The sparrow is complete

It is a time of change. Some people give up and wait for changes to happen to them. Some people take action and make changes happen. Don’t be the former.

Previously, I summarised the recent developments in the online business world. Despite the opportunities available, it’s still easier to just sit back and do what you’ve always done.

There’s a quote from Twyla Tharp, a dance choreographer about creative blocks.

Do something. Anything.

The point is to get something done, even if it doesn’t specifically solve the problem you have right then. That gives you a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of progress, and you can channel that into doing more actions and eventually you’ll get to fixing your creative block.

Some people wait for the stars to align before doing anything. Some people wait for all the traffic lights to turn green before doing anything.

Sure your financial situation isn’t ideal. Sure your mother-in-law keeps breathing down you neck. Sure your work hours aren’t quite what you want. Sure you might like to have more space in your home.

But if you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never get to making that baby. Do you want to make babies or not?

There’s a Chinese saying that goes something like “The sparrow may be small, but it has all 5 major organs.” I don’t know what those internal organs are, probably heart, lungs, brain, kidney, liver?

The point is that the sparrow is complete, small as it is. It functions. It can fly, it can eat, and it can continue to make small baby sparrows.

In the business context, people almost always want to know more before starting. But the only real way to find out if you need to know something, is to start and then find out that you need it. Until you’ve done a task yourself and find it distasteful, you don’t really need to outsource it. Until you’ve answered customer questions, you don’t know how your customer service officers should behave.

Make a sparrow first. You can tweak it into an eagle later on.

Recent waves in online business world

By “recent”, I mean maybe up to the last couple of years or so. Let me start a little earlier than that.

When blogging became hip, there were programs (read: paid products) that teach you how to blog, how to write effectively, how to get your blog to be read.

And on the last note, website traffic became important. So there were programs (read: paid products) that teach you how to get traffic to your website. More importantly, how to get targeted traffic, because casual passers-by were next to useless for business purposes. Just look at all the traffic from Digg and StumbleUpon and Reddit and other social media sites. People come, look at your post, then leaves. That’s pretty much useless.

So creating an email list became imperative. You want to capture people’s email addresses so you can talk to them. If they sign up, then they want to hear from you. This is what Seth Godin would call permission marketing. But beware! There were some WordPress plugins that set annoying pop-ups that has a sign up box for people to put their email addresses. This pop-up happens either on finishing reading a post, or worse, on leaving a page. That would be “annoyance marketing”.

Then came teaching programs (read: pai… ok, you get the idea), that teach you how to teach a topic. The main one is Teaching Sells. The idea is that people will want to pay to learn something useful (and probably turn it into something profitable).

And on that note, videos were becoming popular, what with the increased bandwidth that most people have. And that some people like to see a person talking to them, instead of reading text or hearing audio files. So there was this product called Video Boss (I think). It teaches you (see previous paragraph) how to shoot, edit and upload a video. There were all sorts of information in that product, going so far as the minute details such as making your video visually interesting and lighting setups and so on.

Then there was the app craze, popularised by the iPhone. “Create apps. Become millionaire.” says some paid products (or to that effect anyway). If you’re a developer (which you probably are if you’re reading this blog), then be aware of what you’re creating. Create and sell apps if that’s your thing and that it’s working for you, not because someone says it’s the in thing.

Then there was the Kindle revolution, changing how people read. You can now self-publish on Amazon and push your ebooks out to millions of Kindles in the world. And make a bit of money from every ebook you sell.

The app thing and the Kindle thing have two things in common. They both relieve you of payment processing, and they both let you leverage an existing platform. Apple’s App Store for iPhone/iPad, Windows Store for Windows apps, Google Marketplace for Android devices, BlackBerry App World for Blackberry devices. And Kindle for well, Kindle devices.

Somewhere in those times, there was a need to know how to launch your product. I’m not talking about hype (or just hype anyway). I’m talking how to get sales from your product launch, how to get maximum impact. There’s this product called Product Launch Formula (by Jeff Walker) that teaches you how to do this.

I subscribe to many of these people’s email lists, so I get emails whenever whatever. Some are useful, some are interesting, some I just delete because it’s an obvious sales email (after you receive as many emails of such nature as I do, you can tell from the subject line or within a couple of sentences in).

There’s a point to all this. And I’ll tell you in the next post.

Still like coding

I’ve been on both sides of the employment fence. I’ve been an employee at a startup, a software company and a telecommunications company. I’m currently working for myself. Of all the activities, I still like coding. Because it allows me to solve problems of a nature that’s programmatically solvable.

Customer service

I’ve worked with customer service officers. They are the front-line of the business, and they tell me how my software is working. Is the customer having problems with logging in? Or with downloading transactional records?

Now, I talk directly with customers. They tell me this part is good, or that part is funny. They ask me questions, and I answer them (whether it’s directly a programming problem or not).

Sales

I’ve talked with sales people, and they’re driven and friendly and outspoken. And they tell me what their clients and customers want, because the customers sometimes talk directly with the sales people instead of the customer service officers. Yay me for multiple channels of input.

Sales people want to know sales figures, monthly commission reports and revenue numbers. Well, specific to their own targets anyway.

Now, I keep track of my own revenue and sales. Let me tell you, it’s very sobering.

Marketing and Product

Frankly speaking, everything is integrated into the main sales channel. But marketing and product creation are related enough.

Imagine this. There are people hired to come up with new products for a company to sell (product managers). And people hired to convey the benefits of having said products to the consumers and customers (marketers). And people hired to sell these new products (sales people). And people hired to make sure customers are happy with their purchase (customer service).

Everything is linked.

The mish-mash

As a one-man show, I handle everything. I do market research to see if there’s actually a demand (although I might still create the product). I create the product. I write the sales copy on the sales web page. I upload the information products to the hosting server, and make sure the purchase links are working and correct. I’ve written ad copy (and it’s hard). I’ve written educational, marketing pieces of writing to promote my products. I set sales prices based on the value of what the customer will get (let me tell you, this is ridiculously hard and complicated). I talk with customers. I answer questions (sometimes free of charge). I handle taxes.

Out of all of them, I like the coding part the best. An ebook with a bunch of source code attached is basically a programming guide like one of those For Dummies programming books. I don’t mind writing the source code to teach people how to do something. I don’t even mind writing the ebook to explain some of the concepts, because it’s like a really long extended code comment.

But the other parts are hard. Possibly even distasteful.

However, I recognise the importance of those parts. Every single part is needed. And every part affects every other part.

You don’t know what benefits to convey in your sales copy if you don’t have it in your product. If the market doesn’t want a feature, that feature shouldn’t be in the product.

Of course, everything I’ve said presupposes that your product has a software component. But it really applies to the part that you’re good at and really like doing.

Maybe you’re really good at baking muffins, but you’re not really good at telling people why they should buy your muffins. Or you don’t like the tedium of keeping track of muffin sales. Or packaging your muffins so they really look good (you need to convince people that your product is good, even if it’s really good).

Are you afraid to start your own business because…

you’re afraid people will ask for refunds, and you don’t make any money at all.

If you have a steady paycheck, the company paying you your salary is not going to ask for your salary back, right?

But if you have your own business, and if your customers ask for a refund? Then you’d have rendered a service or provided a product, but you don’t get paid.

If that’s the case, why are there so many food stalls here in Singapore? Singaporeans are notoriously picky eaters. It can’t be that every single food stall sells delicious food, right?

What are you truly scared of?

$100 Startup bundle

I respect Chris Guillebeau a lot (possibly even a raving fan). His book $100 Startup is going to be on sale soon. But the more important reason is that you can get that together with a bunch of business-y stuff at Only72 right now for $100 total (yes, that’s totally an affiliate link).

Out of all the products in the bundle, I’m interested in the “How To Make iPhone Apps With No Programming Experience” ebook, the small business infrastructure ebook, and guide to publishing ebook.

You want to start a business? This’ll get you started. Hurry, it’s only on sale for 72 hours (hence the name).

Can’t wait to read Chris’s new book. Have I mentioned that’s a hardcover that will be shipped anywhere you live if you buy the bundle now?