The Knack or virtual knack to create a successful business

  • Posted on November 5, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

Do you have the knack to create a virtual business? If you’re thinking of starting up a virtual business, or have an emerging business that can benefit from the virtual model, I’d recommend you read The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham. The Knack offers a common sense approach to entrepreneurship and truly embraces a clear understanding of the common pitfalls, erroneous impressions, and unrealistic perspectives that can often impede emerging businesses. In some regards this can be summed up as unjustified optimism that plagues most startups. The Knack addresses issues like cash flow planning, margins, expenses (and creeping expenses) and discounts in a simple and straightforward manner which should be of help to any small or emerging business.
Of course, if your business is virtual, or you apply my virtual model to your current business, you’ll inherently keep expenses low and improve efficiency. This improves the odds for almost any emerging or small business, though you still want to have the knack for keeping cash flow, margins, expenses and discounts in check. Check out The Knack – it’s a good read…

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Just because you build a web site, send out an emailing, or create a blog doesn’t mean anyone will pay attention. It reminds me of the old saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?” On the internet, everyone is there to hear your message, but it may not make a sound they can or will hear. Thus it’s all about targeted marketing and messaging, bringing a message that rings true to your specific target market, so it will make a clear and compelling sound when it arrives. This is easy to say but harder to do. What we’ve seen at StartUpSelling, at least in the B2B space, is a combination of targeted outbound calling combined with eMarketing, web seminars and a current web site seems to do the trick nicely for essentially any industry. We call this multidimensional marketing and find there is an order of magnitude difference in using a blended approach to a singular approach.

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My 2 Cents about $20 A Gallon

  • Posted on October 13, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

Have you read $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner? It’s a very interesting read as he predicts what the future will look like with rapidly rising oil prices. Like most predictive works, there are some things which seem plausible, and others that do not. His basic premise, the inevitable depletion of oil reserves and incremental rise in gas prices seems very likely. However, there are two key factors that are not truly addressed. First, the author presupposes that there will be no cost effective replacement for oil before gas hits $20 a Gallon, if ever. He argues that oil is so cheap, there is no alternative that could provide a cost effective replacement. I’m not ready to buy into that argument; I believe that a combination of greed and technology (is that contemporary capitalism?) can still provide a viable solution. Secondly, and more applicable to the theme of my blog and upcoming book (Your Virtual Success: Finding Profitability in an Online World) is the extremely positive impact of virtual business on energy consumption. Imagine the reduction in consumption if half of the current workforce worked from home instead of commuting to an office. The reduction in energy consumption would be staggering. Combined with solar, wind, hydro and emerging green technologies, and we could see a dramatic change in consumption. Will this happen overnight? No, but it certainly could happen before we see gas hit $20 a gallon.

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Posted in: business, eco-friendly, emerging business, Entrepeneurship, green, Home Office Business, Uncategorized, Virtual Business
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Going Postal

  • Posted on September 14, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

It seems pretty strange that the U.S. government still delivers mail six days a week. After all, the postal service has been running at a deficit for years, in some cases, multibillion dollar deficits. At the moment, it does seem reasonable to have mail delivery services a few days a week. After all, we still get some bills and checks in the mail, though the trend is clearly moving to on-line banking and direct deposit. You may receive the occasional important letter or notification, and a favorite catalog from time to time. To accomplish this, according the United States Postal Service Web site (www.usps.com), these items are delivered by, “685,000 career employees and 101,000 non-career staff, making it the second-largest employer in the United States (behind Wal-Mart). The Postal Service employs more workers on U.S. soil than General Motors, Ford and Chrysler combined.” The site goes on further to say, “The USPS operates the largest fleet of commercial vehicles in the country—some 212,000 vans and trucks.” That’s a lot of vehicles, a lot of gas and a huge expense! Imagine the energy savings if we stopped sending junk mail, encouraged opt in email, cut down on the USPS delivery days, and encouraged electronic signatures for legal documents. Imagine the post office needing 100,000 or even 150,000 fewer vehicles! But even this logic is faulty. It won’t be long before most traditional catalogs are replaced by cheaper, faster, better on-line versions. It won’t be long before people stop writing hand written letters and notes. When was the last time your twelve year old wrote a letter and mailed it to a friend? The last time my 20-year-old daughter wrote a letter was six years ago when she was in summer camp and didn’t have access to a computer. My 33 year old nephew receives all his bills on-line, and is still using the same book of traditional bank checks received in his first order. It won’t be long before traditional mail is almost completely supplanted by email, eBilling, Instant Messaging and digital documents. And all of these events will move us into a progressively more pervasive on-line existence and a more environmentally friendly communication and distribution system. Don’t go postal, go virtual.

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The Skype Video is a little dark – What’s Up With That!

  • Posted on September 5, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

Let me illustrate some of the virtual changes which are impacting our behaviors today, and are almost taken for granted by the next generation. Recently, I came home to find my daughter and her friend Christie sitting next to each other in front of an HP laptop. There was a voice coming from the laptop that sounded familiar to me, it was in fact coming from their good friend Hannah. Hannah was in Sydney Australia, my daughter and her friend were in our living room in Boston. They were engaged in a Skype video call. The connectivity was amazingly fast, Hannah’s real time video which consisted of her head and shoulders and the background of her dorm room were impressive. She might as well have been in the town next to us, never mind a continent over 10,000 miles away. Even more impressive, the call was free and the software to accomplish this downloaded in a couple of minutes. Welcome to the next generation of technology, cloud computing. According to the AT&T Web site, AT&T began transatlantic telephone service in 1927 initially between the US and London. The initial capacity was one call at a time, at a cost of $75 for the first three minutes. In 2009, on a free Skype video call between Boston, Massachusetts and Sydney, Australia which lasted about 30 minutes, one of the three girls commented about the video looking a little darker than usual, and said, “What’s up with that?!” Welcome to the next generation of buyers, their expectations are high, as is their comfort level with all things digital. If you want to sell to their generation, you need to understand the virtual world. And if you want to set up a cost effective virtual business, these are the types of tools you can utilize to your advantage. startupselling.com www.alanblume.com

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Getting Creamed! Pharmacuetical firms must not be virtual.

  • Posted on August 25, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

A friend of mine has a mild case of acne. They see a dermatologist every few months. On their most recent visit, their physician prescribed Tazorac Gel. Tazorac Gel is a face cream that comes in a small 200 gram tube and is supposed to help alleviate acne. Of course, that is what I thought until my friend told me the retail price of a one month supply of Tazorac. Would you care to ponder a guess? Sorry, I don’t know what you guessed, but it’s too low. Try again. Sorry, you’re still too low. The retail price for a one month supply of 200 grams is… drum roll please… $1,022.99. I’m not kidding, and I don’t know why it needs to end in .99 when the cost is over $1,000. Online, I see prices much lower than that, and because my friend has health insurance, their co-payment was $50. This is a good example of why healthcare is broken. I don’t know what the insurance companies pay for Tazorac after my friend paid their $50 co-payment, and I can’t imagine why a pharma company needs to charge so much that the retail price of this cream is over $1,000 per month. Expensive drugs mean higher insurance premiums for all of us. Perhaps the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries need to be more virtual to lower costs. Maybe they could also trim a few dollars off their executive compensation. Allergan, Inc. is the manufacturer of Tazorac and Botox, and in return for running Allergan, their CEO “David Pyott… saw total compensation of $12 million last year, according to an Allergan filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and an Associated Press report. The bulk of the payment, $8.7 million, came from stock and option grants. Pyott was paid $1.2 million in salary, $2 million in non-stock bonuses and $46,482 in other compensation, including $20,500 in a tax and financial planning allowance and a $10,500 auto and gas allowance.”* Normally, you would have to sell a lot of tubes of face cream to cover CEO compensation of $12 Million, but here’s the good news, at $1,000 a tube, Allergan’s CEO can continue to ride in style, with a $10,500 auto and gas allowance.
* Allergan’s Pyott: $12M in 2006 Compensation by Michael Lyster, Orange County Business Journal Staff, 3/22/2007

www.alanblume.com

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Why – because Generation Y Gets It

  • Posted on August 10, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

Enter stage left, or at least from the room to the left, my 20 year old daughter, college student and blogger. She works virtually as an intern for Mother Nature Network (MNN). MNN has assembled a group of college students across the country to blog about eco-friendly projects, businesses, and community activities. I had suggested she research commuter behavior statistics and compile this data into a poignant blog entry about the amount of fuel wasted every day that we commute by car. She thought this sounded like a lot of work, estimating hours of research for a modest albeit somewhat interesting blog entry. Her approach was to create a video blog interviewing me in my home office, using me as an example of how people could be more eco-friendly if they worked from home. She did a video that panned from her room to my office next door. The result was effective. She accomplished a better result, with more effective material in a much shorter span of time. Why could she do this? She looks at things from a Generation Y perspective, part of the Skyping, Blogging, Instant Messaging, emailing, internet based generation that will become a far more virtual and eco-friendly generation than my generation. Her video link is below. http://www.mnn.com/local-reports/connecticut/student-blog/video-dads-green-business
Who is Mother Nature Newtork MNN http://www.mnn.com/about-us? According to their web site: “MNN wasn’t designed for scientists or experts. It was created for the rest of us, the regular person who wants information written and created in a way that everyone can understand – both in personal pursuits and business decisions. We’re your one-stop resource and an everyman’s eco-guide offering original programs, articles, blogs, videos, and how-to guides along with breaking news stories.”
www.alanblume.com startupselling.com

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Posted in: business, eco-friendly, emerging business, Entrepeneurship, green, Home Office Business, Uncategorized, Virtual Business
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E is for Efficient and Emarketing and Eco Friendly

  • Posted on August 4, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

One of our new west coast clients was seeking to grow their insurance agency business in the midst of the current economic malaise. They retained our services to help them build an email list and run web seminars for the prospective clients. In about 120 days, we had compiled a list of about 1,000 in profile prospects. We created an email campaign offering a web seminar on some of the important nuances impacting healthcare plans and continually increasing insurance rates. In the first web seminar, 14 HR executives registered, 10 attended, and within 30 days, one of these executives signed on with our client for a $1.25 Million premium. This represents the efficient, Eco friendly, virtual sales and marketing model which we will all embrace. There was no paper, no stamps, no printing, no traditional collateral, and ultimately, only one face to face (client) meeting. Like it or not, the virtual, digital world is Good, Fast and Cheap, and is here to stay.

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Blockbuster is lackluster

  • Posted on July 21, 2009
  • by Alan Blume

I switched to Blockbuster from Netflix some time ago. Blockbuster offered an advantage. Movies which I rented through the mail could be returned to the store, and the store would replace the return with a movie AND mail back my USPS movie to Blockbuster. This worked great because we could get 2 to 3 movies a week for our $12 per month subscription. Enter stage left the bean counters. Somebody must have said that they don’t want to treat customers that well, thus anyone receiving a move exchanged at a store, would have to return that movie before Blockbuster would ship another. Yes, it is confusing, but the long and short of it is, this new policy throttles movies to reduce the number I can now receive.
In a way, I can’t blame blockbuster. Their industry is about to go the way of the record industry. The day will soon come when most movies will be downloaded on-line. After all, why wait for snail mail. Soon, when cable offers a more reasonable on demand subscription rate, or when movies can be easily shared between a PC and Plasma screen TV, Blockbuster and Netflix will transition or die. The virtual model is knocking at their door, if they don’t answer, someone else surely will! www.alanblume.com

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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 startupselling.com.

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