Cash for Clunkers: A Job Well Done

July 31, 2009

cash-for-clunkersIf you can remember back to a time when I posted about Google’s 10^100 Contest, then you can see that I mentioned having put in a suggestion of my own.  And even though you may think that I am lying, my submission was almost word for word what the “Cash for Clunkers” program has become.

The original description of my idea looked something like this:

“Set up a program, backed by the government or some independent investors, that uses a pool of money to offer car buying vouchers for people that trade in older cars for newer, more fuel efficient vehicles.  This helps people in multiple ways.  It can increase the number of cars that are sold, giving a much needed boost to the economy.  And it can make the average fuel efficiency of cars in the country go up more than it would without this help.”

So, of course, when I saw the initial idea for Cash for Clunkers, I was very excited.  I backed the program, thinking that it would definitely help do exactly what it was designed to do; spur the struggling auto industry, and get more fuel efficient vehicles on the road.

And now, less than a week after the program was launched, it appears that the program was so successful that it ran out of the appropriated money that was supposed to last until November 1st.  For more information on exactly what the Cash for Clunkers program is, how you can take advantage, and how the government is adding more funds to help keep the program alive, check out this article from The Politico.

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Blog Spotlight: Open Forum Offers Great Advice for Small Business Owners

July 29, 2009

logo_OPENSmall business owners are always looking for new ways to save money, market their products, talk to potential customers, find investors, etc.  Because the task of running a business is so vast, there are literally hundreds of things to take care of.  And if you can get some advice on how to handle just one of those things, it can be a great help.  And many businesses, consultancies, and experts have made a lot of money offering that type of advice for years.

When American Express decided to target small businesses, they created OPEN.  American Express Open offered new credit card services specifically designed to give small business owners what they were looking for from a credit card.  But they didn’t stop there.

More recently, American Express created the Open Forum, a blog of sorts to offer all types of information that entrepreneurs are looking for in one easy place.  The Open Forum brings together experts from many different fields, and gives straight to the point advice on such things as hiring, investing, marketing, innovation, and saving money.  Anything a business owner would want to learn is most likely sitting there waiting to be found.

They categorize their content into 7 main headings; innovation, technology, managing, marketing, lifestyle, money, the world.  It is easy to find the information that you are looking for, or just browse to see if you find anything interesting on that particular day.

This is a genius move by American Express, as it allows them to enter the social media space with a valuable offer that is perfect for their target market.  It also connects them with experts from across the business and financial world to give credibility and valuable content.

For any small business owner out there who has not checked out what the Open Forum has to offer, I recommend doing it now.  They have done a lot of work to the website recently, and they continue to produce even more valuable articles.


Email Newsletters: Get them Right

July 24, 2009

E-mailIf you own or operate a brand, whether it is a big company, a small business, or just your name, email newsletters have become a popular way of adding value for your clients, customers, or friends.

Some popular email newsletters that I receive are the Yoast WordPress News, which gives tips and tricks for using wordpress as a blogging platform; Media Bistro’s daily news feed, which offers journalism news and updates; Daniel Scocco’s daily blog tips newsletter, which does exactly what the name advertises; and the Change.org weekly newsletter, which keeps tabs on key political issues under the Obama administration.

All of these newsletters add value to my day to day life because they keep me informed on things that I am interested in.  When a person or a website tries to cram a newsletter down my throat, I don’t even give it a chance.  I choose no when given the option, or unsubscribe as soon as I get the first email.  The ones that I am subscribed to right now were all recommended to me by friends and people I trust.

Whether or not a newsletter is designed to make money, either through a paid subscription or advertising, it has to add real value.  Put information in there that people would not find any other way.  Add personal tips that you do not share on a blog or on social networks.  For an email to be worth reading, it has to be unique.  I have to feel like I am getting privileged information.

An example of a terrible newsletter is Motley Fool’s “investor newsletter”.  I get it almost every single day, by now it goes to my spam folder.  It usually carries a headline such as “This Stock Will Make You a Millionaire by 2011”.  Then it follows that up with a large amount of copy explaining how they did their research and advertising the paid version of their website, which I am not signed up for.  In the end, it gives you no information about the stock unless you sign up for their monthly payment plan, which I would never do.  This is not helpful, you are trying to trick your readers.

That is the wrong way to do it.  If you operate a website, and would like to explore the idea of an email newsletter, please plan it out beforehand.  Launching it in the wrong way can really get under people’s skin.  Add value that we could not get off of the website already.  Because, if done the right way, it is a great way to expand the brand, explore new revenue opportunities, and create a loyalty among your readers and customers that can not be achieved in many other ways.


How a Birthday Gift Can Make You a Million Dollars

July 20, 2009

gift-main_FullThis coming Saturday will mark the day I was born 25 years ago, MY Birthday!

Thinking about my birthday, and birthdays in general, I became interested in what a birthday gift can mean.  And I am not talking about gifts that you or I get for each other.  I am talking about a company or business that gives gifts to their clients and customers.

I wrote a post about a month ago about information.  The more you know about your customers, the better you will be able to serve them.  Knowing their birthdays is a small, but potentially important part of that.

If you know your customers’ birthdays, you have options.  You can send them a discount on your products and services as a thank you for being a loyal customer.  Or you can get them a gift, apart from what your company offers, that really makes an impact.

What if you sent a gift certificate to all your customers for their birthdays this year?  You could do it through email, and make it $20 or less.  How much would that cost you?  I think you will end up pleasing enough people, and generating some real long term customers, that it will more than make up for the cost.

But instead, what you sent something concrete?  What if you sent something that you knew most of the recipients would use?  And what if you branded that product so that when they used it, they were helping to spread the word about your company?

You could send a t-shirt, a hat, a computer accessory, a cell phone case, or anything else that people use on a daily basis.  On it, you could put a slogan that would resonate with people, along with your company name and website.

Chances are that…

1)the customers that receive this gift will be thankful for it because they are not used to a company going out of their way to give back, turning them into more loyal customers, 2)some of those newly loyal customers become brand ambassadors, actively telling their friends and associates how great your company is, and
3)the branding that goes along with the product gets people talking, or at least noticing you more.

It is a generous gesture that fits right into a solid marketing plan.  Do something out of the ordinary for your customers and they will take notice.  And the more they take notice, the more likely they are to talk about your brand.

So maybe one birthday gift can’t make you a million dollars, but giving back to your customers on their birthday could prove to be a pivotal part of developing lifetime customers and start some positive word of mouth marketing.  I know if any companies did that for me this Saturday that I would take notice.


What does Free Mean to you?

July 16, 2009

youtubeThere are many ongoing debates on whether or not the nature of free information on the web can continue to last.  As free content continues to put at risk the traditional media sources that charge their customers to get the information, it also has proven tourblesome for many of the companies that offer the free content.

For example, this story from the New York Times discusses the many issues with Youtube.  As Google continues to try to find big money in advertising dollars for the most popular video sharing site on the web, the cost of storing the infinite amount of videos uploaded to the site everyday is out of control.  It appears that no amount of advertising can possibly make up for the money lost just on server space each year.  Therefore, at this point, Youtube looks like a failing business for Google, and one they will need to evaluate over time.

In addition to Google, there are entire industries that are caught in between free models and paid models.  For example, CNBC recently aired a special on the porn industry, and how they are caught trying to embrace the internet and trying to protect their profits at the same time.  For porn, free videos online have taken a big swipe at profits from paid sites as well as dvd sales, which some say are down close to 30% this year.

Once something is available for free, it decreases the likelihood that anyone would want to pay for it.  Whereas in the past you could say, “you get what you pay for”, nowadays the quality of content and information you can get for free is many times just as good as the stuff that you pay for.  We are approaching a time and a place where Free is costing businesses a fortune.  And eventually, Free may hit a brick wall.

How much is Google willing to lose on Youtube before they charge you to upload videos?  How much is Facebook willing to lose before they charge you to share photos, or to write on someone’s wall?  How much are we all willing to pay to use the sites we love so dearly?

Right now there is no balance between free and pay. The time is coming when we need to find that balance or internet users and businesses alike are in for a major shock.


Google Alerts for Small Business Entrepreneurs

July 14, 2009

logo_betaGoogle Alerts are a great way to stay up on news on any topic that might interest you.  What a Google Alert does is take any new blog posts, news articles, or web pages that mention a word or phrase of your choice, and email it to you directly.

For example, I receive daily emails on anything new for “Zach Heller“, “Be Innovation“, and “innovation blog“.  This helps me keep track of topics that I am interested in writing about, as well as stay up to date on anything the web has to say about me.

For entrepreneurs, these alerts can help you keep track of any new updates in your industry, anyone speaking about your company, or any deals your competitors may be offering, without having to do any of the research.  For example, you can set an alert for the industry name that you are in, one for each of your competitors names, and one for your company name.  Then you will start receiving emails on a daily basis with any new information on those topics.

It’s that simple, and it can really help you stay on top of your game. The last thing you need is for some important piece of information to be out on the web and you don’t ever take the time to look for and find it.  And trust me, any time someone has something to say about your company or brand name, its important.

To set up your alerts today, go to http://www.google.com/alerts.


The Printed Blog is Done: Is Anyone Surprised?

July 8, 2009

paperblogThe Printed Blog, a company founded to take blogs, print them and deliver them in newspaper format, has shut down due to lack of capital.  This New York Times story explains that Joshua Karp, the company’s founder, simply could not raise enough capital to keep the business afloat.  The company only lasted a little over 6 months.

Here is a quote from Mr. Karp that gives you a notion of where his idea came from.

“I thought maybe this would translate into a new, venture-funded model for newspapers, but no one believes print news will survive. If I had a penny left, I would bet newspapers will survive in printed form.”

In my opinion, this is a very basic misunderstanding of why blogs are so popular, and why print media is dying.  This “printed blog” idea seems to assume that the content of blogs is better than the content of newspapers, and that the format of newspapers is better than the format of blogs.  When, in fact, I think we all know that it is exactly the opposite from that.

In most situations, the content of newspaper articles is better than the content of most blogs.  But it is the blog format that makes it so appealing.  It is immediate, breaking news and information that would take a whole day to be printed and distributed in newspaper form.

So Mr. Karp, it is not that we love blogs so much but wish they were printed and handed out the next day, its that we love getting our information quickly and easily on our computer or cell phone.  It surprises me that the basic principal of printing a blog post was ever approved and thought to be a good business venture.

If you are looking to save the printing industry, look elsewhere.  If you are looking to start a company that takes the current printing industry and moves it forward, I don’t think you are going to find the answers in “print” form.  We don’t have time to wait for printed material anymore.