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.'"