Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sex Sells Small Business & Freelance Services

Catching up on my pile of local newspapers last night, I finally read the 2/20/08 edition of Willamette Week—and laughed out loud at the profile of a self-employed freelancer who went naked to gain business.

Referred to only as "Ben" or nudecomputerguy@gmail, the computer troubleshooter gets your machine online and humming—in the buff.

As he explains it to WW columnist Byron Beck, Ben couldn't get any nibbles on his freelance computer repair services when he first started posting them on Craigslist. Like most of us sole proprietors, small business owners and freelancers, Ben struggled with how to increase his business's, um, "visibility."

Perhaps too liberally interpreting that problem, he decided to turn to what so many people have done before to make a quick buck: take his clothes off. To even take it a step further, Ben lists his services (with the headline of "NUDE Computer Repair, Setup & Training") under the m4m Erotic Services section.

Several years ago, my ex-husband and I used to joke about using this sex-appeal tactic to start his self-employment path. Having grown up working in his father's janitorial business, my then-husband was the fastest and most thorough housecleaner I've ever seen. That man could make our kitchen sparkle faster than you could say "hand me the Comet." While I try to be conscientious about housecleaning, he put me to shame each time he picked up the sponge and spray bottle.

On days when he was frustrated at his job and wanting to go into business for himself, we'd often joke about him starting a nude housecleaning business. I knew it would be a roaring success, since his work would earn rave reviews and he's very easy on the eyes. I was confident he'd have so many repeat customers, he'd be turning new clients away in no time.

So it's not surprising to me that by changing his marketing approach from offering a business service to an erotic service, Ben-the-nude-computer-guy soon found himself with more calls than he could handle.

What makes me laugh about Ben's approach is the way he's pairing the appeal of nudity with the unappeal of geek work. No offense intended to IT guys, but they're not usually the first group of people I think of when I think "sexy."

But then, why not?

For some businesses, it's pure cliche: sex sells cars; sex sells cosmetics; sex sells alcohol. But more recently, the nudity marketing approach has been used to great success with smaller businesses, charities and industries that completely lack "sex appeal:" from community figures posing for nude fundraising calendars to bikini-clad baristas and high-tech services. became the largest Internet domain registrar, and doesn't it have to do in part to the scantily clad GoDaddy "girls?"

It kind of makes me wonder: where exactly will we draw the line when it comes to using sex or nudity to sell?

And more pointedly to you, my fellow small business owners: would you take your clothes off to increase your business's sales?

Lastly, I can't resist pointing out that because I have a home office, I occasionally work unclothed.

I'll let you know if that disclosure generates more copywriting business.

(Photo is from the Willamette Week article, "The Naked Networker." Presumably, that's Ben.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Told You So

The current issue of Entrepreneur magazine's "edge" column reports:
50%+ of consumers are open to receiving an interactive follow-up when
they're interested in a company.
66% of men in the 35 to 44 age bracket are interested in follow-ups—making them the most interested in follow-ups.
50%+ of female consumers 18 to 24 would like a follow-up e-mail after
they've expressed interest in a company.

So market to your contact list. "Your Customers are Asking for It."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Expert List of Best Kept Marketing Secrets

I just came across a fantastic list of top-tier marketing tips compiled by Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends.

Visit "Top Experts Dish with Their Best Kept Marketing Secrets" and study the helpful advice from top business gurus, including the likes of Seth Godin, John Jantsch, Guy Kawasaki and Jennifer Laycock.

And of course, I couldn't resist adding my own expert tip to the list!

Is Your Computer Slowing You Down? Tips for Improving and Maintaining Small Business Computer Performance

Spyware. Adware. Viruses. Spam.

These hi-tech nuisances can cause major mishaps for small businesses. Employees and business owners waste countless hours weeding out spam and re-doing work that was lost when the computer crashed. Not to mention the time wasted battling slow computer performance due to hijacking by one or more of the above pests.

Want your computer to run better? Here's a simple-but-effective guide to help you zap computer pests and get zippier computer performance—so you can spend time managing your business, not your computer.

Check the Hardware

First, find out what’s going on with your hard drive—it's the engine that drives your machine. Before you throw more resources at your computer, you want to diagnose the problem(s). Is the hardware outdated? Is your memory maxed out? Is it infected?

In Portland (Oregon), my ISP guys (that’s Internet Service Provider) provide a hard drive scan that’s reasonably priced and relatively quick. Bring your hard drive to Hevanet, where they’ll check it's performance, scan for contamination from malware and install free software to protect your computer against future invasions.

Not in Portland, Oregon?

In the US, try Geek Squad; worldwide, try Computer Troubleshooters. These franchises—and others—provide on-call computer service experts who can troubleshoot your slow-running computer and hook you up with the hardware or software upgrades you need for improved performance.

Don’t be surprised if you’re told to get a new hard drive. Computer hardware doesn’t have a long lifespan. According to Chip Reaves of Computer Troubleshooters, “Studies have shown that the likelihood of physical problems with computer equipment goes up significantly after 24 to 36 months. Consider replacing computer systems every three years.”

Set Up a Computer Maintenance Plan

To maintain your computer health on your own, here’s a five-step solution that should meet small businesses computer maintenance needs:

1. Get an effective anti-virus protection software.

Download AVG Virus Protection Software for free. If you have Norton Anti-Virus software on your computer, uninstall it (remove it completely) before installing AVG. Run a full-system scan of AVG and make sure you have it configured to automatically update. Don't put Norton back on your computer. It slows down your hard drive and conflicts with many other popular and necessary software packages that small businesses need. Use AVG instead.

2. Install effective anti-spyware software.

Download Ad-Aware SE or Spybot (or both). Run a full system scan to remove spyware and adware.

3. Can the spam.

Is there an effective anti-spam software you can purchase for your hard drive? That's the question I asked the support team at Hevanet. Because my spam filter, Postini, is a free accessory with my Hevanet email account, I asked them for a recommendation to pass on to you.

"Since about 90% of current email is spam, I would not recommend that people do this themselves," Craig at Hevanet answered. "It is a big waste of desktop resources. Ask your email provider for a filtering service."

Your email host should include spam protection as part of your monthly service and it should have settings you can adjust, so you can block bad email addresses and white-list (or include) others. If you're unsure of how to adjust your spam filter settings, contact your email host.

If your email provider has no such service, change service providers!

It will be a minimal hassle to change to your email and migrate your information and it will make a world of difference in your productivity when you no longer have to spend an hour each day deleting unwanted junk.

Again, I can speak highly of Hevanet and the spam filter service they provide, Postini. Hevanet just announced national dial-up accounts, so even outside Portland, Oregon, you can sign up for their fantastic service.

Once you have your settings adjusted to the strictest level, check your spam folder at least once per week. Delete contents regularly (without opening them as they could be viruses!) and look for wanted e-mails that may have been filtered.

4. Clean up your hard drive.

a. To do this with a Windows XP or Vista, go to the “Start” menu. Select: Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> Disk Cleanup

b. Choose your main hard drive.

c. Select “Temporary Internet Files,” “Offline Webpages,” “Recycle Bin,” “Temporary Files.”

d. Click “OK” and confirm to remove those junk files.

e. Now open your Internet Explorer Web browser. Under the “Tools” menu in the top menu bar, select “Delete Browsing History…”

f. In the window that opens, just select “Delete History” for the Temporary Internet Files option. This will clear out other cached Web pages that may be bogging you down.

5. Defragment your hard drive.

a. In Windows, go to the “Start” menu and open: Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> Disk Defragmenter

b. Choose your main hard drive.
c. Click on “Analyze” to see if you need to defragment.

d. Click “OK” if it recommends that you run the defrag.

Now Rinse and Repeat

These five steps—virus scan, spyware/adware scan, spam filter check, disk cleanup and defrag—should be performed weekly. Make it your Saturday morning or Sunday night routine and keep up with it. You’ll appreciate how much better your computer runs and how much more efficient your feel when you’re not slogging through the junk anymore.

Other Resources

By the way, nobody endorses me to mention or promote their services in this blog. Because I've received some great connections through others' recommendations, I want to do the same. I do not receive any payment or kickback from any of the vendors or service providers I mention.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Start-Up Gap: Vision versus Reality

One aspect of business start-up that I'm finding to be one of my most difficult struggles is the gap between what I can accomplish with the resources I have compared to what I dream of achieving.

When I began visioning my company, I gave myself the time and freedom to let my imagination soar. My business plan includes first-year milestones and pragmatic steps, but it also includes a long-term picture of my company's bigger goals: mission statements about social responsibility and social change; market leadership in the maternity brand; manufacturing products.

The greater vision is what excites and compels me to work so hard now. But the reality of where I am and what I can do today often collides against those more ambitious ideals. I can't get there in a month or a year. It will take time.

Much of what I wrestle with emotionally throughout the course of each week entails answering this question: how do I create a piece of the vision to start from and build on, but still have it embody enough essence of the vision so that it feels like I'm getting there, albeit slowly?

I find it a tough to choose between the ideal and practical. How about you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Believe. Manifest. Let go.

Last week, I attended a networking event hosted by the Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon and held at The Clearing Café next to The DragonTree day spa on NW Thurman.

There I had the pleasure of meeting Briana Barton, owner of both the café and spa. She is a remarkably inspiring young woman. With a beautiful baby nestled against her chest and a flower in her hair, she radiated calm and poise. Graceful, open and smiling, she shared with me some her own stories about starting up her businesses.

Seeing her spa, The DragonTree, now flourishing at 4 ½ years old, it’s hard to imagine Briana’s anxiety and worry in the early days. The DragonTree is an oasis, a true retreat from urban grayness and stress. Fountains, plants, candles and a skylight bring all four elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire into the surroundings. Moroccan chandeliers, bold fabrics and gold painted walls transport visitors to another place. The Sangha Room, where the foot treatments take place, evokes an Asian courtyard. Every detail of the spa shines with the touch of loving, deliberate care. It’s the work of a woman who believes passionately in what she does.

And yet, the first days and months of business were slow for The DragonTree: it took time for word to spread about the sanctuary Briana had created.

The night I met her, I leaned on Briana. She exuded a peacefulness and quiet strength that inspired my trust. I confided in her about my anxiety about my store taking longer to grow than I had expected and almost mentioned my worry that it might f**l.

Following our talk about the store’s mission and my passion for women to claim and enjoy their childbearing years, Briana visited Maternitique’s website. The next morning, she wrote me the following email:

I wish you all the best - I know that it will totally take off....just believe,
manifest, and let go.

Thank you, Briana. That was exactly what I needed to hear.

If you are struggling in the new days of a fledgling endeavor, I hope those words of wisdom calm you as much as they did me.

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I can own a small business and have a personal life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Taking Care of You: Surround Yourself with Supporters

(copyright for the above image belongs to Despair, Inc.)

Along the start-up path (and throughout life, really) you will encounter a variety of people. I’ve written about how helpful and supportive strangers, acquaintances and friends have been so far in encouraging my business’s start up (see "Don't Do It Alone When You Go It Alone"). But what about the others?

Not everyone is as helpful as they appear/claim/hope to be.

From vendors who supply a product you need—but they don’t pursue your account and take forever to answer your requests for information—to unresponsive or underperforming service providers with whom you contract, not everyone is able to give you and your business a hand up.

Some people actually bring you down.

One woman I met recently talked about how unsupportive her friends were during her business’s initial start-up. It’s not that they didn’t want her to succeed, they were just immature and more interested in partying than sitting and listening to their ambitious, precocious peer lament her start-up woes.

A friend of mine felt that she lost weeks of time moving her small business forward when a sales rep from a packaging supply company was dragging her feet in getting answers to her.

“I learned who I don’t want to do business with,” she told me. “It was just as important a lesson as finding out who I do want to give my business to.”

And she’s right.

Like the Will Rogers quip, we can learn from everyone. Only some people teach us what we don’t want and how we don’t want our business to run.

One of my business mentors told me once that a critical element of nurturing yourself as a CEO and entrepreneur is to surround yourself with supporters. While realistic and honest feedback is essential, people who drag you down emotionally, discourage you, or otherwise leave you feeling "icky"are toxic. They drain your confidence and hold you back.

If there are vendors who require you to do more than your share of the work, ask yourself, what I am paying for? Cut your losses and find someone you can work better with.

If your friends aren't able to take the time to listen to you, or you feel less excited about your business efforts AFTER you speak with them, then stop talking with them about it. Connect with a group of entrepreneurs or sole proprietors who can offer true support and encouragement.

If a supplier is unresponsive to your requests, find someone else who can provide the resource you need. You don't have time to waste on them! One of their competitors will be happy to prove to you that their service is the better choice.

Even people can be dusty widgets that you have to ditch to move forward toward achieving your goals. Take a look at your energy drains and then take measures to replace them with positive influences instead. It makes a world of difference!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self Employed

I have faith in my ability to make good business decisions.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Been Caught Stealing - Jane's Addiction

Sometimes It's Ok to Steal*

It's mine. Mine all mine.
~ Jane's Addiction, "Been Caught Stealing" from Ritual de la Habitual

I've been visiting several writers around the blogosphere lately who have been using Snapshots on their blogs. As I read their fabulous posts and zip my cursor over the link--whoosh, a picture of the destination link pops up. I loved it! And I couldn't resist. I had to have it for my own.

So I took it.

It was free, easy to install (like absolutely everything relating to an aside, I will soon begin to lobby the next President of the United States to hire blog designers to redesign the US Postal Service Web site, which has to be the absolutely worst, least helpful e-commerce Web site anywhere) and even offers custom advertising options on the tile beneath the image. Check it out and enjoy Snapshots here on Ditch the Dusty Widget.

What kinds of fun, helpful gadgets have you stolen from other places to use on your blog or Web site? Let us know. I've also changed my "comments" settings to make it easier for you to leave messages. You can even leave them anonymously if you're worried about being caught.

* It's really not okay to steal and I'm not endorsing criminal activity of any kind. This was just one example of a copywriter playing with words to make a boring update sound more interesting.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Email Marketing Addendum: It's Okay to Be Deleted

Phil Bernstein has worked as a media rep for Clear Channel Communications for more than a decade. For the last several years, he's faithfully written and emailed an electronic newsletter to his contacts, including previous customers, prospective customers and subscribers.

Twice per month he sends a fun and informative email relating to marketing and advertising topics that would be of interest to his clientele—advertisers. While he includes notice of special advertising sales and other relevant news about his services, that content gets second billing.

When he began the newsletter, he said, he committed himself to be disciplined. But the payoff makes it easier to stay true to his goal of sending regular and consistent communication.

What kind of payoff is it?

At least twice per year, Phil says he lands a deal as a direct result of his newsletter contact. With $5,000-$10,000 ad buys being made with no more than an email or two in follow up to the newsletter, Phil says the effort is well worth the time it takes for him to manage his e-marketing program.

Phil and I met each other on Wednesday morning, after I had posted the below advice on email marketing. That's when he related his own successes to me.

As self-proclaimed "Portland's Finest Media Rep," Phil knows how important repetition, visibility and consistency are in marketing.

"Even if all they do is delete the email," he said, "they still have to look at my name as they do it."

Amen, Phil.

Although you don't want every message you send to your contact list to be immediately zapped into cyber-trash (relevant content and thoughtful timing is important to avoid being flagged as spam), there's still value even in just having your message deleted.

Read more about Phil Bernstein and his valuable advertising advice on Portland's Finest Advertising Blog.