I attended an event where I was handicapped by the lack of business cards. Therefore I decided to get myself some. I went to the company website where you request that business cards be printed up. I chose my own title, instead of using my official title. This caused the request to automatically be denied. What the heck? It was going to take a while to sort this out. So I went out on the web looking for a cheap and easy way to get my own business cards.

The first Google search result I found for business cards was Vista Print. They stated that they provided free business cards. Hey that sounds like the right price. So I went through their configuration menu. At every point, I was provided the opportunity to make a choice that would incur some extra charges. They were upsell crazy. This was defeating the purpose. I wanted to get free business cards from them. In the end, there were no truly free business cards. You have to pay a shipping and handling fee.

When I get in the mode to obtain something for free, it has to be totally free. There can be no out of pocket costs. Visa Print violated this fundamental rule. But they got me to use their site. I found how easy it was to design some business cards. After some time, I decided that maybe I did want to spend a little money. Once I got over that hump, I decided to use Vista Print for no reason other than I was familiar with their process.

I still made sure I did not get upsold with anything I truly did not want. So I tried to choose just the minimum that would get me business cards that I would be proud of. There were no blocks to me obtaining whatever I wanted this time. After all, I was paying for these things out of my own pocket. In fact, I decided to penalize my company and leave their name off my business cards. Hey. If I foot the bill, then I decide what goes on my business card.

Vista Print gets a few points for have a nice web design. They have a true WYSIWYG online card designer. You can configure and preview your business cards directly from your browser. I do wonder what they had to do to be number 1 in the Google search results. It must have cost them some money. I wonder where they get the funds to do this. In the end, I paid ten bucks for my set of business cards. There can’t be that much profit in this sale.

Job Well Done

I entered a contest by Marzetti Corporation. They sent me a free game piece by mail. There was a web site on the entry. I went to the web site. I was able to immediately type in my code. What do you know? I was a winner. Well that's what the site said. I won a recipe book from Marzetti, which I downloaded immediately.

The recipe book was a PDF file. The photos in the book were top notch. In fact, the whole experience was top notch. That's why I'm linking out to their company. If somebody asks me if I entered any contest lately, I am going to have good things to say about Marzetti. You can't buy good will like this. It must be earned.

When you interact with your potential future customers, every step in your execution is crucial. One wrong move and you have lost a customer. Make a couple bad moves, and not only do you lose a customer, you get bad will. Marzetti did everything right with their execution. It was very professional. Moreover I had a good experience. I would think that the same applies to the product they are selling. This is how I want to run my own business. I am not sure if they spent more money on this campaign, or they just made sure to do all the little things right. However they did it, Marzetti I salute you.

Airheads for Air Heads

I found out about a sweepstakes by Airheads. They required an official code to enter. So I sent in a self addressed stamped envelope to get the code. I got a letter back with the code and instructions to go to their web site.

When I got to their web site, there were some loud background noises from the web page. I had to mute my computer sound. Annoying. I went to the registration page. Here is where the real problems started.

I entered my birth date. Then it took me to another page to enter a lot of information. I was unable to click in any of the fields. So I clicked the only icon available. Turns out that was the cancel button. I was motivated to enter their contest. So I tried again. This time a submit button was displayed. I enter my birth date, then click submit.

I still end up with a page where I cannot click any field. Desperate, I press the tab key. Yes. It gets me to the first field. I continue entering data for all the field, pressing tab after each entry. Then I finish my entry. There is no button to click to submit the information. I try pressing the enter key. No luck. The only button to press is the cancel button.

Airheads has to have the worst registration page I have ever seen. I wonder if they are getting the message since nobody is signing up. Here I went and expressed interest by writing to them, supplying a self addressed return envelope, and I visit their web site. It is almost as if they are tyring to get me to stay away. Weak. Note to self - hire competent forms programmer when I make it to the big time.

Public Speaking

One of my favorite authors is Guy Kawasaki. He used to be a Macintosh evangelist. Now I think he speaks and writes about a number of things. I read his article “How To Captivate An Audience” with great interest. This is very relevant to me as I have a presentation with our customer tomorrow morning. My team is truly disorganized. The meeting has been rescheduled a bunch of times. The people presenting, including myself, were not sure who had to attend the meeting. There was no rehearsal or coordination on how we shall present the material. This is how you plan to fail. I suppose we are supposed to wing it.

Guy recommends you change your perspective when preparing for a presentation. You need to ask yourself why the audience is there. You should determine what does your information mean to the audience. You should be passionate about your topic. To test whether you are going to sink or swim, you should get an unbiased opinion on your presentation prior to the real one.

The context of your presentation material must be what the audience needs. The slides should be easy for the audience to read. You have to rehearse a lot. You should tell how you can solve the audience’s problem. You need a strong facilitator on your team to get the presentation in order. I think our team has a very weak one. More evidence that we might be doomed.

Multiple presenters is a good thing. Tension can stimulate the audience. You should in general avoid animation on your PowerPoint slides. The speakers should internalize the key messages. The audiences should only need 3 seconds to scan the text of your slides. This information has been a lot to take in. I bet this is how Steve Jobs prepares for his outstanding presentations. I took some of these recommendations to heart. Tomorrow may be a bloody day for our team. I must do my best for us to have any chance of pulling through. After that, it will be time to point the team to Guy’s article for starters.

DRM Kills the Party

The creator of the Sims family of games has created a new game named Spore. You would think this game would be well received. The Sims have sold over 100 million copies so far. However there has been a backlash from users regarding the digital right management (DRM) schema used to prevent users from making copies of the game. The DRM only allows you to install the game 3 times. After that it will not work. This has led to a user revolt at Amazon. The users have given the game a 1 out of 5 rating for the game, complaining mostly about this restrictive DRM policy.

The creator of Sims and Spore is Will Wright. The Spore title was released to the public earlier this month. There are versions for the PC, Mac, iPhone, and Nintendo DS. Spore is an open ended game where players evolve. It has a creature creator module. You can upload your creations online the Sporepedia for sharing with others. However Spore is a single player game for now. Future versions may incorporate multi player capabilities.

Spore may have received some bad press due to the DRM issue. However from the business perspective, what was the result? Did this prevent a lot of users from buying the game? Maybe it really prevented a lot of piracy. This is a tough call. Part of the current issue is more of a public relations one. You do not want to release something huge like the Sims but have everybody stealing copies through piracy. It is a tough line to walk.

So far I have only produced freeware. I encourage people to pass copies on to other people. When I get to the point where I am selling software, I will want to have a revenue protection strategy in place. I don’t want to piss of legitimate users. However I would not want to make it easy for the thieves to run my game.

Ad Arbitrage

I read a New York Time article by Joe Nocera entitled “Stuck in Google’s Doghouse”. It described a businessman that created an industrial product web directory. He drove traffic to his site using Google AdWords. He would bid 5 to 6 cents per click through to his site. He put Google AdSense on his site to make some money. He received around 10 cents a click for the ads. He used the difference to turn a profit.

Initially this businessman spent about 75% of his revenues on AdWords. He was still earning over $100k a month in profits. Then Google started requiring a minimum bid of $1 to get AdWords to give him traffic. All of his 5 to 6 cent bids never got any more traffic because the bid was too low. Without this traffic, he could not get visitors and more importantly clicks on his AdSense ads. This guy was pretty much out of luck. And he would be out of business without a change.

The guy desperately inquired with Google as to why he got a huge AdWords price hike. He was told that his landing page had a low quality. He attempted to correct this situation. However he still had a $1 minimum bid for AdWords. Then the guy thought that perhaps his business was competing with that of another Google partner. So maybe he was getting the shaft intentionally.

Our business cried foul. He felt he was the victim of Google being a monopoly. The guy had his lawyer send the information to the Justice Department. I can feel this guy’s pain. However he probably knows that he has no case. There are plenty of other companies with programs similar to the AdWords program. This guy’s main beef is that Google will not sell him clicks for 5 to 6 cents through AdWords. There is nothing monopolistic about that. That is just business.

There is problem with this guy’s business model. He is buying ads to make money selling other ads. There is nothing illegal about that. But Google considers that ad arbitrage. You have to add some value. It may be arguable that this guys site does add some value in listing industrial business information. But the way he makes money is floating viewers to ads on his site. That is the key problem. He is dependent on Google giving him cheap click through to make more money in clicks back to Google through AdSense.

I don’t have anything personal against this guy. I hope he finds a better business model to make money. However I don’t think we should listen to people who cry monopoly when their businesses fail.

Comcast Bait and Switch

Over the last couple years, I have added more and more services from Comcast. They are good at marketing. I get some new services for free for a while. Then the trial period ends, and they add on the new feeds. It got so that my Comcast bill was out of control. So I cancelled most of the services. My bill went way down and I was happy.

Then I got an offer in the mail. For $30 I could add Digital Cable. I immediately called up Comcast. I was already paying $15 for cable. Did this offer mean I only needed to pay $15 more to get Digital Cable? Well not exactly. There would be some other fees for the remote, and some taxes, and such. But it would be thirty something. I asked whether I would get On Demand? I was told yet. I asked to be signed up immediately.

So the cable guy came out and did some work in the outdoor cable box. He gave me a digital converter. And everything should have been ok. I tried a couple On Demand options. They worked. However some other ones did not work. I got errors on screen. So I called up Comcast. They told me I had to pay extra for those features. I told them I was told I would get On Demand. The Comcast operator could only tell me that I would get a subset of On Demand. I decided this sham was not worth it. Later I called back and said I wanted to cancel the upgrade I got. The Comcast rep said she would add all the options I wanted at no extra charge. That sounded good if it would work. She said I needed to wait one day for the changes to take effect.

Two days later, my cable was still not working properly. I called the Comcast operator back. She had forgotten about me. As I re-explained my situation, she said she recalled me. So she said she would make the changes at no cost. This time my cable worked. I thought I was maybe out of the woods. Nice try. Today I got a whopping Comcast bill with all kinds of extra charges on it. Thanks for the bait and switch Comcast. The only reason I am putting up with this and not switching to a competitor like Verizon is that they are probably just as bad. But I will be wasting my time calling Comcast back up, explaining how I got screwed, and demanding they fix the charges and cancel the new upgrades. Thanks for the sham Comcast. I can't imagine how this is good for your business. How's about a little customer service?

Do Developers Click Ads?

I was reading a forum on software development. One member asked whether developers in general click on ads when browsing. This guy had released a product specific to developers. He was getting a lot of impressions per day on his web site. However he really did not get many clicks on ads. So he was wondering whether this was specific to the development community audience.

There were a lot of interesting responses to this posting. Many developers said they use ad blockers such as AdBlock+ in FireFox 3. So there may have been a large portion of the development community that never even saw the ads. Other developers said they flat out never click on any ads. They just go directly to the target sites by typing in their URLs. However some developers said they would click only when they wanted to buy something. Others said they would click if the subject matched what they were looking for.

The majority of developers who responded said they did not click on ads when they were browsing. The rationale was that it costs somebody money when they click on the ads. So they did not want to do it. One guy piped up and said he did click, but only about once a year. There were some developers who themselves were advertisers. They said that they do get hits and sales when placing ads on Google AdWords, especially when done on the content network.

I have some experience in this area. I author a number of technical blogs that target the development community. What I have found is that I do get occasional clicks, but it is a small percentage of people who view my web pages. I tried a number of techniques to try to get users to click on ads more. None of them seemed to help much. On some of my blogs, people hardly ever click on the ads.

The good thing is that I usually make a good amount of money per click on a technical or programming sight. The goal is to make more money. So I might have a non-technical site with a lot of clicks. But if the profit per click is low, my total earnings are low. Development sites may get fewer clicks. What they lack in volume, they make up in higher costs per click. The important lessons to learn is that you will probably not get rich off this advertising. You will get enough change to buy a Big Mac.

Weak Offering

I was reading a technical article this weekend and saw an advertisement for the RegCure software. Since I have been having some problems with Windows on my machine recently, I thought I would give it a try. They had a free download of a trial version. So I figured there was not harm in taking it for a test drive.

RegCure detected a number of items in my Windows registry that were problematic. For example, It detected that some Windows startup item files were missing on my file system. I guess I had manually deleted the applications. However the links in the registry still existed. The RegCure application went on to detect problems in about 8 categories of the registry.

The trial version I downloaded would only correct 2 of the 8 areas in which it found problems. These were trivial changes to the registry. In fact, even if I had the full version of RegCure, I anticipated there would be no impact to my Windows performance. This program was definitely not going to cure the more serious problems I was encountering with Windows. So I decided to remove the application from my system.

I was a bit unhappy when the RegCure uninstall program continued to try to get me to buy the software. Hey. I am uninstalling your software. So I obviously don’t want to buy the thing. You are losing more points by making hard for me to get rid of your software. Not good. In fact, your software claims to speed up Windows by correcting registry problems. What kind of speed increase do you think this is going to give me? Windows can deal with registry items pointing to non-existent files. I this application of little to no use.

Now that I got a little worked up with RegCure, I did some research on the net about it. It seems that the forums at CNET have bad things to say about this program. It was funny to see the RegCure PR people trying to keep the boat afloat by responding. Judging from the bad experiences that people had with RegCure on CNET, I would say I got lucky. At least my computer is not working any slower from having installed and run the program.

Poor Man’s Web Stats

To run an effective web site, you need to track statistics of user behavior on your web site. This requires some tools which I do not have and do not know about. In addition, you may not have the ability to administer the web server where your site is hosted. I have stumbled upon an easy way to track the number of people viewing my web sites, while making money at the same time. This requires the use of the Google AdSense program.

Here is what I have done. For each of my web sites, I have put Google ads on the pages. Each of these ads has a separate Google channel associated with it. Google AdSense reports then show you how many people visit each of the channels each day. You can also run other reports, grouping the numbers in different ways. I am already doing this to make money off the ads. So I kill two birds with one stone here. Just be careful when interpreting page impressions. If you have more than one ad per page, the Google AdSense impression count is per ad, not per page.

I have heard some rumors that Google offers more powerful tools to monitor web site activity. As of today I have not investigated these. They might not work on the sites where I host most of my blogs. I have limited administrative rights on those servers.

This is probably no great discovery. However I was pleased when I first saw these statistics. The first thing that caught my eye was the money I was making with Google AdSense. However these statistics help me figure out where to invest my time to get the most return on investment. It also let’s me try different things out and analyze the result on web traffic.

I imagine I need to graduate up to some more powerful tools if I want to take my business to the next level. And if that means I can make more money with smarter analysis, sign me up.

Selling Free Forms

I was reading an online article about fake identities. There was an advertisement on the web page for social security cards. So I clicked through and arrived at the United States Vital Records Assistance Service site. That is a mouthful. This was an official looking site with a picture of the white house at the top. It had a nice layout. There was official looking text on the landing page.

The “advertisement” web page said that the Social Security Administration web site is poorly designed. This commercial site would get me the forms I need to get a Social Security card for $13.99. They provide the forms either through download, or by e-mail. Alternatively they will mail you the forms for $29.99. The company accepts PayPal. There really was not a lot more information about the actual company behind this web site.

There was a lot of fine print at the bottom of the web page. This company is not associated with the Social Security Administration. The forms they provide are also available for free on the Social Security Administration’s web site. The company does not issue refunds for any reason. They are not selling you the forms. They are selling you a service which costs them bandwidth. The web site was copyright 2004 by Social Security Card Services.

At first I thought this web site was some sort of scam. At best I thought it was some trickery to charge people for free forms. However I thought about the proposition a little more. Perhaps it is time consuming to search the real government site for the forms you need. And perhaps it is worth 14 bucks to have another site just give you the forms. It still felt like something was not right with the site.

Deep inside I wish I had thought of this idea. All the company needs to do is keep up the web site and accept payments. Maybe they need to provide new forms when the Social Security Administration updates them. I bet all of the transactions from the site are automated. This business must have a very low overhead. I wonder how much money they are making. The idea could (and maybe should) be duplicated for the same forms. It could also be applied to other popular but hard to find forms.

Write Windows XP

I read the most hilarious request for bids on GetACoder the other day. Some buyer had a budget of 20 to 100 dollars. They wanted a new operating system to be written. You were allowed to code it in C++, C, or Visual Basic. It has to run on all PCs. It cannot be just a redesigned Windows. The buyer intends to sell the operating system.

But wait. There’s more. This operating system must implement every Windows XP operating system feature. Any program that runs on XP must run on the newly created operating system. This operating system must also be “hacker safe”. In other words an install of this new operating system must require a serial number.

If that was not enough, there are even further requirements. It has to be fast. It has to be good looking. I think the list goes on. Now I wondered how I could respond to this joker. Maybe I could write a replacement for Windows Explorer. And I can ensure the install of this app will require a serial number. But that is no good. Even a little Explorer clone is going to cost this person more than $100. It would be a good joke though.

I confess that I have never actually used GetACoder, for either work or having someone else do work for me. However I hear that freelancing development sites in general are getting kind of crazy. Projects are bid extra low by competition that is hungry for any job that pays peanuts. On the flip side, you have jokers like the one above who will ask you to write Microsoft Windows for upwards of $100.

Oh well. I guess anybody is free to ask for huge jobs at any price they deem fair. I wonder whether this guy got any takers for the XP clone. If only the amount was around $1000, I could have passed off an Explorer clone with serial number registration. Yeah it would have been evil. But then again, this started out with a truly evil request.

Backup Program

Recently I had a scare where I thought I lost all the information stored on my Windows desktop. I had many files that were sitting only on the desktop. And I had shortcuts to files and programs on there. This made me realize that I needed to back this stuff up. Currently I have no backup software. I can backup actual files to some other media. But that will not take care of files on my desktop. It will also not store important settings like the configuration of my Outlook Express e-mail program. So I thought this might be a good program to write myself.

I figure it is a dangerous thing to mess around with a backup program. That is a mission critical application. You have to get it right. So I figured I would first test out the backup program by restoring to a new machine. That will be a hard core test. The new machine will not have any of the software or files already. If I can restore to there, I should be good. Then it will just take a final test to ensure I can restore to my original system.

My initial source of concern to want a backup program is the Windows desktop. A little research has shown that the desktop is really a folder on the file system. Any files that are stored directly on the desktop are in this folder. And and files referenced on the desktop with a shortcut are stored as link files in this folder. This seems simple enough. Maybe I can just copy the entire desktop folder for backup purposes.

What other things could a “smart” backup program do? By smart I mean a program which will do something other than making an image of the whole hard disk. I know I need my Internet Explorer favorites. And I also want my Internet Explorer security settings. There are some specific data folders of interest on my hard drive. Maybe my program can let the user choose these. I also like the theme of my Windows configuration. For example I like my wallpaper and screen saver.

Obviously there are some tricky points. Can I easily backup to a different version of Windows? And what about storing off portions of the Windows registry? Then there are some design decisions to make. Should I implement some strategy for organizing different backups? Do I allow incremental backups? Do I use compression on the backed up data?

I doubt any of my research and resulting program will turn into a commercial product. It is just fun to think about and investigate. I knew a guy that ran a business developing and selling software backup solutions for MS-DOS. Perhaps I can talk him into letting me have his source code.

AdSense Denied

Previously my Google AdSense account had been disabled. Google was never specific as to why. They just said something like their advertisers would not benefit from my account. I tried some other advertising companies. None of them were as good as Google. The bottom line was that Google made me more money than anybody else. It might be due to the fact that Google has a lot of advertisers. And Google is able to match ads to the content on my site. So I submitted an appeal to my account being disabled.

It took Google a little while to respond. However they decided to keep my account disabled. Come on Google. Help a brother out. So I did one more trial run with a Google competitor. I did not make any money during the week when I put ads up on one of my blogs. Now I know I get a little traffic on that site. So either people were not clicking, or the new advertiser was not crediting me. Either way I was not making any cash.

So I decided to return to using Google ads. However since my account was disabled, I had to use a friend’s account. The downside to this is that my friend collects money when people click on my ads. Oh well. I owe this friend a lot. He always buys dinner for me. I am talking about once a week forever. So this is like paying him back. Maybe we can work something out if the ad revenue is large.

What is the moral of the story? Make sure you follow all the rules in the Google AdSense program. And hope that nobody hacks you, so you get to keep your AdSense publishing account. I think it may finally be time to try another technique to make money. It might actually be time to code up a program to sell. Products are hard to make money from. But I am finding that making any decent money with advertising is also hard for the small guy.

Powerful Advertising

This weekend I read my copy of Spin magazine. To tell the truth I find that I am not interested in the content of the magazine that much. However I focused on all the full page ads in this month's issue. I thought I would review the advertisements from a consumer viewpoint.

Here is what I want to know immediately when I read your ad: What are you selling? What is the name of your company? Where can I buy your product? You would be amazed how many ads miss out some or all of these answers.
I have noticed some mistakes repeated in many ads. There are a lot of weird sayings. That is a turn off. And there are multiple ads where I cannot comprehend the text. That is just not cool. And its also unproductive.

A simple ad is a good one. And here is another fact that should be no secret. Attractive people sell. So use the models. It helps if you show me your actual product too. I don't mind if you team up with other companies to advertise more than one thing in your ad. More and more companies are doing this.

By the end of the magazine, I found 2 ads that were clear winners. MySpace did very well with a simple ad with minimal and to-the-point text. However the best was an ad by Lugs. The dudes were wearing the product. They had nice cars in the background. Most of all their models were smoking hot. Powerful marketing. I might even have to run out and buy a pair of Lugs shoes. I already have a MySpace account.