Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Several years ago, I had a chance to perform one of my songs at a local songwriter’s open mic night. I remember I went there with my wife, signed up, and sat down to wait my turn. We sat there, listening to the other performers, and enjoying the songs.

Then it was my time. I stood up, picked up my guitar and stepped up to the microphone. I had just recently written a new song, and I was quite proud of it. I had decided to be edgy and pull this one out, even though it was brand new.

As I stepped up, I got nervous. I started the chords, and my guitar was out of tune. I stopped and retuned it, making me more nervous. Finally, I started the song for real. My vocals were stretched and tense, I forgot the words in a place, and the chords in another… It was, overall an awful performance.

All because I was so afraid.

In the years since then, I’ve done a lot more performances. I’ve leaned a thing or two about fear. I thought, I’d share those thoughts with you now, because they make a big difference in how you approach business.

1. Fear never goes away

In spite of the fact that I’ve performed a lot over the many years since that night, the nerves are still there when I step up to the mic. I’ve learned that they always will be. Whether you’re singing, or speaking, or making a sales presentation, or starting a new business, the fear never goes away. It’s true that you feel it less as you get more and more experience, but it never really, fully goes away.

That means that I have to accept that and deal with it. Being afraid isn’t a mistake on my part. It’s not wrong. It just is.

2. Feel the fear, and do it anyway

Once you accept that the fear is going to be there, you don’t have to be afraid of it. That’s right, you can be afraid of fear. That sounds kinda loopy, but it’s true. I’ve been caught in that sort of circular thinking before. I don’t want to go on stage because I’ll get all tense and nervous. Why? Because I’m afraid. So, I’m afraid of being afraid.

Let yourself feel the fear. Embrace it. It’s a part of life.

And then go ahead and do the thing you’re afraid of anyway. Sing the song. Give the presentation. Register your business. Make the commitment. Once you feel it and push through it, it’s amazing how much smaller it feels.

3. The more you are prepared, the less you fear

Even though being afraid that night on stage wasn’t a mistake in and of itself, I made one big mistake. I wasn’t prepared. I performed a song that I had just recently written, and I hadn’t taken enough time to practice it. It wasn’t learned fully yet. So, I fumbled with the lyrics and the chords, and I was more afraid. I was on uncertain ground.

So, before you move ahead through the fear, it’s often a good idea to prepare. Learn what you need to, gather information. Practice your presentation. Anticipate problems. Never try to use any technology in a presentation that you haven’t tested beforehand.

Fear is a part of being human. It’s a part of what keeps us safe. It can also hold us back from our biggest successes. Feel it, enjoy it, even, and then do it anyway.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Weeds and Innovation

Many of you (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock) have heard of the challenges the music industry has been facing in recent years. For those that have heard, but might not be up on the scene, here’s a Reader’s Digest:

Several years ago, a new technology emerged that allowed for audio data to be compressed. This reduced the file size for a typical pop song from 75-80 MB to only 3-5 MB. Once it’s 3-5, a person with even a dialup connection and some patience could get full-length, near CD quality digital songs over the ‘net.

Now, that would’ve been all that amazing, except for a few independent musicians putting their songs out on the ‘net, but people started making mp3’s of their CD collections, and posting those songs to their websites.

Then, along came the peer-to-peer networks. Napster was the first and most famous at the time. It allowed for people to search other people’s computers looking for songs and download and share them.

Sounds wonderful, right? Like you could get all the music you wanted, right? Well, that’s true, except it’s illegal. It’s against the law to copy and distribute someone else’s copyrighted material.

So, the music industry started shifting. Changing. More and more people wanted their music downoadable. But the major labels, who owned most of the music available, couldn’t adapt. They started suing the people who were doing the downloading and the sharing. People who, ultimately, they wanted to be their customers. Not a great business model for the long-term, doncha think?

In the last year, however, there have been some changes. The majors, as the labels are called, have started adapting. There are online music shops, now. ITunes, by apple, is by far the most well-known. There are many others, and they’re cropping up all the time. Here, you can buy the songs for download.

The challenge with most of these pay-for-download music shops, is the files they provide are usually proprietary. That means that you can only play them in their players.

There’s one system, relatively new, however that is a unique hybrid between the free-for-all downloading mania and the legal pay-as-you-go model. It’s called weedshare. It allows for downloads, rewards sharing, and yet still makes sure that the artist’s rights are respected and that they get paid for the purchases. The idea is that the music “spreads like a weed”. Click to their site to find out how it works.

Its been getting a lot of press lately, and got written up in wired magazine, the tome of the tech-savvy.

Now, I’m not just here to promote weedshare (my own music site uses the technology). I’m here to use weedshare to show how innovation and forward thinking can be rewarded.

Rather than just fight the power of the record labels and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), or cave in to their threats. Weedshare adapts both models. They took a difficult situation and worked out a win-win. The artists and rightsholders get paid, the people are not only allowed to share the files, but are actively encouraged to, and share in the money when they do.

So, as advice to small business people, part of the key is to find problems, solve them, and market the solutions. Their innovation constantly amazes me. A good example to follow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Barn Raising, 21rst Century Style

Let's say that your daughter has a report due for in history. She's supposed to write 5 pages on Abraham Lincoln. Where do you start?

Well, you can go to the public library, of course, but suppose you just want to get started working from home. I mean, you spent almost a grand for that beige box on your desktop, and you're paying twenty-five bucks a month to plug into the world, right? Why not use it for something other than chat rooms and sports scores?

But where will she go to find historic information, nicely summarized so that she can learn what she needs for a good report?

You can start at wikipedia.org. It's an online encyclopedia. Type Abraham Lincoln and read the article. Hey, cool! Look! It links to other related articles. And to other websites! It's a wealth of information. And it's free.

But wait. Is it legal for her to use that information? Can she quote it? Of course! Anyone can quote it. In fact, anyone can edit it, too.

This is the world of open source, a movement that has been growing steadily, even rapidly in the last few years. It flies in the face of the current business models of jealously guarding copyrights and patents. It turns the current model of corporate secrets in R&D on its ear. Here's how it works:

An idea or a project is born in someone's mind. Instead of keeping that idea quiet, that person announces the idea to the 'net using any number of media. That could include a collaborative website, like the wikipedia, or something even as simple as a blog or a forum posting. If the idea has merit, it will attract the interest of others, who will begin contributing effort and more ideas. Pretty soon, a product emerges, a result. Here's the interesting part: All the documentation and information that went into making that product is available, free, to all.

And before you think that too many cooks would spoil the broth, and that only the simplest of things could be created that way, ask yourself this. How about a computer operating system? How about an operating system that has the potential to challenge Microsoft's Iron Grip on the market share? What about Linux?

Linux is kind of the poster child for the open source system. It's a robust and stable alternative to MS windows. And it's free. And the code is free. What that means is that if you just want to use it, you can download it and install it. If you know how to program, and you think you can do better, you can. That means that their R&D department is made of hackers and geeks all over the world, and trying in their own way to make it better.

Back to the Wikipedia: This online encyclopedia works the same way. People all over the world, with all sorts of interests and knowledge bases all contribute freely to creating the content. The idea is that if everyone brings a bit of knowledge and effort to the table, before you know it, the whole dinner is that much more delicious.

In an article in Wired Magazine, the author compared it to the community barn raisings of the 1800's. When someone’s barn burned down, or a new family needed to build one, the whole community turned up at their house and built one. The difference? The barn is electronic, and the community is world wide.

More examples? MIT now offers "Open Course Ware". The texts, materials, and information that many of the classes MIT offers are now available online, for free. People individually and in groups all over the world are learning things that are taught at MIT. How can they afford to give it away? Simple. If you want the degree, you have to pay for it and attend the school. If you just want to learn the info, go right ahead.

The PLOS project (Public Library Of Science) is an effort to make scientific research available to all, not just in expensive academic journals. The Gutenberg project is a compilation of over 6000 public domain books now available for free download.

What does this have to do with small business? Use the free resources available to you. Contribute to the betterment and the growth of them, and the community.

It IS an ever changing world. Business models are shifting and adapting all the time. Remember, knowledge is power, and adaptability is the key.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Competition on the Horizon

Now, it's not my intention in this blog to get too tech oriented. It's more about business and marketing.

But-it IS about internet marketing and online business, and it's impossible to succeed without knowing your environment and being aware of what's happening in the tech world around you. So, I might touch on it from time to time.

And the other day, a new program was released, a new web browser, called Firefox. It's an outgrowth of the Mozilla web browser, and quite possibly the only contender showing any promise to compete with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

The web gurus are saying that it's full-featured, faster, and more secure.

Now, I'll be loading it myself, especially on my home computer. I've been using Mozilla there for quite some time. Since I'm in a position here at work where I'm teaching people how to use their computers, and since the majority are still using IE, that's what I'll continue using at work.

But let's talk about that majority. When I first heard about Mozilla, I wrote it off as a geek thing that would never take over in the real world. Then, as I've been tracking my traffic to my sites, I've been noticing amazing things. Currently, on my Mo' Boy blog, about 25% of my total traffic is Mozilla. That's enough for me to call it market share! Heck, less than 5% are Macs, and they're still considered contenders...

So, what does that have to do with your small business? Well, you might want to consider using it as your browser. Less susceptible to pop-ups and spyware, not to mention viruses. Keep in mind that a fourth of your customers might be using it, too. So, you'll want to at least install it so that you can check on the look and functionality of your site. You want it to work in both, right? 25% of your customers is nothing to sneeze at!

Plus, the price is right: Free!

More information on Firefox:


Datamation article

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Myths of the Small Business

As I carry on about my life as an Internet Business Mentor, I’ve encountered a lot of misunderstandings about entrepreneurship and being self-employed. I’d like to take a couple of blog posts here to help dispel a few of those.

Myth #1: It’s easy to be self-employed

Make no mistake. Running a business is work. There are a lot of things to be done to get it started. There are lots of things to learn. This is going to require effort.

The upside of all that is that if you’ve picked a business that’s an extension of yourself, your passions, your bliss (as Campbell puts it), that effort feels less like work. It feels more like fun. For that reason, it can often seem like being self-employed is easier, because the work is more enjoyable.

Myth #2: It’s cheap to start up a home-based business

When you compare it to the cost of opening a McDonald’s franchise, or renting space in a mall, then it’s true that a home-based business is cheap-er. But don’t be lulled into the thought that it doesn’t cost money to make money.

Keep also in mind that there are costs other than financial. Time must be invested. And that’s time that’s being taken away from family or other important things.

But if you spend your money and time patiently and judiciously, the rewards are there as well. It can still move forward, even if it might not be as fast as originally thought.

Myth #3: Self-employment = Total freedom

You often see biz-op ads with people lounging by a pool on a bright sunny day. What would I do with all that spare time? With all that freedom?

As your business is building, you’ll find that it can often be more demanding that a regular job. Why? Because everything rests on your shoulders, rather than your boss’. All of your decisions are yours, and you have total freedom to make whatever decision you want, but at the same time, you also get the consequences (good and bad) of those choices. It’s your baby.

The nice thing about self-employment, though, is not so much freedom, as flexibility. You can often adjust your hours and your working time to suit. So if you want some spur-of-the moment family time, that might be possible as a business operator, where you couldn’t just say that to your boss.

Myth #4: You have no boss

The reality is quite the opposite: Every client is your boss. How you please that boss is up to you.

Myth #5: The world will flock to your door

That phrase starts out, “If you build a better mousetrap…” All too often, people rely on the cleverness of their business concept, their product, or their business model. But the reality is that people aren’t going to pound a path to your door, unless they know your door (and your product) exist. So, having a great product, or website, or business is great. But if no one ever sees it, it doesn’t matter.

But these days, it’s growing easier and easier to let the world know that you’re there. Clever and intelligent use of the web, and publicity, can get your site recognized with very little cash expenditure. Learn, learn, learn.
The point of all this? Go into it with your eyes open. Do your research, and explore your options. Those who just jump onto the rollercoaster are in for a bumpy ride.

Friday, November 05, 2004

A Message to the President:

Now that our election season is over, and our sitting president has been re-elected, I’d like to point out something that I’ve felt for years.

If a government was truly committed to reducing unemployment and poverty, it would invest heavily in entrepreneurism and self-employment.

Think of it. When someone is out of work, they have two options. They can go and find a job, or they can create one for themselves. Part of the reason why there is unemployment is that there are too few jobs in the pool in the first place. Why not encourage people to go out and create their own?

And from the worker’s perspective, it’s a benefit as well. The effort shifts from finding a job to finding clients or customers. They are immediately productive and active. Motivation is strong to succeed.

My experience has shown me that what holds a lot of people back is not always capital. There are a lot of ventures that can begin with little or no capital. But what’s worse is the paperwork and the fees and the taxes. Government often squelches small startups by overwhelming them with requirements. The poor entrepreneur, who often starts with just an idea or an interest, doesn’t always know what’s required of them in the long run. And as he/she learns what is requred, finds that those requirements can often be oppressive or even prohibitive.

So, Mr. President, if you really want to lift us out of recession, and if you’re truly committed to helping people help themselves, then make it easier for a person to start a home business.