How to Personalize Google's Search Engine

Eric flicked me an email about Google Adsense asking if it was worth the effort and what other alternative information products/services should he look at. Here’s an extract of the email I sent back.

Google Custom Search
Google Custom Search

~Hi Eric, thanks for the kind words. As you can imagine, it’s hard to know if you’re going in the right direction with a site like this, so every time I get a word of encouragement it gives me a little boost to continue.
I run a few other sites as well as this is/was designed to complement their offerings and also to act as a funnel for material that doesn’t suit elsewhere.
<I noticed you use Google AdSense. I’ve been reading up on it this week and trying to separate the reality from the mire of get rich quick schemes. How’s it working for you? Has it been worthwhile?

Using Google Custom Search To Increase Sales

Yes in the sense that is does work. If you can get a nice stream of traffic to your site, it will bring in revenue. But, to keep it in perspective, I get over 200k page impressions per month on the sites. This generates about 1k USD.

1,ooo USD  is fine but it takes a lot of effort to get 200k people to click around your sites every month.

I should add that I haven’t really tried to ‘optimize’ the site for Adsense as some webmasters do. The ads are there and if you want to click them, then it’s a bonus.
But, here’s a tip!
Looking at the stats, it’s the Search that generates the most revenue, not the ads themselves.
You can create a Google Search box, link it to your Adsense account, and use this as a way to encourage visitors to surf around your site.
And here’s an even better tip!
You can configure the Google Search box so that it searches specific sites only. See www.google.com/cse

How Google Custom Search Works

You can setup Google Custom Search to create a customized search experience for your own website.

  • Include one or more websites, or specific webpages
  • Host the search box and results on your own website
  • Customize the look and feel of the results to match your site
  • Provide fast and relevant search results
  • Make money with AdSense for Search
  • Automatically search across links, bookmarks or blogrolls
  • Control branding and enhance results presentation via XML results
  • Provide quick indexing of your website via On-Demand indexing
  • Embed a Custom Search Element into your website for a highly customized in-line search experience.

In other words, you can limit the search to your site and other sites that you specifically want the visitor to go to, such as affiliate sites or partner sites (you could link up with a similar site and arrange cross-searching).
With that said, it does take time to master Adsense, but if you have a long-term strategy, yes it is worthwhile.
I’d recommend using the Adsense plug-ins you can get for WordPress as these help automate the process. Real time-saver.
Why?
Because other areas are much more profitable!
Such as?

Example of Reliable Affiliate Programs

Method123 have been a winner for us from day 1. There a lot of sites offering affiliate/partner programs but this is absolute gold dust!
Their site is right when it says:

  • Our Affiliate program differs from others because:
  • We are a profitable company and only do business over the web
  • We offer large affiliate commissions
  • Our average sales amount is extremely high
  • Our conversion rate is also high

So, if can write articles about project management or anything to do with running projects, then you can link to their site, drive traffic over and claim your commission.
Things you could write about might be:

  • 10 ways to improve your Business Case
  • Learn how to write a Feasibility Study in 24 hours
  • What you need a Project Charter
  • 7 Ways to develop a Project Office Checklist

It’s pretty straightforward. I use other affiliate programs, such as GoDaddy, aWeber and Paypal. They’re all fine but Method123 has worked very well for me.
FYI – their head office is in New Zealand and you get that nice feeling that you’re working with a real company whereas with other programs you get an auto-responder back and then a relationship manager after a few days.
Darren Rowse has a great article if you’re thinking of getting into problogging.
Before I forget, Amazon has been a total time-waster. When I consider the effort v the results I got back – avoid!
I know others recommend it but if you apply yourself and find a 2 or 3 quality affiliate programs, you’ll do much better.

The Mythical One Page Business Plan

A One Page Business Plan is more useful than you’d think. I was a bit sceptical about writing a one page business plan until my client twisted my arm to write it. I’d wanted to write a more in- depth document or use Business Plan software to scope out the requirements. As an experiment we tried it.

A One Page Business Plan is more useful than you’d think. I was a bit skeptical about writing a one page business plan until my client twisted my arm to write it. I’d wanted to write a more in- depth document or use Business Plan software to scope out the requirements. As an experiment we tried it. Here’s what I learned.

One Page Business Plan: Where’s the real benefit?

Writing a one-page business plan helps the small business owner focus on the main components that make up the company.

The Mythical One Page Business Plan

Difference Between One Page Business Plan and Traditional Business Plans

The difference between a one page business plan and traditional business plans (e.g. MS Word templates) is that:

  • A one one-page business plan is not a replacement for your strategic planning documents.
  • A one one-page business plan is not meant to provide in-depth analysis of your business model. How could it?
  • A one one-page business plan is not used to seek finance, for example, from your local bank manager or investors. But, there may be exceptions…
  • A one one-page business plan gives you a snapshot of the key points in your business
  • A one one-page business plan is a framework upon which you can start to build a more comprehensive document outlining your Strategic Plan, Marketing Plan, Technology roadmap, and Training & Development needs, Costs, and Personnel
  • A one one-page business plan provides direction for the future growth of your business. It’s a finger pointing in the right direction and

[Video] One Page Business Plan: Example of How It Works

In this video, we look at some of the differences between one-page business plans and the larger documents, for example, Business Plans in Microsoft Word format that you can format to suit your needs.

One Page Business Plan: Who Uses It

What I learned from this exercise is that – if you approach it with the right attitude – you can use this as a stepping stone for more in-depth analysis. The upside is that you get a ‘business plan document’ written in less than a day, while the downside it that it’s a snapshot and needs to be fleshed out if you decide to push ahead with the project.

So, who can benefit from this?

I can see the following benefiting from this:

  • Business Units
  • Cost Centers
  • Cross-functional teams
  • Departments
  • Divisions
  • Government Agencies
  • Not-for-profits
  • Profit Centers
  • Programs
  • Projects
  • Startup Companies
  • Subsidiaries

There are others but you get the idea.

One Page Business Plan: Why It’s Not a Plan

It’s a way to get your business planning up and running quickly and start to explore market strategies quickly.

But, it’s not a plan in the traditional sense. You can’t use this to develop a framework for your marketing plans or use it to seek funding.

There is an upside though. It does allow you to get a quick snapshot of how the business model may work and use this to refine gaps in the process or identify areas where the business plan needs more attention.

Why You Should Write a One Page Business Plan

A one one-page business plan grows with the business. As you change, so to does the business plan.

One final thing. The name of the document is irrelevant. You can call it what you want.

The real purpose of the one-page business plan is to help you navigate the choppy waters of running your business. Keep it simple. Make it useful. Keep it up to date!

What do you think?

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting your First iPhone App

If creating iPhone apps is part of your online business plans, or if you plan to create iPhone apps for the iPhone, iPad, or iTouch, then understanding how to submit your app will save you a lot of hassle and ensure that your app get into the marketplace as soon as possible.

If creating iPhone apps is part of your online business plans, or if you plan to create iPhone apps for the iPhone, iPad, or iTouch, then understanding how to submit your app will save you a lot of hassle and ensure that your app get into the marketplace as soon as possible.
apple-logo

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting your First iPhone App

I’ve just been through the process of submitting an iPhone app to the iTunes store. It wasn’t that difficult but the next time it will be faster. Here are a few things I learnt.

  1. Release Date – understand how Apple reviews iPhone App and learn what the terminology means when you’re submitting an app. For example, when Apples you that the app is being reviewed, this usually means it will be approx 8-15 days for the review to be completed. Once this is completed, then it’s scheduled for release.
  1. Updates – when you want to update an app, for example, you’ve added new screenshots or changed the pricing structure, you need to submit an update. This process should not take very long, especially if you have a track record (i.e. are in good standing account wise with Apple) and allow you to get the revised app online. But… double-check that the app has been updated and that the new features, text or prices are updated correctly on the iTunes store.
  1. Resubmitting an App – let’s say you want to change or add a new feature. This means Apple will have to test the app again. It does this to ensure its customers are getting a quality, working product and the only way to check that it works it to test it.
  1. Quality – Apple usually tests the app for the first 5 minutes max. After all, it has 1000s of apps to test every day so it can’t test all aspects of your app. What it looks for most is whether your app will crash the iPhone or iPad. Every time your app needs to be retested it goes to the back of the waiting list. So, make sure it works the first time you submit or you will have to go through the whole process again.
  1. Tags – You can add tags (aka keywords) when submitting your app. Should you add a few or hundreds? What works best for me is to select five keywords (ie the same keywords you use in your SEO, marketing, PPC and advertising) rather than taking a ‘long tail’ approach.
  1. Description – Look at how the best-sellers write this text for their apps and adapt their copy. Don’t copy and paste what you have on your website or blog. Refine the description so that it works for the iTunes store. If necessary, hire a copywriter (see oDesk) and get them to do the text. Don’t be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’.
  1. Forms For Overseas Developers – Non-US Developers must submit a “Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding” form (W-8BEN).
  1. Forms for Australian Developers – Upload their ABN and GST certificates in iTunes Connect.
  1. Selling Apps for Japan – Developers living outside of Japan, must submit a Japanese tax treaty form if you want to sell your apps in Japan.
  1. Connecting with Marketing Plans – Until you know how the app submission process works, you need to be careful when committing to dates on your marketing plan. In other words, if you’re expecting the app to be live on March 1 – to link into a PPC or Adwords campaign – then work backwards and submit the app in early Feb.

How the iPhone App Submission Works

With this in mind, here are the steps you need to complete to develop, test, and submit your iPhone app.

  1. Learning how to program with Xcode. This is the software programming language for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch.
  2. Apply for the Standard Program $99. It takes 5 days approx to be approved. You have to pay this fee is you want to submit your app to the iTunes store.
  3. Develop your app or get it outsourced. I’d recommend to get it outsourced so you can concentrate on other marketing activities.
  4. Design the icon and write the descriptions text for the app store.
  5. Set up provisioning profile for Ad Hoc distribution and testing.
  6. Prepare files for submission. This includes screenshots, support website details etc. This took me the most time.
  7. Complete tax info, contact and bank details so you get paid.
  8. Submit the app and wait!

Next Steps

One of the mistakes most everyone makes with their first app is expecting it to be quicker or getting frustrated when Applerequest that you re-test the app. The more you understand the submission and review cycle, the more you can align with marketing activities and ensure that your campaigns kick in at the right time. It will also save you the hassle of explaining to your manager, partners, or customers why there is a delay.
One last suggestion is to note what errors or issues caused Apple to reject or query your app. Capture these points and refer to them the next time you submit your app.
Have you submitted an app to iTunes store? What happened?

Do Tough Bosses Reap What They Sow?

Who’s The Toughest Boss in the US? You see these headlines in business magazines all the time. But what interesting from a business perspective is not Who but Why? Does a tough love boss generate better results that a compassionate one? Do all cultures use this as their yardstick when judging CEOs and leaders?

Who’s The Toughest Boss in the US? You see these headlines in business magazines all the time. But what interesting from a business perspective is not Who but Why? Does a tough love boss generate better results that a compassionate one? Do all cultures use this as their yardstick when judging CEOs and leaders?

tough-boss

Why We Champion Tough Bosses

Before we assess their performance, we need to examine for a moment why we do this. Indeed, maybe it’s the way we champion ‘tough’ bosses rather than looking at ways to bring people together is our fault.

Personally, I find something very odd about this tendency to admire managers who make aggression their calling card as opposed to say… creativity, innovation, or motivation.

One needs to balance the carrot and the stick but surely it’s the results that count.

Seeing Both Sides makes this point when reading Jack Welch’s columns in Business Week, called “The Welch Way”.  In “Tough Guys Finish First” Welch writes in answer to the question, “Do tough bosses really get more out of their people?”, a simple answer:  “yes”. 

He argues that the right boss is tough as in tough-minded: 

“They set clear, challenging goals. They connect those goals with specific expectations. They conduct frequent, rigorous performance reviews. They are relentlessly candid, letting everyone know where they stand and how the business is doing. Every single day, good tough bosses stretch people. They ask for a lot, and they expect to get it…Weak performers usually wish these bosses would go away. People who want to win seek them out.”

I’m included to agree with Jack but… it’s how one goes about this is the issue at least in the office.

  1. Connect goals with specific expectations – the key word here is specific. Poor managers are (deliberately?) vague or unable to define goals in specific terms. I heard one boss complain that he ‘felt’ his line manager wasn’t performing well. How do you answer that?
  2. Relentlessly candid – the key here is to be forthright but not scathing or derogatory of others efforts. My personal feeling is that people want to do the right thing but sometimes they screw up. We all do. It’s how mgt react to this that needs addressing. I’ve seen people torn apart in meetings for relatively minor mistakes. You can imagine how this affects their long term performance not to mention their self confidence.
  3. People who want to win seek them out – A good example of this is in Sports where players will endure the Coach if their performance improves under their guidance.

Are you a part of the problem?

Jerry Roberts asks the question no-one wants to ask, “Could you be contributing to the stress? Are you just an innocent bystander here, or have you done your share to fan the flames of discontent? Are you meeting stated expectations and do you do everything you can to strengthen the team?”

He adds, ‘When I stopped seeing my boss as good or bad and focused on what I could control — whether they viewed me as an asset or liability — things got a lot simpler.” He outlines five great ways to survive your tough boss here.

Tim Berry reminds us that “occasionally you hear about a coach who is either hard or soft to each individual player, depending on his sense of how that specific player responds. There too, though, with coaching, it’s a pretty complex problem, because it’s about the nature of the coach, the nature of the player, and the nature of the situation.”

Conclusion

Tough bosses have come to us from the Industrial Age where bosses behaved as tyrants and humiliated employees on a whim. In today’s ‘knowledge worker’ economy, employees are looking for direction, for ways to advance their career and move from ‘worker bees’ to creators.

Tough as in committed is admirable; tough as in abusive is… counter-productive.

How do you see bosses moving from a ‘command and control’ philosophy to one that helps their teams contribute to their firm’s success?

Image: noel tanner

What the Franchise King® Can Teach You About Business

If you had a choice between starting your own business and buying into a franchise, which would you take? Joel Libava, The Franchise King®, recently made a very compelling argument to buy a franchise rather than start a business from scratch. Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying a franchise.

If you had a choice between starting your own business and buying into a franchise, which would you take? Joel Libava, The Franchise King®, recently made a very compelling argument to buy a franchise rather than start a business from scratch. Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying a franchise.

McDonalds franchise in China

Why Franchise

Walk into McDonald’s. Grab a coffee and sit in some corner. Now, look at all the ways this business model has been refined, developed, tested, analyzed and improved. 

Make notes while you sip your coffee.

  1. Scripts – Note how the staff use a specific script when greeting the customers. These scripts have been refined and honed for local, national and international markets. 
  2. Colors– Study the color of the walls. There’s a reason why they are green and yellow. After a period of time, you feel a tiny bit uncomfortable and then move on. That stops people hanging out all day in McDonalds. 
  3. Specifications– Have you really examined the size of the fries. Compare them with BurgerKing. See the difference?
  4. Mood – Listen to the background music. Who choose that music? And it changes from country to country. It’s not muzak.
  5. Efficiency – Time how long it takes for your burger to arrive. Think you could do it faster?
  6. Training – Notice how the change is given to you by the server. With a smile? 
  7. Layout – Count how many chairs are placed around a table. 4 or 6. Do you know why? Is it different in Pizza Hut? 
  8. Identify – How about the logo? Hard to forget right? Or Ronald McDonald? How about BurgerKing? Can you see its logo in your mind’s eye? 

If you spend 30 minutes in McDonalds and really study how the business is designed, you’ll notice that NOTHING is left to chance. Everything down to the background music is intentional. 

Ask yourself what business McDonald’s is in? (According to Joel, it’s not the food business. It’s “the get folks what they want really fast business.”) Joel has written several rather unique posts about McDonald’s on his Franchise King Blog®

Now, imagine if YOU were to create a fast food outlet.

How long would it take you to identify all of these tasks and then refine them? 

Years, right?

Or… you can buy into the franchise model and hit the ground running

Listen to the Franchise King®

Joel makes the case that buying into a franchise may be a smarter move than starting your own business from scratch. And he has a point. 

Rather than learn how to write a business plan, developing an integrated marketing plan, you can fast track your investment by adopting a well-known franchise. 

Here are some tips from Joel. 

  1. Do a skill assessment; what are you really good at? What are you not so good at?

  2. Decide on a budget. How much of your own money are you comfortable putting up for your franchise?

  3. Try to “visualize” yourself doing the day-to-day duties as a franchise owner of the ones you’re considering.

  4. Write an amazing business plan. Use business plan software or get a CPA to assist you.

  5. Only use an attorney that’s familiar with franchise law. 

Risks With Franchise Model

This brings us to the risks with the Franchise Model. 

  • Scale – while you can buy more franchises, such as McDonalds’ outlets, you can’t scale the business in the same way you could, for example, if you owned a software company. There may also be local issues stopping you from expanding, for example, the number of outlets within a region.
  • Ownership – Another issue is that you’re building up some else’s business. While there are exceptions, it’s hard to increase your stake in a franchise unless you’re willing and able to become a partner.
  • Returns – The effort you put in (while profitable) may be better spent in your own 100% owned business.  If you outperform all sales expectations, the owners may use this as a benchmark for future years, which may not be realistic in a recession. 
  • Innovation – maybe you have an idea on how to improve the sales but the owner says No, then you’re stuck and have to continue with the model at hand. For creative types, this can be very distressing. 
  • Copyright – if you introduce a new idea into the Franchise, there is a risk it may violate the T&Cs and possibly create legal issues. Likewise, there may be issues over IPR if you leave the franchise and launch a rival product that competes with your previous franchise owner. 

In a recent post, Chris Brogan, that social media superstar, brought up the franchise business model. His take is quite interesting. Read Map it Out.

Their Franchise v Your Business

Another problem with running your own business is that it’s a bit like raising children.

You overlook their flaws… cos their yours.

You forgive them for their mistakes… cos their yours.

You turn a blind eye to poor performance… cos their yours…

But that’s no way to run a business, right? 

For me, as a small business owner, getting emotionally attached to my products (which I created lovingly by hand) is that it is hard to step back and look at the business objectively.

Whereas with the franchise model, it’s easier.

I’m not tied at the hip to the business.

I see where it needs to improve and discuss it with the franchise owner. 

I look at the business purely in financial terms and take the necessary steps.

And, if the model is well defined, I can leave the running of the business to a trusted manager and then focus on other business ventures. 

Whereas with my own business, my brain never switches off. 

Having some distance from your business is a godsend when things take off as this is when the decision-making needs to speed up and the margin of error is much smaller. 

And remember, your franchise owner wants you to succeed. If you don’t, she will take it back off of you. They have to protect their brand too.  

What You Gain From Running a Franchise

There is one more reason you should consider with Franchises. The company behind this business have worked to refine each aspect of the business model, possibly for years. 

  1. When you enter into their business, you gain by seeing at first hand how a successful business in run. Compare this with all the mistakes you are likely to make when starting your own b
    usiness. 

  2. When you learn how the franchise model works, you can use this to develop all types of products, courses, education products based on what you’ve learnt there. 
  3. You can then go one further and setup your own franchise and use all the knowledge you’ve gathered. Again, compare this to starting a business with no previous experience. 
Conclusion

Before you choose either of these models, ask yourself what you could gain or lose by going either way. Put the financial rewards aside for a moment. If your goal is purely financial, my bet is that the financial model may return a better investment if you are new to business and have a model budget to start with. 

Starting your own business, with your own savings, can be very expensive if things don’t work out. With the franchise model, the blueprint is already in place.

Why wouldn’t you do it?

PS – Congrats to Joel on signing a book deal with Wiley Publishing and check out his free assessment tool while you’re there.

5 Business Plan Mistakes to Avoid

The importance of business planning is widely documented; however, guidance as to what constitutes good business planning is less clearly defined. This article aims to redress that imbalance by describing 5 of the most common mistakes that occur in business plans.

The importance of business planning is widely documented; however, guidance as to what constitutes good business planning is less clearly defined. This article aims to redress that imbalance by describing 5 of the most common mistakes that occur in business plans.

business-plan-tips

While the business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile exercise, most business plans are produced for a specific purpose. The plan is used as a means to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, e.g. securing funding.

Hence the plan needs to be tailored with the audience in mind, and good knowledge of their requirements will help shape a winning plan.

For example, the requirements a Venture Capitalist will have in assessing a plan where the author of it is seeking to secure a million-pound investment will differ considerably from those of a local bank manager who reviews a plan in support of a small-loan application.

While the former will be primarily looking for capital growth, the latter will be more concerned with security. To ensure you give yourself the best chance of being successful with your business plan it is important that the following common mistakes are avoided.

1. Incredible financial projections

One of the key areas business plan readers will focus on will be ‘the numbers’. Specifically, they will concentrate on the projected Income Statement or Profit & Loss.

The fact that numbers are projected does not mean that those figures can be included without due rigour or process. They need to be credible, defensible and consistent.

Of course forecasting is not an exact science, and the use of proxies can help the author ensure that the figures included are consistent with the story being told in the other areas of the business plan.

The figures must also show an ability of the company to generate free cash flows so that the business can be run profitably while satisfactorily servicing their debts at the same time.

All costs should be recorded including salaries to owner managers who run the company. It is not credible to generate P&L projections where expenses such as salaries are omitted to demonstrate managerial commitment or to artificially reduce losses, etc.

By the same token, no investor will be prepared to fund a business where the projected salary payments are excessive. While dealing with finances is not everyone’s strong point, there has to be someone on the management team who is cognizant with the maths.

A business plan will need to include everything from break-even projections to proposed return on investments to cash flow forecasts, and one of the key players will have to converse on these subjects in a convincing manner. They will also need to justify the numbers.

2. Not writing a clear business plan

A business plan needs to not only describe an opportunity, it must also detail how the opportunity can be exploited profitably and demonstrate the company’s ability to deliver what is required.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in plans that are inaccessible to the average reader because they are couched in technical jargon and unfamiliar terms.

If the reader of the plan cannot fully grasp who the prospective customer is, how that customer will be targeted, and the prospective benefits from the proposed solution, the reader will not invest. In an increasingly time-pressed world, people crave simplicity.

Many business plan recipients will only scrutinize the Executive Summary and the financials, using these as the decision points as to whether to read further or not. Hence it is of paramount importance that both the executive summary and the wider plan describes the opportunity in readily understood terms, such as:

  • What is the issue or pain point?
  • What is the proposed solution?
  • What are the benefits of the solution?
  • Why are these benefits compelling?
  • Who will benefit the most from these?

Once these are detailed, there will be greater transparency regarding the viability, or otherwise, of the proposed opportunity in terms of the company’s ability to profitably serve the target market.

3. No clear route to market

All opportunities are only ‘prospective ones’ without evidence that the target market can be accessed profitably. Many entrepreneurs are inherently product focused, concentrating their energies on ‘the idea’ to the exclusion of many other important elements such as how they intend to access their customer base.

The growth in popularity of the Internet has certainly helped niche producers find geographically dispersed customers, making many more ideas commercially viable. However, it does not come without its challenges, as creating awareness online is both costly and intensely competitive.

The business plan must include a comprehensive and credible analysis of how the company intends to secure access to their target market in a cost-effective manner. The low cost and barriers to entry for websites have resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of sites.

Ensuring that a site stands out from the crowd is easier said than done. Knowledge of who the customer is and how they buy is very important, but identifying them and accessing them on an individual basis is much more challenging and costly.

Your business plan needs a detailed marketing plan which identifies who your customers are and how you intend to market and sell to them in a cost effective manner.

4. No clear objective

What is the main purpose of the plan? If it is to seek investment in the business, it is important to clearly describe the investment opportunity and set out what you require up front. As mentioned previously there is a tendency amongst entrepreneurs to focus myopically on ‘the product‘ or ‘the idea‘.

This is where they expend most energy but alas that is only one part of the process. While the plan describes the concept in detail, it must also address the purpose of the plan. If it is to secure investment, one needs to recognize that investing is the investor’s area of expertise and they will be seeking an appropriate risk/ return for their investment.

Their primary interest will quickly shift from the product once they ‘get it‘ and ‘like it‘ to assessing the ability of the company (including management) to generate free cash flows to enable the business to grow while also returning cash to them. They will also seek to understand:

  • Why they would be better off investing in this business rather than leaving money in other asset classes?
  • When will they recoup their initial investment?
  • What is their expected return on investment?
  • Is the investment merely cash or do they need to bring additional things to the table?

Once the primary objective of the plan is clear, the author will be able to ensure that the key requirements of
the reader are met. Hence you need to state explicitly what you want and what the investor will get in return (typically stated as ‘I need £1 million in return for X% of my business’).

5. No evidence of real demand

Another main area of interest when planning is justifying the sales forecast or demand levels for the product or service.

There are two main elements to forecasting – the use of facts and the use of subjective assessment/ judgment.

However, no matter how unique a concept is, if the market is defined widely enough, it is likely that figures from alternative offerings (facts) can be used to help assess likely demand levels (judgment).

The aim of sales forecasting is to come up with some revenue figures that can be considered to be credible in the wider context. While earlier we countenanced against excessively optimistic estimates, here we are delving deeper to ensure there is, in fact, real demand for the offering.

Prospective investors will not want to invest at the very start where the risk is highest. Is there poof of concept in the guise of sales or firm orders? Have some sales occurred already? If not, why not?

Unless there is verifiable demand for the idea, the risks grow out of all proportion, particularly if the initial start-up or investment costs are high. Is it possible to test the idea in real time, either by identifying comparables in other geographic areas or analyzing Google search logs or selling via eBay?

Again the business plan has to convincingly address the issue of demand rather than concentrate in isolation on ‘the idea’.

For some investors, firm orders or evidence of sales will be the level of proof required and allusions to proxies or comparables will not be sufficient. Conversely if there are already strong sales volumes of the product and the company is facing financing or resource constraints which have forced them to seek investment, then the power shifts from the investor to the plan author.

Summary and conclusion

In summary, business plans generally have a purpose of communicating a course of action so as to garner support for the plan. Support inevitably means resources, with the primary aim of the plan often being to secure financial investment.

With this comes a certain obligation on the business plan author to ensure that the plan is prepared in as thorough a manner as is possible. By ensuring the above mistakes are avoided, the chances of the plan objectives being met increase substantially.

About the Author

Alan Gleeson, Managing Director of Palo Alto Software Ltd, creators of Business Plan Pro This is a guest post by Alan Gleeson, Managing Director of Palo Alto Software Ltd, creators of Business Plan Pro. He holds an MBA from Oxford University and an MSc from University College, Cork, Ireland and has been writing on entrepreneurship and business planning for a number of years.

This article originally appeared on BPlans.co.uk

5 Ways to Make Money With iPhone Apps

Here are five ways to build, market and make money from your first iPhone app. Also works for Google Android.

When your 11 year old son creates his first iPhone app, you know there is no excuse not to build your own. The advantage I (may?) have over my son is 20 years of marketing experience. So, I should be able to make money from this iPhone app, right? Here’s the plan to monetize, market, and promote my first iPhone app.

How to build your First iPhone or Android app

Before you start… spend some time researching best practices before defining your Business Plan for building iPhone and Android apps. For example, as Apple does not support Adobe Flash do make sure your designer creates animation that works or can be exported to different systems.
Depending on how you build your mobile application, you can use the same material to create an application that works on both the Apple iPhone and the Google powered Android.
Why do I need to know this?
You want to get the best return on your investment.

  • Instead of building a mobile app that is limited to an iPhone develop the materials so you can export them to other platforms.
  • Create the source materials, for example, images, in formats that work on both systems.
  • Develop the app so that you can also use parts of it for your website and/or blog. Use screens and animations from the app to build short movies – to market on YouTube – and for lead generation on your site.

In other words, before starting the development process, scope out where and how you can use the content to increase your reach.
The last thing you want to do is build an app…. and then have to build more material for your blog. YouTube account, and media kit.

Making Money From iPhone & Android apps

The app I’m building is about education. It’s designed to teach business folks how to speak 100 Chinese phrases they can use in business meetings in China.
There are – at least – five ways we can monetize it.

  1. Free – create sufficient interest in the product so that others download it for free. You can make money once you get enough traffic from the online advertising. So advertising is where you plan to make the money. The attraction here is that there is no upfront costs. The downside is that it’s not easy to get the critical mass to justify this approach.
  2. Paid – if the product get good reviews (more on that later) and is recognized as ‘best in class’ in its respective category, then you can explore charging. The default is usually .99 cents at least on the ITunes marketplace.
  3. Subscription – This means that you charge customers a recurring fee, for example, every month, for using the product. This works very well for certain business models. Education is one of these, which is why we’re focussing here.
  4. Add-ons – The Angry Birds app has sold 10 million copies at .99 cents each. One way they’ve increased their sales has been by offering other add-ons, usually for .99 cents that give you more skills or powers in the game. This is an effective way to offer a product at a low price and then tempt customers with other products as they use the game more.
  5. Physical Products – You can further expand your sales efforts by developing offline products. For example, the Angry Birds will soon be available as a board game. We’ll be selling the Chinese education materials as ebooks and flashcards you can print out.

Market your iPhone & Android apps

Next week, we’ll look into this a little more but for now, here are some ideas:

Get Reviews

  • Team up with a set of like-minded bloggers.
  • Send them free copies of your application
  • Ask them to review the application and send a link back to your site.
  • Encourage friends to comment on the reviews (positively of course) and generate as much excitement as possible.

Pre Launch

Before you launch the product:

  • Use your blog to discuss what you plan to do with the application.
  • Ask your readers for ideas on how you can build the application. They idea is to get them involved in the brain storming process and then share the excitement with them
  • Continue this process for at least one month.
  • Start to use the same strategy on Twitter, Facebook and other channels. For example, you could ‘seed’ questions on LinkedIn to generate curiosity.
  • Share screenshots on the prototype app with your readers. Again, ask for more feedback.
  • Connect with others who’ve develop similar (but not competing apps) and ask for advice. Remember to thank these folks (repeatedly) when you launch the product and in post launch blog posts.
  • Thank everyone who responds by email.
  • Give special discounts to early buyers. Use this to get referrals, which is critical for getting more credibility. See John Jantsch’s book, The Referral Engine, on how to do this right.

Product Launch

When you launch the product:

  • Countdown to the product launch on Twitter and your blog.
  • Develop a Twitter Plan.
  • Choose your keywords wisely.
  • Share this Twitter Plan with your affiliates and business friends.
  • Get your friends to send out the same message on Twitter the same day. It has to be the same day. Use the same message and send folks to the correct landing page.
  • Generate as much buzz as possible for 2-3 days. Drop everything else and focus on this.
  • Write a series of blog posts that discuss the new product. Schedule these in quick succession.
  • Get your network to leave as many comments as possible.
  • Do the Retweets and Facebook likes to drive more traffic to the blog.
  • Where appropriate, send folks to the Apple ITunes store or to eJunkie if you’re selling it online. We plan to use eJunkie.
  • Thank everyone!

Post Launch

The final step is to:

  • Automate the sales process so you can move to the next projects.
  • Fix any errors that were encountered by customers when using the product.
  • Reply to everyone who helped you get there.
  • Share more on Twitter on how well the product launch went well. This is where you give as much credit as possible to your network. Don’t forget to spread the message on their Facebook pages as well.
  • Use Google Analytics to examine the sales and landing pages. Creates goals in GA and observe these very closely.
  • Begin to look at the feedback and see what type of products you can upsell. You’ll only know this once the product goes live and you engage with customers.
  • Return to all the LinkedIn groups and remind folks of the product, thank them for their help and ‘share’ the sales page where they can see the end result.

Next Steps

Building a successful IPhone/Android application involves more than developing the product itself. Most folks focus too much on the app and overlook the marketing plan.
This means that they end up with a wonderful product but never find the customers. They also don’t build the network is critical to generate the necessary buzz and, more critically, gets your product in front of their customers.
Those are five ways to make money with an app. What else would you add?

How To Find New Ideas For Your Web Business

I don’t know about you but I don’t look for new business ideas in garden centers. Which is interesting for two reasons. First: I associate garden centers with functional activities (not creative ones). Secondly: I had a fixed ideas on where to find creative inspiration. On both counts I was wrong.

I don’t know about you but I don’t look for new business ideas in garden centers. Interesting for two reasons. First: I associate garden centers with functional activities (not creative ones). Secondly:  I had a fixed idea on where to find creative inspiration. On both counts I was wrong.

Why New Business Ideas Are Everywhere

You can develop products (not sure about services) in R&D departments and then try to launch them but something is missing… people.
The seeds for new business ideas are found where you find people.

  • The idea for the walkman was made when a Sony designer saw teenagers skating on the boardwalk and wondered how could they listen to their radios.
  • The idea for designer watches – think Swatch – was to connect customers love of jewelry with the opportunity to collect the entire range. No one bought a swatch because it kept better time than other watches.
  • The idea for perfume arose to mask the stench from the aristocracy who didn’t bathe. It wasn’t the done thing so they lashed on oddles of perfume instead.

New business can be generated:

  • By looking for twists on existing products: think boots and dogs and you get booties for pampered Chihuahuas. What’s the next animal you could design clothes for? Hats for dogs? Bracelets for kittens?
  • By making it more exclusive the other similar products: think the IPad which is very limited compared to laptops but, due to its high price point, makes it very exclusive.
  • By looking for ways to frighten customers into feeling the product is a necessity: how many parents have bought mobile phones to keep in touch with their kids ‘just in case’ something happened.

How to Find New Business Ideas

You’ve read that innovation is key to creating great new products, right?
The dilemma is that it’s hard to pull new ideas out of thin air.
My experience is that new killer products are usually an ‘incremental’ improvement of an existing product, usually with a nice marketing twist.
There are exceptions, of course. It’s hard to think of what precluded the web browser, but the concept of the PC, for example, had been around for decades.
So, how do you find new business ideas?
Here’s a suggested approach:

  1. Visit your local garden center.
  2. Select some products that you can experiment with.
  3. Examine the product and see where you can add one new feature that would improve the product design.
  4. Then see how you could position this so it would appeal to the current buyers or
  5. How you could position it so new customers would be attracted.

If you don’t have the time or budge to do this, here’s an alternative, especially if you’re selling services.

  • Visit your local shopping center.
  • Wander around one of the shops and observe how the staff interact with customers.
  • Identify three ways staff could assist customers. I bet you’ll identify at least five.

If you develop this habit of observation, especially where customers and staff interact, you’ll see many areas where services could be improved, customers could be up-sold more products, and business process could be refined.
Most folks see the flaws in the system – complaining why checkout lines are so slow – but never ask the obvious question. Why? And then see how the process can be improved.
It’s all about ‘looking for clues’ that identify the gaps and then finding practical solutions.

The Motivation For Changing Perception

What I learnt is that creativity is everywhere if you take the effort to find it.
Or, to flip it around, if you place yourself in the shoes of the product designer, then the most mundane activities can be immensely rewarding. Instead of being stuck in the local DIY center, you can see it as a ‘shopping expedition’ for new ideas.
If the idea of starting a business appeals to you or – are was the case with me – you feel frustrated in your current job and want to setup a new business (but not sure where), then start developing the habit of looking at existing business ideas and seeing where they could be improved.
Sometimes, it’s very simple. For example, I was looking for a new mobile phone last week. All I wanted was an inexpensive phone to make calls with web surfing thrown in.
What phone did they try to sell me? Yes, the most expensive. Their strategy was to go for bust with each customer.
Rather than trying to sell me ‘any’ phone and get me into their sales database (and all the upsells down the line) they lost me within five minutes. Forever.
A little tweaking with their sales strategy would have made a huge difference.
More customers = More sales.
But not everyone gets it. And that’s the opportunity for you.

From Business Idea to Business Plan

The idea of starting a new business – and writing a business plan – is pretty intimidating for most of us. Where I went wrong was assuming it would be more than I could handle. So, I avoided it until my mid-30s. My mistake.
Once I started, and armed myself with the best business planning tools on the market, what had seemed impossible slowly began to bear fruit. And that’s where business ideas morph into successful business plans. It’s an iterative process. Every effort takes you one step closer.
Where do you find inspiration for new business ideas? And where do others go wrong?

Why Attending Harvard is (Almost) As Important As Graduating From Harvard

Ever wonder why people send their kids to such expensive colleges? After all, the syllabus is much the same, the facilities may be better, but there is another reason. When you send your kids to Harvard, for example, it’s not the education that counts but the connections you make. Connections and influence are what you’re paying for.

Ever wonder why people send their kids to such expensive colleges? After all, the syllabus is much the same, the facilities may be better, but there is another reason. When you send your kids to Harvard, for example, it’s not the education that counts but the connections you make. Connections and influence are what you’re paying for.

Why Attending Harvard is More Important Than Graduating

Graduating is the end goal for all students. It’s what makes the four years of efforts count. At least with most universities.
But, if you send your kids to a more prestigious school, the prize it slightly different.
For example, you go to an interview…
“Can you tell us about your education?”
“Sure, I went to Harvard and….”

What Attending Harvard Implies

This opening sentence changes the relationship between you and in the interviewer very quickly.
“I went to Harvard….” implies many things.
It suggests you’re

  • Successful
  • Connected
  • Trustworthy

And

  • Elite

Note that I said ‘implies’. It doesn’t mean you are any of these things but it influences how others relate to you.

  • Maybe they lean forward a little more when you speak or
  • Nod their head when you make a point or
  • Withhold judgment whereas with others they’d be more severe

Why is this so important?

The Bill Gates Harvard story

Bill was asked why he dropped out of college. He turned it around and said it wasn’t true. He’d taken a break. Suggesting someday he’d go back.
A HR friend said to me once that ‘saying you attended a prestigious college was often interpreted as graduating from the college, which may not be true.’
But in the listener’s mind, the fact that you ‘attended’ sets in motion a chain of events that influences how you are respected, trusted, and paid.
Is my HR  friend right? Or are things different for you?
Image by patricia drury

Why the Wrong Investor Will Kill Your Business Plan

Business Plan is finished. Business Case is rock solid. Marketing Plan ready to go. What next? You need cash, right otherwise you can’t move from business plans to business planning.

Business Plan is finished. Business Case is rock solid. Marketing Plan ready to go. What next? You need cash, right otherwise you can’t move from business plans to business planning.

So, where do you go to get the investment? Or, to be more accurate, who has the cash you need? The biggest mistake startups make is choosing the first person who offers them money and not waiting for a more influential investor, someone who benefits their business other areas besides generating cashflow.

The Difference Between Money and Investment

The mistake is thinking that all money is equal. And it is. Up to a point.
Think about it. The dollar bills in your wallet are all the same when you go to buy gas. And no shop owner will turn you down when you peel out a hundred dollar bill.
From a transactional level, it’s all the same.
But from an investment level, it’s very different.
How come?
The difference is confusing cash with investment.
Cash is what you get from the ATM.
When you started out the focus was on

All this makes sense. But none of it will happen without funding.
Investment is what you get to move from a business plan into business planning.
And building a business takes more than cash as we’re going to see next.
FYI – sometimes investment is not cash or capital outlay, but that’s for another post.

Where to Find Money For Your Business Plan

The three classic avenues for getting funding as family, friends, and investors:

  • Family – This is fine for small investments. Your family may give you money as a gift and don’t really expect returns, at least not immediately.
  • Friends – May have more business experience, especially if you work on a project that relates to your business but things can become problematic when the boundary of friendship and investor gets blurred. Wearing two hats can be uncomfortable.
  • Investors – This is where we go when we’ve exhausted other possibilities and, if the project is significant, where you should go as you need more funding that your friends and family are likely to offer.

You can see what’s coming next, can’t you?
In the movie The Social Network, one of the pivotal moments is when the founders of Facebook realize that their cashflow is running out and they need to find investors who can continue to keep the business afloat AND also open doors to larger opportunities.
This leads us examining the type of investor you choose.

5 Different Types of Investors

Let’s stop a moment and look at recruitment. Imagine you’re hiring someone for your new business. Do you want someone who:

  1. Wants the job simply to pay the bills
  2. Has a great track record in your industry but is really a 9-5er or someone
  3. Is passionate about your line of business, matches your core values, and has serious contacts

You’re probably going to choose the third.
Why?
Because they’re more than an employee. They will help you through the hard times, come up with creative solutions, and contribute to the business on different levels.
And this also relates to your choice of investor.
When you choose an investor, you’re looking at:

  1. Connections – Can this investor open doors for me? How can this person help the business expand? Do they have connections overseas, in Asia, in the government?
  2. Endorsements – If this person invests in my business, others are more likely to invest as they trust his/her judgment.
  3. Status – Some investors create publicity and buzz on account of their public profile. Giving a small percentage to a high-profile figure in return for the publicity may be worth it, especially if you plan to dilute the shares at a later date.
  4. Patience – You don’t want a nag calling you at all hours looking for status updates. An investor committed to the long haul will let you get on with the work and stay out of your hair.
  5. Strategic – If your investor is well connected, they can accelerate your business development by recommending your product to other parties. Connections in government agencies can be very effective in this respect.

When you see it from this angle, the cash injection is one part of the equation for startups. It’s the other factors that investors bring that you need to gauge.

How Strategic Investors Accelerate Business

Now that we understand that there are different types of money, what’s the smartest way to use their connections, status and influence?
For example, investors with ‘reputation capital’.
Investors with ‘reputation capital’ help you in the following ways:

  1. Direction – Seasoned business-people know when to step back (and let you work) and when to intervene when you’re losing direction. For example, Facebook brought Bill Gates and Warren Buffet onboard. Their experience in business negotiations, mergers, and leadership will all contribute to Facebook’s strategic direction.
  2. Credibility – When you’re starting out, you’re nobody. But a partner with ‘reputation capital’ has the status you need. Their credibility gives you credibility by association. The fact that you’re formal business partners will open more doors for you.
  3. Connections – This investor can make strategic introductions for you. From this angle, you’re buying into their network in exchange for a part of your business. Likewise you get access to their Address Book, something you’re unlikely to get before you meet them.
  4. Global Scope – In additional to local connections, seasoned business people will have overseas experience. This accelerates the process of opening offices in different countries and may also smooth red tape or at least show you the mistakes to avoid when partnering in foreign countries.
  5. Leadership – No one knows it all. And while you may a great business plan, your investment partners will shape the future of your business in ways you hadn’t thought of.

Conclusion

If you’ve developed a product from scratch, your focus is on the product development, writing the business plan, and writing the marketing plan. And that’s more than enough for one human being.
So, when you go looking for investment, especially when you’re short of cash, it’s tempting to accept the first investment offer without thinking it through.
After all, cash is cash, right? But, it’s not.
Look at your investors and determine who bring the most to your company… in terms of influence, experience, and connections.
Another point: the ideal business partner will help you develop your product AFTER you’ve launched it as they’ve been through this process before and know what comes next.
Which is what we’ll talk about next week.
So, what do you think? What’s your best or worst story you’ve hear about investors. Please share below.
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