Saturday, February 27, 2016

Get feedback from others than yourself and the value of mentoring others

This week I'm so grateful that my school work was a bit slower as we just moved and are trying to finalize up our home sale.  What a relief the break has been.  I am grateful though that I've been able to get a lot of great feedback on my ads.  For my business class we had to create our advertisement and post it to our discussion group to get some feedback on it.

What I've learned once again from this experience is how important it is to get other's feedback because you think differently than they do.  No matter what business idea or thought process you might have you need to vet it with other people, the best ones would be actual customers.  Just throwing money at an advertisement without at least getting a few other opinions is just flushing your money down the toilet.  My group helped me identify a way to change a few words in my ad to make it better and more appealing to people.  I also got to see a lot of good examples of ads that were very creative and compelling.  If I ever sell actual inventory products I have a lot more knowledge on using action words such as including the sale or product price in the add (30% off spring sale), recipes for even the pickiest eaters.  I really like how the ads catered to a specific market and communicated clearly.  

We also had a chance to peer review our group's websites and I've come to realize how much I enjoy mentoring people on website design / website building.  I saw a lot of good websites and also was able to give some good feedback to people who are just starting out.  I've come to understand how enjoyable it is to pass on knowledge to people who don't know as much as I do in website development.  I would like no matter where I am at in my businesses in the future to continue to participate in mentoring groups and to be mentored as well.  

This post is shorter than my others, but I expect future weeks to be a bit longer.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Simplify, Ad Groups, and Keyword Advertising

If I were so sum up the most important point of this week it would be to avoid juggling so many balls when you are starting a business.  To give some background currently I work full time as the principal software engineer for Dynactive Software building online education.  I also am in the middle of selling my primary residence home (hopefully closing on March 1st!) and we just moved into our home that we were renting out.  I also have five children with various needs, school homework that must be done (fortunately which is about building my business), and my business Discover and Change that I am trying to launch with my partner Kevin Skinner.  Realistically if I had thought things through I would have tried to juggle a few less balls at the start of the year.

I sometimes think that business risk is much like that.  On many of my business ventures if I had known how HARD it was going to be when I started the business I don't think I would have taken the risk and moved forward.  If I had known on my first business venture that I would lose 80K trying to launch it I would likely have just passed (since my intent on that business was to actually make money...).  I think on any given business venture or anything in life there has to be a certain amount of unknown, even a bit of unrealistic optimism that allows you to make risks that you wouldn't have taken otherwise.  In all of the things that I have taken major risks in the dividends have been huge.  I may not have been financially successful but the experience and knowledge that I gained both technically and in business is irreplaceable.  None of which I would have taken if I had not gone forward and done some REALLY HARD things.  I would still advise my future self and any others reading this post to thoughtfully consider if you are spreading yourself too thin and change things up if you can.

The other points I would review and summarize is how ad groups function.  Google groups similar keywords into ad groups and you can create specific advertisements for that ad group.  That means you can create a unique landing page and targeted advertising message just for those ad groups.  I really think that's a powerful tool, in addition the ad group has a large number of suggested keywords to include in your campaign that allows me to see keywords I wouldn't have thought to target increasing the number of people I reach out to.  The other thing I found interesting was being able to put in negative keywords so I can exclude people searching for cheap, free, discount etc.  These people would cost me money as they click, but don't actually buy anything.  One point I found interesting was if people have more than 10 words in their search phrase google stops including negative keywords so you could still get a few false positives this way.  However, I think I and a few others are the only ones who put in so many words into a single phrase.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Website Launch! Business Structure and Taxes

Well here I am one week later and one completely awesome website up and running (with a few minor adjustments being needed).  What a journey this has been since last August (nearly 6 months ago) when my business partner, Kevin Skinner, and I started working on this.  We've had to take a few shortcuts to get a minimum viable product but we actually have it!  How awesome that feels!  We have some tweaks and some changes to make things look, work, and flow better, but we have three product offerings that we can actually sell and the site is setup to sell them!  You can see the site here at

I feel like I have accomplished so much more than my first startup from 9 years ago (wow how time flies).  I built the site using commodity components and in such a way that I can quickly make changes to both the assessment software I built and to the overall website.  That is one of my key take away messages that I think I touched on briefly before in one of my prior posts.  Do NOT RE-INVENT THE WHEEL.  I know that much of the plugins from wordpress I've chosen to use I'll probably throw away or re-write or find a better (purchased) plugin, but pulling together a bunch of existing functionality we have a minimum viable product that we can test with actual users.  Instead of spending another year building our website I was able to focus on the core business product which is our assessments and spend about 25-30 hours on the wordpress site (compared to the several hundred for the assessment product).

I'd also mention how important it is to have strategic partnerships.  Kevin and I have a partnership with Kevin's other company Bloom for Women and they produced fantastic professional videos for our education series.  They will use the videos on their platform and ours and we saved tens of thousands of dollars on video production with the condition that we will license our assessments to them for use as well.  I've been in startups where they partner over everything and end up making nothing.  Making key limited strategic partnerships have benefitted us in creating the educational components of our product offerings.  For that I am grateful.

This last week we had to look at our legal frameworks and I learned a whole lot more about sales tax and corporate structure than I ever knew about.  When we started Discover and Change I had always run businesses as an LLC and so I was confused when my partner Kevin wanted to do an S-Corp.  I pushed back on it, but finally agreed to it when our accountant said it would make the taxes simpler for us.  After studying the different legal structures for my class I came to realize that I like the advantages of an S-Corp.  I can pay myself a salary as an employee and defer my earnings in the S-Corp to a subsequent year and continue to draw from that as a salary.  This means that I can save myself on taxes rather than having it all pass-through like it does with an LLC.  The other nice thing I really like is being able to sell or transfer my ownership without approval from my business partner.  I've been in an LLC before where I was stuck and partners did not want to disolve it. Things got nasty and I didn't have a good way of getting out.  Having an easy exit strategy without requiring approval from my partner I really like.  On the flipside he could do the same and I could be stuck with someone I don't want to work with so there is that downside.  Now I like my partner Kevin and I don't see myself having the same problems as I did with my other business, but I still want that protection.  The downside of the S-Corp is there is more paperwork I have to file versus if I went with an LLC.

Now if I was running my own business without partners I would probably still go with an LLC.  A lot of my classmates want to go with sole proprietorships, however, I have enough assets (and children that have needs) that if something went wrong I do not want to lose everything because someone gets sue happy.

The other thing I would mention is how much paperwork you have to file when starting a business.  To get my s-corp running I have to file articles of incorporation, get a business name, register with the city, register with the tax commission, with the federal government (to get an EIN).  I have to register for unemployment insurance and workers comp if I want to treat myself as an employee.  I also have to file quarterly sales taxes and earned income taxes.  Just a ton of paperwork.  It makes me appreciate how much using an attorney and an accountant can save you to make sure you've done everything correct.  After going through our business exercises I've realized it's worth the $300-$500 to get things setup with an accountant and a lawyer.

Well It's been a very, very long week and so I'll just summarize with how glad I am to see my dream business launching.  I don't know that I would have pushed through with all the other hectic things in my life right now without my business class pushing me, so for that I am grateful.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Rapidly prototype with a deadline then change it later, and other minor website details

This week I've been working on building my website  and it's been an interesting experience.  My partner and I set a deadline to launch around Valentine's day and my school work is requiring me to launch my website on February 15th.  Both deadlines are creating an enormous amount of pressure for me which has been good, but stressful.

The developer in my screams that I'm taking too many shortcuts or that things aren't ready.  The business side of me is saying I need to get this done in time to market it.  Normally I'd be building some of these components from scratch that will work out for me better long term, however, if I went that route I couldn't meet the two week deadline.  Instead I'm using a lot of plugins and once again I'm just so impressed at the versatility that wordpress offers me.  I know from having to write and modify wordpress plugins how absolutely awful the code quality is at times, yet the amount of functionality that is available at the click of a button has just been so wonderful to me.  Even if I stick with the free versions I was able to get a drag and drop pricing table builder, a short code widget embedder, a complete FAQ system.  Now some of these I know I could build a whole lot better and make them look better, yet it works and it looks ok for now.  When the site is making money I can come back and make it an ever better user experience.  That is one of the take away messages for me is rapid prototyping and test the idea out because there just isn't a lot of time to try to make things perfect.

For my assignments I had to go and review competitor websites and it was very interesting to see what they used and their design choices.  One thing I took away from this is how important it is to have a direct prominent Call To Action on my site.  Every site I reviewed had that.  I was also surprised that every site had an FAQ and that it was mentioned as an important point for buyer's confidence to have one.  I find this interesting as I have built dozens of websites for companies and I can only think of one or two where we had an FAQ and that was added more as an afterthought.  I never really use them, so I was surprised to find that a lot of people place value in them.

I think the other thing that took me by surprise is how much my class mates valued and used paypal.  I've always considered paypal to be a poor choice alternative as we have so much customer dropoff when we use paypal.  Yet, most of my class mates from my discussion seemed to like and prefer paypal.  Although from a site aesthetic design they all agreed the yellow buttons were pretty ugly.  I'll have to consider leaving paypal as a payment option for my site because of this experience.