Happy Quote

March 9, 2009 in Happy Quotes

“My life has been a series of well-orchestrated accidents; I’ve always suffered from hallucinogenic optimism. I was broke for more than 10 years. I remember staying up all night one night at my first company and looking in couch cushions the next morning for some change to buy coffee.”

Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter

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Discussing Website Conversions

March 4, 2009 in Expert Advice, Tips

Reading through this (quite long) discussion about conversion rates and found these nuggets inside:

They recommend having a refer-a-friend program.

Aaron: What type of traffic converts best?
Karl: Existing customers convert very well, as do visitors from refer-a-friend programs.

I’ve had mixed success with this myself, it’s very audience dependent (and works better with women than men), but it’s not hard to set up and when it works, it’s free traffic. I’ve had the most success with a program of incentivizing the referrals. It’s a bit harder to set up, but can be significantly more productive. An example I’ve had good luck with is: “Refer 5 friends and be entered in a drawing.”

They also touch on the value of giving your site extra credibility by using press mentions.

While working on a weight loss website that generates $5 million/year, we noticed that the company had a fantastic press testimonial that wasn’t prominently displayed on their website. By moving this information “above the fold”—and reformatting it—we managed to create an overnight 67% increase in sales.

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Macrium Reflect

February 18, 2009 in 5 out of 5 stars, A piece of software

What is it?

macrium reflect

Macrium Reflect: Disk imaging software. Sound complicated? It's not - put simply, you use it to take a “snapshot” of your hard drive, then if your drive ever fails, you can quickly restore that snapshot.

Who makes it?

Paramount Software UK Ltd

Why is it the killerest?

Because using this software, you can backup a complete "image" of your hard drive, and restore it if you should ever suffer a hard drive failure, or just a catastrophic data loss or other meltdown.

And you don't need to be a computer genius to use it.

You create a disk image, back it up to an external hard drive or other medium. Macrium also helps you create a “boot CD.” In the event of failure, you use the boot CD on the failed machine, point it toward the image you made, and a few minutes later you are back up and running. It’s really that simple.

Example: I have a colleague who kicked over his new computer tower, blew out the hard drive. I had helped him make an image of his hard drive about a week earlier. He bought a new drive, restored the image, 15 minutes later he was back up and running.

How much does it cost?

Free version does everything I need, power users and corporate users can pay a measly $40 for the full version. Crazy value for the money.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Failure is an indication of progress

February 16, 2009 in Expert Advice

Maybe I just needed it right now, but I really enjoyed this. Love how they frame failure.

“You’re constantly on the brink of crashing… because that’s the fastest.” – Danica Patrick

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Tip: put customer reviews/testimonials in your email marketing

February 12, 2009 in Tips

Mountain Gear did it and found the following:

Mountain Gear, delivers even better results when it includes reviews of top-rated products by its customers. In a recent test, e-mail containing customer reviews produced 5%-8% higher click-through, 14%-17% higher conversion and 81%-85% higher average order value than e-mail without reviews promoting the same products. [Internet Retailer]

This makes sense of course – they are effective marketing on a website, why wouldn’t they be in marketing emails? If you’re selling retail items which have customer reviews, this is a no-brainer.

In my own experience with consulting, I’ve had good success sending references including testimonials and mini case studies from the references as part of the sales process. (Typically sent along with a proposal).

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20 Ideas for an Excellent Podcast

February 10, 2009 in A podcast, Expert Advice

20 ideas for a great podcastI originally wrote and posted this list three years ago. I was new to podcasts then and there were far fewer of them. Since then the number of podcasts has gone up dramatically, unfortunately the quality has not (well, for the ones which aren’t produced for radio or TV, that is).

I’ve revised the list a bit based on three years of experience enjoying podcasts, and I present the updated version now. As I contemplate wading into the podcasting world myself I’m probably going to deeply regret bringing this up again, but here goes.

  1. Podcasts should be short. 30min is the maximum. Seriously. Unless it's just jam-packed tight with goodness, life is too short and listening requires too much attention. Keep it short. Nothing wrong with a 20 min podcast. I may fudge on that one, but honestly, unless you're interviewing Osama Bin Laden or Steve Jobs, 30min. Most hour long podcasts I listen to could very easily trim out 30min of happy-talk fluff and be much, much better for it.
  2. Break your podcast into chapters. This is a nice feature for your iTunes listeners. Especially if you disobey #1. 
  3. Have fun and be real. I've noticed something about the best podcasts... they're having fun, and it shows. Bring your enthusiasm, passion and enjoyment for what you’re doing to the podcast, and let us feel it with you. But be real – go easy on the hype, hyperbole, veiled self-promotion, and other repellent over-the-topness.
  4. Be chunky. Make segments short, diverse and put an audio bumper between your segments. It can be music, a sound effect, or at least a voiced transition. This keeps it interesting. A single droning line of ramble can really make the eyes glaze over. You need variety, we're an MTV generation, like it or not. We like it fast, varied, pithy and fun.
  5. Don't ramble, be organized. This should seem obvious, but some podcasters just flip on the mic and ramble for an hour or more. Horror! If you are interviewing, prepare the questions ahead of time. Send them to your guest so they can be coherent. Don't stick to it slavishly, but let it keep you from ad-hoc preparation on my time during the podcast. If you aren't interviewing, take the time to prepare exactly what you'll be talking about. Write down an outline with talking points and notes. Move quickly and coherently through them.
  6. Cram, cram, cram as much good stuff as you can into the time. Our minds move quicker than your mouth, so do your best to pack your podcast full of goodness and move quickly.
  7. Be regular, but only if you've got quality. I'd much rather listen to an excellent quarterly podcast, than a mediocre weekly one.
  8. Get decent audio! Seriously, the tin-can-and-string / Houston-to-Apollo-11 sound really kills things. A little effort and investment in a decent mic, and a little work on post production not only makes you sound better, but it's not as hard on the listener. When I listen very long to a poor audio quality podcast it gives me a headache, hurts my ears and wears me out. Make a pop screen, that helps too.
  9. Get a buddy. If you can, get someone with whom you can riff, someone who brings another layer of experience and expertise. It helps you be chunky. Two have an easier time than one keeping things moving, plus it's just usually more interesting. Don’t add someone just because you’re too scared to do it alone or because they are your friend, however. A good rule of thumb – if they aren’t smarter than you, keep looking or do it alone.
  10. Have show notes on your blog. If you mention something, make a list of links to explore your topics in more depth. It also helps you move quickly through your podcast – don’t spell out web addresses and carry on at length about stuff you can just put in the show notes.
  11. If you're doing interviews, don't be Charlie Rose. In other words, shut your stupid face and let your guest talk. That doesn't mean sit there and let them ramble. Provide regular engaging questions and guidance to keep things moving, but don't spend time trying to be smart yourself, be a master facilitator in helping your guest share great stuff.
  12. Don't interview Jason Fried. And I don't mean Jason specifically of course. I'm saying come up with someone fresh to interview. Jason has been interviewed dozens of times. I love Jason and I love listening to him riff as much as the next guy, but at some point we need to be more creative. There are many topics, interview subjects and approaches that have been done to death. Give us something fresh.
  13. Don't be scared to throw a show away. It happens. You get a crappy guest, you do a crappy job, your audio blows, whatever. My advice is to use podcasts to put your best foot forward. Because podcasts demand so much attention, they really need to be high caliber. If you write a mediocre blog post (for example: this one) your readers can skim, skip and move on. With a podcast, they're trusting you with very precious attention for that period of time. Treat it with the utmost respect. If in doubt, toss it.
  14. Do some editing. Take a note from NPR or other audio documentary style programs. You don't necessarily need to give us every single utterance made during a period of time. Just like you might prune copy from a rambling blog post to tighten it up, tighten up your podcast. A little post production work goes a long way toward making an excellent podcast.
  15. Use music. Music really softens a podcast up. I don't want an MP3 of your favorite songs, don't waste my time. But as part of an intro, as a little background on occasion, and as transition material, music can really polish things up.
  16. Tighten up that intro and keep moving. Honestly, if I have to listen to one more podcast with too many participants where they all ramble and introduce themselves and plug themselves and congratulate each other my face is going to bleed. If you need to warm up, do it off-air, don’t put me through it. I’m warm, fire away.
  17. Go ahead and advertise. We want you to make some money for your hard work, but at least try to make it interesting, and always keep it concise. Plus make it clear if you’ve been paid to mention something. We trust you not to praise something just for money, respect us enough to be honest about it.
  18. Verbally identify your podcast at the start of your podcast. Be quick! But tell us date, issue number, topic/guest, etc.  We need this meta data to give it context. Someone may listen out of sequence or even years or decades later. Take a few seconds to lay it out at the start.
  19. Don’t make me your third wheel. My time is precious, and I’m giving you some of it. I don’t want to  listen to you laugh at each other’s jokes and carry on a jovial conversation with each other about nonsense. You may think you’re very interesting, but you’re probably wrong.

Well, I've just set the bar impossibly high for myself. Ok, let me say this: doing a good podcast is hard. It takes equipment, production, planning, and good editing. These things take time, effort, money and expertise. So let me add one final one to the mix.

20. If you have something important/valuable to say, get something out there. It may not be perfect, but if you've got great content, some omissions from the above list are tolerable.

There, I'm covered.

The gold standard for podcasts, of course, are the This American Life, and Radio Lab on-air radio shows, turned podcasts. You don’t have their resources, talent or experience, so don’t be too discouraged when you don’t reach it, but for our sake, please at least try.

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Microsoft BizSpark Program

February 9, 2009 in 5 out of 5 stars, A piece of software, Productivity, Software Development, Virtualization, Web/Tech

What is it?

Biz Spark: Virtually free* access to all current Microsoft software, plus some additional support from peers and other Microsoft partners, if you care to get involved in the social side of it.  


Who makes it?


Why is it the killerest?

One of the biggest and most painful expenses for a startup can be software. Windows and Office primarily, but if you're a Microsoft developer – this is an outrageous deal because it includes everything you get in an MSDN subscription (note: it is an MSDN subscription).

If you're a startup, three years old or less, and make under $1 million per year, you're eligible. This is basically all Microsoft software. Signup was pretty simple. There are a few hoops they want you to jump through to verify that you qualify, but they're tame. The big hurdle was getting a sponsor. I emailed this guy, explained my qualifications, and he hooked me up a couple days later. Twitter friend Geoffrey had good luck with this guy.

This is worth tens of thousands of dollars and can be a real boost when you're boostrapping.

What could be improved?

Well, obviously this is for Windows users only.

Hey Adobe, the web startup community would kill for an offering like this from you.

How much does it cost?

*Free to enroll, you agree to pay $100 when you exit.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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AdWords updates their admin interface

February 2, 2009 in Analytics, SEO/SEM

It looks like some higher volume AdWords accounts are being offered a new admin interface. Haven’t had a chance to dive in real deep yet, but so far, I’m liking it – lots of clever Google-Analytics-ish touches.


Update: really liking this. Seeing a few errors (like, it's timing out - might be getting hammered). And so far only one thing that really bothers me - you no longer get your quality score visible at a glance in a single column, you have to click this little bubble to see it. Yes, you have to click it for every word. Absurd.


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You may have already read it...

January 31, 2009

But it's worth reading again. Carefully.

Seth Godin asks, What are you good at?

Figure out which sort of process you're world-class at and get even better at it. Then, learn the domain... that's what the internet is for.

One of the reasons that super-talented people become entrepreneurs is that they can put their process expertise to work in a world that often undervalues it.

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Small changes can bring big profits

January 30, 2009 in Happy Links


  • The $300 Million Button tells how a widely used ecommerce site stopped forcing people to register before they bought something and increased conversions 45%, which brought in an extra $300 million the first year (uhh).
  • How we reduced chargebacks by 30% tells how 37signals made a small change to the way they show up on customer credit card statements (they show a URL for people can go to figure out where the charge came from), and decreased chargebacks by 30%.
  • How to Sell More Software by Adding 12 Characters to Your Homepage suggests that adding your phone number to your website (he’s talking to ISVs, but it’s a good idea for many of us) should not only increase sales, but also bring larger sales. Pretty good argument, with a humorous refuting of common excuses.

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