the industry which will make the jump from hobby to business easier. For example;
- Festivals – If you love going to festivals in the summer time, consider becoming a vendor. Since you know what events are planned and what is usually offered, you could find a niche novelty food or product and set up a table. (Like the Kettle Corn tent in this articles masthead)
- Second-hand items – If you simply can’t pass a good pile of junk without picking up a few treasures, consider re-selling. Options include selling vintage items on Etsy, eBay and other sites online or getting space at your local flea market.
- Teach a class – Maybe you’re a world class knitter or have another special talent you can share with the world. Sites like Betterfly and the lessons section on Craig’s List can help you find customers.
- Hunting and Fishing – Since you already know all the best spots in the area, why not let someone tag along?
- Repair services – take all those pleas for help you get from your family and friends and set up shop repairing computers, small engines or anything else you know you can fix.
Of course the list is only limited by your imagination.
One pitfall of turning a hobby into a business is to change your mindset about what you’re trying to do. One common mistake most part-time business owners make is treating the business like it’s still a hobby.
Learning business basics isn’t limited to those who want to quit their job and start a new career. If you want to keep what you earn, and grow the business you’ll still need a plan, know how to keep your books and keep your fledgling business from faltering along the way. You might also have to get insurance, permits and collect sales taxes.
The good news is that most of this can be learned in the Hard Knocks Business Academy. I’m also here to help you along, so don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule an appointment (the first appointment is always free)
Every break my children have from school, we make the trek from Rochester NY to Clio Michigan and spend our vacations working on projects that will bring us closer to our eventual move. This week, we finally brought the first load of our belongings and in between wind and snow storms, we managed to get our internet connection installed.
While talking to Mike, the Comcast installer, about our need for bandwidth so we could keep up with business tasks in between trips to Goodwill and cleaning the gutters, he mentioned that he liked working for a big company because he had benefits like Health Care.
While it might seem like a casual comment, it speaks volumes about the state of our economy.
Small Businesses account for more employees and a larger portion of the US GDP than all large companies put together. When it’s hard for people like Mike to leave health insurance behind, health care becomes a barrier to economic growth.
Now I’m not saying that Universal Healthcare is a silver bullet for the economy, because losing a steady paycheck and is also an important consideration, but what if health care wasn’t one of the barriers to entry into small business ownership?
I plan on continuing my trek towards 10,000 twitter followers, but I think I’ve gained as much as I can from this experiment and don’t really see the point of continuing. In fact there are so many polluters of my tweet stream that I just can’t take it any longer and need to begin unfollowing. (You’re first, @cellband)
I can confirm the methods I’ve been using do increase your followers, but, it doesn’t seem to be an effective way to promote yourself. Followers alone aren’t enough to boost your revenue and while I was clicking away, trying to reach my limit of 1,000 daily follows, I didn’t have much time to read along or interact with many people.
Early on in the process I did mention quantity vs. quality and I still think that’s the key with twitter. Groups like TeamFollowBack and others create lots and lots of followers for each other, but in most respects the tweets from this group have very little value to a small business owner. Lots and lots of tweets about following so-and-so and plenty of use of their hash tags, but I found I was more likely to have a real conversation and real impact with someone who followed just a few hundred people.
Yesterday I was fed up with the MLMs, SEOs, and other so-called social media gurus and tweeted that I was going to find some Knitting folks to hang around with. I immediately had a response and was able to start a series of conversations – more than I’d had on any single day since starting the experiment. Because even with the lists I started and other tools that might be available, it’s just too hard for me to have meaningful relationships on twitter with thousands of people.
I probably could effectively keep up with 15000 people on twitter if all I did was marketing, but as a small business owner I wear many hats and it’s just too easy to devote too much time to twitter. It’s clear to me now why big companies have made room in their marketing budgets for a Social Media specialist, because you could do this full time. In fact it might be extremely cost effective to hire someone just to manage new follows, Tweet and interact full time.
As far as hard data, along with this chart, I’ve been keeping track of the time I spend hunting for followers. The red square on 2/19 is a note about resetting the timer. You might remember from my Day 1 update that I was having trouble with my time tracker skills.
All in all, 4313 followers came in as the result of 22 hours 40 minutes of work over a 14 day period. That averages out to:
190 new followers per hour
308 new followers per day
1 hour 36 minutes of work per day
Though you can see from the numbers that there wasn’t an average day. In fact March 8 is 10 followers lower than the day before. I started the morning of March 7 with the count, and flushed those who weren’t following me back, but as soon as I tried to follow, Twitter told me I was already at my limit of followers for the day. As a result, I show negative growth on the 8th.
There are also days when the follow cap was much lower than others. The difference being as many as 600 follows. On days where I spread the process out, I was able to get to my cap of 1000. On days where I was busy and trying to get it done quickly I wasn’t able to follow as many people.
I think that’s the reason why I was surprised that I was only spending about an hour and a half per day working on the 10k. Because the timer only counts when I’m on desktop 3 where I keep my 10k applications, and not when I’m doing other things. This time is real and actual working time you’re seeing, but what that number doesn’t show is that the process was tedious and took all day to complete. Take it from me, a gal who knits blankets by hand, that this has been the most tedious thing I’ve done in a while.
I’d still like to test who’s most likely to follow me based on the number of followers they have and the ratio of followers to following and such, but I’m running out of time for the experiment. I had hoped to be finished by now, but I took a week off so I could be with my husband at his Grand Father’s funeral and now I need to devote the next week or so to filing taxes and other business goodies. Though I suppose that’s the way small business works. Doing what you can, when you can and above all else knowing that each day you might have a new priority.
I was able to bring in 2151new followers in the first week. My biggest daily gain was 740 followers and I averaged about 307 per day. Pretty good considering I didn’t follow anyone over that first weekend so I could see what flushing would do to my gains.
I’ll admit there are still some frustrations, but all-in-all, I seem to be on track to making the 10k in 21 days.
If you look closely, the dates in the graph jump from February 23 to March 1 because I was in Michigan cleaning my Grand Father-in-law’s house and there is no internet connection there. Also, I work from home and am usually at my computer, so I don’t have a data plan or fancy apps for my phone – heck, my cell phone barely makes calls, so I didn’t tweet much or follow while I was there.
At first I was going to get the daily numbers to see if there were any ups or downs to record, but decided to go to my original plan and simply record numbers on the day’s I’m actually working at getting 10k.
My next observation is that you don’t need someone with more than 10,000 followers to find a good list to mine. 2,000 is good enough for most cases. My reason for this is because I’m seeing there are a lot of people on Twitter in the same quantity vs. quality race that I’m in. I’d eventually like to use my lists for interactions and I haven’t seen the value of #TeamFollowBack just yet. There is a lot of following going on, but I haven’t watched these Tweeps long enough to form an opinion on their marketing value. So while they may be helpful in my goal for 10k, I’m not jumping on their bandwagon just yet. If there’s something I’m missing, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
The opposite end of the Follow-back spectrum are those that don’t follow back at all. I’ll be moving to Michigan this summer and spent March 1 following people who used the #Michigan hash and followed a prominent newspaper. Since these folks are interested in Michigan news and/or using the pound sign to create searchable terms, I thought they’d be good folks to follow and perhaps follow me back as I attempt to bring my Small Business expertise to a state that could use an economic boost.
I was wrong and for the 78 followers who did come on board, I flushed 919 people on March 2 who didn’t follow back. OUCH!
Now maybe this is just a Michigan thing, or maybe it’s because my tweets were dull, but when @SocialMichigan doesn’t follow back, I’m thinking it’s not all me. Though from SocialMichigan’s following/followers ratio of 51/488 it seems they’re missing the social aspect of Twitter and simply trying to broadcast.
I was also very disappointed that the local Chambers and Downtown Development Agencies (DDA) didn’t follow back either. These are precisely the people I could help as I set up my Small Business consulting firm and want to learn more from, but I won’t actively search and follow Michiganders in the remainder of this experiment. Maybe after I reach 10k and begin to pare down the list, but for now, they just end up in my flush list the next morning.
While I’ll admit to turning off my followers notifications right now, in the past I looked at every new follower. If you want to use Social Media Marketing for your business, looking at new followers should be priority number 1. Twitter, Linked-in, and facebook are all about the ability to interact and network with people you wouldn’t always have a chance to meet and talk with. If you don’t have time to peek at profiles, you shouldn’t bother with Social Media. Work on other areas of your business instead.
If you have any questions or comments about my Twitter 10k, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or sharing on your favorite service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
I now have 5 days of data and observations recorded and I am starting to see some interesting trends. How about we get to the numbers first and then my observations of how my experiences so far might impact a small business?
The first change you’ll see is that I’ve added a column for Reciprocate. I can only manipulate numbers in the following column, and the data might give me a little insight into what other people are doing and how it effects my ability to reach 10k followers. I’ll be looking to see if the reciprocate number grows organically or if it might be people I’ve flushed before they had a chance to follow-back. I may not know which is which, but I’ll keep it in there just in case a pattern forms.
In my last post I also wondered how flushing might effect my numbers and since the 19th and 20th were a weekend I was able to leave everything as it was to see what might happen. It would seem that some people came on board and I’m now wondering if just the act of sending a following message might be enough to trigger a follow-back from some. If so, it shouldn’t matter when I follow and flush as long as that notification ends up in their in-box.
On the topic of organic growth, I didn’t see much happen with the numbers as of Monday morning so I think organic growth is going to be limited to finding relevant followers and not just the crop of Social Media Marketers I have so far.
The weekend also meant that I didn’t prowl the lists adding followers. I did update my spreadsheet with the morning numbers and spent 30 minutes on Sunday watching the tweets come in faster than I could read them.
The reduction you see on the 20th (reflecting the previous 24 hours) and then again this morning are because I unfollowed people when the post was in a language I couldn’t read. That may not stop them from continuing to follow me, but I can’t justify keeping them around if there’s no possibility that I’ll respond to something they’ve said.
As long as we’re talking about unfollowing, I had to resist the urge to unfollow tweeps posting annoying or repetitive posts. To keep from unfollowing I made a pact with myself and vowed to unfollow many of these offenders as soon as my experiment was over. In the mean time I’m going to create my first lists so that the people I do enjoy reading along with won’t get lost in the shuffle.
In some ways, the vast number of annoying people made me really sad, but then I suddenly knew why there were so many fail-whales in my life. Seeing the same post more than 6 times in less than 3 minutes is probably the reason Twitter is always going over capacity. The reason might also have something to do with the giant circle of SMM that’s been created. If someone has thousands of followers who are also following thousands of tweeps, posting the same pitch and URL over and over again might be the only way to ensure that the tweet will be seen.
To test this hypothesis – About an hour ago (writing time, not real time) I included a URL in a tweet. Since Naturesoundsfor.me keeps track of how often a custom sound composition was listened to in the past 10 days, and I hadn’t been there recently, I had a quick and dirty way check for a response.
Now that I have 4 times as many followers, surely there would be someone willing to check out my link?
Nope – “In last 10 days this sound composition has been listened to by 1 listeners.” That’s me, the one lonely listener.
Social media, in a pure marketing sense, was suppose to be about pulling people in by becoming attractive and someone enjoyable to hang around with. That’s in contrast to traditional media which pushes out messages that are largely ignored by… well… everyone. So far I’m not really seeing pull marketing by anyone claiming to be SMM experts.
Bad Habits of Push Messengers on Social Media- AKA don’t do this – EVER!
Bad Habit # 1 – On day 1, I mentioned Direct Messages, but what I didn’t mention was the style of most of them. Usually they had the same crappy pitch and URL combination I mentioned above, which was, and always will be, ignored. Though they must work to some very limited extent, but I think I have a hypothesis that I’ll share in a moment or two.
To boil it down – If you can’t write a decent headline, why should I click your link? If nothing else, please try to sound sincere.
Bad Habit #2 – I did have a few DMs that looked a little less like they might be auto generated, or at least were a less crappy auto generated DM. In fact some even asked me a question, to which I attempted to reply.
Attempted being the key word here. Some of these folks weren’t following me so I couldn’t send them a DM in return – bad, bad, bad. Why would you miss an opportunity to engage with someone especially if you’re the one who started the conversation? Isn’t engagement the whole point of Social Media?
In the future, I’m only going to respond to DMs with @user mentions and will only use DMs for private information like my mobile number.
Bad Habit #3 – Just because you saw the same technique more than once, doesn’t mean that you should jump on the band wagon. I know this flies in the face of my “Rule of Two,” but there’s a difference between spotting a trend and knowing if it’s a good trend to get in on.
I see that there is some sort of Information Cascade effect where people justify bad habits because lots of other people are doing the exact same thing.
Twitter might have become less about lots of people having conversations, like chit-chatting with the mom behind me in line at the grocery store , and more like being on a street where everyone is wearing a sandwich board like the guy in this article’s mast head.
While talking with my husband about my observations so far, he said it sounded like I was describing the FFA pages of the past.
In case you never had the pleasure of Free For All pages, the idea was that lots of links boosted your hits, and lots of hits meant lots of sales and lots of sales was the way to get rich quick. I suppose it did happen once in a while, but not because you posted a link. The site owner always asked for an email address in exchange for posting a link and those emails were then used for SPAM email marketing campaigns.
People listed with FFA because a long time ago, in internet years anyway, the search engines didn’t automatically crawl your site and placement was dependent on regular submissions. It was a necessity of the time, and luckily for us, the Engines have evolved past the stage of irrelevant links.
So when Todd reminded me about FFA and I was able to recall it’s rise, and fall, I began to think about how the process has been recycled into Tweets. Frankly it has me a little worried about the longevity of Twitter – will it get so fouled up that everyone abandons it like they did with MySpace?
I am optimistic that I’ll be able to eventually find a list that works well for pull marketing on Twitter, but for now, I think I’m going to have to deal with the barrage of bad marketing messages.
If you have any questions or comments about my Twitter 10k, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or share on another service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
Yesterday I gave the Twitter 10k my full attention – well sort of. I spent 90 minutes on the phone with Matt at Think Michigan Now and an afternoon trip to the gym didn’t give me a full day to work with, but I think that’s probably a good thing for this experiment. After all, all of us divide our time between working in our business and working on our businesses and just like you, I can’t back out of a pre-scheduled appointments or stop replying to emails just to get Twitter followers.
In all, I spent about 3.5 hours yesterday working out my process and getting a handle on the technique. As I mentioned in the first post, I’m trying Joe Mackey‘s suggested method but I know I’m already tweaking it some. For instance, I’m not so hung up on first finding Tweeps with over 10k followers as my base for searches. I can’t possibly max out my followers on any given day, so I’m trying to find interesting people – like those who reply to me or have uniquely named lists. Even lists where I’ve been added as a member because I must have something in common with the other listees.
I’ve also begun to question quantity vs. quality. Quality does take longer to find, but is 10k some magical number that includes a critical mass of quality? I don’t know yet. Maybe this answer will be more apparent as I get further along. Especially if I begin to notice any blips with web traffic or other metrics.
A few observations so far
The follower’s are coming in at a good pace. I’ve decided to start each morning by recording some basic information so it might be easier to spot trends down the road. Obviously, there isn’t a big data set as of yet, but jumping almost 250 followers for 3.5 hours work isn’t a bad first day. On the other hand, you could consider Tweepie’s Flush as 400 wasted clicks. 218 people I didn’t need to add, and 218 people I now have to get rid of, but by getting rid of the spares I think it gives me better numbers. A better ratio of follows/following and it might come into play if I ever have a day where I can max out my follows. So for now, the daily flush stays.
I’m really glad I didn’t have my cell phone linked to Twitter. The amount of Direct messages coming in via Text would have cost me a fortune.
It’s probably a good idea to opt out of Twitter’s New Follower notice while actively working the 10k. I don’t have a limit on number of emails so server space isn’t an issue, but let’s think about this for a minute. The goal is to get 10k people following you. That means 10k emails in your box. My first attempt to wrangle emails was to create a folder and filter to clear all the Follows and Direct message notices out of my inbox. This monring, however, there were a couple hundred that came in and I could see my system struggling to filter my normally heavy volume with the extra 300 emails.
3 weeks isn’t a practical time frame – real time is. If anyone is going to learn from this experiment, I need more than “max out your followers every day and in three weeks you’ll have 10K.” So I’ve added a little bit of geekery to the experiment to help out on that front.
The beauty of a Linux Operating system (which I use exclusively) is that it comes with all sorts of cool software and KTimeTracker was already on my system. I also have the option of working on various virtual desktops. By putting all of the applications I’m using for the experiment on their own desktop and things like blogs, facebook and others elsewhere KTimeTracker can count just the time I spend hunting for followers and none of the time I spend elsewhere. The only special thing I need to do to pause the time tracking is just switch to another desktop – like check my email before I go to lunch.
Now as much as I had hoped for perfectly accurate time tracking with this method, it’s painfully obvious to me that I haven’t used the software enough not to screw things up. This morning, thinking I might want a to take a screen shot and not give away my client list, I deleted the numbers had racked up on this project. Apparently checking the box next to the task isn’t the way you select something for deletion, but having the task highlighted is. There’s also no Undo.
The good news is that I saw the time just before I dumped the data and will be able to tack on an extra 4 hours, 16 minutes to our tally.
The next thing I’m curious about is the morning flush. After I got back from the gym yesterday I did a little more following. In fact I was still following people at 4:30 pm and wondering if anyone would still be adding me after normal business hours. What if I didn’t give them enough time to follow me back? Or better yet, what if I give them a little extra time and then don’t have to re-click them out of my list? My compromise was that I would only flush the tweeps I followed in the first part of the day and give the rest of the list time to marinate over the weekend. I still have that whole business hours thing working against me, but I bet my clicking finger could use the break so don’t see this as a problem.
My final observation for this post – Try to finish mining a Tweepie generated list before you take a break. The system seems to time out after a while probably because of the rapid pace at which data comes in from Twitter. Just before my call with Matt, I made note of what page of the list I was on. When I came back, page 45 wasn’t page 45. In fact I didn’t start getting into new tweeps until page 57. So I sort of resented the fact that I had to search out my end point anyway and I’m still not sure what the method to the madness is. If I come up with any theories, I’ll be sure to share them with you.
As a reminder, my little men are off from school next week and I’ll need to make a quick trip to Michigan for meetings, so if I don’t update you on the process next week, never fear, I will get one out the door for you as soon as possible.
If you have any questions or comments about my Twitter 10k, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or other share using he buttons below would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
I’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.
It’s become quite clear to me that I’ll never fit all I want or need to say about the business of Linux in my LinuxCon talk. In fact I could make it a full day workshop and still not cover everything there is to know about making money on products your customers can get for free.
The solution is to begin evaluating what information really needs to be in the presentation and what would be better here. In some cases I’ve begun shucking slides from the deck and for others I’ve decided that there needs to be a better explanation of what I’m trying to cram into my allotted time.
With today’s post I’m going to start addressing some of the topics that could use a little more depth than what time will allow. I also hope that by exploring the topics here I’ll have a better grasp on what is most important to convey when I stand at the front of the room next month. ~Karlie
Midmarket Companies are the Key
Less than a month ago, eWeek published an article titled “Midmarket Companies Steady on PC Purchases, Report Finds.”
This article is based on The NPD Group’s Small and Medium size Businesses (SMB) Technology Report.
As you can guess from the name, the midmarket is made of up of companies who sit right between Mom-n-Pop operations and big businesses. They’re generally smaller than 500 employees and actually make up most of the US economy.
The first bullet on the slide above is fairly easy to understand – Buying is going up this year. While that’s good news, it’s the next two that set my heart all a flutter. They show me some really good numbers – Let me explain.
The biggest reason I’m in a very good mood following this report is that the percentages give me a starting point for basing a financial model off of.
Yes, 40% is less than half, and on first look can seem sort of dismal. The thing we need to understand is how big that 40% could really be.
According to the US Census Bureau, there are nearly 5 million businesses with 499 or fewer employees. So if we do a little math, 40% comes out to be approximately 2 Million potential clients. It could be even more if you set your pool to include business with over 500 employees.
We also need to factor in that the estimated market share for Linux is just about 1%. If we assume the market share is the same with SMBs, we’re looking at about 20,000 firms to get your feet wet with.
I’d also go out on a limb and suggest that if SMBs began adopting FOSS technologies that 1% market share for Linux would rise rapidly. How far? I don’t know exactly, but for every percentage point it jumps you’d be looking at another 20k or so in your national customer pool.
The lesson here is not to get hung up on what constitutes big or small in the business world, or even take a percentage at face value until you understand what those numbers actually represent.
20-Thousand businesses may not seem like that many either, but could you handle that many clients? Probably not while you’re just starting out, so 20k is really a fairly large number for you to grow into… Especially if you can grow the Linux adoption rates while you’re at it.
Five messages in, there’s a reply that sends up a red flag for me.
This is the second time hearing a story that’s so similar that it can’t be considered a coincidence.
I’ve mentioned my “Rule of Two” theory of customer/community relations before. It states…
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 trend.
While I would hope that the trend isn’t larger than the two accounts, there’s no way to ignore the fact that Adam’s email echos what another developer said to me just a few months ago while standing in my kitchen drinking beers with my husband.
The trend conveyed by both guys is that there is a tendency for Fedora/Red Hat people to start from scratch rather than start with the finishing touches.
This worries me not because two guys might be feeling frustrated, but that these guys work with different parts of the FP.o/RH organization and have similar stories. I’m also a bit concerned because I’m not up on day to day operations yet I know of two cases.
That leaves me wondering… Who else might be feeling the same way? Is there something about the project culture that encourages people to avoid collaboration outside of the project core? Is it that there are so many resource available that the practice of external collaboration is rusty? Or maybe just the communication conduit between internal and external projects needs a look. (as in – this is why we decided not to collaborate, or this is why I want to collaborate with you)
I’m also a plan-for-the-worst-hope-for-the-best kind of girl and at the moment am thinking not just about the missed opportunities to collaborate on solutions that meet everyone’s needs, but also about letting these concerns grow to become community rifts and/or future barriers to collaboration. You can’t please everyone all the time, but I’m looking the future potential for this to get out of hand.
I can’t pretend I know the answers to any of the above. Just that the Rule of Two is in effect and the powers that be need to give a little time to address the break down.