Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eight Thoughts About Running a Blog Based Microbusiness

Here's an idea if you want to try something new and different. Last year I built Walkathon Guide and Walkathon Shop, which together form a web based micro-business that helps people who are planning walkathons. It gives away lots of advice and encouragement and offers an e-book, lap cards, an inexpensive customizable web site, t shirts, and other supplies. With my job at Ricoh, I don't work on it much any more but it is self sustaining now, continuing to bring in sales and help people.

What did I learn, you ask?

1. You should try it if you like to write. It's fun.

It's cheap and quick to put together your blog or website. There is an infinite number of puzzle pieces now available as free Internet services and many more for $5/month or so. You can pop one into your blog or shop and see what happens. I've listed some of my favorites in #8, below.

It is deeply rewarding to provide a real and useful service where there wasn't one before. I started this effort to learn, have fun and make money, but I pause to note what it feels like to be able to help people world wide. I hear from people in Kuwait, Singapore, South Africa, and next door, working on causes ranging from elementary schools to clean water to medical research.

You need to be in it for the long haul because it is a slow growing business.

But it's not hard. Anyone who likes to write can do this. It doesn't have to take too much time and you can grow it in higher and lower activity periods.

2. Start with a narrow niche and a simple, useful product. Over time you can grow it from there.

By keeping it narrow you become one of the experts and market leaders. I considered broader markets such as nonprofit fundraising in general. However had I chosen that, the search term wouldn't have been as clear and the markets would be much more competitive. It was surprising how much depth there is to even the smallest niche area once you look into it.

By keeping your initial product simple yet useful, such as my $14.95 e-book, you can quickly be of help to the people in your target audience. That way you build a two way relationship where you can learn what they need and they can see that you are doing honest work in their interest. Then you can add new products over time.

3. Take advantage of your tightly focused niche so that people who search for that one topic find you.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, means creating your blog so that people who would benefit, find it via their search engine of choice. To make your blog easy to find, pick the best possible, single word or phrase that you think they would use when searching for your topic. Use it as many times as possible in your headers, first paragraph, and captions. Repeat with every blog post you can. Use as often as possible but just on this side of being obvious.

I hear that is particularly SEO friendly and I have found that to be true. More on WordPress below.

4. Help your customers a lot, with every interaction, blog post, product, service.

There is no shortcut and you'll be happier anyway.

5. Help and be helped by others in your little industry.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the others in my field. We have done podcasts together, shared links, worked together to help our customers, and built nice affiliate relationships, and I see that other bloggers are doing the same in their respective fields. Everyone wins.

6. Like everyone says, connect via social media.

Find where your audience and influencers hang out online and go there too. I get a good amount of traffic from various social networking sites and Twitter. I'm just getting started with a Facebook page so the jury is out on that.

7. Take small, incremental steps. How to get started:

a. Brainstorm first, then narrow your ideas down to one, with a title (such as Walkathon Guide - How to Plan a Walkathon)
b. Start the blog and continue to post frequently throughout the life of the business
c. Hop into the social media circuits to find potential customers and other key players wherever they hang out
d. Start building the email list via the blog
e. Formalize the business plan via a very short slide set and run it by a few smart people to modify
f. Begin making connections with like minded businesses via Twitter, Nings, etc, to share links, become affiliates, do podcasts together, encourage each other.
g. Apply basic SEO to the blog
h. And then, build and launch a simple first product (in my case, the e-book).

8. A few great tools: or With you can get started immediately, you don't have to think about hosting, it handles SEO well, and your website with your own url costs $15 per year(!). It has limits to keep your blog a blog, not a website, such as no forms except a contact form. With you get infinite flexibility where you can purchase plugins for all kinds of functionality, so that you can use it to build your own entire website. You need to purchase hosting from any number of services that they list, or available elsewhere. Manages payments for a downloadable e-book for $5/month. It handles downloading the book and keeps records for you. It has a turn key affiliate program for you as well.
E-junkie Shopping Cart and Digital Delivery and/or Google Checkout: These actually take the payments. One of dozens of easy website building tools, if you want to build a more traditional website vs. a blog. It's no harder to use than PowerPoint. Does surveys via web or email. Does polls - one question surveys that can be right in your WordPress post. Handles sending nice looking, spam law complient email messages and maintains your mail list.
: Little photos to add to your blog for about $3.00 each. Keep an eye on the clock when you go there. It is a great distraction. More photos to add to your blog for free, if you credit the source. Be sure to use photos from within the Creative Commons area.

My favorite inspirations: Roger Carr, one of a few others who blog about walkathons, and business bloggers and writers Chris Guillebeau (great free book, called, "279 Days to Overnight Success" ), Pamela Slim, and Naomi Dunford - all three have so many ideas on starting a microbusiness. They focused on tiny businesses and I don't share their ideas that "tiny is better" - all business sizes have pros and cons. Also I think their ideas apply in corporate settings as well. My favorite book is still "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Revisit: Easy Web Sites

Previously I created a post for folks who have small businesses and want to create a web site (click here to see it). I can now prove that you can create one for $15/year using WordPress. I created this one: The site is free, but having it's own URL instead of costs $15.

If you'd rather not have the home page be a blog, you can create another page, then configure your blog to use it as as Home.

I chose WordPress over Blogger because I didn't see an easy way to add pages with Blogger.

WordPress gives you about a dozen themes (looks) to choose from. For an extra $15/year they allow you to use a custom theme and customize your blog in various other ways.

One caveat - you don't get an email address with this. So if you need an email address to go with your url, like I have with, then this won't work.

I'll be blogging more about this project as I go, from a microbusiness as well as a technology standpoint. If you know someone planning a walkathon, please send them my way! There will be more and more useful stuff and information there, just for walkathons.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm Mother of the Year! Best Viral Campaign of the Year in My Book, by

Click on this image to see the video announcing my award!

This has to be one of the most clever marketing campaigns around, for the following reasons:
  • The material is very fresh and funny.
  • Everyone needs to honor moms the week before Mother's Day. Families honor moms, and moms honor each other. They offer a quick way to do so.
Congratulations to

Monday, May 11, 2009

Great Read: "279 Days to Overnight Success" by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau has declared his goal to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013. He is financing this effort via his blog. He has developed quite a following and I suspect that he just doubled it by putting out this free manifesto.

You can get the manifesto by going to his web site and downloading it. I read it cover to cover immediately - couldn't put it down. He has given away a step by step plan for creating a microbusiness based on blogging about your passion, then selling a high value series of e-books about that topic. Even if you don't plan to create a blog or e-book, I think this is well worth reading. A few key points:

  • You don't need to monitize your blog via ads. You can do so by selling an e-book, or something else that would be of value to your readers.
  • Find out what your readers need by continually asking them.
  • Don't do a hard sell. Rather, develop a community around your interest and then sell only to those who are asking for the item. Marketing is replaced by community building - working with a core group of like minded people who can benefit from what you have to offer.
  • He even gives the details on exactly what he makes and where the dollars come from.
There are great concepts for any web based business in this book, even if your effort isn't centered around a blog.

The rest of the blog is great fun as well, as Chris chronicles his travels.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Creating a Web Site for $15 per Year

This post is for my consultant friends who need a web site for credibility, and don't want to hire someone. I used GoDaddy's Website Tonight product. I am paying $45/year for two years. However, since then I've found easier and even cheaper options. Here is what I've learned. I'd love your comments as well.

Microsoft Office Live
Microsoft Office Live offers the same thing as GoDaddy offers except it's free. Then for $15/year you can get your own domain name. The user interface looks a lot more straight forward. Go to

Office Live gives you three steps to get your site up and going
1. Design it (using premade templates for most types of pages you'd need)
2.Get a url
3. Set up your email address.

I don't think it's any harder than using PowerPoint.

I see that Intuit offers something similar. Please comment if you end up trying that one.

Blog-centric: WordPress
Finally, if you want your site to be blog-centric, consider WordPress. Then your home page will be your blog. Other than that, it offers the same capabilities to add pages, use a template for your look, and purchase your own domain name for $15/ year. No email. Some nice traffic reporting if you want to count visitors.

Final Tip on Art
I have been consistently pleased with They offer rights to use photos and artwork for as low as $1 per image and it's very easy to use. You can make your site much more professional that way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Product Management for Web 2.0

This presentation, by Dan Olsen, does a great job of capturing the key concepts of Web 2.0 product management: Designing and Optimizing the DNA of a Killer App

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let the customer be the rock star

I'm seeing lots of job postings for rock stars who want to come help change the world. I know it's just a fun term. But I say, let the clients be the rock stars.

My favorite book toward that end is the business classic, Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore. Click here for a nice summary. If you're a marketing manager you've probably read it but I'll reiterate the main point. To succeed with a new technology business, start with one very well defined set of customers. Look at their needs from end to end. Address every single one, so it's a no brainer to use your product. Not just via the feature set, but all the other factors around it - quality level, documentation, service, add ons, delivery, so that they are sure to come out ahead even after all factors have been considered. If it's too much, simplify rather than sacrificing the winning experience by missing details that end up affecting cost or effort. Narrow your market to limit the scope of what you need to do.

Make your customers feel like rock stars for having done business with you. Make them references to their peers. Be the go to company for that one little market. Then you're ready to do the same for another market.

Keep this question top of mind: Looking at the end to end experience, is your customer getting an off the charts win?