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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The Business of Linux – Series Start

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I will be at LinuxCon 2010

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.

Written by Karlie

July 5th, 2010 at 8:06 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 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