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What is ‘luck’ in business? Do you make your own luck?

Four leaf cloverI have been thinking about this on an off for a while.

How do you reconcile good fortune, or ‘luck’ in a business and it’s success (or failure!)?

In all the businesses I have been directly involved with, in ether setting up and growing, or being a contributor to, there always seems to be an element of what most people would call luck.

And this luck has helped us grow, helped us sell, and helped us evolve. It has even helped us get out of trouble a few times.

So as I look at our current business and it’s growth, it struck me that again we have had some good luck along the way. And I had this feeling or worry that what if our success now or in the future wasn’t down to skill or experience or planning but solely down to one or two key moments of fortune or luck? Does that really make you successful? Or just lucky?

If you do have some luck, do you start doubting your true abilities?

(A quick comment on doubt:  Doubt is never good. When you are trying to get a business started, or build a relationship, or make a promise, doubt is a killer. You have to believe in yourself and your ability (whilst knowing your strengths and weaknesses!). So I really do try to be conscious of doubt when it starts to creep in to my mind. And the last time I had any feeling of doubt was when we had some good luck recently!)

So what is luck in business? Do we make our own? Is our business at the mercy of fate?

I think from a business point of view, you make your own luck. Or more specifically, you make your own opportunities happen. How do you do this?

  1. Listen
    Listening is very important. And I don’t just mean listening in the audible sense. Listen to the needs of others, whether they be a business entity, an individual or a group. Listening is the first step toward understanding. Understanding others, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses can be important. It can help you identify how you need to treat others and how you can build a relationship or opportunity. BONUS: It will also help you be a better friend, parent or partner outside of business too!
  2. Network and get out of your Comfort Zone
    This is the key. Whether you are a confident of shy person, someone who loves to talk or someone who doesn’t, opportunities/fortune/luck just doesn’t happen when al you do is sit in an office. If you are growing a business you need to get out. You need to attend conferences, you need to learn, you need to ask questions (see Point 3). You need to meet people, use LinkedIn, email them a ‘hey, was great to meet you’. Get out there.When you get out and meet people, opportunities happen. Simple.
  3. Ask the question!
    Just ask the question. Don’t guess, don’t hesitate, DON’T ASSUME. Just ask. You never know what the answer might be. And often the answer will be ‘Sure, we can think about that”, or “Sure, we can sell that domain – no one ever asked us before!”, or “Sure, we can meet and discuss a partnership”.I hate assumption, and I hate hiding behind assumption. Assumption is dangerous, and hiding is no good either. If you think you are going to hear some negative news from a supplier, a customer, or a partner business then it is better to call and find out NOW rather than later.I’ve been there. When you know bad news is coming and it will affect your company or business. I have ‘hid’, and waited. As the classic business book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go‘ authored by Dr. Seuss points out, you don’t want to hang around people that just wait for things to happen. Go and grab it.

Anyway, those are my little thoughts on luck. You do make your own. And often you have done the work to make that luck happen. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and it takes hard work and perseverance and a lot of listening, networking, and asking that question!

So to finish, I will quote my father. When I mentioned I was writing this blog post he simply said:

“The harder you work, the more luck you will have”. Sums it up neatly I think!

What does your brand promise, and do your customers really care?

costumes-com-au-logoI just read an interesting article from Justin at Vinomofo about building a tribe and attracting ‘supercustomers’, who love your brand/product and what you stand for.

It is a great article and something that every business owner needs to think about. Even if you are small. Read it, and understand it!

I don’t think that you need to implement a big strategy and employ specific marketing and spend lots of $$ in doing it, especially if you are small. It just means you have to know what your business is. Know what you represent as a brand, and what your brand promise is.

We had a team meeting recently where we discussed this exact thing. We talked about our business, it’s values, and what we really do. the key thing is that we need to understand costumes.com.au as a brand and an entity. We are more than an online costume business. Much more than that really. I won’t go into it, but we have a clear idea on who we are, what we offer and the problems we solve.

We know what we are about.

What do I mean by that? I am really speaking about what our core business is.

If someone asks you what your business is, what would you say? “We sell phones”?
“We build websites”?

If you really think about it, that is NOT what you are doing. And the mistake that a lot businesses make is not really understanding what they are about.

What you might really do is “Enable faster and higher quality communications”, “Solve eCommerce headaches”, or something like that.

The questions you need to ask are

  • What problems do you solve for your customer?
  • How does your brand relate to your customer?

What does your brand promise to do and be for your customer?

Once you know the answers you can start implementing that brand promise in everything you do. This leads to lots of great things. Better business decisions (with a customer focus). Better decisions about brand partnerships, about design and product and office morale and environment.

Your customers care about your brand and their interaction with it. So work at it, start asking a few questions, and good luck!

Spend A Day With Internet Retailing Masters (and learn a thing or two!)

Been a while since I posted anything. But that is only because business has been busy, which is a good thing!

I thought I would highlight a small event coming up called “Spend A Day With Internet Retailing Masters!” organised by a good friend of mine (and co-founder of Internetretailing.com.au) Mark Freidin.

On Thursday 2nd August Mark has organised a full day designed to give smaller and growing online retailers personal access to myself, Mark Freidin (Ex COO of Catch of the Day), Wai Hong Fong (former chieftan of Ozhut.com.au) and Jim Stewart (SEO guru).

See the link to the internetretailing.com.au site for more information, but the entry fee of $295 covers food and drinks, and the whole day.

We will be presenting on a few broad topics, but the real bonus is that the event is limited by space and you will have plenty of time to answer questions and get advice from all of us about your individual business.

Oh, and you won’t get ‘sold’ anything on the day. No one is pushing an agenda. We are there to give solid advice and assistance that could be worth a huge amount to your business.

So please retweet and share, and check out the link here !

Sorry, we don’t sell to online retailers.

Went to the Melbourne Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair this morning.

It has been a long time since I have been to an trade expo like this, and brought back some memories of doing this for our previous online business Tacklemania which we sold over a year ago now.

I took 2 of my eCommerce staff in to meet with one of our suppliers, and look for some new product opportunities.

We were looking for some new product ideas to boost our product range on our costumes website, and we did find a few.

Now, in the last 6 months I have seen have seen a large amount of growth in the ecommerce space. New retailers are appearing everywhere, big national brands are coming online, and there is lots of interest. I have done 3 radio interviews in the past week alone thanks to my new book of course, but also very keen to hear about eBay, selling online etc. Lot’s of interest!

However, more often than not when we spoke to suppliers/wholesalers at this toy fair we were told ‘Sorry, we don’t sell to online retailers’.

I expected maybe a few would have this attitude, but it was the revers. Nearly everyone we spoke to didn’t want to deal, apparently no matter hat we offered to them.

So I tested one out!

‘OK, so if I told you that we have a 7 figure business growing at 300% per annum, and we are looking to fill a missing part of a range with your items (therefore adding a good amount of sales for you), we sell at retail prices and have a professional well designed site to represent your brand properly, would you be interested in dealing with us then?’

‘No’.

SoI guess we bypass them and import from overseas? Is that the right answer? I would rather support local industry, but…

Making money on eBay for Dummies is now on sale…

Making Money on eBay for Dummies Book 1742169775It feels a little strange to finally see my book in the wild (yes, Making money on eBay for Dummies is now on sale!). I first spotted it online at Booktopia for pre-order. Wierd feeling!

It was a long time in the making, and should be on shelves of bookstores in early December.

So if you are looking for a guide to get started selling on eBay, a gift for a friend, or you want to grow your existing ebay business, then why not buy Making Money on eBay for Dummies. I will sign every copy that I send out, so these copies will be a little better than copies on the bookstores! And it will help me buy a few beers to make up for the long hours at the computer writing it!

I am hoping it sells well, because I really would like to write a little more, and contribute a little back to the online seller community after learning so much over the years.

Participate in our Search Engine Optimisation Conversation Cafe, SHARE AND LEARN!

Learn about the latest trends in Search Engine Optimisation at our Search Marketing conversation cafe session in Melbourne (8 June 2010)

We’re keeping it small and personal!  Book now $49 (only limited seats left!)

You are  invited to attend our first  Conversation Cafe  discussion on the state of search, latest trends and how it can be used to boost traffic to your site.

The event will offer a unique chance to participate in a discussion and learn lessons from participants Teresa Sperti, Adam Griffiths and myself.

The event is designed to provide people with the opportunity to participate in a robust discussion about factors affecting the search industry, to share best practice and to discuss the latest trends.

The format of the session will largely be discussion based, aimed at allowing online retailers/multi channel retailers to share knowledge in the area of organic search engine optimization.

This round table is a collaboration between Teresa Sperti (Head of Marketing & Technology of realestateVIEW.com.au, and owner of blog digitalmarketinglab.com.au), Adam Griffiths (Get Started) and Mark Freidin and yours truly of InternetRetailing.com.au

Discussion Topics

1.    What role is social media playing within your search strategy
2.    How is real time changing the search landscape and how is this changing your search tactics?
3.    Measurement of search in a world of personalisation
4.    How are organisations optimising for mobile search
5.    How have organisations adapted their search strategy to Bing

Interested in attending?

LIMITED SEATS AVAILABLE, click here for more info!

Web Performance Optimisation (WPO)

One of my business partners sent me a great link yesterday and I was thinking about it a little tonight.

The post is located here : http://www.stevesouders.com/blog/2010/05/07/wpo-web-performance-optimization/

Steve names a new type of business and this is Web Performance Optimisation (with a nice TLA of WPO!). I wonder if we will see WPO offered as a specific service by people soon? I know we have performance some (more specific) Magento performance optimisation for customers as we have seen demand for that.

Google recently announced that it takes page load times into account now, in delivering search results to customers. Although it expects this new action may inly impact about 1% of all websites, it still highlights a growing need for performance.

And some of the references in the Steve Souder’s article highlight somet interesting statistics. Let me quote :

The major search engines measured how much web site slowdowns hurt their business metrics:

On the faster side, companies from a variety of vertical markets had praise for the benefits gained from improving performance:

I find that pretty interesting, and it means a lot for your websites.

So, how do you start evaluating our own website performance, and how can you improve it?

We typically look at a number of areas of performance, and the utilise some tools/services to try and improve in each area. But I do admit, in our own business we haven’t done enough of this recently.

but here are a few good places to start :

Page weight

There are some great tools out there that analyse your page components, and test how long they take to load. Web server performance can have an impact on this, but often it is large image files, and lots of CSS/javascript that are the culprits.

How do you fix it? Use some great little plugins in the Firefox browser to analyse your pages and make suggestions.

MUST HAVE Firefox plugins for developers and website owners are

Yslow will provide a rating of lots of page elements, and give you links to help pages that explain what the grading means (if you have an ‘F’, you fail!), and what to fix.

Server Load

There are lots of tweaks you can do to a web server, but checking the server load can give you some ideas on how hard it is working.

The simple ‘top’ command on a unix command prompt can give you a lot of information (Google for help), and you can also set up monitoring tools (like Zabbix for instance) that can monitor and alert you on all sorts of performance and system elements.

Some things you can look at when analysing server performance:

  • Server location
    • Is your host slow? Google for reviews!
    • Is it hosted in another country? Distance = delay
    • Is it a shared host, with lots of websites on the same machine?
  • Server specification
    • Does it have low memory?
    • Slow internet connection?
    • Does it have any caching enabled?
    • Does it have fast disk access?
  • Software
    • Do you have recent versions of software? (it’s usually best to have new stable versions)
    • Use a faster webserver if you can (lighttpd, nginx etc)
    • Are you running web server and database server on the same machine?

Server configuration can be a complex area of performance, and you can do any number of things to boost performance including getting right down to recompiling software like the operating system kernel itself to boost throughput.

Start simple, do some research online, and ask people for help!

Caching

There are many ways to enable caching on servers and websites, but the most common are :

Gzip for webservers

Most hosts will allow you to edit the .htaccess file on your webserver to enable compression of html/javascript/css etc. What this effectively does is compresses data, sends it to the customer’s browser which then decompresses it on the fly.

This can result in a BIG decrease in page load times.

PHP Caching

Caching for website code can be great for performance, and give many websites run on PHP code these days, there are a few caching mechanisms around that might help.

The most popular are Xcache, eAccelerator etc. See link for more info here.

MySQL caching

Like PHP, MySQL is the webserver of choice for so many websites, that it deserves its own section!

Improving MySQL cache settings can make a huge difference to your site, especially for database intensive websites like Magento.

See this search for some ideas on what to tweak.

Cool stuff

I also wanted to mention some other neat little apps for testing page load times.

They are

  • Chartbeat
    • This is a neat little tool. Install some simple little javascript tags on your pages and chartbeat shows you in real time how long your customers are waiting for page loads, what page they are on, and whay they are doing on your website.
  • Loadimpact.com
    • This tool can test your webserver performance with an increasing number of customers, so you can measure the improvements that you make.
  • ab
    • No, not a typo. ‘ab’ is an apache benchmark application. It is often installed on a unix server, and can test server response times. For example, the command ‘ab -c 10 -t 60 http://yourdomain.com/yourpage.html’ would test the server response and page load times on your web page with 10 concurrent users for 60 seconds continously. Use this in between changes to help identofy improvements.

‘WPO’ covers a huge range of things. Everything from hardware configuration, to server software and config through to application performance tuning.

I have only hit the tip of the iceberg in this post, but I hope it gives you a few starting points when trying to make your website run that little bit faster.

And, if you want some professional advice you can always contact us here.

Clive Peeters launches eCommerce website today.

Today marks the entrance of Clive Peeters into the online retail world with the launch of the clivepeeters.com.au eCommerce site. News broken by internetretailing.com.au informs us that the site is tightly integrated into the exisiting Clive Peeters ERP system.

Bigbrownbox.com.au (Radio Rentals) is getting 800,000 claimed visits a month is the only real incumbent in this vertical and differs in that they don’t offer the choice of store pickup which Clive Peeters does, although Bigbrownbox.com.au has free shipping.

I am quite impressed with Clivepeeters.com.au version 1, and am looking forward to talking more with Tim West, Online Business Development Manager, about the project.

Online Retailer 2009 in Sydney – the State of Online Retail in Australia

I just got back from Online Retailer in Sydney. It was the first event of it’s type in Australia, attracting over 2500 attendees and a good number of exhibitors.

I had opportunity to talk to many of the attendees, catch up with many other online retailers and also interviewed people like Armand , VP of Global Sales at Verisign and Jeff and Bobby Beaver, founders of www.zazzle.com.

What I really wanted to find out was the level of interest in online retailer from some of the bigger bricks and mortar retailers (did they attend?), and the opinions form exhibitors as to the mix of attendees there.

What I discovered was interesting,  and exciting for the industry.

(more…)

A Quick Summary of PeSA 2009 in Sydney (+ some pics)

PeSA Sydney 2009 was a great event. A full attendee list of 300+ eBay sellers were there. Here is a brief summary of the event from my perspective. (for more info on the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, click here).

Well, what a  great conference. PeSA conferences are usually a focused get together of like minded sellers, but this year the attitude that I received from sellers and attendees was just great, better than the year before I think.

My staff and I travelled up to man our sponsor booth (www.readytoship.com.au) and I had some PeSA responsbilities and a panel to MC as well. Sure was a busy few days but it was certainly worth it for us.

The ‘one on one’ sessions that some of the PeSA staff and I (and Jonathan Garris from Gothamcityonline.com) had with attendees were well received I think. It can be tough to really give out a lot of advice in 15 min, its a good challenge! (more…)

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