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Archives for June 2007

Don’t Let The Darkness Scare You

This post has always been in the queue to publish itself automatically if I don’t reset the timestamp every day. If you’re reading this now, it means the mothership has arrived. I’m going home. Thankyou people of Earth.

Just kidding. I hate it when a blog I like goes silent. And there’s no explanation or idea of why. Or when the blogger will resume. Or if.

I wouldn’t do that to you.

I’m Taking A Week Off

I kind of alluded in my previous post, blogonomics about putting some serious thought into what it is I’m writing here. Over the last several weeks or so I’ve been reading a lot of different stuff; ebooks, blog posts. And I’ve been keeping my eye on a few blogs with serious zoom.

We all strive to learn more about what we’re doing, and how to do it better. And probably a lot of the time we take in information without stopping and taking the time to seriously understand it and USE it.

‘Cause hey, we’re busy.

Creating A Pattern Interrupt

I’ll be around. I just won’t be writing and posting on Zoomstart for the next week. What I’m doing is looking at what I write. Why. How. For what purpose. I’m also looking at a bunch of material and notes I have on some things I was writing before I started Zoomstart.

So I’ll be thinking, plotting, focusing, strategizing and organizing. There won’t be any big changes. No new amazing Wordpress theme. No big re-launching fanfare. I’ll just be back. Focused. And putting the best content on the page that I possibly can.

Until then. It’ll be a little quiet. A little dark.

But I’ll keep a light on.

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What Is Blogonomics? Content. Brilliant Content

American Beauty bag in the wind

Outside of the fame and the fortune (or quest for them), blogging is about writing. There’s absolutely nothing more rewarding if you’re a writer than to have people read what you wrote because you wrote something worth reading.

And as for fame and fortune … that’s just a product of what you wrote. At least, what you wrote that was worth reading.

There are a thousand tips, tricks, and strategies for taking a blog to dizzying heights of stardom. They include traffic building schemes, social networking, SEO, and a host of other ideas, topics, and experiments.

Brilliant content trumps them all.

I came across the latest Wise Camel post the other day. I didn’t have to wonder how a blog with only 4 posts and next to no comments could garner so much attention with one page. The answer was easy. It’s, in short, brilliant. And again and again, I see brilliant content that transcends everything else a blogger can do.

Making Money With Blogonomics

On the internet, traffic is synonymous with economics. That’s the easy part. And if writing brilliant posts is the key to traffic, then at the expense of every other strategy, optimization, and leverage you can harness, nothing should divert you from the task of writing brilliantly.

Forget about your blog design. Don’t be concerned with proper ad placement. Don’t be too concerned with anything except writing the absolutely best stuff you can possibly write.

Leave your sweat on the page. And your blood.

That’s just good blogonomics.

Writing Brilliant Content

I’ve been trying to make some time to think about what I write and how I write lately. And how often I should write. And how long it takes to write brilliant content. I haven’t spent nearly enough time thinking about these things, so this post is the start of those thoughts.

Back to the Wise Camel. And a story of strippers. There’s a lot to learn from that post. A lot about blogonomics, about brilliant content. And even though, on the surface it might seem like some kind of pop-fueled pandering piece of linkbait, somewhere, Hemingway is nodding, Shakespeare is laughing, and Henry Miller is, well, probably still wondering where his next cigarette might come from.

The Making Of A Brilliant Post

Inspiration.

You can’t decide who you fall in love with. Chemistry just happens. Writing is like that. When it comes to writing, it’s often the inspired post you wrote in 10 minutes that travels around the world. While the smart and well researched ones stay home. Inspiration is fire. And it fires us up like nothing else can. It’s a thought you can’t shake. It’s a merging of ideas that shouldn’t go together but do. It’s what you feel in your gut that takes your words away.

And then hopefully, gives them back.

There are a thousand tips, tricks, and strategies.

Inspiration builds great walls. It tears them down. It turns a paper bag playing in the wind into a five-time Academy Award winning movie. Inspiration is how a man who spent a lifetime inventing and engineering could paint the most famous smile in the world.

And it’s just good blogonomics.

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The South Park Meme

My South Park alter ego

I see quite a few charicatures around the net, and the other day my head wandered into the thought “I wonder what I’d look like in South Park”?

So, I thought I’d check online for some SP pics and use them as a model to create my own likeness in Photoshop. And then I ran into South Park Studio. Janina has created a cool flash app with dozens of different clothing and hair styles, eyes, hats, skin tones and accessories.

A few minutes later, and I found my South Park alter ego staring me in the face. I did a little Photoshop customization to add a little more “me” to it, including a belt, watch, and my Zoomstart logo, but South Park Studio did all the heavy lifting.

Blogging Community Invades South Park …

So what do you look like in the South Parkisphere?

I gotta know! So I’m turning this into a meme … first, create you. And then capture your image in a screen shot by holding “Shift” and pressing “Prt Sc” and paste it into your favorite photo editor for final editing/cropping. Post your character along with a link to Janina’s site for others to follow. And then tag a few people to keep it rolling.

I’ll kick it off by tagging Jon, Nate, Danielle, Martin and Anthony

And if you’re reading this, tagged or not, jump in and check it out.

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5 Things Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Bottle Collectors

Bottle Collecting Shopping Cart

You might not think of the guy you see every Saturday morning with his shopping cart full of pop cans and beer bottles as an entrepreneur. But that’s exactly what he is.

And while I haven’t seen any bottle collectors on the cover of Business 2.0 lately, that’s mostly due to a big lack of start-up capital. And a big lack of glamour in attracting talent. I’m completely serious. There are likely a few bottle collectors that, with some capital and some talent on board, could very easily grow their know-how into a million dollar waste-management company.

Some are very diligent and proud of their little businesses. And there are some smart things that they practice that every entrepreneur could benefit from understanding.

5 Business Savvy Things That Bottle Collecting Can Teach You

  1. The early bird gets the worm. Bottle collectors have to be up before the garbage truck comes by. They’re working when everyone else is sleeping. In any business, when you’re the first on the scene when somebody needs something, you get the sale. And a part time entrepreneurial venture is very rare if it’s your primary source of income. To be successful requires long hours.
  2. Stake your territory. I’ve seen a few arguments about who “owns” a particular dumpster when new competition comes along. Every business has competitors. And a lot of times, bringing in a sale means you’re taking that business away from you’re competition because the customer isn’t happy. Then, to keep that customer yourself, you have to keep them happy. And you have to pay special attention to them when a competitor swoops in to wine and dine them.
  3. Find a way through the fence. There are very few fences, or other obstacles for that matter, that stand between a bottle collector and the bottles. You’re going to come up against roadblocks in your business; regulations, supply issues, hyper-competitive pricing, and a million other things. You have to find a way around or through them all.
  4. There’s a lot of garbage between you and the gold. Literally, for a bottle collector. Figuratively for you. There are sales that are not worth getting because the profit is too small and the task of even getting paid is too large. You’ll have to put up with competitors with sub-standard offerings that get the contract simply because they’re cheaper. And you’ll constantly be torn between offering quality and producing something cheaper. And faster.
  5. Expand your horizons. There’s the odd bottle collector that salvages a lot more than just returnable bottles and cans. Old TVs, metal, furniture, whatever they might be able to sell to someone else, take to the scrap-metal yard, or take into the local pawn shop for a few bucks. And so, while you need to have absolute focus on what you’re business is all about, you also need to have an eye on lateral opportunites. Maybe there’s an area of growth you need to explore. Or a direction that you and your company would do much better travelling in than the one you’re going in now.

There are many different people travelling many different roads. In the most unlikely places, you’ll find that some of them are entrepreneurs.

And they have much to teach.

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The Changing Landscape Of Business

Changing Times

Are you ready for it?

Every product has a limited life cycle. That’s easy. But what happens when your entire industry changes? And where are you in the lifecycle of yours?

The are a number of things that cause an industry to change. Some of the main factors are technology, globalization, and regulation. Any one of these things can turn a business upside down if it’s not ready for them. And in time, something is going to happen that has the power to cast your entire business model aside.

No big deal as long as you’re ready for it.

Faces Of Change

Jon from Smart Wealthy Rich left an excellent comment on my post about marketing music. He’s a musician, and he knows what’s going on. Better yet, he’s recognizing and embracing the new paradigm that music downloads have forced onto the entire music industry.

Here’s another example. I’ve previously talked about how the comics industry changed. This also came about with advances in technology. But unlike music, where technology has started to de-monetize the biz through slumping CD sales, the comics industry suffered a different kind of transition. Technology grabbed people and pulled them away to other rising medias … video gaming and the internet for example.

And one more example. Here the evolutionary factor is globalization. But it’s also maturity. Every industry matures and as it’s goods and services become more common place, and as competition increases, the price goes down. Back in the early ’90s, a 24 pack of bottled water in Costco would cost you about 15 bucks. Today, you can buy a 35 pack for anywhere between 4 and 5 bucks.

That’s a big difference. Bottled water as an industry has matured. It’s become commoditized as a result, and as multinationals have used their purchasing power to drive the price down and drive smaller players out.

The New Opportunity

The beauty of change is that it brings new opportunity for those who can initiate it or recognize and embrace it. Marvel Comics has moved heavily into film and video games. A lot of water bottlers have jumped into value added products such as oxygenated or vitamin-enriched water.

Wind-surfing manufacturers have embraced kite-boarding. Phone companies are delivering digital cable TV. Companies are adding blogs to their corporate websites. The list goes on.

Every industry is bigger than any single company. And the factors that create change are bigger still. But by staying in tune with the shifting landscape, anyone can survive the shakeouts that change brings. You need to be part fortune-teller, part inventor, and always moving in new directions.

Are you ready for it? What are you doing today to make sure your business has a place in tomorrow? What is the future of your industry? Change happens. It has to and it will, so live it, love it, and ride it all the way to your next big success.

Better yet, grab the bull by the horns and create it.

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How Do You Market An Album … Every Way You Can

Record Player

The music biz is a very competitive industry.

For every great success story we hear about, there are plenty of failed attempts. But, that’s the same in every industry, and as with any venture you can jump into, it’s not about what you produce, but how well you sell it.

A question I got a couple weeks ago was “So do you have any good ideas for marketing an album”? I always shudder when I get a question on how to sell because the answer is not what most people want to hear. In fact, even the most experienced business people sometimes don’t ”get it”.

The Brass Ring Of Selling

The answer that everyone wants to hear is an amazing viral marketing idea that puts a product or service on the global stage quickly and effortlessly. Great success and great riches follow.

It happens. These are the stories we all hear about because they’re so amazing. They’re also few and far between. And truthfully, there’s usually a long backstory of hard work behind these success stories that we don’t hear about.

It’s reaching for the brass ring. And for the most part, it’s not so much of a business model as it is a product of circumstance. Right place, right thing, right time. And all the right people.

There’s a better way to ensure success. A much better way that’s practiced by very successful businesses everywhere everyday.

Knocking On Doors

The idea of getting out and knocking on doors to sell is not entirely metaphorical. But mostly it is. Mostly it means getting out there and taking what you have and putting it in front of as many people as you can.

One person at a time. And then as you create some success and grow … 10 people at a time. Then 20. You get the idea.

Build The Up And Down The Street Business First

A very good salesman that I know told me how Naya (a water company that was purchased by Danone) built their business up from nothing to selling 12 million cases a year in a few short years.

When they first started out, the big retailers would have nothing to do with them. So they went after all the little ma and pa corner stores. Basically, they went after what’s called the up-and-down-the-street business first. The more little customers they got, the more the big ones started to see them around and take interest.

It’s not sexy. It’s not a brass ring idea. But while many other companies are sitting around trying to come up with the perfect idea to rocket themselves to riches, this works every time. And it starts working the minute you start working it.

Some EPic Ideas For Music

So back to marketing music. The brass ring scenario is where a big label picks it up and throws a ton of money at it and it becomes a huge success. This could happen.

But by forgetting about whether it happens or not, and focusing on the up-and-down-the-street business, you can increase the odds of making that happen. Drastically. And since different things work better for different people, it’s good to work a lot of different avenues. So here’s a list of ways and places to market an album:

  • Perform at music festivals
  • Perform at coffee shops and pubs
  • Put it on iTunes and other internet download sites
  • Make a YouTube video
  • Put a couple songs on a MySpace page
  • Connect with radio stations
  • Canvas satellite radio stations (there’s hundreds of them)
  • Participate in song writing contests
  • Hand discs out to friends
  • Send it out to a bunch of record labels
  • Get it into the hands of music directors for television and film
  • Perform on one of those little cable shows that feature independent artists
  • Talk to the purchasing departments of major record shops
  • Sell them on consignment to little indie record stores
  • Stage an impromptu rooftop public performance
  • Get a friend to write about you on their blog!

There are probably many more avenues, but this is a good starting list. Some of them are easy and some are harder. But none should be discounted as each of them lead to more exposure and that up and down the street exposure is how you get the big fish to notice you.

Every business should practice marketing “every way they can”. Getting out there and knocking on doors works. You’re taking it to your customers instead of waiting for them to find you. There are always plenty of ideas that are too big.

There are none that are too small.

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Building Your Business By Investing In People Rather Than Stuff

Resourceful People

You’ve just started your business or had a brilliant idea for one you want to start. After some research and planning, you’ve figured out what you need to setup and launch your business and you’ve got a list of things you need to purchase.

Now throw that list away and read this.

There are two main areas where you can invest your start-up capital. The first is in the infrastructure or “stuff” you need to operate your business. The other is people.

One road is easy and largely ineffective. The other road is challenging and leads to powerful results.

Buying All The Stuff You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Need

There are a lot of caveats in investing too much into building your business’s infrastructure too soon. Most people start buying the stuff on their list and as they go along, end up whittling the list down because the cash starts running out quickly. Or, they buy cheaper stuff.

Didn’t really need a Porsche to start a couriering company did you?

The reason this happens is because stuff doesn’t sell anything. It doesn’t go out and knock on doors. It doesn’t even produce the goods you’re selling without people at the helm. Without people, stuff is an expense that brings in no revenue.

And if you buy stuff before you know enough about your business, the market, the competition and the emerging technology trends … you’ll probably buy the wrong stuff. Now you’ve got all this useless stuff!

And no capital.

How To Invest In People Instead Of Stuff

Sure, you need some stuff. But by investing your capital more heavily into people rather than stuff, you’re building a company with a foundation and a good measure of the best resource every new business can hope to have. Brain cells.

Consider these things:

  • Managing is hard. Buying stuff is the easy way out of what you really have to do which is build and lead a team of people that can make things happen.
  • Managing is really hard. Not only do you have to find the right people, you have to keep them. There are going to be people that you hire that you have to fire. There’ll be others that just don’t stick around very long. It takes time to build a great team and you need great people to grow a company and move forward.
  • ROI. The more stuff you buy, the more sales you have to get to pay for it. And the less time you have to do that before you run out of capital.
  • Scalability. When you first start your business, outsourcing the work as you need it to get done means you’re paying as you earn. You’re only paying to fullfill the needs of each sale as you get it. If you buy a whole bunch of stuff, you need a certain amount of sales to pay for all the monthly expenses on that stuff. It might be rent on a large building or a loan payment for equipment. Don’t assume you’re going to get sales you don’t have yet.
  • Expertise. Stuff is stupid. You’re going to run into problems that you never considered or dreamt of. The more brain cells you’ve got to work on the problem, the faster you’re going to find a great solution and move forward.
  • Flexibility. A box packing machine packs boxes. A warehouse management system counts boxes. A person can do both. Just a little slower. Until you know exactly what you need, and how big or how much, flexibility will allow you to juggle a lot of different things. You can automate with stuff once you have enough experience to know exactly what you need.

Follow The Business Chain

The right things in the right order make a successful business. Break the chain and you break the business. But if you do the right things in the right order, you’ve got a better than average chance of success. The chain goes like this:

Idea > People > Plan > Sales > Capital > Purchasing

You purchase stuff. It’s at the end of the chain. But luckily, you threw that list of stuff away.

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Skip Tracing A Fly-By-Night Company: Getting Paid 201

Internet Fingerprints

Most of the time, getting paid 101 is everything you need to know about getting paid from a delinquent client. But sometimes, you get left on the hook by a fly-by-night company. One day … poof! … they’re gone.

Email bounces, the phone is cut off, the website has been sold, and the office is dark. It’s all gone. These are not businesses that are struggling to make ends meet. These are professional cons.

Occasionally they even operate the business for a few years, and then one day they simply disappear. The funny thing is, they usually pop up every couple years with a new cash cow.

How To Find A Fly By Night Company

The easiest way to find someone like this is to hire a professional skip tracer.

Skip Tracers charge anywhere between $100 and $500. A good one can find somebody hunkered down in a bomb shelter on the dark side of the moon in about an hour. Of course, the more information you can give them to kick things off, the better.

They use online databases, directories and good phone work to track people down. They also use their connections in different cities to find people. They’re a great option because they have all the right access and they know all the right tricks.

The best place to find a good skip tracer is through an accountant, a lawyer, or a financial consultancy firm.

Do-It-Yourself Skip Tracing

Sometimes it’s not too hard to find these people. And even if you do hire a skip tracer, doing a good preliminary search yourself is going to bring in more information, which makes it easier for them to get the job done.

The Tools For Tracing A Skipper

Here’s what you need:

  1. Paperwork. Gather up every document, business card, and note you have on this company. And print out any email correspondence.
  2. Google. Gotta love the internet!
  3. A phone. When it comes right down to it, this is your endgame weapon. The phone is what you use to verify all the information you’ve gathered. And it’s what gets you that last piece of information you need through someone who knows so-and-so who knows your disappearing magician.

Setting Up Your Search

Take all your paperwork and start making a list of everything you’re going to search on Google for. Here are the things you need to extract from all your paperwork.

  • The company name, address, and contact info
  • Names and contact info of managers, directors and owners of the company
  • Names and contact info of anybody you met through these people from this company. Maybe they know something or someone who does
  • Names and contact info of suppliers, clients, and B2B connections of the company. These people are possible allies in your search and they might know something
  • Brand names, trademarks, and product or service names that the company owned

Start Your Search

Fire up your computer and point your web browser to Google and start searching everything on your list. Make a new list as you go of all the information you find.

You’re looking for other companies these people have been involved with or dba information (where the company was “doing business as” another name).

You’re looking for groups or associations they’re part of. And where they generally do business. And press releases or info about deals they put together with other companies. Basically, you’re looking for everything you can find out about the people in this company and the trail they’ve left.

Once you’ve got names, and general locations, you can start looking up phone numbers and addresses via any number of online whitepages. Try and use a phone directory that’s local to whatever area they live in rather than a national directory. But check those too.

Making Contact

If all has gone well, your skip tracing effort has produced a short list of home phone numbers and maybe addresses for some of the key people that owned the company.

Phone them up and tell them you need to get paid. Don’t lose your cool. Be professional. Set a very short time-line like one week and keep calling them every couple days to follow up. Email or fax them a new invoice. Then wait a couple days and send them a promissory note to sign.

The key is to keep the pressure on and everything moving towards you getting paid.

Maybe they don’t have the money, or they’ll give you some story about bankruptcy or whatever. Maybe they’ll swear at you and slam down the phone. Then all you can do is take legal action. If these people are professional ghosts then a collections agency will have a tough time keeping on their trail.

So your best bet is probably to take them to court.

Get a good lawyer who can uncover their assets, and you might even get paid.

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Breaking Out Of The Wash, Rinse, Repeat Cycle

Wash Rinse Repeat

There’s a balance somewhere in between what works and what’s never been tried yet that always yields the best results. No matter what you’re doing.

On the one hand, success that’s repeatable is your best friend. On the other hand, someone else will always try something completely different and innovative that rockets past your process for success. And makes it not so amazing any more.

So wash, rinse, repeat is good. It’s just not the only way to approach everything you’re doing. There are three basic ways to work the things that work:

1. Wash, Rinse, Repeat

If it works, do it again! Over and over, so you can keep reaping the rewards. Easy enough. In fact, it’s the easiest way to create success. It’s formula. It’s autopilot. It’s a great way to not rock the boat when you’ve found a great way to do something.

But over time, the “washer-dryer” you’re using will wear out. And there’s always a new idea on how to do the same thing better. Faster. Cheaper.

The key to using wash, rinse, repeat effectively is to use it for a limited time.

2. Wash, Rinse, And Refine

When you start to build an awareness about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what kind of results you get, you can start to refine the way you do it. This is probably the biggest and most widely used philosophy to keep success rolling along nicely.

It’s about incremental change. It’s about taking something that works and making it work a little better.

The beauty of wash, rinse, and refine is that if it doesn’t work, it’s not a huge loss. You can simply roll back to how you used to do things and make another change in a different direction.

It’s also scalable. Large companies practice wash, rinse, and refine and so do top athletes. Pretty much anybody who’s at the top of their game practices this to take success and move it forward steadily.

3. Break Out To Break Through

Every once in a while, somebody comes out of seemingly nowhere and suddenly they’re at the front of the pack. And this doesn’t happen through the process of wash, rinse … anything.

It happens by breaking the mold for what works. This is innovation. Imagination. It’s also speculation.

Breaking out and trying something completely new and different carries a certain risk. It’s not proven, so it might not work. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, breakthrough innovation yields the exact same measure of success as the old tried and true method of doing something.

But usually, if it works, the payoff is huge. The reason is … you’re first. You’ve taken the whole game to a new level and because what you’re doing is new, it’s newsworthy. Break out ideas put the spotlight on you and that light draws everyone towards it. Innovation is magnetic.

Practice A Little Of Each

Take some of your wash, rinse, repeat ideas and start refining them. Some stuff works great just the way it is, so leave some things as they are and focus on taking some of what you’re doing forward a notch.

And then make a commitment to push the envelope regularly. Take a certain amount of capital, a certain amount of time, energy, progress, and stability. And take a risk.

And then … wash, rinse, repeat.

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Do You Think Like An Entrepreneur? … Let’s Find Out

Beat-up old van

A good friend of mine recently decided to start his own business. You might remember me talking about it and how leverage works. He’s partnering up with his brother, who has his own small painting business.

There are a lot of decisions to make as an entrepreneur and their latest one involves transportation. They have an old van. It runs, but it isn’t very reliable; it needs some work.

The Decision Is This

There are some options here. Let’s take a look …

  1. Spend $500 to get the old van running smoothly
  2. Buy an old van or truck for around $3,000
  3. Buy something new or almost new in the $20,000 range

Other Things To Consider

Before you decide what the right decision is, there are a few things to consider here. Here’s a couple. And maybe you’ve already thought about them:

  • Reliability. If you can’t depend on the vehicle to get to the jobsite, that’s a big problem. There’s a cost to your reputation and ultimately there are some real dollars tied to that if you lose jobs because you’re unreliable.
  • Image. Part of your reputation is image. We live in a world where image is important and people will judge you on face value. A new truck conveys a much better image than an old beat up one.

Got it figured out?

Now Let’s Get Into The Mindset

The company always buys this old broken-down junk” is a statement that most people who’ve ever worked a 9 to 5er have uttered. Or certainly heard. It’s an employee mindset. After all, it’s the employees that have to deal with that broken-down junk everyday.

When you first start up a business, getting to positive cash-flow is everything. And the capital you have to invest in the business has to last until you get to that point where the business is standing on its own two feet.

And then once you’re making money, it’s about ROI. Return on investment.

So, although there’s no answer here that’s 100% right because there are a lot of factors to consider, there is one answer that’s a lot more right than the others. You spend the 500 bucks to get the old van running smoothly.

Once it becomes too expensive and too time consuming to keep repairing, it’s time to buy another one; maybe used or maybe lease a new one. And in a pinch, if it totally breaks down, you can always rent a vehicle for a few days until you decide the best course of action.

That’s what most well established billion dollar companies would do. And it’s what most seasoned entrepreneurs would do.

Think like both.

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