Creating a User Friendly Small Business Website

I get a lot of questions from students in my small business class at Cuesta about how to design a website that will help promote their business and be easy for customers to use. The first thing I always tell them is not to spend a bunch of money on their site. Using WordPress they can create their own site that’s simple and easy to navigate and provides all the info a customer might need.

The next thing I tell my students is that they need to do their best to ensure their site is simple and easily accessible. There are several ways to ensure this. The first element is an attractive home or landing page. This is the first page a visitor sees and could determine if he or she remains on the website or clicks off. This should be an overall summary of your business and a preview of the remaining webpages. Read more…

Tips for Using Web 2.0 to Promote Your Business

The way we market and promote our businesses has changed a lot over the last 10 years. And I do mean a lot. No longer is it enough to put a “Coming Soon” banner on your storefront or run a week’s worth of radio ads or put fliers on peoples cars. Now you have to be on-line. That means having an easy to navigate website and a number of facebook and twitter followers. Creating your on-line presence can’t be done overnight and takes some planning and foresight to do it correctly. Nothing can sink a new business faster than constant ridicule or derision from on-line trolls. Read more…

Photo courtesy of windycitylefty

A Loss of Privacy

A lot is being made about the whole NSA spying debacle that Edward Snowden brought to the world’s attention a few months back. While I don’t think anyone really understood the lengths the government has gone to listen in to our phone calls, read our email, and record our browsing history, it seems like most people I’ve spoken with kind of assumed they had the capability. While improvements in technology have made it easier than ever for big brother to check-in on us whenever they want, I remember when I first experienced a violation of my privacy in a very non-technological way, and how it made me feel. Read more…

Sacrifice. You know, for kids.

Eberlestock J51 Warhammer Pack w Loading Bay, Military Green J51MJWhen I was a younger, more idealistic man with dreams of changing the world and plans to do that through educating the youth of America, I never gave much consideration to having children of my own. I always knew I’d find a nice woman, settle down and live a quiet, comfortable life where I would teach and then come home and read Keats, Shelley, or maybe some Dickens by a nice warm fire, a good drink in hand, a pipe perhaps. My wife by my side enjoying her own favorite literature and the two of us in love.

I found that woman in my darling Maria and we have a beautiful library of all kinds of works of fiction, non-fiction, and everything in between. We love each other very much. We have our den, with a stone fireplace. A bar filled with various scotches of different ages and origins. It’s a wonderfully idyllic respite from the rigors of our jobs and the hard routines of daily life.

I haven’t seen the inside of that room in three and a half months.

They warn you about the joys of parenting. It will change your life, they say. It’s like no other feeling in the world, they tell you. Your time is no longer your own, but theirs. How different could it really be, you ask yourself. I’m still my own person. I can have time away from the kids. It won’t completely change me, I will still find the time for the things I like to do.

How naïve I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love Charlie and Dora more than anything else in the whole world. But the sacrifice does come. It happens and there is very little you can do about it. The things you love are no longer your own. The plans you had take a backseat, next to the child safety seat and diaper bags, and toys…oh so many toys.

Then they get older and the concepts of status are learned. Yours is better than mine. I want that. I have to have that. Daddy, I NEED THIS. The weird thing about it is, you never know when it’s coming or why. I needed a new backpack to bring to classes so Maria heard about a site for military backpacks here. She clicked there to find out more about them and got me a really nice bag that had a lot of pockets and features. It was a great bag.

Then the kids saw it and wanted to borrow it for sleepovers and camping trips with friends on the weekends. Mind you, we had only one. So the fights started. They each wanted to borrow it but they couldn’t take turns, because their schedules conflicted. The two of them began to one up each other trying to get to borrow it. Before long, it wasn’t even mine anymore. The kids commandeered it. My backpack was gone, theirs to pick over like carrion. Those military bags are tough because that thing got abused.  Dad was left needing a new backpack. Maria finally broke down and bought two new ones, even nicer than the old one we had first that has seen better days now.

And guess who ended up with that?


A Watch Store to End All Watch Stores

starting a watch store businessA student approached me last week about their plans to open a men’s accessories store. I honestly had no idea what he meant by “men’s accessories” so I had to ask. Apparently he means watches, cuff links, shaving equipment, etc. He’s trying to figure out how to differentiate himself from the bigger stores in town that already offer those products and for less money than he’d be able to sell them for.

This student, we’ll call him Ron, is ex-military. He joined up about 10 years ago and spent five years in the service. He’s been kind of spinning his wheels since being discharged just trying to figure things out. He took my class hoping to have some epiphany about what he wanted to do with his life. It turns out he’s somewhat of a watch buff and has been collecting them since he was a kid. When he was in the service he got really into military style watches that he could wear with his uniform and while he was out on patrol. You can find out more about what qualities make up the best military watches by checking out this site.

Anyhow, I told Ron what I tell everyone who’s trying to compete with the big box stores: you can’t beat them on price so niche down and offer great service. Ron got the idea to start the men’s accessories store because he loves watches and just figured he could also sell other manly products at the same time. While that might work I think he’ll have a better chance starting with watches and expanding once he’s successful. Watches are what he knows and what he’s passionate about. He can give you way better advice on your next timepiece than a clerk at Macy’s ever could.

So we talked it through and he agreed that focusing on watches was probably a good place to start. Since he has experience with the tough and rugged variety that’s where he’s going to start. No Rolexes, just good old fashioned useful and reasonably priced everyday wristwatches.

Since this is his first business I also decided to give him a hand with some of the other logistics that go into starting your first business. It makes sense for him to find a space that gets good foot traffic. Even though that will lead to a lot of people who just stop in out of curiosity it will help spread the word and get them thinking about buying a watch even if they don’t do it that day.

Another important consideration is where the inventory will come from. Watches are expensive so you need to make sure you get a good deal so you don’t go bankrupt after the first few months. A lot of manufacturers offer deals where you can hold the inventory and you don’t have to pay until you sell something. I recommended he look into an arrangement like that because it will help him do more with his limited capital.

At first I was a little skeptical of Ron’s plans but the more I think about the more chance I think he has to be successful. It going to take a lot of hard work but he has the passion and the know-how to make it work.

A Student Pursuing His Passion with Valuable Coins

valuable coins for collectingSince I teach a class on starting and running small businesses I get a lot of “seasoned” students. What I mean is that most of the people who are interested in the topic have been working for a while and want to find a way to make it on their own. Not too many 18 year olds sign up, and those that do don’t usually last the full semester.

And since my students are serious about starting their own businesses they usually have a lot of very specific questions that go beyond the theory and general know-how we cover in class. Let’s just say my office hours are usually well attended. Not that I mind it, I love going over the nitty-gritty details of what it takes to own and operate your own business.

This past semester one student, Art, visited almost every week to talk about his plans. He stood out because he was quite a bit different from the other people in the class. First off, he was retired and in his mid 60’s. Second, he wanted to start a business for “fun” not because he needed the money to survive. And third, he wants to sell valuable coins.

Most of the people I know who are looking to go it on their own usually want to do something tech related, like software or e-commerce. Art’s goal was much more traditional. He found a small retail spot with cheap rent and very favorable lease terms. I helped him review all the documentation, get a business license, a tax ID, set-up QuickBooks, and a few other things. This is the boring part of starting a business.

Most owners start getting excited when they start buying their inventory and setting up their store and Art was no exception. Except for the fact that he didn’t need to buy any inventory, he already owned it! See, Art inherited a bunch of coins from his dad about 20 years ago. Coin collecting has always been a passion of his dad’s and he had passed along the interest to Art. Art wasn’t as accomplished a collector as his father had been but he had collected several thousand coins of his own, all cataloged and preserved.

So when he took over his dad’s collection he easily had 10,000+ coins to looks after. For a while it was a great way to remember his pop. He’d go through the collection and reminisce about the good times they had at coin fairs and sorting through change jars at yard sales and flea markets.  But eventually the collection began to lose its luster. Art valued the collection at several hundred thousand dollars, all of which he kept in a number of safe’s in his garage. He began to worry about being robbed or losing the collection to a fire or earthquake. He wanted to share the collection with other collectors but worried about too many people finding out about it.

If you’re not familiar with valuable coins, check out this list here to get a better understanding of why Art began to worry. He didn’t want to just lock the collection away in a bank somewhere and totally lose touch with it. Which is why he decided to open a storefront. This way he can be around the coins he values so much and talk with others who share his passion for collecting. He’s holding on to the most valuable and sentimental coins to pass along to his own kids.

For Art his coin business really is about passion. He understands that coin collecting is not as popular as it once was and hopes his store will be a place people who still enjoy the hobby can meet to talk and share. I was glad to be able to help out just a bit and am sure his store will be a resounding success.

Protecting Yourself On-line and Through Social Media

I get a lot of questions about the dangers of identity theft and the steps people can take to protect themselves online. While there’s no fool-proof method for keeping your personal info save there are some easy steps you can take to lessen your likelihood of being the victim of identity theft.

There are two ways hackers or data thieves make money with your personal information. The first is selling your personal information to marketers who use the info to try and sell you products or services. The second is by gaining access to your financial accounts and stealing your money. Neither option is any good.

Identity thieves use your personal information to either gain access to your financial information or detailed personal information like your address, family connections, and employment history. The easiest place for thieves to gain enough personal info from you to get access to your accounts is through social media. Social media outlets like Facebook have replace chat rooms and forums as the new hip places to hang out and meet people. Facebook and the like can be fun places to hang out but used recklessly can also lead to identify theft. The goal is to use the internet wisely. Be careful of what you reveal and who you’re revealing it to. The following are a few easy steps to make your internet browsing more secure.

Remember the Lessons of Childhood:

Parents caution their children to never talk to strangers and when online anyone you don’t know in real life is a stranger. Just as you wouldn’t tell a total stranger your life story in person, don’t do it on the internet either.

Most social media sites have a registration form but before filling it out willy-nilly, find out what this information is for and who has access to it. Something as innocuous as your outside email address can lead to another source of information about you, which can lead to other sources of information about you and soon the data thieves have all the information they need to steal your identity.

If you do decide to complete the form, as soon as your account is active, check out the privacy settings. Most social media sites have different levels of privacy but the default is usually no privacy at all. A few clicks of the mouse can restrict who has access to your information.

The Friend of your Friend is not necessarily your Friend

These restrictions are useless if you accept every friend request though. If you receive a friend request from someone you don’t know do a little due diligence and ask a few questions. How do you know this person?

Just because they are a friend of one of your friends doesn’t necessarily make them a friend of yours. Declining friend request from people you don’t know is not rude, it’s prudent and might make the difference between your information staying secure and not.

The Internet is Forever

Another important part of protecting your online identity to remember is the internet is forever. The quip or quote you post today could show up ten years from now to haunt you or torpedo your job search. More employers are Googling their potential employees before hiring just to get an idea of their character. Make sure your online presence reflects who you really are.

The internet is a fun and informative place to hang out and explore with a few precautions. If you take a few seconds to think before you click submit, you can enjoy the internet safely and securely.

Lessons we Can Learn From the World’s 3 Richest Men

The world’s three riches men (Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet) are so much wealthier than the average person it may seem like there’s no way we could ever relate to them. While on some level that’s probably true, I actually think they have quite a bit to teach us about how they got where they are today and how we can apply those principals to our own businesses.

The number one thing they would tell us is that building wealth is not easy. There’s no shortcut to being rich. It takes years of hard work to build a successful business and you have to be willing to put in the time and pay your dues. That means cutting back on social time and devoting yourself almost 100% to developing a successful business. Here are top lessons we can learn and incorporate into our own businesses from the three world’s riches men (and I say men because the three richest people in the world right now are men).

1) Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet, and Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for investing in tried and true businesses that are the backbone of the US economy. He’s put money into rail, energy, and manufacturing. He understands that the price of an asset does not necessarily determine it’s value. While tech companies like facebook and twitter are hot investment opportunities today their value may not be enough to make last for the long term. When starting a business, or growing a business, think long and hard about the value you’re adding and whether a change in technology or a new competitor would make you obsolete. Aim for the long-term, not short term.

2) Bill Gates

Bill Gates grew Microsoft from a wild idea first developed in his parents basement to a multi-billion dollar company. It’s the dream of ever entrepreneur. When he was first starting out with his friend and partner Paul Allen, they lived and worked as cheaply as they could. They scrimped and saved everywhere. They lived with their parents and they traded for services when they could. They could get away with it because they were young and geniuses. For the rest of us living at home is not really an option. But we can still live cheaply. No need to buy a new car or live in a bigger house or apartment that we need. But the bartering is something we can all do. We may not have a lot of money, but we can use our time and skill to get the products or services we need to build our business.

3) Carlos Slim

If you’re not familiar with Carlos Slim, he’s Mexico’s telecom billionaire, and trades off as the world’s richest man with Gates and Buffet. His best business advice is to stay lean and mean for as long as possible. Do as much as you can by yourself for as long as possible. Don’t hire until running your business by yourself starts holding you back. You have the vision for how your business should operate and bringing in other people to early can muddle that vision.

So even though these men are richer than entire nations, there’s quite a bit we can learn from them. But I think the overall theme is to be true to yourself and build a business you can be proud of. There are no shortcuts, just hard work and diligence.

What are Bitcoins and Should You Incorporate Them Into Your Business?

If you’re not familiar with bitcoins, don’t worry, most people aren’t. Bitcoins are an on-line currency that has been gaining traction the last few years. Here’s the official definition from Wikipedia:

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency whereby the creation and transfer of bitcoins is facilitated by an open-source peer-to-peer cryptographic protocol that functions without the intermediation of any central authority. Wikipedia.

To most people, and to an extent me too, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Here’s how I think of bitcoins. Bitcoins are an international currency, that’s only available on-line, that is controlled by a centralized computer database. Bitcoins are not owned or moderated by any one person, but are controlled by the entire bitcoin community. The computer code that generates bitcoins is open source meaning anyone can review it or generate changes to be reviewed by the entire community. The data that generates bitcoins is encrypted which means no one can just go out and generate a bunch for themselves. There is no counterfeiting.

So now that we have a general idea of what bitcoins are lets look at how they’re used. They were first generated as an attempt to create a global currency. If you live in Zimbabwe and you want to buy something in Russia currency conversion issues can be a major obstacle. Bitcoins are an attempt to solve that problem.

Valuation has been one of the most challenging issues for bitcoin owners to address. People tend to think of prices in terms of their home countries currency so figuring out how much a whole new virtual currency is worth is difficult for a lot people. It’s like if you go on vacation to Mexico, you convert everything from peso’s to dollars to figure out if you’re getting a good price or not. Bitcoin prices have gone through some wild fluctuations, and can change by up to 20% in a single day.

Since there’s a limited supply, marketplaces have sprung up to sell coins in exchange for your home countries currency. The price in dollars has gone from around $50 to over $400 in just a coup,e of years. In fact, there are even some purported new millionaires who invested heavily in the on-line currency when it was new.

So should you start using bitcoins and accept them in place of dollars at your business? The short answer is probably not. For the most part bitcoins are still an unknown to the majority of the world, including the US populace. They’re best known for being associated with illicit drug and gambling operations, like the silk road. The US congress just held their first hearings on the currency and asked several departments, like the treasury and FBI to weigh in on the phenomenon. The overall consensus is that they will continue to track bitcoin use but at this point don’t believe it warrants much interest by the US government.

But if you’re an early adopter, and always like to be on the cutting edge, you may try adding a bitcoin payment option to your company’s website. You never know, a bitcoin worth $400 today could be worth $800 tomorrow and potentially make you very rich. Or, it could lose it’s value altogether. There’s just no way of knowing for sure.