April 26, 2011


Volunteers in nonprofits have good intentions. Yet they sometimes complicate their lives by using old proprietary tools. The business world does too.

Say your group hosts regular speaker events. Years ago, you might have built a website with an integrated database for membership and newsletters. That's no longer necessary. Today you'll find inexpensive, well-maintained all-in-one sites like Meetup for building a community or Eventbrite for ticket ordering.


New capabilities keep getting added and you can make suggestions. These days, you'd want
  • automatic addition of events to various calendars (e.g., iCal, Google Calendar, Outlook)
  • sites optimized for smartphones and tablets
  • Share buttons for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • removal of Adobe Flash
Does your proprietary solution continually add new capabilities for free? Or do you fall further behind?


Meetup builds a communityMeetup.com is an excellent way to build a community on your terms. You decide whether you want to approve applications or let everyone in. You select whether your site is public or private.

Best of all, you don't need to worry about logistics. What a bonus for volunteers. Event invitations and reminders go out automatically and so do requests for post-event feedback. For extra polish, you can pre-print name badges and sign-in arrivals on an iPhone or iPad.

Built-in social media hooks make promotion very easy. Meetup will inform potential members about your event based on their pre-defined preferences. That's an excellent way to get more attendees and members.
Starting a Meetup is straightforward and there's reasonable guidance. You don't need to know HTML or coding. You effectively have a community and ad hoc newsletters. You can charge for tickets directly or link to an outside service like Eventbrite (see below).

The potential drawback is price ($12-$19 US per month depending on the length of your contract). That's reasonable but if you hold events intermittently, you're still paying fees every month.
3 in 1
Your subscription lets you run three separate Meetups. You could have one for the public, another for paying members and a third for board members. Since you can host files, there's a shared place for behind-the-scenes content like meeting templates, procedures and board minutes.
There's a minor hassle with Meetup: everyone must join or sign-in with Facebook Connect. If you already have a mailing list, you can send them invitations to join. Going forward, you needn't worry about maintaining the email database. You're also assured that all contact is 100% permission-based. If you're a control freak or don't trust Meetup, you may not like that.


Eventbrite makes ticketing easyMany adhoc events use Eventbrite for ticketing. There's no monthly charge. There's no charge at all if your event is free. That's very reasonable. There are nice applets to promote your event and add countdown counters. You decide what information registrants provide (mandatory or optional).

Eventbrite example: Ryerson event (click to enlarge)The ticketing options are very flexible. You can have different classes of tickets (e.g., members vs guests), set cutoff dates (e.g., special early bird prices) and show how many tickets remain. For an excellent example, large the screenshot and look at the yellow highlighting. This is for the Secrets To Success speaker showcase at Ryerson, which I'm attending.

Ticket ordering is faster if you have an account on Eventbrite but this is not required.

Eventbrite helps promote your event but not as well as Meetup. There isn't an easy way to build a community. Eventbrite is primarily for ordering tickets. You can send emails before/after your event.

I've used Eventbrite since 2008 and contacted them several times (which they encourage). Their service is excellent and they welcome suggestions.


Batchbook CRM interconnectsThere's overlap between Meetup, Eventbrite, LinkedIn and email services. While the capabilities keep improving, you may not be satisfied with any one option. That's when you combine them.
You might want a website or blog for basic static information with links to Eventbrite or Meetup. Maybe you run a free LinkedIn group for discussions instead of using Meetup. You could setup an event as a LinkedIn Event with links to Eventbrite for ticketing.

Some interconnections are easy. For instance, you could have your database in a contact management system like Batchbook and use MailChimp to send the emails. MailChimp interconnects with Eventbrite for ticket ordering. This type of structure is ideal because each service keeps improving. You have the flexibility to change components whenever you like.

The Big Vulnerability

The biggest problem with proprietary solutions is dependency. You might be dealing with one person or a small team. What if they go out of business, stop development or delay delivery? You're stuck. You can't easily switch.

If one mainstream service stops working, you can easily replace it. For instance, you might have email addresses in your CRM system, email system and Eventbrite. You can't do exactly what a proprietary system allows. There are compromises in common tools like Twitter (140 characters), Skype (variable quality) and the Kindle (no colour). Often, good enuf is great (Wired 17.09).

If you're starting a new series of events, you have many options. If you're using legacy tools, maybe now's the time to change old habits and modernize.


PS How do you organize your events?

April 19, 2011


reams of paperAre your biases getting in the way of your revenue? We each have our pet peeves.

This week, I've been criticized for using paper. Twice. Here are the crimes
  1. using 31 sheets (one per attendee) to collect feedback on a new talk
  2. using a personalized folder with 14 sheets of paper and a 32 page booklet to market my services
Please forgive any errors. I'm rushing to finish this post before the tree police arrive.

Touching A Service

The importance of saving trees varies with the situation. One meeting took place in a coffee shop. We used paper napkins, paper tea bags and paper cups. The connection is writing a book intended for print. Yet paper wastage was an issue.

Let's ignore other environmental issues, such as the consequences of driving. Neither of us arrived on foot or cycle.

If you sell an intangible service, paper is essential. Prospective clients like having something to touch. The quality of your printed material is a proxy for the quality of your service.

You may think that ditching paper means you're saving trees. Your clients may think you're scrimping, especially if your competitors have handouts. You lose. Explaining your rationale puts you on the defense. Even worse, you're wasting valuable time and attention. How does that bring in revenue?


Hotels tell us to reuse our towels to save the environment. Wonderful. They don't mention that they make more profit. We paid for daily towel changes but get no discount for saving the hotel money for laundry and room-cleaning.

Have you seen the "green" business cards that sell at ultra-premium prices? The vendors make much more money and some stick their advertising on the back. The cards look cheaper than usual and lack a nice semi-gloss (water-based) coating. If the vendor is committed to green, why not find ways to eliminate business cards, reduce the size or donate proceeds to environmental causes?

When you cut back on paper, you're reducing your costs for material and labour. Where's the corresponding benefit for your clients? Cutting back can look cheap and lazy. How would you know? Why take that risk?

Your Biggest Loss

The worst part is that you become judgmental. You look down on the paper-users. A non-green business card? Disgusting! One presenter told her audience that smoking is bad and to quit. She even pointed out smokers. That's offensive even to nonsmokers.

You may feel superior but when you judge others you risk revenue.

Other Ideas

You can save the planet in other ways. How about using recycled paper, printing on both sides of the page and making donations to environmental causes? You needn't tell anyone either.

As the world becomes more high-tech and cost conscious, the impact of what we touch grows. Maybe it's time to switch to higher grade paper. Remember the days of watermarks and fountain pens?


PS Money is still made with paper. Sorry trees.

April 12, 2011


Rabbit dining on ROI
Analysis is wonderful. Lots of numbers to evaluate. Trends. Magnitude. Pretty graphs.

What we measure may not matter.

Analysis might be a substitute for thinking and acting. When you're doing something brand new, there are no standards.


Here's a simple example. Let's say your cost of capital is 6% and your target Return On Investment (ROI) is 15%.

If you're offered an opportunity with a 9% return, your standards say turn it down. Yet you'd earn more than your cost of capital. Isn't 9% better than 6%?

What if your capital is still tied up when the 15% opportunity arrives? Well, can't you borrow money? Even if the cost is 8%, the returns are much higher. Your loan interest is probably deductible too.


Sometimes the ROI is impossible to measure. What's the ROI on
  • your marriage?
  • your business attire?
  • a nice office?
  • client appreciation events?
  • your mobile phone?
  • GPS navigation
  • snow tires during a blizzard?
  • reading a book?
  • your smile?
  • your pet rabbit?
Suppose you sell insurance. What's your client's ROI on the peace of mind you provide?

No Standards

When you're trying something new (say using social media), conventional measures flop. You can measure the time and money you invest but you're unlikely to get a result you directly attributable to what you've done.

Say you write a blog post. Don't count on a sale next week. Maybe you get a client after three years but how would you determine the cause?

What You Can Measure

There are things you can — and should — measure. That's where social media and the Internet rock. There's so much data available to you. Here are simple examples.
  1. Blog: page views, length visits, sources of traffic and trends
  2. Twitter: the quality of your followers (who not how many)
  3. LinkedIn: who are your connections (quality not quantity), how many Recommendations you have, how often your profile gets viewed daily
Your clients, prospects and competitors can also peek at some things …

Your Reputation

There are reputation monitoring tools like Klout and PeerIndex. They're not perfect but are used and will improve. If you're not visible, your score is zero.


My Klout score for @mActuary is currently 26 out of 100. That's low but since anyone can see, I might as well show you. At least the trend is upward and I'm "influential to a tightly formed network that is growing larger".
Klout for @mActuary 2011-04-12
You are your competition too. If you feel your scores are too low, experiment with ways to improve them. There's no fixed formula. You'll find ideas but what works for you will likely differ. Your measure of success may be personalized too.


on the small biz page for over 2 weeks (see bottom righthand corner)With social media, you get credit for what you've done in the past. That legacy helped get me interviewed by the Toronto Star newspaper. For over two weeks, I've been on the first screen of their small business section (now in the bottom righthand corner). What's that worth?

What about you? Starting to use Twitter three years ago, is of more value than starting last month. Having 73 blog posts is better than having four. Even if all those posts and tweets aren't read. You get credit for starting and sticking. That's because so many quit. If there's quality in what you do, you're probably a winner. You're in a marathon, not a sprint.

A Core Question

When pondering ROI, here's a core question: what you're doing that's a better use of your time?
If you're house hunting and find one without central air conditioning, you know you can add it. Yet, why didn't the current owners upgrade? What other shortcuts have they taken? What damage did the heat and humidity cause to the structure?

Even if you don't think social media is essential, you benefit by proving that you've maintained and modernized your business. That helps you recruit and keep staff too. Even if that doesn't translate directly into ROI.


PS What's the ROI on reading this blog post?

April 5, 2011


GYBO 110x175I went to the launch of Google's Get Your Business Online initiative on March 29, 2011 and was underwhelmed. Been there. Got the t-shirt and lanyard.

Google is providing a free .CA web domain for a year (worth $10-15 at retail) and a free build-your-own website from Yola (already free).

What's The Big Deal?

You already get free sites with Weebly and Google Sites. You can even use a free blog platform as a website. Why the hoopla?

One statistic.

Only 1 million of Canada's 2.2 million small businesses have a website. That's as shocking as a business card without an email address. Maybe the publicity will wake up some companies.

Google feels that two obstacles stop businesses from getting online: cost and complexity.
    That hasn't been my experience. Costs are low and complexity can be outsourced. There's a bigger hurdle.

    The First Step

    The first step is to get online personally. That's because the first thing you sell is yourself. If you're not findable or appealing, what else matters?

    The best way to get online is with LinkedIn. You're guided through the entire process of completing your profile to 100%. You can add content for your company too. Again, you just follow the steps.

    Now you and your business are listed in the modern directory and visible to Google. Congratulations!

    The Real Obstacle

    Businesses stay offline because they need help to get online. Who can they trust? What will it cost?

    There are so many social media fakers with plausible claims. Are any of these familiar?
    You must hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert. Twitter solves all problems. Adwords gives you revenue 24/7. You must have an ecommerce-enabled website. Competitors will steal your intellectual property. You can('t) do it yourself. You must start with a marketing strategy. Update your branding first.
    They happen to sell exactly what you need. Predictable.

    What Would Help

    How about removing the risks with
    • Approved vendors with user-generated ratings
    • Fixed price bundles for different kinds of businesses (e.g., products/services, ecommerce/non-ecommerce)
    Costco guarantees your satisfaction with the outside vendors they select for services like printing, painting, air conditioners, etc. There must be some way Google can provide assurances too. Maybe there's an opportunity to partner with schools to help students gain experience (and possibly jobs).

    Maybe Google's initiative will show business that getting online is essential as having electricity. That would be success.


    PS After you get a website, you're still behind since the web is in decline ...