Friday, October 3, 2008

business isn't usual in Second Life

Linden Labs launched its Second Life virtual world in 2002. Since then it's become a phenomena with more than 15 million residents. While many still view Second Life as a gaming environment many more are realizing its potential for project collaborations, business opportunities, and professional development.

Think I'm kidding? Here are current statistics:

Can SL, and other virtual worlds like it, be a platform for business? SL is a popular spot for virtual conferences, training, study groups, consumer research, and more. It's no wonder that big businesses like Sony, Dell, IBM, Target, and others created destinations in Second Life.

But are they successful? Most haven't been able to make significant revenue gains with residents. When we evaluate traditional business models we can readily see why they've been unsuccessful. It's impossible to run an old-world model in a new world. If Henry Ford hadn't closed his plant to refit it for assembly line production of the Model T in 1927 we might not have a Ford Motor Company today.

Many have speculated why many of these corporate titans are closing up shop and moving out of SL. I think the bottom line is that virtual environments require interaction with the user. Second Life is built on the idea of one-to-one connections and the sharing of information. It's more than customer service, it's a matter of rethinking how we engage consumers.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

scribefire is the best thing since blogging began

I enjoy blogging. I have several blogs and the process of posting to them has been clumsy. Any time I wanted to post I would have to log in, post, tag, and then move on the next one to log in, post, tag, and... You get the idea.

Recently, I had an "ah-ha" moment when I downloaded ScribeFire. I use a number of Firefox add ons, but to come across one that allowed me to manage all of my blogs - including post tags - from one window at the bottom of my browser, well, it was like moving from a bicycle to a moped. I felt liberated.

It means I can spend more time writing and less time posting. Consider this, blogging is a great marketing tool. Using WordPress, Blogger, or a php-based blog of your own design (if you happen to be that talented) is one of the best marketing strategies available to increase your exposure on the internet and attract new customers and clients. More people read blogs than newspapers. Sharing your knowledge and skills on a well constructed blog is invaluable to building credibility and revenues.

ScribeFire can be found at along with a number of other handy little tools that make life a lot easier than clunking through Internet Explorer. You may also want to give these Firefox add ons a try:
  • Firefox Showcase - displays a window with thumbnails of open browser tabs. This add on makes finding the page I want to read easy and keeps me sane considering I tend to have 2 dozen or more tabs open at a time in 3 or more windows (commonly referred to as browser clutter).
  • Session Manager - Often I want to save my surfing results. Whether it's research for a book or a collection of food reviewer websites I can save the session for later use with this add on.
  • FireFTP - With the click of a button I have an FTP tab without losing the rest of the work. FireFTP is easy to configure and manages multiple accounts.
  • IE Tab - I may not like Internet Explorer, but like Windows it's a necessary evil and sometimes websites just don't look right in anything other than IE. This add on switches the tab view from FireFox to IE and back again.
  • Morning Coffee - This is one of my favorite add ons. This add on lets you group websites you regularly visit by day and opens them simultaneously with a click of the coffee cup. For instance, my Sunday group is a collection of news sites and blogs.
If you're not a FireFox user I'd suggest switching. It's easy to download and install. It's fully customizable to your surfing habits. It's even portable on a smart drive.

I began using FireFox in 2003 and haven't opened IE since. The feature that sold me on this free browser is the bookmarks file. It's stored as an HTML file. No more losing favorites during an upgrade.

For more on blogging download this free report from GReat Kreations; Blogging 101

Saturday, July 19, 2008

maximizing your computer's life expectancy

Too often we buy a computer, stick it on the floor "out of the way" and then use it. We turn it on and leave it for days at a time or we turn it on and off daily. How often do you think about the dust collecting on the fan?

Dust is the number one cause of overheating and hardware failure. Smoke, pets, kids, coffee, lunch while you check email, and more contribute to PC problems. That's why we should remember that regular maintenance is just as important to the longevity of our computers as it is to our cars and our personal health.

Before you do anything you should make sure you have a soft dust cloth, LCD anti-static cloth or LCD cleaner & soft cloth, can of compressed air, vacuum, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs. Remember to turn off the power to your computer before you begin any cleaning or maintenance.

Also, unplug all peripherals and cables from the computer. All "tools" can be purchased at an office supply store and/or a drug store.

The first thing on the list is dusting. Wipe your PC with a clean soft dry cloth to remove dust from the case, your work area, and the case of your monitor (not the screen, that's what the LCD cloth is for). Next, open the computer case and remove the "dust-bunnies" that have nested there. Use the compressed air to clean out the remaining dust making sure the nozzle is 4 to 6 inches away from main board components. Be careful not to disturb jumpers or dislodge cables in the process. and don't use a standard vacuum cleaner to clean the dust out of your computer case. When finished close the case and position the computer back in place, but leave it unplugged for the time being.

Cleaning the monitor is considered a delicate operation and should be done with care. Don't use Windex at all and don't spray the LCD cleaner directly on the screen. Spray the LCD on a clean cloth and then gently wipe the screen or use an anti-static LCD cloth.

Your keyboard gets a lot of use. It collects dust, oil from our fingertips, spilled beverages, and crumbs from lunch while we're checking email. You can use a standard vacuum with a brush attachment to clean the keys. Using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol is a good way to clean accumulated grime from individual keys.

Your mouse needs cleaning, too. If you're using a mouse with a ball assembly gently remove the ball cover and remove the ball. Use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean dust from the rollers. The compressed air is also a good cleaning solution for removing dust inside the mouse. Once completed reassemble. For an optical mouse use compressed air or follow the manufacturer's guidelines.

Now you can connect all peripherals, cables, and the power cord to the computer. The best cleaning tip is to clean your computer on a regular basis to keep it humming.

Friday, July 11, 2008

dreamweaver versus nvu... the winner is

For those of you not familiar with it, Nvu (pronounced en view) is an open source web authoring system and it's brought to you by the same folks that developed Firefox and Thunderbird, both of which I have been using for years. Nvu is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

I began my html "career" using a simple text editor on an old Mac SE and at some point in the 90s began using programs like Mozilla Composer, FrontPage, CoffeeCup and now I use a pricey version of Dreamweaver for HTML and PHP editing. Well, that was until last week when I decided to give Nvu a chance to prove itself.

Prove itself it did. This compact yet powerful WYSIWYG editor has all the features of the big boys with the flexibility and stability of its Mozilla cousins. Nvu is a multi tabbed work environment allowing you to not only work on multiple pages, but also switch from WYSIWYG editing to working with the HTML source code and even previewing the page as it would be seen in a Firefox or Mozilla browser.

An added feature is the ability to see the HTML code with tags highlighted. At first I was stumped as to how this might be useful then it occurred to me that in Dreamweaver, as in FrontPage, stray tags are often added by the software or are left behind during editing. This is a great way to edit tags to ensure the best presentation of your page in any browser.

Simply put, you don't need expertise in building web pages to create professional, complete, and easy to manage sites with Nvu. If you've been searching for another stable open source application to add to your arsenal download Nvu at

By the way, it's customizable with extensions and themes just like Firefox and Thunderbird. A little personalization goes a long way with this kid.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

money is made of paper

Recently, my daughter attempted to put a stop to my granddaughter's desire for every item on the store shelves by saying, "Money doesn't grow on trees." In her inimitable 5 year old style my granddaughter quite seriously replied, "Mommy, money is made of paper and paper comes from trees."

While a child doesn't understand the value, or worth, of money we, as adults, should. Especially as business owners. Unfortunately, all too often, I have to have a heart-to-heart with a client about their organizational spending habits and fiscal responsibilities. Most recently, an organization I've been trying to help develop chose to purchase an item that was neither necessary or affordable. It was so far out of their budget that in order to make good on the payment they cut a half-time staff position. That is, they let an employee go. It was also the end of our working relationship.

I cannot emphasize enough how important fiscal responsibility and good judgment are to business success. Here are some tips to help you appreciate that money, like the trees it's made from, is not in unlimited supply.
  • Be organized because if you aren't you'll spend more time and money than you actually have. Create good filing systems so important documents can be saved and easily retrieved. Have policies and procedures in place so expectations are clear. Use a good accounting software and a bookkeeper.
  • Fiscal responsibility is vital to financial success - if you can't manage a dime you'll never be able to manage a dollar. Have a budget as part of your strategic plan. Review financial reports regularly as part of your management decision-making process.
  • Invest in the tools and training that will increase your chances for success.
  • Maintain a paper trail. That is, make sure there is sufficient documentation to substantiate your decisions and their outcomes.
I just received a call from a board director of an organization in need of a little help. Apparently, the only board documentation they have to direct their processes are the original Bylaws. He told me he was concerned that the board could not fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities appropriately because they only met once a year, didn't keep minutes, didn't have an indemnification clause in their bylaws, and lacked policies and procedures. Further, it hadn't had an audit done in several years and the IRS took administrative action regarding their exempt status.

This situation occurs more frequently than you might imagine. When I talk with clients about building their organizational capacity this is exactly what I'm trying to help them avoid.

Susan Powter, a health and fitness guru from the 90s, stressed that in order to be healthy you have to eat, breathe, and move. To succeed in business you have to plan, act, and monitor.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

internet entrepreneurs

The importance of small business as an integral part of the American economy is often overlooked. Did you know that small businesses create 75% of new jobs? Did you also know that over 90% of employers are small businesses?

Entrepreneurship is widely regarded as a core component in American business culture. It's a driving force for job creation and economic growth. Even in the face of high failure rates we are opening businesses at an unprecedented rate. Approximately 1 in 12 people in the U.S. start their own business each year.

Six key factors were identified by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) study that increase chances for entrepreneurship: level of perceived entrepreneurial opportunity; individual motivation or skills necessary to take advantage of the opportunity; the availability of financing, facilities, employees, suppliers, tax concessions, etc; demographic make-up of the population; the acceptance of differences in the level of income among individuals; respect for start-ups

While opening restaurants, starting manufacturing firms, and going into professional private practice still contribute greatly to economic growth, internet entrepreneurs have become one of the most dynamic forces in the economy. Low start-up costs and easy access to large markets make the internet as alluring to risk-takers as the gold rush days of a hundred years ago.

But don't let the ease of creating a presence on the internet lull you into thinking that's all it takes to be successful. It takes just as much hard work, long hours, and commitment to succeed on the internet as it does to open a corner store. Having a basic business plan, marketing plan, and budget in place increase your chances of success. Remember, the internet isn't the wild west.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

a little encouragement

The other day I was engaged in a conversation with someone who wanted to start their own business, but was afraid they didn't have what it took to succeed in a highly competitive world. While we discussed all the nuts and bolts of business plans, taxes, marketing, and more I couldn't help hearing Eric Bibb's song "The Cape" playing softly in the recesses of my mind...

Life's a leap of faith
Spread your arms
Hold your breath
and always trust your cape

Monday, April 7, 2008

open source

I'm a big fan of open source software. The idea of collaboration and access appeals to me. It's a building block of the work I do with my clients. It's my "style" so, naturally it's an integral part of the way I want to see the world.

For small businesses and the newbie entrepreneur I often share open source as an alternative to high-priced, proprietary software such as Norton Antivirus, Microsoft Office, and QuickBooks Accounting. While these are good products, they're expensive and likely to suck the user into an annual cycle of buying new versions at increasingly higher costs.

And those costs increase not only in terms of product purchase price, but in system conflicts, system bloat, learning curves due to functionality changes, sometimes even in forcing the user to buy new equipment altogether just to "keep up."

The #1 question I'm asked is, "What else can I do?". Sometimes the answer is easy. For a single user working from home I recommend AVG Free Edition Antivirus instead of Mcafee or Norton. I recommend OpenOffice as a dependable and full-featured alternative to Microsoft Office.

When it comes to accounting software I recommend any business owner speak with their accountant before using any of the applications available. There are a number of things that should be considered as you evaluate various accounting packages.

Some of the considerations are, how big is the business, what type of business is it, are you, but business owner, doing the bookkeeping or is there a bookkeeper, what software does your accountant support (might make your life easier when it comes to taxes or audits). For a complete discussion about this go to GReat Kreations.

Having said all of that, here are three of the best and most popular open source accounting packages available:

OSAS Open Source Accounting Suite - OSAS is award-winning accounting software for Windows, Linux, UNIX and Mac users. OSAS can be used by churches, charities, and small corporations. The main features of this product include separation of duties, General Ledger Accounting, Cost Center Accounting, Budgeting, Donation Accounting and Reporting.

GnuCash Financial Accounting Software - GnuCash is personal and small-business financial-accounting software, freely licensed under the GNU GPL and available for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. Designed to be easy to use, yet powerful and flexible, GnuCash allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. As quick and intuitive to use as a checkbook register, it is based on professional accounting principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports.

Grisbi Personal Accounting - Grisbi is a personal accounting application running under GNU/Linux and Windows, released under the GPL licence. Grisbi can manage multiple accounts, currencies and users. It manages third party, expenditure and receipt categories, as well as budgetary lines, financial years, and other informations that makes it quite adapted for associations (except those that require double entry accounting).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

eBay bans digital downloads

This one is for all the sellers of information products who are no longer selling on eBay.

I suppose eBay has a good reason for banning digital downloads from auction and Buy It Now formats. I only have one question. Why not share that thinking with us - the sellers? Yes, I sell tech stuff on ebay and until recently I sold ebooks.

Call me a simpleton, but what's the difference between listing a digital download and carrying an inventory of 21 books of the same title? If I list a book from that stock and repeatedly sell that item in successive auctions to customer A, customer B, and so on then isn't it the same as each of those customers purchasing a digital item as I list it? Am I padding feedback (real or perceived) by repeatedly selling the same book title?

It seems to me that each customer leaves their own feedback based on their unique experience with me as a seller. The eBay system is certainly sophisticated enough to track who's buying what from whom. That's clear by the fact that as a seller I have access to all kinds of reports that outline repeat and unique buyers, etc so it stands to reason that the system administrators could, when they choose, easily determine if the integrity of the ebay marketplace is being compromised.

There's been a lot of discussion among sellers that specialize in digital downloads on eBay and many of them will lose their primary source of eBay income. In turn eBay stands to lose a significant fee base as these sellers move to other auction sites and sales platforms.

I realize that eBay hasn't asked my opinion on this matter. From the posts I've seen it's pretty clear they haven't asked anyone before coming to a decision. That's their choice, but I, like many others have strong feelings about eBay's decision. Let's face it, paying $10 a month for a classified ad for each digital item I list ain't gonna happen.

I don't believe that blocking digital downloads is in the best interest of buyers or sellers. Offering a digital download is an increasingly popular and cost effective method of delivering reasonably priced, quality goods to consumers.

My experience has been that when companies change policies, such as this policy, the underlying motivation is revenue. This is not to say that eBay doesn't have a right to adopt policies that enhance it's bottom line. Nor is this to say that eBay is no longer a viable or valuable sales partner. It simply means that we, as sellers, have a choice. We can vent, and curse, and stomp our feet all over the internet about what a bad-guy eBay is or we can understand that all businesses change as the times require.

How long we ride the wave of success is entirely based on the choices we make in response to changing circumstances. Some will adapt. Some will quit. While eBay continues to make decisions in their own best interest, we must also continue to make decisions in the best interest of our businesses. In the immortal words of Eeyore, "Even at the very bottom of the river, don't stop to say to yourself, 'Is this a hearty joke, or is it the merest accident?' Just float to the surface and say to yourself, 'It's wet.'"

Monday, January 14, 2008

road tech

I'm a big believer in the idea that work is what I do, not where I go (am) and that with the right systems in place I could work anywhere. Recently, the opportunity to test that theory manifested itself. I just returned from spending a significant amount of time "out of town" and that meant away from my office. Some of the tools that helped me stay in touch with clients and the projects I was working on?

Skype - I've been using free Skype for about a year now, but with the Pro package (purchased for my travels) I was able to save tons of money on phone charges and still have clear, regular, reliable telecommunications with clients. My Skype number is now my "office" number.

MyFax - For $10 a month this fax service proved an invaluable addition to my arsenal of admin tools. Anytime a client sent a fax MyFax sent me an email alert. Sending and receiving with this service is easier than making sure my office fax has paper and a good ink cartridge in it.

Zoho - I love zoho projects and am a big fan of zoho meeting. Now I'm a fan of the rest of their web-based apps. Check 'em out. 'Nuff said.

RTM - Remember the Milk is now Twitter compatable and if you use Launchy with cURL you've got an unbeatable way of painlessly managing a task list. You can also use RTM with AIM or have them text you the reminder.

Launchy - Launchy is a free windows utility that can launch your documents, folders, and more without taking your hands off the keyboard. It leaves a small footprint, is intuitive like no other program of its kind (that I've tried), slick-looking, and with a few custom batch files I suspect it can do anything. Check out Life-Hacker for more info about this and other life-saving utilities. BTW cURL is an open source command line tool for transferring data with URL syntax.

Add to all of this my ongoing remote access to files and junk on my server and I really was able to be out of town and stay in touch. If you don't have a file server stuck in the corner of your office, try using an online storage service like or Omnidrive.