The publishing industry needs to take a cue from the music and newspaper industry. My recently purchased Amazon Kindle is a marvel to use. It offers access to 300,000 books, faster, cheaper and more easily than you could get in a traditional model. I can type notes as I’m reading and my Kindle keeps track of these notes. I can change the font size to make it easier to read, search for a book, surf the web or download the latest best seller. All from a small, thin device the size of a modest book (but much thinner). Let’s say I wanted to buy a hard copy best seller which retails at $27.99 at Barnes & Noble. I have a couple of choices. I could drive to the store, pick up a copy and pay a discounted price of perhaps $20.99. I could pay $18.99 if I ordered it on-line (shipping fees might apply). If I paid an annual store membership, my price might only be $16.79. In all cases however, I have to wait to get the publication, or at least take the time to drive to the store to pick it up. The Kindle version of the book costs $9.99 (or less), and you receive it immediately. It takes just a couple of minutes to download from the virtual Kindle store. The cost of a Kindle as of this writing is $359 for the 6” version and the more recently introduced Kindle DX at 9.7” is $489. For an early generation model, it’s extremely impressive, it’s a 3G (connects via wireless almost anywhere without charge), allows you to download books in a minute or two, surf the web and even receive emails with attachments. The day will come in the very near future where traditional paper based books will become an anachronism. Children will receive a Wireless Reading Device (like Kindle) and download all their books to this one small device. Imagine the benefit to schools districts if the costs of books were cut in half, and students always had the most recent versions. The day of the 30 pound backpack will soon disappear in favor of a completely digital approach.
For that matter, perhaps a significant portion of classroom teaching can be conducted more efficiently, and by better qualified teachers by leveraging virtual teaching models. Lesson plans, outlines and homework assignments can be easily downloaded to PCs or Wireless Reading Devices. Subject matter experts and leading authorities can offer lessons via satellite link, prerecorded video or synchronous collaboration platforms. Much of this can be done through cloud computing, meaning there are no school infrastructure requirements (such as server based application software) other than a PC, laptop or Wireless Reading Device on the desk of each student. How far away are we from this? Behavioral change management is often a great challenge to adoption of any sort. But the paradigm shift of the user base has already happened. Our children today are a digital, text messaging, social networking, blogging, MP3 savvy bunch. They are ready to embrace these changes now, it will just take a while for teachers, school administrators and text book publishers to catch up. Is there a winner or loser in the on-line teaching world? Arguably we all win, and the outdated paper based distribution system loses. But that’s a win for us too, because the new model is digital green, the old model is environmentally wasteful. More on the virtual paradigm shift can be found at www.alanblume.com or www.startupselling.com.

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Hard Copy Newspapers – Urban Legend

  • Posted on June 5, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

In  the year 2029, my daughter came home from school and asked me, “Dad, did you ever read a newspaper that was actually printed on paper?”

“I sure did, and if we go the the Museum of Natural History, they have one on display”, I said.
“Did they really print them on actual paper”?
“Yes, they printed them on large sheets of paper, folded them, and delivered them to millions of people.”
“What do you mean they delivered them? They didn’t bring them to each person did they!” She exclaimed.
“Yes dear, they actually drove them to people’s homes, and put them in a plastic bag to make sure they didn’t get wet.”
“Are you kidding me Dad? Why would they do that? You mean they cut down millions of trees, actually printed on real paper, folded the paper, put them in plastic bags and drove them to people’s homes so they could read them?”
“Exactly!”
“Real funny Dad – you’re not going to make me fall for that one. You had me going yesterday though – I liked the story about people who listened to music by vibrating a needle on a plastic disk. Funny Dad – real funny…”

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It’s difficult to get published – conventional wisdom states that less than 1% of would be authors receive an offer from a reputable publisher. A few weeks ago I signed my first book deal. This posting reviews the virtual sales and marketing efforts which were leveraged to accomplish this. I worked on a book about virtual businesses for about a year and upon the completion of a basic draft, decided to contact some literary agents (it’s easier to find a publisher if you have an agent representing you). I found several free internet sites listing agents including:  www.1000literaryagents.com, www.writers.net and www.writersdigest.com.  Some sources estimate that top literary agents receive about 400-1,000 unsolicited book queries every month, in other words, it’s very competitive. I started this sales and marketing campaign as I would at www.StartUpSelling.com for any business. I selected 1,200 agents from the free online lists above. In most cases they had an email listed for the book query submission (that’s agent speak for a formal proposal a writer must create to whet the interest of a prospective agent). As with any sales and marketing campaign, it usually begins by building a prospect list. But hold on a minute, this isn’t a smart, targeted, virtual sales and marketing approach. You are much better off targeting a niche or specific profile than you would be sending out emails to 1,200 general literary agents. I refined the list and culled through the agents to identify 100 who were interested in business books, non-fiction and prescriptive books (how to books). I focused first on agents listing business books as a specific area of interest. This information was available for free on the sites mentioned above and the respective agency websites in the instances that the agency actually had one (there are some agencies that have very limited websites or don’t have them at all).
The list building, culling and niche targeting were done in just a few days. I decided to do a test run of 30 agents, and would then do another wave of 70 agents if necessary. I had read that it was extremely difficult to sign with an agent, and that you might not even get a response to a manuscript inquiry (query letter).  As fall approached in 2008 I sent out my first wave of emails. Here are the results for both waves:

Wave 1 Statistics

  • 30 Sent
  • 4 Interested
  • 12 Not interested
  • 14 No response

Wave 2 Statistics

  • 70 Sent
  • 5 Interested
  • 20 Not Interested
  • 45 No response

Overall, 9% of the agents expressed interest, 32% were not interested and I received no response from 59% of the agents. Normally you would follow up a campaign with a personal telephone call/voice mails. In this particular industry, however, the rules of engagement state that agents prefer no calls. After all, in a system that rejects 98% of all would be authors, the number of follow up calls would overwhelm the agents. As a side note, there were some highly personalized responses and suggestions from agents who did not have interest at the moment and some standard form rejection letters too. I sent out wave two a week after I sent the first wave of emails. I did not market to any agent requiring a query on paper.

Most of the results came in within the first two weeks of the respective waves. Of the 9% expressing interest, their approach varied dramatically. Four agents asked me to email my full proposal; another four asked me to print out a full proposal and snail mail it (or FedEx) it to them and one asked me via email if I would like him to immediately contact publishers on my behalf to see if they had interest.  I immediately sent my proposal to the four agents who requested it via email attachment. About a week later I sent out one paper copy to one of the four agents who expressed a particularly high level of interest in my query. In retrospect, I don’t know why I bothered – this is a really stupid approach I liken to the current issues with traditional print Newspapers – the distribution system makes no sense (though it was just fine in 1949). Of the four agents who received my full email proposal, two asked for an exclusive (a period of time whereby they could solely determine if they wished to represent me) and two asked if I would speak with them right away. One of the agents who wanted to have an immediate discussion was Wendy Keller from Keller Media. Wendy asked if we could set up a conference call to discuss my query. I sent her a GoToMeeting invitation, and within 24 hours, we were meeting virtually in cyberspace. Later that day, the agency representation agreement was sent and signed digitally, there was no paper that ever exchanged hands. It took me less than four weeks from the time I decided to approach the literary agency market to sign with a well known agent. About 6 months later, my agent secured an offer from a well known business book publisher, Career Press. My book which is to be called Your Virtual Success, Finding Profitability in an Online World is due out at the beginning of 2010. Leveraging virtual sales and marketing tools is effective, inexpensive and reusable. My virtual business model expands and contracts easily and is far more profitable. I look forward to exploring the nuances of this in my upcoming book from Career Press, Your Virtual Success, Finding Profitability in an Online World. www.startupselling.com  www.alanblume.com www.kellermedia.com www.careerpress.com

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Posted in: business, emerging business, Entrepeneurship, Getting published, Home Office Business, Uncategorized, Virtual Business
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Leveraging Brick & Mortar Unemployable

  • Posted on April 9, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

We were looking for someone with the following qualifications and attributes:

Seasoned sales professional, articulate and intelligent, strong sales track record, enjoys prospecting and working remotely with prospects, good written communication skills, superior verbal communication skills, strong closing skills, Bachelors degree, Microsoft Office literate, work from home venue, self motivated, independent – AND – and that they would be willing to work with no initial compensation on a commission only basis (or nominal draw against commission).

Impossible to fill this position you might say. But in the virtual world, this position is not difficult to fill. We can tap into stay at home moms, stay at home dads, retired or semi-retired professionals, and those who just cannot leave their homes for a myriad of reasons. So we posted a free ad on Craigslist, received a couple of dozen responses, closely reviewed four and have now hired a superbly experienced individual to work with us. This individual sought a stay at home professional position, extreme flexibility, and compelling income opportunity through a commission only program. We offer – flexibility, opportunity and income potential. They can meet their children when they get off the school bus without concern about punching the clock or reporting there whereabouts. We have used this model successfully for five years. We enjoy a competitive advantage by working with superior, highly qualified people that traditional brick and mortar businesses cannot employ.

This makes us flexible, profitable, and able to easily expand or contract when necessary. We don’t invest in offices, furniture, heat or lights – just people and technology.  And nobody gets paid until they produce something – if someone is earning – they are producing. It’s a better model and a better lifestyle for everyone we work with.  www.alanblume.com

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Micro Market Yes – Micro Manage No

  • Posted on March 27, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

In a Virtual Business Model, highly targeted, extremely specific, micro marketing is a great way to differentiate your company and message from the competitive throngs. For example, why market to high tech organizations, when you can market to software companies? Why market to software companies when you can target your marketing to smaller software companies between $5 Million and $25 Million in revenues. Why market to those companies when you can micro market to SaaS software companies (Software as a Service) for example? Now we have a very specific, highly targeted group and we can tailor a message specifically to them. We can even go the extra distance and create a buyer persona for the specific titles we are targeting: CEO, VP Business Development, VP Marketing, etc.
Conversely, in a virtual model we should focus on virtual employee or contractor goals, not their working schedule or process. A graphic artist for example should be paid on a completion date for a final deliverable. Set the goal and the date; don’t manage their time or methodology. Telesales people can be paid upon call production or appointment setting efficacy. Don’t tie them down to specific calling hours (other than it must be general business hours). Let them operate at their peak times and periods of peak efficiency. If you’re using web designers, create a simple process for your personal imprint, initial mockup, full scale mockup and approval. Create a series of milestones (and dates), and manage the results, not their time.
Leveraging the Virtual Model and simplifying your own management process should help optimize your time. After all, you should be virtually managing the results, not the personnel. The Virtual Model minimizes office politics, water cooler time, non productive marathon meetings, and the peripheral gripe sessions. Be more efficient – go virtual.  www.startupselling.com

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Our virtual business is expanding while other, more traditional businesses are in the midst of a major contraction. This spells o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y for those companies which can take advantage of the talented labor pool that is now available. It’s always challenging to hire the best and brightest. But in a virtual model, we can deliver greater value because all of our investments are in people and technology. Thus our prices are often 30% or 40% less for comparable services than our “traditional” competitors. We can deliver better results because we are investing in better talent and current SaaS (Software as a Solution) web based technologies like GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar and SalesForce.com. For our lead generation telesales operation, we are finding amazingly talented people across the country who have been laid off after years of efforts for competing firms. The same holds true for our marketing contractors, web designers, graphics team, writers and editors, all of whom work virtually. And of course, we can target recession resistant industries because our model is highly elastic. Thus, we are enjoying what we hope will be a continued expansion. But if we do ever experience a softening, the virtual model makes it much easier to contract quickly, gracefully and without the typical adverse impact to the bottom line. And everyone who works with us – understands this model. That’s one of the reasons our teams are motivated without the usual “motivation and team building techniques” required in a tradition brick and mortar environment. www.alanblume.com

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Growing a green email list

  • Posted on March 10, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

Over the last nine months we’ve been working with an East Coast insurance agency helping them to grow their email list. This is a classic, virtual, you reap what you sow story. In a recent emailing about changes to medical benefits, this East Coast firm attracted 250 Fortune 1000 type registrants to their web seminar. Email list building is an art and a science. The obvious benefits of email marketing over snail mail include: It’s reusable, it is postage free, it is immediately measurable, it is immediately actionable, it is green and it is highly cost effective. When is the last time that 250 in profile prospects asked to listen to you for 30 minutes?

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GoToMeeting (or comparable web meeting products) is the backbone of any Virtual Business (and most certainly mine). When comparing the cost and efficacy of an on-site meeting located 60 miles away versus a virtual meeting there are many factors to take into consideration:

1. Lost time to be in appearance ready condition
2. Lost travel time going
3. Lost waiting time
4. Automobile costs (not just gas – add wear and tear)
5. Parking and Tolls when applicable
6. Lost travel time returning
7. Lost time to transition back to productivity after return

So let’s calculate this example in a more precise (and compelling way):

1. One HR: Lose an hour to shower, dress for success, get directions to your appointment, pack your laptop, park and walk to lobby (as opposed to a virtual t-shirt and slippers wardrobe)
2. One HR: Lost travel time to drive to appointment
3. 15 minutes: Lost waiting time ensuring you are early and ready for your appointment
4. Auto Costs $66: It’s not just the gas, cars are expensive to operate (120 miles @ .55 mile)
5. Parking: $20 for parking and tolls on average (free in the suburbs and more expensive in the city)
6. One HR: Lost travel time returning
7. 15 minutes: Unpack laptop, reconnect to network, change (who wants to work virtually in a suit), move back into production mode
8. Bonus Loss: Appointments that cancel on-site, doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a productivity killer

In the example above, an on-site meeting costs $66 (assuming no tolls or parking) plus 3.5 hours of lost productivity. Assuming you earn $100,000 per year ($50 per hour), the lost productivity costs $175. Total loss for the meeting is $241 compared to almost $0 for a GoToMeeting virtual meeting. The most insidious of these losses is moving in and out of production mode. When I’m waiting for my clients or prospects virtually, GoToMeeting is ready, up and running and I’m working in the background. My clients and prospects prefer on-line meetings because they are faster, more efficient and more flexible. If they have to cancel (or I do) production is not impacted. So when calculating “The Cost of Driving to a Business Meeting”, make sure you use the 55 cents per mile metric, not just gas. And build in the lost transition time on top of the lost driving time. You’ll be surprised at the difference in efficiency. At StartUpSelling, 99% of our meetings are done via GoToMeeting (or GoToWebinar) for clients, prospects and our virtual contractor work force. It makes us much more efficient and responsive. After all, when an email or call comes in – we’re at our virtual office and ready to respond.

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Go Virtual – Never Get Fired Again

  • Posted on March 5, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

The more  virtual your business, the more flexible the hours, the lower the overhead, the greater the profit potential, and the easier it is for the entrepreneur or independent sales professional to use their strengths doing what they do best instead of expending energy and money trying to shore up their weaknesses.Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur starting with just a few hundred dollars, a small business scrambling for venture or expansion capital, or a sales professional in insurance, stocks, real estate or any other services business, you need to leverage the virtual model.

It’s easier to succeed in a virtual model and the virtual model can be applied to almost any business. Unlike Ben Franklin’s famous quotation, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, in many virtual business, “A penny earned is a penny saved”! With low or no overhead, revenues produce far more profits. Working for yourself, working from home, working without the encumbrances of traditional brick and mortar, free from rent, overhead, receptionists and commutes, you can be more productive, will achieve greater independence and be rewarded with more flexibility.

For over 5 years I’ve enjoyed this lifestyle and my company, StartUpSelling, Inc. has been successful, profitable and flexible. I love it and the people I work with, all contractors based from their home offices, love it too. Do you have a virtual business? Are you looking to start a new business? Are you ready to leave the rat race? Are you tired of a control freak boss? Have you been laid off, downsized or just plain fired? Let me know your thoughts and experiences about the new trend toward virtual. It’s a better path for many of us!

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