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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Do you have content you would like to share with an interested audience of existing and potential customers? It’s never been so easy to package your content in a stylish way, and distribute it in a cost-effective way. Enter the age of home publishing.

Technology, the great leveller

It used to be that if you wanted to publish a book, magazine, newspaper or show series, you could only do so if you had access to large (and expensive) capital equipment and a workforce of hundreds. Not any more. Web-based applications are freeing up the imagination and putting home business owners in control of how content is distributed. Here are some to get you started.

  • Books – always wanted to write the authoritative guide for your industry/sector? Want to show off your portfolio of photographs or handmade goods in a coffee table style book? Now you can with self-publishing sites Blurb and Lulu.
  • Newspapers – move over, Rupert Murdoch, the home business owners are coming to media town! Become a newspaper publisher with Newspaper Club – the service is currently in beta but you can sign up and see what this tool could do for your business.
  • Magazines – digital magazines are becoming increasingly sophisticated with embedded links to buy products alongside video clips and interactive forums. Take a look at Yudu and Zmags. According to digital publishing service, nxtbook media, advertising in digital magazines is more trusted than online ad banners so for your sponsors and advertisers offering a presence in a digital magazine and on your site offers a good rate of return for them.
  • Audio – speak to your audience by producing a podcast and inviting in guests who can be interviewed using Skype. Click here to read a round-up of features on how to produce a podcast.
  • Video – publish content of you making your product/service or customers saying nice things about your product/service, by using a Flip camera that can be bought for around £90 and comes with only one button so is hyper-easy to use!
  • Online – share content and your expertise in the form of an online slide show using Slideshare.

This list does not even cover publishing content for people to consume whilst on the move ie mobile applications and publishing for devices such as the iPad and Kindle.

Make the most of earning revenue from charging individual subscriptions or secure a sponsor who would like to be associated with your content and the viral way through which you’ll distribute it. Before you know it you’ll be publishing online, in print, and in audio/video, to an audience of interested readers/watchers/listeners. What a business to run from the comfort of your own home!

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation the home business website and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010.

This blog post was originally published on the Enterprise Nation website.

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There are two ways of starting up a company. The first is to take an existing business idea, and do it better. Preferably you will concentrate on an area where the competition is limited or you have some existing connections.

The second is where you come up with an idea that’s completely new. People think that it’s the only way to make a real fortune, but that’s not true. It may come as a shock, but Bill Gates became the world’s richest man largely by improving on the work of others. He wasn’t the leader in new technologies, but he was close behind. And he did things very effectively.

Microsoft didn’t invent the Windows and mouse interface. It was invented by Xerox at its research labs. Microsoft didn’t even produce the first commercial Windows-based computer. That was Apple with the Lisa. But it did get its timing right, do a plausibly good job and market the product very well. The rest is history.

The problem with developing a totally new concept is that it’s totally new. You are not only selling the product, you have to sell the idea too and educate the market. Even if it would sell, it’s more than twice as much work. If you have all the capabilities you need, with limited resources it is hard to succeed. And it’s even harder to recover from a failure.

The world economy is driven in the long run by breakthrough products. But for your own success, it’s worth remembering that the odds are greatly improved by exploiting an area where a market already exists.

Chris Barling, Actinic

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I qualified with an electrical engineering degree from Southampton University in 1986. Various subsequent management and sales roles enabled me to build the knowledge and contacts needed to set up my first venture some five years later – designing and manufacturing production line machinery.

After growing, finding investment and selling that business, I ran a consultancy rolling out cutting-edge business process automation across Europe.

My current business – Pie Finance – helps innovators and entrepreneurs progress from ideas stage thanks to an innovative peer-to-peer funding solution. So what have I learnt about overcoming the challenges innovators face in taking an innovation to market?

1 Reducing risk of disclosure/competitive edge theft
Many innovators/entrepreneurs see this as the greatest risk. There are differing views on protection. The book Crossing the Chasm describes one of the most effective ways to prevent “idea theft”, it advocates rolling out the product/service to customers who are suffering considerable loss by not having it, which means it can be directly sold without advertising to a small number of customers. High margin sales can generate revenues required to launch in the mainstream market, while minimising risk of detection by potential competitors. Other solutions include: seeking intellectual property rights (eg patents); use of a ‘decoy’ product to build a potential customer and investor database; and non-disclosure agreements.

2 Adapting to market developments
Mature, saturated or diminishing markets are the most stable. Profitable, growing markets move fast, making an idea just a starting point, which is why it’s difficult to sell or get investment for them. New solutions to niche problems, competitors and consumers in the space can change daily, meaning even a well-established product/service can rapidly become obsolete. You must try to react quickly and stay one step ahead.

3 Filling gaps in your plan
Finding holes in ideas is frequently significantly harder than generating ideas. You need in-depth knowledge, whereas, most individuals create ideas by trying to find solutions to a problem. Sticking to what you know – technically and commercially – helps, but if you must venture beyond, try to find trustworthy people to fill any gaps.

Bootstrapping is the best way to retain control and profit. Grant finance is worth securing, but usually requires match funding. Debt finance (eg bank loans, overdrafts and asset finance) are the next best way to raise funds, while retaining all equity. True, it’s hard for start-ups to secure debt finance, but those with a track record could benefit from the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, which can cover up to 75 per cent of the risk.

Business angels can also help, but only 3 per cent of propositions get funded and you must meet stringent criteria: very high returns on investment (x10 to x30 over five years); proof of demand (sales or forward orders); and a proven management team.

Peer-to-peer resourcing (ie getting people and other things in exchange for equity or revenue shares) without payment up front is another option.

Next to protecting your idea, protecting your investment must be your main priority. Giving away a share of the rewards is painful, but it’s well worth it, because failing to spot the gaps or not having adequate resource to overcome threats may mean you lose everything you’ve put into your idea commercialisation.

4 Avoid loss of control – and your business with it
Control, rewards and recognition are separate things. Identify what you want in return for your input. An investor’s primary concerns will be protecting and maximising their returns – which could involve them trying to dilute or force you (and possibly other investors) out. To combat this, don’t let your business get desperate for cash. Maximise your bargaining power by agreeing an alternative plan B (possibly C, D and E, too) at the outset.

An industry guide to equity sharing is that a third should go to the person with the idea or IP, a third to the management team and a third to the finance providers. The concept of equity for very early stage start-ups is flawed, I believe. As dividends on preference and ordinary shares are paid out of profit, this introduces a layer of risk for minority stakeholders.

Profit can easily and legally be “massaged” – revenue cannot. For entrepreneurs, offering equity means all external early stage input burdens the whole business on an ongoing basis, thereby discouraging adequate resourcing. With these disadvantages in mind, I believe it’s best to try and acquire capital and resources based upon on a premium fixed price paid out of a share of the revenues that they help to create.

Senake Atureliya, Pie Finance

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If you are an organiser who has recently switched your event booking and payment process from offline to online, then you’ll know that sometimes it takes a little getting used to – both for you and for your attendees.

At first organisers can be a little tentative and reluctant to becoming exclusively online. And attendees? Well, they will continue to use the booking and payment methods that they have traditionally associated with the organiser, no matter how imperfect and unsatisfactory that process is – but only until they are otherwise instructed.

Yet for organisers it is vital to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later – the financial payback of online registration and payment demands it. And you’ll be surprised how quickly even your most traditional attendees will adapt to online registration.

Here’s 10 tips for getting your attendees onboard:

1. Go 100% online
Don’t give your attendees a choice. Stop offering alternative booking methods. When you are booking a flight online, airlines don’t also give you the option of booking your ticket via the phone. As a result we all book our flights online without a second thought.

2. Get your marketing focus right
To maximise your online registrations make your marketing emails short and punchy – a paragraph in length. See it as a short trailer for your whole event. Give a concise overview of the event highlights and make your ‘register now’ button very highly prominent. Make the button impossible to miss and ensure that when it is clicked that it links to the event registration website.

Your marketing email is about persuading your attendees to visit your registration website and not for displaying all your event information.

3. Always be linked in
Always include the URL link of your registration website in your emails. Always send several emails to potential attendees for each event and include the link in every one.

Always include your URL link clearly and prominently on your corporate website. Include the link in emails about your event to your social networking groups such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Talk about your event and include the link on online forums or on Twitter or on your Facebook updates.

Make the link a clear ‘call to action’ for the attendee such as ‘register now’ or ‘register here’ or ‘to register for the event click here’.

4. Create incentives for online bookings
Offering online registration discounts encourages early attendee adoption, so make the ticket price more expensive for offline bookings. Charge a processing fee for manual or paper registrations. Make it clearly financially beneficial to book online. It is, after all, generally accepted that you get better deals via the internet no matter what product you are buying. You need to tap into that mindset.

Similarly, consider offering discounts for early online registration.

5. Refuse phone bookings
If potential attendees phone in to book manually then explain that registration and ticket payment are now exclusively online. Let them know that you will send an immediate email that will include the link for them to go straight to the registration page.

Have the email ready to go and explain the benefits for the attendee of using online registration and payment.

6. Give prior warning
Prepare your potential attendees for the switch. Give then good warning. Send them an email in advance that will explain that your next event will only accept online bookings and payment.

Let them know what to expect and how the process will work.

7. You’ll love it
Let your attendees know how they will benefit from your online registration system, such as ease of use, convenient and quick, more secure, self service, better communication.

Get them on board either with an email or a link to a page on your corporate website.

8. Make it official
Add a message to your voicemail system announcing the newer and more convenient online registration option along with the URL of your registration website for your next events.

Promote your online registration by placing your URL address in all printed materials, e-newsletters, email communications, handouts, signage etc for each event. Or if you run many events devote a page to your events on your corporate website with clear links to the registration website for each event beside each event description.

9. Educate them
Include a short frequently asked questions section or page on your corporate website.

Provide easy to follow numbered steps on how to register for your event. Put it on your corporate website or in your emails to give attendees confidence. Make it along the lines of ‘it’s easy to register and pay – here’s how’.

Offer attendees an online demonstration of how registration works.

10. Get your staff on board
Make sure that your staff are familiar with the online registration process and comfortable explaining it all to potential attendees.

Enrol your staff participants in one of our free, online registration training sessions to answer all their questions and build their confidence.

Alan Anderson, Blue Tube Design

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If your business is to continue to expand and grow, then plans need to be put in place for that growth potential to occur right from the start.  If you make a smart choice when you set up your business Internet services, then you’ll have faith in its capacity to expand as your business grows.  But if you don’t choose right first time, you may end up paying the price when you need to shell out to cover the expense of expanding your Internet operations each time your business or organisation grows.

If you wish to save time and money, then it’s best to choose an Internet services company with the flexibility for expansion built in:

Multi User VoIP:

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is growing in popularity with businesses due to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness and quality of service. VoIP to VoIP calls are free and the system is easy to set up with no expensive capital outlay at the beginning. With Multi User VoIP, you can add internal extensions to your existing VoIP phone services quickly and without any additional cost, allowing your rapidly expanding call teams to respond to increasing demand.

Email:

Exchange allows you to share all your important information with others and access your mail on your computer or mobile device. Share calendars, files, and address books and ensure that everyone is using the same up to date details. As your needs change and your business grows, increasing your email services will simply be a matter of adjustments, not having to look for a brand new product.

Broadband:

The standard broadband should give you the fastest possible speeds that your telephone exchange will allow.  Broadband should also give you a very generous bandwidth limit and direct access to a VoIP network, like the Gradwell. However, as your organisation grows and your needs change, you may need faster connection speeds, more bandwidth and line prioritisation with a separate line for data, to free up your VoIP phone line as the number of calls increases.

Web Hosting:

Getting reliable hosting for your web activities is vital from the start.  Poor hosting leads to down time that damages reputation, productivity, confidence and sales. It’s important that your web hosting is reliable and robust enough to ensure your site can handle all the demands that could be made on it – particularly when an influx of new visitors occurs, if there’s a sudden surge of interest in your business. Many companies fail to plan for these surges and end up with their sites going down when visitor numbers spike.

Your web host should provide plenty of web space, quick speeds and reliable, expandable services, and if they don’t – maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

Peter Gradwell, Gradwell

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Small Business 2.0 was held on Saturday 23 January. Now in its second year, it’s an event dedicated to helping small businesses profit from the web. Emma Jones went along and picked up some useful nuggets.

Business at the weekend

One of the reasons I like the Small Business 2.0 event is that it’s held on Saturday. Not only does this mean it’s accessible to 5 to 9ers (those holding down a day job and building the business at nights and weekends) it also means there’s a relaxed feeling about the place as attendees listen, learn, and meet new people in an informal setting.

These ingredients came together well on Saturday and were the recipe for an interesting and enjoyable day. Here are a few things I picked up:

  • A bit of trivia – the first item ever sold on eBay UK was a Scorpions CD at the price of £2.89. 
  • eBay has more than 17 million monthly unique visitors and offers more than 15 million items for sale. There are 123,000 full time eBay businesses, generating more than £1.7 billion per year in turnover. To date, $600million worth of business has been driven through the eBay iPhone application. The company expect this to become an even more popular way to shop. 
  • E-commerce continues to climb: the numbers of people shopping online – and the amounts they are spending – is increasing at a rapid rate. So it’s still a very good time to be starting an online trading business.
  • Customers are becoming more demanding: the majority of customers expect their online shopping experience to be as good as, if not better, than an offline shopping experience, placing the onus on the store owner to make it as simple and enjoyable as possible. 
  • The secrets to success in creating a successful online venture can be summed up as having:

– Great products
– Competitive prices
– Outstanding service
– Giving something back (eBay report that even though sellers participating in eBay for charity give 10 per cent of the sales price to charity, their products are 20 per cent more likely to sell, at a better price. This resulted in $50 million being raised for charity in 2009).

  • Enterprise is alive and well: I met a number of people in the early stages of starting a business, from Domino Duhan who is soon to launch Flog.com as a place to create a free online store, to Steven and Zoe who travelled from Worcestershire to pick up tips for their new venture selling cottage gifts.

Altogether, there was a great vibe and positive signs that 2010 will be another exciting year for anyone starting and growing an online business.

Emma Jones is the founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’. Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010.

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OK, so you’ve thought about a fantastic name for your company and it’s time to purchase your website domain. Before you hit the purchase button, it’s always a good idea to run your decisions past someone else.

Why? Because, by shortening two words or more by simply removing the spaces in your business name, your domain name could attract an unwanted audience.

All of the businesses below didn’t spend quite enough time considering how their URLs might appear – or be misread…

  • So you want to find out the name of the agent or agency that represents any celebrity in the world, so you can book them for your upcoming event? Who better than ‘Who Represents’ [www.whorepresents.com]?
  • You’re a programmer and you need advice or want to provide advice to other programmers. Where better than ‘Expert Exchange’ [www.expertsexchange.com]?
  • Looking for a pen? Look no further than ‘Pen Island’ [www.penisland.net]?
  • Need a therapist? Try ‘Therapist Finder’ [www.therapistfinder.com]?
  • In Italy and need to contact a power company? ‘Italian Power Generators’ can be found at www.powergenitalia.com
  • And don’t forget the ‘Mole Station Native Nursery’ in New South Wales 
[www.molestationnursery.com].
  • If you’re looking for ‘IP computer software’, there’s always www.ipanywhere.com.
  • Decided you have found God and want to attend church? Then you might want to head over to the ‘First Cumming Methodist Church Web’. Their website is www.cummingfirst.com.
  • And finally the designers at ‘Speed of Art’ await you at their wacky Web site – 
www.speedofart.com.

The serious point is, always check your domain spelling and the way it reads. It saves on embarrassing marketing issues or red faces in front of clients later on.

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