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Friday, July 14, 2006

Providing Valuable Content

In a post yesterday one of the things I talked about was joining the conversation and doing so with valuable content. You draw people to your blog by providing value to them for nothing. That value may get paid back to you in the form of donations or new customers.

I ran across a great example of this today. AccuQuote, an insurance company from what I gather from their site, started a blog. Their blog provides specific information on the insurance industry. They are using their expertise to provide content that provides value to a large marketplace. They can then turn some of the viewers of that content into customers.

Don't just take my word for it. Jason Calacanis' company Weblogs, Inc (purchased of course by AOL), probably the best case of turning blogging into a profitable business, is the company that designed AccuQuote's blog.

I only have a couple problems with the AccuQuote blog:

1. It's not clear how to get to their homepage. Right now it's a link at the bottom right of every post title "Read". I'm not sure how that makes any sense. They should make it very easy to get to their business site, it'd probably help people make the transition from reader to customer.

2. I hate "the jump". Blogs should always display an entire post instead of just a partial post and then a link to read the rest of the content. I fail to see any value in doing that.

Besides those two things this a great model of a business adding value to the marketplace as a whole.

Advertising For A Cause

I caught a post by Fred Wilson that I had missed from late last month about how his blog ad revenue goes to charity. I'm pretty sure that I had read it on his blog in the past, but it's just cool to hear about. It's a great twist to the web advertising model, ad clicks for a good cause.

Way to go Fred!

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Development Process

I put together a development plan for my company. Essentially we wanted to document the process we are going to follow from the point that an idea for a system, or enhanced system functionality, enters someone's head to the point that we have finished product.

The contruction phase is meant to follow Agile and Extreme Programming methodologies. It may be written a little bit differently, but that's so that any business member who's not familiar with those processes can look at it and understand.

I'm open to feedback so anyone who stumbles across this and has any thoughts, they are more than welcome.

Development Process

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Creating A Web Presence

I had a meeting with the director of an adoption and counseling agency today. He's a great guy who wants to use the internet to cultivate his business. He recognizes that he needs a web presence and he wanted to talk about strategies for updating the company's site and driving traffic to it.
I had the privilege to explain to him what a blog is and talk about how starting a blog enhances your exposure. I briefly explained the concepts of feeds and feed aggregators and the opportunity that gives people to hear from you, and interact with you, on their terms and at their chosen time.
We talked about some of the reasons the blog is such a great medium. None of these points originates with me, but here they are:

1. Writing a blog makes you part of the conversation - When you add valuable content to the larger conversation about whatever topic pertains to you, you provide value to your prospective audience and gain exposure. The key here is to make sure to be providing quality content, and doing it on a regular basis. Another important part is to engage people who are talking about you to make sure that they know their opinion is valuable. A great example of this is dell contacting a blogger who had trouble with one of their computers and posted about it. There are quite a few similar stories out their about things like this, and it's a credit to those companies who connect with the people who are talking about them.

2. Using feeds allows people to catch up with you on their time - In today's world attention is a scarce resource. People have so many things vying for their attention, and your website, or newsletter, is just another thing they have to remember to read. Setting up a blog with a feed allows people to capture your latest posts and catch up on them when they have the time to focus. One of the strongest features of allowing people to subscribe to your feed is that you don't require them to visit your site to get updates along with all the other sites they would want to visit in a day or week.

3. Email newsletters are going the way of the fax machine - Email newsletters are hardly much different from magazines. Most of us get more magazines than we actually read and they end up getting stacked up to read later (it goes back to the whole attention thing). When we never get around to reading them they just get thrown out, or in the case of email, get deleted. Combine that with the fact that if the content that may connect with a specific user is buried deeper than they end up looking you lose them. On blogs menus and tags allow you to provide people quick access to the content that is valuable to them. Content people with that and you are more likely to turn them into a customer, or in the case of a non-profit, a potential donor.

4. Passionate people are more valuable than paid advertising - If you are able to connect with people via the blogosphere, even if they aren't in your target market, they have the ability to draw more attention to you than even an expansive marketing budget could. Let's say in this particular example you were to provide valuable content on adoption: common misconceptions, what to expect, etc. People across the country can benefit from that information and you have the potential to make yourself the defacto online presence for that kind of information.

The beauty of today's internet world is that you have the ability to control your own web presence by the content and value you provide to the connections and conversations that are already going on in ways that never existed before. It's just up to you to take advantage of it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New Car

I've been driving an F-150 for almost two years and loving it, for the most part anyway. The gas mileage is not something to enjoy. It came advertised at 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, but I would guess in reality that it's probably more like 12 mpg city and 15 mpg highway. Other than that it's an amazingly smooth ride for a truck and having a four door was great. Plus there's nothing like the utility of a truck, it was very convenient when we moved, did our landscaping and so many other times and it wasn't just for us, other people were able to use it as well.

It was a lease, and I've been putting more miles than we paid for on it. As many of you know that's a costly proposition so it came time to investigate our alternatives. Nothing was really looking good as far as we were concerned. We talked to a Ford Dealer, we looked at VW's, we visited a Chevy dealership and we searched around at used car lots and on the web. Nothing was particularly good as far as deals or vehicles, and we were looking to cut our costs which wasn't working out either.

Then we heard about GM's zero percent financing for 72 months. Yeah it's a long time to pay for a car, but you can't beat borrowing money for free. We decided to head out to a Pontiac/Buick dealership in Brighton to take a look at the Grand Prix and the Rendezvous. When we first started talking prices with the salesman nothing was sounding right, the prices were still higher than what we were looking for. As we were walking back into the building to talk about more prices after looking at a Rendezvous a vehicle drove in front of us that we both had to admire.

We connected right away visually with what would soon become our new car. We immediately asked our salesman, who turned out to be great to deal with overall, what we were looking at. Apparently it was the Pontiac Torrent, not something either of us have seen on the road, or advertised even though it's a 2006 model year car, so it's been out for at least a little while. Tom showed us the car in the showroom and we were even further convinced. The price tag looked right, it's fairly close to a crossover and it has a surprising amount of interior space.

We took one for a test drive and decided then that if the numbers were right this was the vehicle for us. Tom needed to make some calls to get the color we wanted in the package we were looking for, and we needed to make some calls to get a GM employee discount. We signed the credit application Saturday to lock in the zero percent no matter when we actually made the purchase and we were on our way. Not two hours later we had a GM employee discount code, and we were going to be paying less to buy the Torrent than we were to lease the F-150. The deal we got couldn't be beat.

So our new car is the Pontiac Torrent and we're pumped about it. If you want to deal with a salesman who is just an all around good guy visit Tom at the Pontiac Buick in Brighton. Check out this sharp ride:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Nursery Stage 2

Well, it was certainly a busy holiday weekend. I got to (as in: had the privilege to) work on Monday, although we did get out at 2:30. So it wasn't the full 4-day weekend that many enjoyed.

Work continued in full swing on the nursery Tuesday, which was supposed to be my day off. You'll only see a slight bit of difference in the pictures this time around. We peeled off the tape, did some touch-up work along the base molding and installed the chair rail. It certainly wasn't as difficult to do as I expected, or as I've heard, but it was still definitely time consuming. My dad came to help which was awesome, so we scratched our heads and worked on our geometry and got it done. It's actually looking really sharp. What you can't see is that the top edge still needs to be caulked, and the nail holes need to be plugged and touched up, but other than that preparations on the nursery are almost complete. Besides those two things I need to hang the ceiling fan and then my work there is done.

Looks good from where you're standing doesn't it!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Nursery Stage 1

Well, it's been a few months since I did my last post. Nice. Not that there's anyone out there who reads this that doesn't know already: but our first born is due in just under 3 months.

Our yet-to-be-named little baby boy is due September 26th and needless to say we are very excited. Today preparations went into full swing.

We've had a couple furniture ordeals, we returned a full set due to various problems and have been mostly unsuccessful at finding alternatives. Well today that selection was made and we also started painting.

Below you can see pictures of the paint job. Stage 2 of the project is to peel off the tape, clean up the plastic and put in a chair rail tomorrow. Should be fun.

Oh yeah...I tried to talk Shannon into letting me paint the door tan and the squares green to match the walls...she wouldn't let me. Some people have no sense adventure.