Monday, November 19, 2007

GuerrillaMail: A Disposable Temporary Address

A lot of people online try really hard to maintain privacy as well as combat spam. I've given up on the privacy issue - I got online way before I realized the Internet would ever turn into the thing it has, and my information is scattered to every corner of it. But if you've not already let the horse out of the barn, you might find the following service very useful. GuerrillaMail is a temporary, disposable email address. You can set one up in an instant, and it is good for 15 minutes. Use the address for any online application where an address is required initially but not on an ongoing basis. The most common example would be signing up for a forum, where they need to verify you're a human and not a spam bot, and you need to receive an email to confirm your subscription.

Return to Guerilla Mail to receive your email and confirm your subscription - and then let it expire. No muss, no fuss.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No Spam Problem

I don't have a spam problem.

No, seriously, I don't! Oh, sure, I get it just like you do. I've got a couple email addresses which have been kicking around the web since the mid nineties, and believe me, every spam bot in the universe has my address. But ever since my IT guy turned me on to Cloudmark, I haven't had to even think about spam.

Cloudmark installs into Outlook or Outlook Express. It functions with a community system - if people in the community say a particular address is that of a spammer, it gets flagged and then if anyone else in the community get an email from that address, its blocked. It all happens right in your email system - my spams are all dumped into my deleted folder, where I can poke my head in now and then and see if there were any false catches. You don't have to log in somewhere else to see that sort of thing. And if you're pretty sure its all spam, just flush it out of your trashcan.

When you first install Cloudmark, you'll need to spend a little bit of time training it. Its simple - spot a spam in your inbox, click Block and it goes away - and that community database gets updated. Find a good message in your deleted folder, click Unblock and it is returned to your inbox. After a few days, you'll find its more and more accurate and you'll be able to forget about spam entirely.

The Cloudmark system also relies on trust. How accurate you are in blocking spam (and knowing what is spam vs. what isn't) adds to your trust, as does how quickly after a spam arrives, you flag it as spam.

Cloudmark is very reasonably priced, only $39.95 for a year, for a single license that can be used on up to two computers. They have volume discounts, as well.

Perhaps my favorite part of Cloudmark, second only to its phenomenal accuracy, is the statistics. This is what I get when I check my stats:
My total messages checked 114,785
My total spam stopped 88,214
My total phish stopped 156
Spam I've blocked 383
Phishing I've blocked 0
Now, just imagine if I'd actually had to see or wade through all that? Cloudmark quietly makes sure I don't have any spam problem at all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Selling Digital Downloads

Some of you may remember the frightful saga of Quick Pay Pro that I endured last year to sell my do-it-yourself designer info products. Well, finally, that is behind me. I gave Payloadz a revisit recently, and found that two things had significantly improved since I previously tested it: the functionality and ease of use, and people's perception of PayPal in general. I had hesitated to use Paypal, exclusively, for the digital downloads, because of all the hoops a non-Paypal member would need to leap to make a purchase. That seems to be thing of the past. I also really wanted to use my own merchant account and found that nearly ever good shopping cart system charged premium rates for the ability to also sell digital downloads. Since I only have four, at the moment, it seemed like overkill.

Payloadz was amazingly simple to set up, with basic HTML skills. You do need to create your own images for cover art, and size them appropriately, which was a bit tricky (they don't tell you the optimal sizes so I had to play around to get it right, nit picker that I am!).

When you add your products, they automatically put it into a store right there on their site, so you have the added benefit of their marketing of your product. Once a product is in the store, they provide you with the code to pop into your web site, to sell your products. When someone adds a product to the cart, it tallys it up in the Paypal interface and provides the mechanism for check out. Easy as pie, and increasingly familiar to anyone who has ever used Paypal to make a purchase online.

Payloadz is not just for digital books, either - you can sell software, music, podcasts, movies, digital art, manuals, articles, files and anything that can be downloaded. I keep thinking... hmmm... what else can I sell now?

The best part - if you're just starting out, it is absolutely free to set up an account - you just pay for either a flat fee or percentage fee of sales after the first $100 in transactions.

I'm looking forward to keeping more of my profits from the sales of my ebooks, that is for sure!

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's so quiet around here!

Yes, you've noticed that Increase Your Reach has gone silent and I'm here to tell you, you aren't imagining it. There are transitions in motion and changes afoot at Business Design Studio which have caused me to go introspective on everyone and not do a lot of writing this summer. After three years of writing free material for the small business design audience, this has been a welcome break.

The newsletter sign up persists so I can still share the free Marketing Design and Technology Guide, but I won't be sending out newsletters for the time being. Of course, you can still peruse the free articles and blog archives spanning three years of active writing. And if you're looking for advice, my inexpensive "do it yourself" graphic design guides are all online for instant answers. These are:

* Shades of Success: Designer Secrets to Marketing with Color
* The Color Meaning Guide
* Do It Yourself Branding: How to Create Your Own Business Identity Without Hiring a Designer

Til next time!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Life of Oscar, Home Office Cat

On a lighter note, I recently created this photo essay about Oscar, the resident home office cat behind the scenes of Business Design Studio. He's an integral part of my business operations as you will soon see... and if you don't believe that, well, I have extra hairballs free to a good home if you would like to experience it yourself.

Feel free to pass the link on to other pet lovers and home business people if you like!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Featured in "The Streetwise Small Business Book Of Lists"

Earlier this year, I was invited by Gene Marks, author of Outfoxing the Small Business Owner, to submit my writing to his upcoming book, The Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists (Adams Media; 2006). I submitted two lists: Questions to Ask a Graphic Designer Before Hiring Them and Considerations When Choosing a Web Hosting Company. Advanced sales have begun for the book, which will be available in September.

The Streetwise Small Business Book Of Lists (Adams Media; 2006) is a collection of over 500 critical lists of information every business owner or manager needs to know to make decisions quickly and manage more effectively. Painstakingly compiled from hundreds of business experts, publications, government resources and websites, the Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists is a one stop answer book for every business owner's questions. Learn what are the lowest-cost franchises to start up, the ten things to consider before buying a new phone system, the most popular ways to decrease your company's health insurance costs, the top methods for speeding up your cash flow, the most effective steps for reducing travel expenses and much more!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Social Networking to ChipIn to a Good Cause

I have another great example of "social networking" and the way of the future web to share with you. How many times have you or some group you're part of tried to pool resources for a joint gift, planned fund raiser or just collect a contribution from each member? We've all done it - and it usually involves chasing people around, reminding them, accounting for the funds and so on.

Of course, someone found a way to harness the web to take care of these issues and make it incredibly easy to manage via technology with a serviced called ChipIn. It makes use of your Plaxo or Outlook address book, and lets you send out invitations and instructions to each person in the group, telling them what is being collected, for whom and how to go about contributing. You can set up automatic notifications and event pages, and contributions can be made via PayPal or major credit or credit enabled debit cards. A recently added feature is the ability to generate and embed a gizmo in your web site, blog, Myspace page, etc, that people can click on and instantly contribute. It doesn't get much easier than that!

ChipIn takes the "nagging" aspect of collecting money away from the poor organizer (hey Mom, I know you're reading this) and automates the process. The fund collection is secure and safe, so no one need worry about the transaction.

Gone are the days of super cool wiz bang web applications without a business model (thank goodness). All of this convenience will come with what is called a "nominal tiered fee" after the initial introduction period which is still going on.

If you're collecting money for an office gift, a birthday party or shower, or fundraising any good cause, ChipIn is smartly thought out and well worth a look. It is currently designed to work with groups as small as 3 and as large as 200 (more than 200, you can contact them to discuss). I liked the fact that a single organizer can set up multiple events, customize the page for the event and set options like whether contributions can be higher than suggested amount. Participants in a collection don't have to register in order to make a contribution -- but if they do, they can see the history of past contributions.

It's definitely another one to add to the "oh, I wish I thought of that" pile!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Book Recommendation: Instant Cashflow

Yesterday was a dreary Saturday afternoon and though I try not to be business oriented on the weekend, I was "in the mood" so I set off to Barnes & Noble for an afternoon of reading.

I was looking for fresh ideas for increasing the number of leads I generated, improving the conversion to sales, and building repeat business with higher transactions - and Instant Cashflow proved to be the answer. I was able to literally read this book in one day. The first section puts in place an easy to understand system by relating the story of one of the author's coaching customers on a field trip to visit other coached customers who "got it." The second section consists of 5 parts:
  • Tips for Generating More Leads
  • Ways to Boost Your Conversion Rate
  • Strategies for Boosting Your Number of Transactions
  • Tips for Maximizing Average Dollar Sale
  • Ways to Boost Margins
The bulk of the book is nearly 300 excellent marketing strategies with brief tasks to accomplish them. It was clear, understandable and I'd defy any business owner not to find at least 10 workable strategies they can implement or improve on immediately. I was pleased to find out how many I'd already made part of my marketing strategy - and yet, discovered a dozen more.

This bite sized book packed a powerful punch to my brain and I have created a marketing action list to get me on track to implementing those that made the most sense to my business. Highly recommended and I can't wait to read the others in the Instant Success series now.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Get paid for consulting by phone

A couple months ago, I heard about a new web application service called Ether. The way it works, you set up an account, set your rates for consulting by the minute, hour or call, and are assigned a special phone number. You can also place a button on your web site or blog, and when someone clicks it, they enter their credit card info for the amount of time they want to speak to you, and you're connected. You can forward your Ether number to your cell or other number, and say, on the web site, when you're taking calls or not. Your phone only rings when people prepay your rate, and Ether takes a 15% cut for the call. I expect this will go down when there is some competition for it.

I gave some thought to whether this business model would work for me, and although I do spend a fair amount of time on the phone answering people's questions, its usually as part of prospecting for larger work. Or, in other cases, existing clients. I know that many people would be "put out" if I said they had to call a special number to ask me a question, right? But, I think there is definitely a place for a service like this amongst my readers. For example, if you have a very active blog or resource web site, and field a lot of calls each day from people who want to "pick your brain," Ether might be a great solution for monetizing this effort. If you are a consultant or niche specialist, it might make sense to get and publicize an Ether number.

There are some other aspects of Ether to consider, such as a way to also collect payment and deliver info products and podcasts through the system.

I haven't personally tested Ether but my research indicates there are still some bugs to be worked out. Also, there is the problem of the call being interrupted by an automated voice when the money runs out - which comes across as unprofessional, to say the least. The price doesn't seem unreasonable but there are certainly ways you can cobble together your own solution, without paying 15%.

My understanding is that Ether is still in "beta testing" mode but they are accepting accounts for testing, if you can get chosen for that. Otherwise, keep an eye on this solution - and the inevitable competition as a way to further market and sell your knowledge.

An affordable and robust mailing list application

Are you looking for a cheap or even free mailing list provider that you can use to create a subscription based list for your web site? I might have just the solution for you, called YourMailingListProvider.

The free version shows banner and pop up ads, though not in the newsletter you send out with it. The free version lets you have as many as 1,000 subscribers and one mailing per day (plenty for most micro businesses) - you just don't get all the extra customizations. But, the paid "premium" version is so cheap, you might as well step up. For as little as $2.50 a month, you can eliminate the ads and get all the features.

The free version provides a subcription form using double-opt for your site, which you can customize. The premium version has the option of single opt-in, which might be more appropriate for your subscribers. Unsubscribing from your list is automated so you don't have to be involved - every email someone gets tells them how to get off. YMLP provides an archive of past mailings, although the information is quite simplistic - it tells you when you mailed and to how many people, but not to whom. It lets you create a simple archive of past mailings on your site, if that is something you want.

The newsletters and mailings it sends out can be text or HTML, but unlike some of the big players like Constant Contact, you have to format this yourself in an HTML editor, and paste in. So, YMLP works really well for text emails, sending out short news blasts, and of course, if you have the skills and software to create an HTML template, it can do that too. Most of my clients who are using it are musicians sending out little reminders and notices about upcoming gigs and it works great for that as plain text.

There are a number of customizable features - you can set up what "sig" file is used for each mailing, and customize the page they go to when they subscribe, to look like the rest of your site. Bounce handling is automatic - it detects and removes people from your list whose emails are non-functional, and you can customize that to be strict or lenient.

The ability to download your list of subscribers, and develop your own fields to collect information is there and quite user friendly. You can also set up groups to segment your subscribers, if that helps in your marketing efforts.

If privacy is a concern of yours, you will want to give YMLP a look. Many of the big list management services provide a way to track who opens the newsletters and marketing emails you send and what they click on. To some degree, people know they are being tracked like this but occasionally there is a backlash. So if you want to offer your subscribers a non-tracked mailing list, YourMailingListProvider could be the solution for you.

What I love about YMLP is that it provides all of the functionality a web based email list subscription service should - without the bells and whistles that make it complex or even controversial. They discourage SPAM, of course, but make it easy to import your existing list if you have the paid version - either one name at a time, in a bulk list or by uploading a file. The help and examples are clear and understandable, so with a reasonable learning curve, you should have no problems getting set up and customized.

Whether you haven't yet set up a mailing list or you're dissatisfied with the one you have, be sure to check out YMLP.