Monday, January 13, 2014

New U.S. Postal Service Shipping Rates

The U.S. Postal Service is proposing a rate hike for shipping rate. Shipping rates could increase as much as 2.4 percent as soon as January 26. If your business relies heavily on shipping via USPS, it may be time to check costs.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Snapchat Said "No Thank You" to $3B from Facebook

Here's the short version. A small company called Snapchat was offered a $3 billion buyout by Facebook yesterday (yes, that's a "B").

Snapchat said "No Thanks" even though their userbase is relatively small compared to Instagram and Twitter and they aren't even profitable.

Snapchat offers a mobile phone app that allows you to take a picture, share it online, then after a few minutes it disappears; very handy for those college students who have had a few beers and fewer brain cells and intend on getting a job someday.

So why would Snapchat turn down $3B, triple what Google paid for YouTube? For that matter, why would Facebook make the offer in the first place? Facebook has a lot of money, but they aren't stupid.

I had some thoughts on the matter, but then a colleague published this on his Facebook page. He pulled my fuzzy thinking and absolute clarity.

Kyle Graham, kudos to you. Here is his answer in its entirety:
Kyle Graham - brainiac
[KNOWLEDGE BOMB] Lately, a lot of people have been scratching their heads as to why Facebook offered Snapchat $3B to purchase them, and why Snapchat turned them down. Seems crazy, right!?!?! Especially for a seemingly unknown outfit.
Well, not so much...
Let me break it down.
This actually isn't that new. Back in 1997, Microsoft scooped up Hotmail for $400MM (then worth barely anything...CRAZY at the time), Skype was scooped up for $2.6B in '05 by Ebay. GeoCities by Yahoo in '99 for $3.56B. YouTube for $1B in '06. And more recently, Instagram for $1B last year. 
The list goes on-and-on...
Makes no sense right?
Well, here's the deal.
Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, etc. are all in an all-out-WAR for control of the Internet.
It's not about traditional valuation, EBITDA, etc. That stuff is pointless in these cases...
You see, there's this phenomenon seen especially in the social networking world called the "Network Effect" which basically means the value of a network becomes exponentially more valuable the more people that are on the network. In other words, for every additional user that signs up for Snapchat, that network becomes exponentially more valuable.
Combine that with the viral nature of these networks, you get a situation where the VALUE of these networks climbs EXPONENTIALLY fast.
So the reason why these companies like Instagram and Snapchat are getting gobbled up so quickly and for so much cash, having made NO money is because of this very fact.
...but here's where it gets really crazy.
If Google, or Facebook, or any Internet giant *DOESN'T* acquire them FAST, with enough time the 'fledgling' network will become SO valuable it might actually eclipse Google/Facebook.
It's happened before (e.g. its the *very* way Google & Facebook started)
Also, there's a point in viral growth called the "saturation point," where it becomes literally IMPOSSIBLE for another network, no matter how much resources they throw at the situation, to catch up to them. 
You can liken this phenomenon to a runner who's speed increases exponentially over time. Every second he runs exponentially faster than the last. Eventually he'll be running SO FAST that no matter what you do, you literally CAN NOT over-take him. This is what's happening.
The only way to stop the CRAZY growth of companies like Snapchat & Instagram is to buy them, and even then, you gotta hope you're not too late, or that the other party is too stupid to know what they have!
This is EXACTLY why Facebook came out of nowhere and is giving almighty Google a run for its money now (and arguably why Eric Schmitt got demoted).
...and this is **EXACTLY** why Google Plus never had a fighting chance. It was too late...Facebook reached saturation.
Bottomline, if these network companies DON'T get acquired in time, they'll be too valuable to be purchased. 
This is why Snapchat turned down Facebook. 
This is why Twitter turned down Facebook. TWICE! in the face of many 'experts' calling them 'stupid' for doing that. Now, they're valued at over $35B. Who's stupid now??
We live in some interesting times...
A time where a couple of geeks in a dorm can create a quick hit and topple over GIANT within a matter of a couple years. 
...and the ONLY defense these giants have against it is acquisition.
They'll pay WHATEVER it takes.
And they don't even care what the service does. Disappearing photos, really??
So, as long as you can show significant network effects and hockey stick growth, the Internet GIANTS will be scared silly and throw money at you as a DEFENSE mechanism.
...cuz if they don't, you might be the next Facebook or Twitter.
Thanks, Kyle, for sharing your insights and giving me permission to publish it here. I think you are spot on!

[shameless plug] Kyle built a piece of software (tenminutepages.com) that's brilliant. It uses WYSIWYG technology to create landing pages. I recommend it.

Basically you can spend the next couple of years learning HTML CSS JavaScript etc. then take a couple of courses in marketing and business writing… Or you can give Kyle 95 bucks. It's a no-brainer. If you have stuff to sell, just go buy it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Picture Passwords and more cool Lock Screen customizations in Windows 8

One of the new features of Windows 8 that is particularly useful to tablet and mobile users, and particularly annoying to PC users, is the Lock Screen. When you put your machine to sleep or to AFK (away from keyboard), a Lock Screen comes up. On a mobile device or in an office, you want to keep your desktop hidden from prying eyes when you aren't paying attention. However, if you have Windows 8 in your home or office, and you are the only user, it can be annoying.

Here’s how to get the most from the Windows Lock Screen:

Customize the Lock Screen

You can change the background image of your Lock Screen. Open the Charms Bar (the top right corner of your start page) and choose “Settings”. From there select “Change PC Settings”. Most of your customizing can be done here.

Turn Off the Lock Screen Password 

If your PC is in a secure location, you may want to disable the password on login. From “Change PC Settings”, click “Accounts” then “Sign-In Options”. The last option permits you to turn off login passwords altogether.

Create a strong password 

If it is necessary to use a password on your PC, create a strong password. The best passwords have a mix of letters, numbers and symbols such as the @ sign. Remember it, but don’t make it easy to figure out. Everyone knows your dog’s name and your kid’s birthday. Be more creative.

Simple Password or PIN

Windows also has a second password option, the Personal Identification Number or PIN. This is handy for signing in after a bathroom break. It’s also handy as a back up plan when you forget that strong password you just created.

Create a Picture Password 

One of the coolest features of Windows 8 is that it’s optimized for touch screens and telephones. For these you can create a Picture Password. The start screen image acts as a map. In the “Accounts” area, choose “Picture Password” and follow the instructions. Now you can trace a pattern right on top of the image. Don’t forget to update it if you change your Lock Screen background.

Change the Background on the Lock Screen 

You can change to any photo. Under “PC Settings” choose “Personalize” in Windows 8, or in Windows 8.1, choose “PC and Devices” then “Lock Screen”. You can choose from one of their pictures or click browse to use one of your images. Again, don’t forget to change your Picture Password if you’re using that feature.

Change Notifications on the Lock Screen

The default notifications are the time and date. I kept these, but you can add several other apps by selecting them under the “Lock Screen Apps” section of the previous settings page. If your boss sticks you in a closet with no windows, it might be nice to know the weather. If you communicate by email, you can have your mail app inform you when something new arrives.

As much as I hate “waking up” my computer at work, the Lock Screen does have some nice features which at least make it useful. For tablet users, you should love it. Come on, a Picture Password is cool. Old passwords are so 2007!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

25 Tips for Windows 8 - Mastering your Desktop

25 Tips for Windows 8 - Mastering your Desktop

I just bought a new PC running Windows 8. After I have some time with it, I'll write a formal review, but meanwhile, here are 25 Tips and Tricks to help you get started using the latest Microsoft operating system.

Windows 8 Tips and Hacks


#1 The taskbar is more functional than ever. You can right click on "lock the taskbar" to lock or unlock the taskbar. Several features can only be used after its unlocked. 

#2 Grab the top edge of the taskbar (unlocked) and you can drag it up or down to give yourself more room for icons and tabs. 

#3 The taskbar doesn't have to stay on the bottom. Again, unlocked, you can click and hold on a blank section and drag it to the top of your screen, or even to the left or right edge.

#4 Select the taskbars properties menu by right clicking on the taskbar. You can change the menu location and choose how large the icons appear. I like small icons, but if you are using Windows 8 on a tablet, larger desktop icons may be preferred. 

#5 In taskbar properties, choose the "taskbar buttons" menu. Click "combine when taskbar is full" and similar windows will stack on top of each other for that Windows XP feel. 

#6 The notification area in the right hand corner can be customized. Click the little "up" icon just to the left of the notification area. Here you can see all the background programs running on your PC. 

#7 Right click the taskbar and you can "cascade windows" and each window will organize on your screen to overlap with just the top drag bar showing.

#8 Speaking of the top drag bar, grab any window and drag it to the left or right, top or bottom and the window will snap into place, securing it to the edge of the screen. 

#9 Need a new window for your application? Shift clicking on any open document in the taskbar will open a new document using the same application.

#10 You can hide the taskbar altogether. Right click and select "properties" and chose "auto-hide the taskbar" and it will disappear until you roll your mouse against the edge of the screen, causing the taskbar to reappear.

#11 The taskbar has its own toolbar menu. You can add handy tools such as search boxes or internet address box. 

#12 You can even create a new toolbar.  Under the toolbars menu choose "new toolbar".

#13 Use peek to peek at a minimized window. To turn on peek, go to taskbar properties and choose "use peek". Hovering over the tab will show a miniature version of that window.

#14 Task Manager is a great way to look under the hood of your PC. You can look at all open applications, background services, and see how much of your system resources are being used for each. Check out how much of your ram and what percentage of your computing power is being used up to the second. 

#15 Keep your desktop organized. Many people tend to drop things here and create clutter. However, if you don't mind the clutter, you can also change the size of the icons making more room for more files. You can keep shortcuts or entire files here.

#16 Right-click the desktop, under the view menu, you can choose whether or not your icons are aligned to the grid. Aligning to the grid keeps your desktop orderly but turning this off gives your more flexibility to put icons anywhere on the desktop. 

#17 Auto-arrange icons can also be done under the view menu. This lets Windows rearrange things into an orderly fashion. This is particularly useful when two icons get accidentally placed on top of each other. This will separate all icons into columns.

#18 Hide everything. Right-clicking on the desktop view menu and you can uncheck "show desktop icons". Your icons will disappear, but the files are still intact. You can use your documents window under "desktop" to get to your files or simply turn them back on. This is very handy when doing a screen share presentation and you don't want the viewers to see that you have seven copies of various Angry Birds games on your computer.  It's also handy when the boss walks by.

#19 Sort the icons by choosing "sort by" after right-clicking on the desktop. You'll have several options including of course alphabetically. 

#20 Start a new folder or file right on your desktop by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop "new".

#21 Left-click on the little clock on the corner and a handy clock and calender will pop up.

#22 Right-click on "adjust date/time" and you can add more clocks from any time zone. Do you need to know what time it is in Japan, Malawi, Paris and Jamaica? No problem. 

#23 You can set the clock manually, or have Windows do it for you. Windows 8 can even automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time, although it won't help you wake up an hour earlier the first day it changes.

#24 Right-click on the desktop and choose "personalize" and explore all the options for changing your desktop wallpaper, screensaver, fonts and sounds. 

#25 Right-click on the desktop and choose "screen resolution" to change the number of pixels your monitor displays. This is a great way to get all the text larger for easier reading, or choose a higher resolution for more working space. The one identified as "recommended" or "native resolution" is the best size for your monitor and a good place to start.

Little tweaks to your desktop can enhance your productivity, make the desktop more comfortable, and even reduce eyestrain by adjusting colors and sizes. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dun & Bradstreet Phishing Scam


Today I received an e-mail from Dun and Bradstreet requesting that I respond to a complaint filed against my company. It had an attachment, and requested I download it, read and respond. I'm always cautious, but this e-mail was extremely convincing.

I contacted Dun & Bradstreet directly and learned that it was in fact a phishing scam, and customer service has been inundated with inquiries today. They are currently in the process of investigating.

Phishing scams are generally used to target the general public, but clearly scam artists are upping the ante.

Use these best practices to prevent phishing scams while not missing a legitimate communication.

Rule #1: Never open an attachment unless you are expecting it. It used to be they told people not to open attachments from e-mails they don't recognize, but today that's not good enough. I received malicious e-mails from extremely credible companies and even personal e-mail addresses. Even e-mails from your mother should be suspect unless you are expecting it.

Rule #2: Never open an attachment until you verify it, even if it may be legit. Some malicious software can replicate and read e-mail themselves from an infected device. If you get an unexpected attachment from someone you know, call them or e-mail them to verify that they did in fact send you an attachment.

Rule #3: Never open an .exe file for any reason. Application files pose the most risk. If it is necessary to send an executable file, don't use e-mail at all. Today there are better ways of transferring large files securely.


Other notes:

  • As I've said, .exe files are the most dangerous but other types of files can also have embedded content. Any web link could be potentially suspect. Word processing documents such as .doc or .docx can also contain malicious script. Generally .txt and .rtf files are safe. Image files are generally safe as well. It's important to note, however, that just because a file ends in a safe suffix doesn't mean that it's absolutely clean.
  • Malicious e-mails don't necessarily need attachments. If they provide a link, often this link will take you to a look-alike site with login information. This is particularly dangerous when it's a financial institution such as PayPal or your bank.
  • If it's from a company you use, type the web address directly into your browser, rather than clicking a link. Links can be masked, and will often use is similar, but not exact domain.
  • If it's from a company you don't necessarily use, use Google to search for the company to make sure you have the legitimate website.
  • Call the company, providing them with as much detail as possible. It's important that large companies know when their customers are being targeted.
  • Don't rely on antivirus software. I use one of the better antivirus software's available, Outlook has built in protections, and I use a second antivirus software to screen the e-mails individually as they arrive. This particular scam penetrated three layers undetected. Unfortunately this isn't uncommon because most software can capture things they haven't seen before. Even the best antivirus will never catch everything.
What if it is legitimate business e-mail?

Most companies today know that sending attachments through unsecured e-mail is bad practice. If you receive an attachment from a place of business that you did not request and discover it is legitimate, advise the business to investigate other protocols. The most intelligent customers will be cautious, and some may see it as a sign that the business doesn't act professionally. It's easy and free to transfer files when needed without using e-mail.

What is the law regarding e-mail scams?

Unfortunately, there is no law against attempting to trick someone. Companies can use copyright law to sue individual who misuse their trademarks, but to my knowledge this has never been applied to phishing scams.

In a previous event, I contacted the FBI in Philadelphia which has a dedicated staff focused on Internet fraud. Unfortunately, however, the FBI cannot file charges unless someone has actually been damaged. Almost being tricked is not enough to press charges. You actually have to suffer monetary damages before you can pursue a criminal complaint.

Report phishing scams to the companies, and other scams to the FBI. It's good to generate awareness, however unfortunately, it's a very difficult problem to police.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead violated all the rules when it came to promoting music. They encouraged fans to copy music, record concerts, trade tapes and much more. In an era before the internet, the Dead were guilty of everything the recording industry attributes to the decline in record sales.

Breaking all the rules, they became the single greatest concert band in history. Their fan base literally outlived the band, and their merchandise decorates an entire sub-culture to this day.

I just ordered this book on Kindle, and I'll post some reviews and insights as I read.  I wanted to share the link early, because many of you may want to follow along.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ten Brainless Techniques to Increase Web Traffic


This is the final part of my series “Why Your Website Isn't Generating Serious Cash.”

As I said in the original, one reason your business website isn't generating cash is because you simply forgot to tell people.

We get into the habit of doing business with standard tools, then looking at our websites as a separate marketing device.  A good website, one that makes money, is always integrated with all the other marketing you do both online and off.

I always ask new clients to send me lots of marketing materials.  Sometimes I get simple business cards and brochures, and other times I’m given much more substantial collateral that their company has invested tens of thousands of dollars to produce.

Inevitably there is a gap between offline and online promotion.

Here are ten ways you can close the gap and encourage more website transactions.  Remember, the first step is to have a decent website that encourages people to buy.  If your website isn't “a closer” your marketing money isn't well spent even if it’s very web-centric.  But once you have a good website that you know can close more sales, start directing all of your marketing toward that website.

Ten Brainless Marketing Activities You're Stupid Not to Try:


Business Cards – Business cards don’t sell anything, ever.  They are just a tiny way to encourage contact.  However if your website can sell, make sure your business card directs people there.  It’s not enough just to have www.tweednet.com listed on your card.  Try offering a call to action or incentive. “Subscribe to our weekly marketing tips at www.tweednet.com.”

Brochure – Do I have to spell it out?  Reread the business card paragraph only make it bigger.

Radio – Do you have a nice pronounceable and easy to spell domain name?  If not, get one if you intend to do radio broadcasting.

Voicemail – Have all your employees include your website in their voicemail message.  They missed getting someone at their desk, but maybe the website can do the work your employee was going to be asked to do.

Hold Message – If your business has a call center that occasionally generates a customer queue, make sure to give your on-hold customers something of value.  Perhaps they will even hang up and order online.

Email Messages – First, if your email ends in @gmail.com, @live.com, @yahoo.com, @verizon.net or (God forbid) @aol.com, it’s time to get branded email.  Assuming you already have a branded email address, don’t forget to include your website and a call to action in the signature of your email.  This is even more important today because 40% of all email is read on a mobile device.  People don’t always have the convenience of your website bookmarked in their browser.

Facebook – There are lots of ways to market your business on social networks, but chances are you and most of your employees use Facebook for personal use. Make sure everyone working for you lists your company under employment and properly tags your Facebook page and/or your website.  Encourage them to be proud of the company they serve.  The same goes for other personal pages such as blogs, LinkedIn and Google profiles.

On Location - If you go to most restaurants, retail stores or service businesses, you won’t see signage encouraging people to visit your website.  If you have a retail location you probably even have a doormat that says “Thank you, please come again” on the way out the door.  Put your website in many prominent locations.  Restaurants miss opportunities.  They offer free WiFi but forget to invite people to their own website.

Product Packaging – Put a call to action on your products to encourage your customers to use your website.  Remember it’s always easier to resell to an existing customer than to attract a new one.  Make sure you are capturing the attention of the people already using your products.

DVD and other Media – Do you have a free DVD or Flash drive as a giveaway? Not only can you brand the packaging, but you can also link from the actual media.  Most people watch videos on web enabled devices.  Even DVDs are usually played on a computer or game console connected to the internet. Your freshly updated website is just a click away.  This works particularly well at trade-shows   People are reluctant to throw away a DVD or thumb drive without checking it out at least once.  They may not remember your web address, or type it in from your business card, but an AV presentation makes your website just one click away.

Presentations – Giving a speech?  Making a sales pitch?  Chances are you are using PowerPoint or another presentation software.  Again your website could be one click away.  Make your pitch, then show customers exactly how to buy right on your live website.

Direct Mail – Direct mail is getting attention again, but it can be expensive.  Save money by mailing simpler pieces such as post cards, but include your website for more information.  Better yet, use a QR code and they can visit with a quick smart phone snap.  They could be visiting your website before they get back from the walk to the mailbox.

You may have noticed that there are twelve brainless activities in my list of ten.  I didn't think you’d notice ‘cause obviously you’re not terribly bright or you’d already be doing them.

Seriously, these are pretty simple and most businesses can do eight or ten out of the twelve; so get out there and start promoting your super highly effective “closer” website.

If you don’t have a “closer”, call me.  I can help with that.

Credits: Thanks to illustrator, Mark A. Hicks and Discovery Education for the brain clip art.