Archive for March, 2012

Customer service call centers
March 25, 2012

I am of the opinion that you can find out how dedicated a company is to great customer service by evaluating how easy or difficult it is to get a representative of that company on the phone.

Lots of companies bury the 800 number on their website where it isnt easily found. They are telling you “please don’t call”. If the “Contact Us” link brings up a web form and not a phone number then you are in for a long ride. Most companies do publish a number somewhere, however, so you can call if you are diligent enough to locate the number.

At this point it is important to point out that i said you can call them but made no promised about talking to anyone. With increasing annoyance, phone systems are now made of menus for everything. Im of the habit of just saying “agent” as soon and as often as possible until the system connects me to someone. But in recent years that doesnt even seem to work. Press 1 for this, press 2 for that and so on and so forth.

The big picture is puZzling: if a customer cares enough to call then they likely need to have an issue that needs to be solved or a question answered. Yes, automated systems are cheaper then call centers, but the increase in customer dissatisfaction is a steep price to pay. EVERYONE would prefer talking to a human over a dial-menu automated system.

Friday night I called the Local apple store to Ask a question about Apple Care. Apple uses an automated system that sounds like a human and is supposed to be able to help. I was calling from my backyard and didn’t have my product serial number so the system just kept repeating itself in asking me for it. I hung up and called back and chose a different option only for the system to tell me I had to go online for that kind of help. I called back and said “agent” and the system kept prompting me to do different things such as tell it what I was calling for. After a few seconds of saying “agent” the apple phone system HUNG UP ON ME.

So now i was fairly ticked off. The fourth time I called back I raised my voice and – using a few swear words – told the automated voice that I wanted to talk to a human.

The system replied: “transferring you to an agent right away”.

So at least now I know how to talk to someone at the end of the line at Apple.

****

If you make it difficult for customers to reach a real live person than they will eventually take the hint that their individual concerns are not as important to you as they are to them. And they will take their business elsewhere. The key to delivering a great customer experience is to make sure the customer knows they will be taken care of AFTER they have initially given you their money. At Signature-Electronics, we work hard to make sure that problems are solved proactively. We aren’t perfect, but at least if you have a problem you’ll never have to worry about getting a member of our team on the phone.

Free Startup Idea – Travel Anywhere if the price is right.
March 11, 2012

My wife and I like to travel but we rarely care where we go. We just like to go experience new things together. We’d be as happy with a weekend in Denver as a week in Des Moines. Here is the idea…

Build a travel site.
Instead of making me enter the city I’m leaving from and the place I’m going to and when I want to go, simply do this:

1. I enter where I want to leave from.
2. I enter how long I want to be gone.
3. I enter how soon I want to leave – 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months.
4. Show me everything available, lowest price to highest.

That’s it. Just show me where I can go for the least amount of money. I would book 6 trips a year with this, if not more. If Southwest is flying from Austin to Atlanta next week for $140 round trip, I’d probably go. If Delta is flying from Austin to Long Beach for $160 round trip in two months, I’d probably go. Just show me where I can go in the near term for the least amount of money. Collect the $7 referral fee that airlines pay travel sites.

That’s it.

Show me everything available.

How to sell Efficiency
March 9, 2012

Many new products in the B2B world promise to increase “efficiency” in the workplace. The leading idea in B2B sales for a long time has been to sell something that helps the customer make more money with the time/work they have or make the same amount of money while working less.

Both of these are essentially what selling “efficiency” means: the goal is to make the customer’s processes work faster or easier or more cheaply then they do now, thus leading to a greater return on invested capital, time, or energy.

The problem is that most B2B solutions do not increase efficiency or make life easier for the customer. At best they are simply new ways to manage the same old problems. At worst they are simply another tool in a sea of promised solutions that actually makes like more difficult and cumbersome for the customer.

So how do you sell efficiency? The most important part of the sale occurs long before you’ve pitched the customer. First and foremost, you have to make sure your product is truly an improvement over the existing solutions. Trading out Salesforce for SAP isn’t about efficiency anymore then using Chatter instead of Yammer is. Both are simply solving the same problems in different ways and come down to user preference.

The best way to sell efficiency is to sell a solution that solves two problems for the effort/price of one. A solution that makes email more efficient up front but generates a sales pipeline in the background is a solution selling efficiency. A solution that makes storage simple up front while providing automated documentation in the background is selling efficiency. Making it so the user can do task A while ALSO getting task B done without additional effort is selling efficiency. Combining tasks in to one platform is the smallest type of efficiency you can sell, and the one most easily replaced when a truly efficient solution comes about.

If you want to build a product that makes your customers more efficient, don’t spend time making the work they do easier; that’s a marginal gain. Instead, build a product that takes the input needed for one task and automatically generates results for task 2, 3, 4, etc. Reducing your customer’s workload a little is not efficiency. Reducing your customer’s workload a LOT is.

At Signature Electronics we work to reduce the time and cost of procuring large bills of material. We work hard so our customers don’t spend too much time pricing out components when they would be better off talking to their customers or working on new designs. Check us out at http://www.signature-electronics.com!

Signature Electronics provides complete kits, ready for production
March 7, 2012

Whether your next build is large or small, high mix or low, Signature Electronics can help streamline your supply chain and reduce your total procurement costs. Send us your BOM and we’ll reply with a single price, one-box solution that keeps your build on schedule and saves you money!

Visit http://www.signature-electronics for more information!

How to make money from your blog.
March 2, 2012

My friend asked the following:

“My wife is looking to start a website / blog / cookbook, and we were trying to figure out the best way to go about it in terms of monetizing it. Hoping to get some tips from the folks here who have done these sorts of things successfully and built up web/publishing businesses at home that have generated some cash.

Here’s my initial I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-talking-about thinking in terms of options:

1. Write book, seek to have it published through traditional mechanisms, maybe a website/blog to follow
2. Write book, self publish, perhaps just as E-book in Amazon store etc. (fairly easy to do and inexpensive from what I understand, and if it catches on, you can start raking in some decent loot)
3. Write blog, collect revenue from Google adwords or some other advertising mechanism (my thinking on the upside here is you can generate interest perhaps, but the downside seems to be: why would anyone pay for your book on Amazon when they can read your blog for free?)
4. Start website that includes blog and other info there

She has a couple really interesting ideas that relate to baby stuff and cooking stuff, and I think if done right, and done the right way logistically, they could end up being pretty interesting.”

Making money on the internet is easy. Most people thing it is hard, but that is because most people see money in binary form – there is none of it or there is lots of it. The truth is that making a LOT of money on the internet is extremely difficult. In fact, making more then a LITTLE money on the internet can be a challenge. But making SOME money – going from $0 to a number higher than $0 is extremely easy. Most people also are averse to the hard work it takes to make money online. THey think that they could/should be able to put up a website and sit back to watch the money roll in.

You can make minimum wage on Mechanical Turk. Minimum wage sucks when you’re making hamburgers or cleaning cars, but it’s probably not too terrible when you’re sitting on the couch watching the Knicks game. You can create content for content farms and buy up domains and park them with ads. The money isn’t likely to be much more then minimum wage either but it IS out there for the taking. If you want to mix online and offline then there are TONS of customer service call-centers that outsource their workers to home offices (like Alpine Access). They pay closer to $10 an hour.

There are also a zillion different ways to create a blog and monetize it (which hits at my friend’s question). Ads, affiliate links, selling a downloadable PDF or e-book, linking to something at Click-Bank….there are no fewer than 100 different ways to “put up a website” and “make money.”

But it takes time.

Lots.

And.

Lots.

Of.

Time.

The adage that “time equals money” is nowhere more true then online. If you create a blog and put Google Ads on it (this is the simplest way to make SOME money online) then you will likely start off with too few visitors to make more than a few pennies each month. However, if you spend TIME posting interesting content (your own or linking to others) then your audience will build and eventually the amount of money you make from the ads will increase. How much content will it take? Presuming you aren’t in porn, then it takes A LOT. And it takes time to make that content.

* * * * *

I maintain a blog that I haven’t touched in nearly four years. The blog has three posts on it. One is called “World War 1 in a Nutshell.” One is called “Monet vs. Manet.” One is a history of political parties. All three posts took me about an hour to write. I have never promoted the blog and rarely mention it to anyone. ANd through normal search traffic it garners about 20 page views each day, all of them unique. The page views are almost evenly split between the Monet post and the War post. So let’s say that I would have created a post each day that was of the same quality and produced the same results (10 page unique page views a day). One post per day times 4 years would mean that I’d have around 1500 posts now. That would be about 15,000 page views a day. Assuming a $2 CPM (that is $2 for every 1,000 impressions) I would be earning $30 a day, or right around $10k for the year. Having an extra 10 grand a year would be awesome. Spending 1500 hours (6 months of 8 hour work days) is a lot of time to make $10,000. That comes out to a wage of ~$6.66 an hour.

If I had loved writing those posts I probably would have kept at it for free, so the $10,000 would have felt easy. But the posts had to be researched and I didn’t really have a passion for it, so working for that long to build the content seemed a waste of time. As a result, I leave the blog up and get a laugh every time college exam week rolls around and traffic spikes as World History and Art History students head to the internet to find information.

* * * * * *

To my friend’s question I would say this: the most basic way for his wife to monetize the blog or site or whatever is fairly simple.

1. She needs to do something that she has passion for
2. The topic needs to be something that she will be interested in for a while.
3. She WOULD DO FOR FREE.

The last part is important because she may be posting baby food recipes or blog postings or links to articles or whatever for a long time without any noticeable increase in cash flow. The second part is important because her own baby will grow up and maybe discussing babies and baby food will no longer be interesting to her when she’s running junior to soccer practice.

In other words, is this a topic she is passionate about for the long term? Or is it a topic she is interested in right now because it applies to her current life in a phase that will change? The distinction is important; the internet is littered with Poker blogs that all seemed to start in 2003 (when a non-pro won the WSOP and suddenly everyone thought they could be a poker player) and haven’t been updated since 2006 (when all those people realized that making money playing cards is a grind).

As for affiliate links and e-books and click-bank traffic, the answer is “sure, why not.” Starting a blog with the intent of making money is typically a bad idea for the reasons I detailed above: if you are interested in money more than the subject matter then you are likely going to lack the passion to do it for a long time. So the monetization doesn’t matter since you’ll have moved on to something else before you make any real money.

My advice to my friend and others interested in getting online and making some money through a blog is to worry about creating a blog they enjoy posting on as often as possible and worry about the money later. The challenge is easy: post at least one thing to a blog every day for six months. Every day means seven days a week. Post 180 days in a row and (1) you will have some decent seed content and (2) you will either be sick of the blog or you will be more excited then ever before. And if it’s the latter, finding ways to make money through ads or your own self-published book or whatever will start to make sense and will be easy.

Lest you think that I’m leaving you hanging without any upside, there is a way to make a LOT of money online that doesn’t include building the next Google or Facebook. It takes just as much time (or more) than the previous examples but it can be very lucrative for individuals.

Build a brand. Make every posting, every link, every video, everything out of your mouth and on your site lend credence to the idea that you (1) know what you are talking about (2) are entertaining or (3) both.

Bill Simmons began his own personal sports blog in the mid-90’s because he loved pop culture and sports. He no doubt hoped to become a professional writer at some point, but it is unlikely he envisioned he would be interviewing the President of the United States 15 years later for his personal website. His passion and unique voice built his brand, a little bit at a time, until running Google Ads or selling affiliate products was beneath him; he sells his own books and has an ad network devoted to his site. Simmons took his passion in a blog and cultivated it to “The Sports Guy” brand that is well known (if not well respected) by a large number of sports fans.

Gary Vaynerchuk took a passion for business and turned his father’s liquor store in to an online brand worth millions. He started by making videos about wine that were entertaining and informative. He may have the worst pallet on earth but it doesn’t matter at all: his brand makes him an authority on wine and business and it is paying off. He runs a venture fund and makes money writing books and doing speaking engagements.

You can do the same, but it takes passion, dedication, and TIME.

So if you want to start a blog and gain value from it, focus on something that you love. This blog is about technology business and board level component kitting. That’s because those are things we love.

Making money online is not hard, but the rate or return for blogs and content creation is typically in direct relation to the time, passion, and energy put in to the content. There are no exponential growth curves and big pay days. Still interested?