Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Of Punks, Goths, and Businesspeople

Whenever I go downtown, I see punks and goths, and it makes me smile. For those that might not know, these are young kids that dress, well, in ways that most people would consider “weird”. And their “style” is defined a lot by the music they listen to. The punkers listen to, well, punk rock, and wear a lot of grungy shirts, chains, usually with multiple body piercings. Baggy, torn shorts are common, as are spiky, multi-colored hair styles.

Goths, on the other hand, wear black. Lots of it. Black shirts, black pants, black overcoats. Black hair, black eye makeup, black fingernails. White faces, though. Pale white. They also seem to wear black moods, and I think it’s against the rules for a goth to smile. The music they like is dark, moody, angtsy, and, of course, loud.

But I have to chuckle when I see these kids, because I used to be one of them. Not punk or goth, mind you, but in my day, I was a rocker. I was raised in the 70’s, but I really “grew up” in the ‘80’s. That’s the decade I claim. And I loved the hair band rockers. I still do. But back then, I also wanted to look like them. So, I grew my hair out long, wore long dangly earrings, tore up my shirts, tore holes in the knees of my jeans, and wore my high-tops untied. I wore zebra-striped and Union Jack bandannas, and a dirty old trench coat loaded up with so many buttons and pins it weighed more than my backpack.

And that’s even how I went to church!

And I thought I was cool.

It’s scary, now, to see the pictures of me back then…

And, I scared away a lot of people. They didn’t know quite how to relate to me. I was a nice guy, and very friendly, but there was something about me that wanted to scare people away. It’s like I was testing them. I wanted to see if anyone cared enough to get past it and get to know the real me.

Now, in the years since then, I’ve mellowed a lot. My hair is shorter, my clothes more business-like. I still like a good, loud rock band as well as the next guy, but I’m not so pushy in my appearances. I’m a little bit easier to get to know, now.

So, that makes me think about things in business. I’ve seen it over and over again: Cluttered little shops with quirky owners and quirkier trinkets on the disorganized shelves. They’re tucked away in a corner of a street with hardly any sign to tell that they’re even there. But when I start to talk to the cashier, or sift through the scattered and dusty shelves, I find some really cool stuff, and the people are really helpful and knowledgeable. And when I walk out, I reflect on my luck at finding such a cool place to buy whatever I was looking for.

But I’ve realized that it’s a lot like being a punker or a goth. It’s like these businesses are challenging me to find them, like they’re trying to scare me away first to see if I really want to dig past it all and find the quaint little shop therein.

On the other hand, there’s the huge retailers that advertise so much I can sing their jingles in my sleep. Their shops are clean and well-lit, and stocked with lots of stuff that I want, most of the time, but not all the time. Their prices are usually pretty reasonable. But when I want to ask a question to someone, they don’t know the answer. Or if I just strike up a conversation, they’re too busy stocking a shelf or ringing up the next customer in line to chat.

So, what’s the best? Do I want to run a business like a punker? Really cool, but hard to find? Or like the big retailers, that are easy to get to, but with no heart?

There really is a “best of both worlds”. You can truly be available to your customers, and still have a great-looking, classy business that’s well-promoted. You don’t have to choose one or the other. You don’t want to be the web’s “best-kept secret”.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How to Win at “Yabbutz”

A long time ago, my wife and I were foster parents for struggling teenagers. Those of you who have raised teenagers of your own know what a challenge they can be when they’ve been brought up well. Think how difficult it can be with a history of abuse and criminal activity!

But these kids taught me about a game we all play, called “Yabbutz.” It’s a pretty simple game, but it also has many nuances.

For example, we often had chores the kids were supposed to do around the house. Often, some of their privileges in the household hinged on their completion of the tasks. So, we often had to play this game, and they were masters.

It would go something like this:

“Tom, weren’t you supposed to do the dishes before you played video games?”

“Yabbut you never showed me where the dish soap was.”

“You could have looked for it…”

“Yabbut I didn’t know where to look!”

“Don’t we usually keep it, oh, I don’t know, under the sink?”

“Yabbut I think we’re out of that…”

You get the idea.

The thing was, they always thought that if they kept playing “Yabbutz” with us, they’d keep winning. And in a way, they would, because they’d keep pushing. But in the end, they’d still lose, because they’d have to stop playing video games and still get the dishes done.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized just how good I had become at the game. I was facing some challenges as I was trying to get my music website started. A good friend was encouraging me to press forward with my goals. She thought it would be a great idea for me to promote my music.

“Yabbut I haven’t made any new music in a long time.”

“You have some old songs you could start with, right?”

“Yabbut they’re not that good. Plus they’re old”

“You can write new songs and make new recordings.”

“Yabbut I don’t have much time.”

I was using Yabbutz to keep myself in a comfort zone of wanting to do my music, but “not being able to”. As long as I kept Yabbutting myself into the cage, I’d never have to actually move out and take the risk.

It wasn’t long after that I learned how to really win at Yabbutz. You have to change the roles. You have to become the one that thinks in terms of possibilities. Your obstacles may well be real and even huge, but if you Yabbutz them, you can overcome them, you can work around them, even dodge them entirely.

For example, the voices in my head might say, “You can’t sing that good”

“Yabbut, I can practice and take lessons!”

“You don’t have twenty-thousand dollars to do a record in a professional studio.”

“Yabbut I can do it all with my home studio.”

“You don’t have anyone to distribute your CD’s when they’re done.”

“Yabbut I can sell them from my website until I do!”

Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at Yabbutting my way past obstacles. It’s not always easy, and it takes some real mental shifting. I’mstill faced with the same challenges I was before, but now I’m working with them instead of shutting down. I’m not always the best Yabbutz player. I still struggle, don’t you?

Yabbut we keep trying, don’t we?!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How to Start a Business on the Web

Here in the pages of SOHOMan, I talk a lot about things needed to create and run a great business website. You can find all sorts of articles about building a strong site, promoting it, running your business, and even motivating yourself. It’s all good, but sometimes it’s hard to put it all into perspective.

So, here, as overview, I’d like to spell out the steps that will lead you to a successful website. If you take this one bit at a time, and follow these overall directions, you’ll be able to accomplish what you’re hoping for!

1. Choose a focus

A great website will be ABOUT something. It will have a clear purpose, and a clear audience. Be careful not to make it all about your product, but rather the experience the product brings. Is it about nice furniture, or about relaxing in a beautiful home? Check the net for wholesalers and dropshippers that offer products that relate to your focus. This would also be a good time to get a domain name (“something.com”).

2. Build a happenin’ main page

Write some text that talks about your topic. Tell them how to make their lives happier, simpler, more enjoyable. Get them excited about what you have to offer them by showing them how it will impact them. Write it so that it has some good strong search terms in it. Put on some small, but clear graphics of people enjoying things in your topic.

3. Put up some content

Create some pages that have some good, useful, informative content on them. Find and share some articles that relate to your topic that will help people live a little nicer. Not only will this draw people in to the site, but it will also make it a tastier tidbit for the search engine spiders.

4. Add a newsletter signup

So far, you don’t have any way to get customers, though. So, set up a place where they can opt to join your mailing list. Offer them a freebie article, or a chance to win a prize of your product. Tell them they’ll get regular updates of more products and articles.

5. Launch it

The basic site is done! Publish it to the web! Go live! People will be able to see it on the web. Now all they have to do is find it… So, go to the big four search engines (yahoo.com, google.com, search.msn.com, and dmoz.org) and sign up your site. Write up a catchy and short email invitation to your grand opening and send it out to all your family and friends, inviting them to check it out and sign up on your list. Write up a press release and send it to your local newspapers.

6. Start to exchange links

Back on the web, it’s time to get connected. Find other sites that relate to your audience, and ask them to link to you (in exchange for a link back to them). You can set up a separate page on your site for these links. If you get well connected, you can bring in targeted traffic independent of the search engines. Incoming links can also boost your search engine ranking.

7. Set up your merchant account

Now that you’re starting to get traffic, you’ll want to prepare your site for commerce. You’ll want to get a merchant account to be able to accept credit card payments, and get that hooked up to your website’s shopping cart.

8. Begin adding product

By now, you’ve found sources for products, you can start to create your catalog pages, displaying them with nice clear pictures and describing them with exciting descriptions of their benefits and features. With these pages published, your visitors can become customers. Make sure that you announce your new product lines to your growing mailing list.

9. Start a blog

Either on your site, or hosted as a separate site, a blog (“web log”) is a great way to draw in more visitors and provide constantly updating content for your site. It’s also a great way to communicate with your audience, and the search engines love it, too!

10. Start sending out newsletters

Your list should be growing bigger and bigger now, so start to use it. Announce new products, tell stories, share news and articles that relate to your site focus. Run specials to your list as exclusives, so they can get in on the “inside deals”.

11. Start using other promotional strategies, like PPC (“Pay Per Click”), forums, and viral marketing

There are many more ways to bring people to your site. Constantly scour the ‘net looking for new ways to promote yourself, and ways to learn about changes. Subscribe to other people’s newsletters and eZines, read the news. Learn, learn, learn!

12. Repeat

Most of all, these things will be an ongoing process. More products, more articles, more links, more blog entries, more effort will consistently bring customers to your business. Then you’ll see it growing!