Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Net Networking

You’ve probably heard before about the value of a business support network. If not, let me clarify a little. Everyone can use a little help and support, someone to give advice, a hand up, the voice of experience to help you avoid a pitfall. It’s good to know that you’re not alone in the world.

Sometimes, the people you know can help you in practical ways as well. Sharing clients, providing services. Everyone you know can help you in your business. And that works the other way as well.

The challenge comes for Internet entrepreneurs when we realize that we do isolate ourselves. We sit in a little corner in our home, and we work away, and often don’t encounter other humans as a part of our work. So how can you network that way?

1. Internet based forums.

Go out on the ‘net and look for bulleting boards, newsgroups and email discussion groups (listserv’s) that deal with your industry. For a long time, I’ve been preaching the value of these forums as a promotional tool. In that case, you’re looking for boards and groups where your potential customers would be hanging out. But now, I’m suggesting that it’s also valuable to make yourself known in forums where others in your line of business are. You can find out what’s happening in your sphere, and keep up with the news. Once you figure out how to separate rumor from fact, you can be on top of the game.

Two of the best places to find forums are, and (do a search under the “Groups” heading).

If you can’t find a forum that exists for your industry, you can start one. Yahoogroups is particularly simple for that task.

2. Find associates and mentors online

While you’re out looking for reciprocal links, you often find sites that are doing similar things. Sometimes, you might not want to exchange links with them, as your product lines might be too similar. But it’s still a good idea to contact them. Send the owner an email and engage him or her in dialog. Ask friendly questions, ask for advice. If you’re starting out, they’ve been in the game longer than you have and might have some good ideas to help you avoid their mistakes. If you approach them in a friendly, open, and gracious way, not in the spirit of competition, they may well respond in kind.

3. Read the trades

It’s good to be aware of what’s happening in your industry. It’s good to know the names that are the movers and shakers. It’s healthy to learn from them as you read about them in the trade magazines of your industry.

You might even want to contact them as you read about them. Imagine receiving a message that said, “Congratulations on your write-up in the “Bla Bla Bla” magazine! I found your statements on yadda yadda to be very intriguing. I was especially curious to find out how you bla bla bla…”

4. Trade shows

Sometimes, you gotta get out and meet. There are times when staying in one place just doesn’t cut it. Find out about trade shows in your area and in your industry. Go to them. The travel expenses are deductible. Not only will the classes, speakers, and workshops be valuable learning experiences, but the opportunity to network will be there. Don’t miss out!

5. Help others

As your business grows, and as your experience increases, demonstrate your gratitude for the help you’ve received by sharing your help with others. In the ongoing continuum of life and business experience there are always people ahead of us that we can learn from, and always people behind us that we can help.

Yes, networking can be a little difficult if your personality is a bit introverted. Often, that’s what appeals most to internetrapreneurs in the first place. But if you push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit, you’ll soon find that you’re not alone, and you can draw from and give out to many many others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Funnies

When I was a child, I used to love the funnies.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m still a child, and I still love the funnies! I have the good ones all over my wall here in my office, and in my studio at home. I get my news bits from Doonesbury. I went into mourning when Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson called it quits.

But just recently, I discovered webcomics. I especially like them because of the easy access. It’s like in my bookmarks I’ve created my own funny pages. Mostly they’re done by amateurs, artists that just love to draw. Once in a while, one rises above the pack and begins to find financial success. There are a few that have managed to make their webcomic into their full-time living.

Let’s take a look and see what they’re doing right.

First of all, the authors of the comics are passionate. They love what they’re doing. They have to, because it can take a while before a comic is popular enough to make any money.

Second, the sites are focused. They’re not full of scattered nonsense that a visitor has to sort through. The sites are about the strip and the characters.

Third, the sites are updated regularly. Most of the ones that have made the transition from hobby to job are posting new strips daily, sometimes all seven days. Most maintain a commentary or blog alongside the strip. So, there’s constantly new content to bring people back to the site, often on a daily basis.

Ever hear of the 80/20 rule? It says that in any collection, 80% will be garbage, and 20% will be of any quality. That holds true in webcomics, too. The ones that make the living for the artist, though, are all well-crafted. They’re well-written, with good story and character continuity. They’re well-drawn, and they’re constantly improving their art. The point? Fourth, the product they’re selling is quality.

Fifth: They’re innovative in their business models. A web comic is free. People can just log into the website and read it. Why would anyone want to pay for it? That’s just not how it works. So, how do you make a living at it? Merchandising is often a big part of it, as well as advertising. Some are also marketing their art in books, and in the mainstream printed media as well. They’re all about new ways to make their art profitable.

Sixth, they have identified their audience, they’ve courted that audience, and they deliver what that audience wants. Most webcomics are humor-driven, but are also built on multi-strip, often ongoing story arcs, rather than one-strip gags. Since they don’t have editors to please, they often are edgier than newspaper comics, and that allows them to target niche markets, like computer gamers (pvp – a comic set in the offices of a gaming magazine named "Player V Player"), or twenty-something pop culture, or the music scene, or whatever.

Seventh, they tap into existing promotional networks. Virtually all successful web comics engages in reciprocal linking with other web comics. There are lots of vertical portals and directory sites devoted solely to web comics, and the best ones use both. They don’t rely on only one promotional method, including traveling to comic shows and conventions and other F2F (Face-2-Face) strategies.

The bottom line? Whenever you see someone succeeding in their chose line, do two things. First, applaud them. They’re making it work. Second, even if they’re doing things you’re not interested in, study them. Trust me, you CAN learn from them all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Tenacity, Improvisation, and Rage

This last weekend my wife and I spent some time at a conference for families with disabled children. It was a great experience networking and learning how to better serve our child (he has Cerebral Palsy, among other things).

We are active on a lot of email groups that give us support and help us to share stories, support, and resources with other parents as well.

When I came back, I was checking some of the blogs that I haunt on a regular basis, and I found a posting by a friend that we had spent some time with at the conference. Her posting revealed that she had grown a lot through her difficulties. She wrote a list of things she had learned about herself at the conference, things she had come to realize. I’d like to share a few points from her list. To see her whole list, go to her blog.

“Have you ever had one of those days, where you learn more about yourself, than you really want to? When you realize that you have been looking yourself in the mirror, convincing yourself, that you are really something more, than you are?”

“The things I learned about myself this weekend are:
  • “I am not the only person with a handicapped, or disabled child! (Who would have thought)
  • Other families manage, (with having a handicapped child, and sometimes more than one).
  • Life has not come to an end, it’s just not the ‘ending’ I would have envisioned.
  • I did not cause my child's handicap.
  • God Loves me
  • It is okay to cry.
  • Life is a long list of miracles. I just need to write them down.
  • And last, but not least: I am going to survive”

How many of us have felt, in the whirlwind that is our lives, that it would be so much easier just to sit down and give up. To not carry on the fight and let the winds blow us away into oblivion. There are times when life’s pressures keep us in a confusing spin, and we feel like we can’t break free or move ahead.

For those times, I present two solutions: Tenacity and improvisation

Tenacity is the power inside that keeps us holding on when we want to give up. It’s what got George Washington through Valley Forge. It’s what keeps us holding on to our teenage kids even when they drive us crazy! It’s what gives us the determination to make a business work when there’s little time and even less money. It’s what my friend said in her last item: “I am going to survive”

But the stick-to-it-ness of tenacity isn’t enough. I can stand, steadfast in the face of chaos and confusion, strong in the storm, and, while that might be inspiring, it’s also not getting anything accomplished. I’m still not moving.

But one of the difficulties of moving in the storm is that we’ve often tried lots of ways to move and found that they haven’t been effective in moving us forward. So, we end up standing there, barely able to withstand the force of the winds.

That’s where we need improvisation. We need to think, “What I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so I need to rethink this. I need to re-assess where I am, I need to try new ideas.” That’s when we need to explore.

Some would say that while your world is spinning around you is not the time to try new things. But I say, that’s the perfect time. What else can you do? Holding your ground isn’t getting you where you want to go, right?

So, my friend is shifting her stance, she’s realizing that she has more control than she thought. She can do more than cope. She can find new ways to move forward. And then find that in struggle is where we find the truest victory.

Dylan Thomas said:

“Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”