She’s Virtually Virtual: The Perils of Building an Online Business

With books like The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss (which was on the New York Times best seller list for 75 weeks), thousands of people everywhere have been trying to make money online by capitalizing on new, virtual business models. The appeal of reaching a global audience while generating passive income is irresistible… I read the book, I drank the kool-aid, and I love the philosophy. But outsourcing your company is risky business.

My BFF is an infopreneur in the mind/body fitness industry. Tired of trading her time for money, she decided to “virtualize” her business last year and take her personal training practice online - complete with a virtual gym, DVDs and iphone apps :-) But now it’s a grueling 1 year later, and she’s found out that creating a business in the cloud is a bigger deal than she thought. In fact, she barely weathered the storm. Here is one girl’s account about outsourcing in cyberspace

Hot on the trail after reading Ferris’ book, she hired some developers in India to build her an open source site using Joomla, which was to be a virtual gym and e-commerce store with the ability to deliver digital products as downloads. They promised her a fully functional site with all the training she would need to run her online business. She had fun working with them on Skype for months on end, getting the “look and feel” down and the content exactly where she wanted it. She said it was interesting to work with people on the other side of the planet, their accents were cute, blah, blah, blah, but the long (and sad) story short is that when her site was delivered, it looked great, but she had no idea how to run the CMS (the back end) nor how to arm the back end with the necessary marketing tools needed, like autoresponders, list management panels, newsletter generators, etc…. all the things that are crucial in creating a successful online business! Duh.

Furthermore, she realized her IT guys in India weren’t necessarily direct marketers, they hadn’t gone to the conferences she went to, they didn’t know a sales funnel from an affiliate tracker from an opt-in page to a landing page to article marketing and beyond. And that’s cool she said (I told her it was not) but she was still understanding and said “you can’t be an expert at everything.” “One area you do need to manage,” she said, “is your site, you need to understand it from the back end forward. It doesn’t matter how cool your site looks on the Web, if you can’t update it behind the screens and run it yourself, it’s not going to work.”

“And don’t think that what you save in money by outsourcing (sometimes $3.00/hr) you don’t spend in time. That old adage, ‘Time is money’, still holds true, right? The Internet hasn’t changed that! But add in the sometimes 12-14 hour time difference, communication issues regarding the subtle nuances of our native tongues, and the need to discuss complex technical matters, and you have a recipe for a time/money suck!” Oh boy, I could tell things were not proceeding as planned. And BTW, she’s smarter than the average bear especially when it comes to geek stuff.

She was near tears by now and going on and on, “Face it, this “ain’t your daddy’s business world” anymore. Employers are lucky to have an employee stick around for a year, let alone 50! The Internet has revolutionized the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we are creating --and replacing-- jobs, and not just in this country but in the world.” There was no consoling her at this point so I let her go on…

“This supposed technology that was invented to help us “save time” and “make life easier” has not gone exactly as planned. If anything it’s complicated and it’s a major time suck. People today work, date, play, and essentially LIVE online. Okay it can be fun sometimes but look at the millions of people actually living virtual lives on 2nd Life! What is that all about?!” I started to explain but she was already on to the next rant-and-rave

“From big corporations who outsource their customer service calls to companies in the Philippines, to infopreneurs who outsource their website to developers in India, we are officially a global community. It truly is a global work force. But you know what? That may be a beautiful thing in theory, but I’m seeing first hand now how it has its share of draw backs.” So what’s your takeaway I ask? Our lesson? Your next step?

“Make sure your outsourcers understand the look you want and the functionality you need out of your site. Because, 9 months later even though my site looked great, full of rich content and pretty pictures there was one big problem. The outsourcers had hard coded it instead of using the plugin Joomla modules that anyone can use. They said they would teach me how to do this...or I could pay them a maintenance retainer. REALLY? I want to run my business not become a Joomla goddess!” I completely agreed.

Frustrated and tired of being lost in translation on late night Skype calls, my friend decided it was time to hire a U.S. based, Joomla guru to get her virtual business up and running. Of course, this would cost double the money, but half the time. So, running out of resources, what did my little entrepreneur do? She shelved her old site and built a new site on iWeb in about 4 hours. She signed up for 1shoppingcart.com (which has built in autoresponders) to manage the entire back end from one console panel. She’s like “Sheesh, 1 year later, and it’s the little site that could!” And I’m like, okay fingers crossed, I just want it to work for her. She’s virtually virtual, and when she transcends once and for all, that will only be a good thing.
Stay tuned,
Erin



5 Easy Places to Recycle Your Old Gadgets and Computers

Maybe you got next-generation gear over the holidays, or maybe it's time to clean out your unused gadgets for the new year. Whatever the reason, if you've got old gizmos that need to go, Kevin Purdy of Lifehacker.com tells you where to recycle them.

Did you know that many towns, cities, counties, and states have their own e-cycling programs that offer convenient drop-off locations for dead computers, dead cell phones, big monitors, and other electronics? The Environmental Protection Agency suggests a few sites to help you find a local solution, including EcoSquid and Digital Tips. However, almost everybody has a Best Buy, Goodwill, or Staples somewhere near them and they may even pay you back in green for helping keep the planet green.

Best Buy Recycling has one of the most convenient and customer-friendly electronics recycling programs. Each household can bring in up to three items per day including older-style CRT TVs, any flat-panel TVs, monitors, cell phones, GPS units, DVD players, basically anything that you can carry that has a plug and a display, Best Buy will take it. (There's a $10 charge for TVs and monitors, but you get that back in a $10 gift card.)

New cell phones often come with a plastic pouch in which to mail back an older cell phone for recycling, or for re-purposing as an emergency 911 phone for community services. Each cellular phone provider, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon offers phone recycling services and they are generally free through both in-store drop-offs and postage-paid mail-ins.

Both Office Depot and Staples are fairly convenient for recycling smaller gadgets in different ways. Office Depot sells boxes (small, medium, and large for $5, $10, and $15, respectively) that you can fill with pretty much any gadget that fits, then drop it off for recycling. Staples does the smaller stuff for free, like phones, PDAs, and calculators, and if you drop off TVs or monitors or other notably big gear, it's a $10 charge.

But one of the first stops to make is good old Craigs List. As one user notes, turning in a working laptop for recycling so that it can be destroyed is NOT recycling. If you really care about recycling then selling it for a small price to someone who will use it for a few more years is the best recycling you can do.
Until next post, see you online,
Erin

Early Adopter Update: It's Time to Hurry Up and Wait for 4G

It's the CES this week (the Consumer Electronics Show) and the industry is buzzing. Standards are being solidified. Convergence is taking place. It's a good time to be a geek. One of the major announcements is 4G.

If you've read the NetLingo definition, you know what 4G is :-) If you haven't, go read the 4G definition and come right back because Roy Furchgott of the New York Times tells us that the refrain from the cell phone industry at CES has been “4G, 4G, 4G.”

As NetLingo explains and Roy confirms, "Just what constitutes 4G at this point is debatable. But this week T-Mobile announced it would double the speed of its 4G network, AT&T vowed to have nationwide 4G LTE coverage by 2013 and Verizon is stumping its LTE build out." (LTE is also in the 4G NetLingo definition :-)

So here's the thing early adopters, "If you are leaning toward 4G, you certainly will have plenty of cell phones to choose from. Verizon said it would have 10 4G devices, from phones to tablets to wireless hotspot cards. Sprint announced three. AT&T announced two and promised five to seven more. T-Mobile announced two tablets and promised more devices." And on and on... that's CES. It's these kinds of advancements that make early adopters happy.

If you still don't quite get it, try looking at 4G from this point, "It’s the same problem that faced TV buyers when televisions with 1080p screens first came out. You could spend extra for a premium set, but what are you going to watch on it? There were no 1080p shows and practically no DVDs at the time (and when there first were, selection was small and very expensive). Yet people snapped 1080p TVs up. They wanted to be ready with 1080p when shows became available." Did someone say first-mover advantage?

In the end, Roy fesses up, "I live in the first city in America to go 4G, that was in 2008. I still don’t get reliable service. If your carrier charges you extra for 4G service, don’t buy it yet... if you don’t get charged extra for 4G service, consider it but make sure the phone works well on both 3G and 4G."

It's good advice. If you're not entirely certain about exactly what 3G is, be sure to read the NetLingo definition of 3G too! It'll only take a moment and you will learn something about the amazing technology that powers your cell phones and handheld devices! You know those little things you can't imagine living without, also known as your life?

Meanwhile at CES, it's all about convergence. This time it's merging television sets with the power of the Internet... but, there's nothing really to blow you away, not even Google TV, we're just not there yet.
Until next post, see you online,
Erin

Should parents let toddlers play with iPhones?

Moms and dads are discovering that iPhones can entertain little kids more effectively than traditional toys, but does that mean it's a good idea? The iPhone may just be this generation's "boob tube." The iPhone has not merely revolutionized communication, says Hilary Stout in The New York Times. It's also given parents what may be "the most effective tool in human history to mollify a fussy toddler." Moms and dads are finding that their 1-, 2-, and 3-year-olds can amuse themselves endlessly with this new "Toy of Choice," pressing buttons to see the screen light up, watching videos, or even mastering educational apps. Though the phenomenon can give parents rare moments of peace, some child development specialists worry that handing a toddler an iPhone may be as neglectful as planting him in front of a TV for hours. Are smart phones damaging our babies?


Resist the temptation to hand your kid a phone: As conveniently bewitching as the iPhone is, says Paula Bernstein at Strollerderby, "kids--especially little ones--don't need any more screen time." Letting them get obsessed with gadgets only keeps them from learning how to interact with "the outside world" and don't fall for the notion that kid-targeted apps are automatically educational. "Do toddlers really need an iGo Potty app (sponsored by the company that makes Huggies) that will remind them when it's time to go potty?"

"Why toddlers don't need iPhones"
As always, parental supervision is key: "Every generation has its vices," says Jack Loftus at Gizmodo. The iPhone is one of ours--parents just have to do their job and make sure toddlers don't get carried away. Besides, "touchscreens and ultra-portable communication devices are the inevitable future," so there is no harm in letting little Bethany get used to "the tools she'll be immersed in when she's older."

"Experts worry toddlers are becoming iPhone addicts"
Used correctly, the iPhone can be an educational toy: It's true that iPhones and iPads can be instruments of "boob-tube zombification" if all your kid does is look at videos, says Wilson Rothman at MSNBC. But some "edutainment apps" are worthy additions to an array of traditional toys. If anything, instead of reactionary panic, what parents need is more research. The real question should be: Which iPhone apps do help kids? - As seen in The Week

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