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Skillshare is a Cool Startup That Will Spawn Many Entrepreneurs August 21, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Here’s an extremely cool site you should check out:  http://www.skillshare.com/learn.  Their tagline explains the value proposition concisely:  “Skillshare is a community marketplace for offline classes.” If you have expertise in a certain field and would like to offer classes in that topic (Greek salad making, mandolin repair, women’s self-defense, Ghanaian art appreciation, French language for lovers, poker for beginners, tips and tricks for the Kindle, still-life photography, etc., etc.), this site gives you an easy and classy way to promote your class offering, and for students in your community to find you.

You know how eBay and CraigsList created markets for the stuff lying around our homes that, it turns out, others wanted all along and were willing to pay for?  Well, I see Skillshare as doing the same thing for a lot of talented people — enabling them to better monetize their unique talents.

Last week, Skillshare closed an A Round of $3.1 million, which will accelerate their growth (see http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/skillshare-raises-3-1-million-to-turn-everyone-into-teachers/).  I hope this community really makes it big.  It deserves success.

 

Last week, Skillshare raised a $3.1 million Series A round (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/skillshare-raises-3-1-million-to-turn-everyone-into-teachers/).

Startup Flight Checklist Item #5: Generating Revenue Via Affiliate Marketing August 9, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Affiliate marketing is a great way to both add substance to your site while at the same time generating significant revenue.  Here’s how the business model works:

You join the affiliate marketing program of an online retailer – let’s say Bubba’s Barbeque – and choose which of their products you wish to promote on your website – let’s say you want to start with two things, BubbaSauce and BubbaTongs.  You select those
products, and their pictures, names and product descriptions appear on your site.  You can choose to write articles, blog posts or other information on these items to customize the information.  Then, when a visitor to your site clicks on one of the items and chooses to purchase it, they are automatically taken to the Bubba’s Barbeque site, while your site receives a predetermined sales commission for that sale.  Most affiliate programs plant cookies on the buyers’ computers, so that even if they purchase up to a month later, you receive commission credit for having directed a sale to the merchant’s site.

So let’s put ourselves back in the shoes of Adam and me just launching our mythical startup GemGuitars.com.  We want to generate some cool content fast, and we find that we can join Amazon’s affiliate program and almost instantly add great content on books on the care and feeding of old guitars, old jazz and blues musicians, great sheet music, and so on.   And we can be generating meaningful revenue and creating a quality site that attracts aficionado traffic, as well.

So how do you find affiliate programs to join?  Fortunately, there are intermediaries that organize and run everything for you.  Look up affiliate marketing networks – such as Commission Junction (www.cj.com), ClickBank (www.clickbank.com), AffiliateScout (www.affiliatescout.com), or Clix Galore (www.clixgalore.com), to name a few.  Each of these networks has as many as thousands of online merchants registered with them.

All you have to do, as a publisher or website owner, is join a given affiliate sales network once, and then select among its many merchants – and within each merchant, their many products.  Merchants’ commission structures vary all over the map, with the heavies such as Amazon or Target offering a fairly light 3-5%, while merchants with less market power are willing to offer 25% or more to get you to list their products on your site.

Once you’ve joined a program with a given affiliate sales network – say Commission Junction – you can sign up with as many as
dozens of merchants through that network, and if you choose list hundreds of products from those merchants on your site.  The network will do all the back-office work to track the sales and send you a single, itemized commission statement and check at the end of each month.  It’s that straightforward.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #4: Generating Revenue Through Advertising August 4, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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As you set up your new company, you may or may not run across what sounds like a technical question:  “What’s your business model?”  Your “business model” is simply your answer to the question, “How is your business going to make money?”

Now, it’s OK to have multiple answers to this question – that is, to have two, three or more complementary ways of making money.  And they don’t all have to start at once in a “big bang,” either.  Let’s look again at our GemGuitars.com example:  Here, it’s obvious that, as Adam and I launch our company that our primary business model is buying and selling high-end, used guitars on the Internet, and presumably making a nice profit by marking them up those instruments.  However, just because that’s our primary business model doesn’t mean that has to be the only thing we do, or the only way that we make money.  We can have complementary business models.  (Indeed, having complementary lines of business and business models can often result in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.)

Google AdSense

AdSense (www.google.com/adsense/) is Google’s ad serving program.  It provides website owners with an easy-to-sign-up and simple-to-administer way to generate revenue that is complementary to their other businesses or business models.  A given website’s primary focus might be anything from musical instruments to herbal cures to poetry to hotel reservations, but they can still generate complementary revenue through Google AdSense.  Once you sign up in the program, you can:

a) easily add a custom search engine to your site, and earn on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis from ads on the search results pages;

and/or,

b) display ads – text ads, graphical ads and/or video ads – on your site that Google automatically selects as being suited to your audience’s interests (and again, earn on valid clicks or impressions).

AdSense can also serve mobile ads as well as ads to your RSS feeds.  The nice thing is that once you register with the program and do a bit of initial set-up and website tinkering, it’s pretty much an autopilot kind of thing:  It’s an intelligent program that runs itself as far as you’re concerned.  You can go in and adjust the parameters to your heart’s delight, or just sit back, monitor
your dashboard, and collect your advertising earnings.

From my point of view as a veteran business-builder, one of the really cool things about AdSense is that it gives very-early-stage businesses a way of earning some revenue when they’re barely off the ground.  Additionally, it tends to provide a baseline of ad revenue as a buffer to a company’s other lines of business.

Ad Networks

As your business matures and your website traffic grows, you may choose to sell ad space on your site directly through an advertising network.  AdBrite (www.adbrite.com) runs the largest independent ad network, and it’s essentially a real-time auction that tries to optimally match advertisers – video, banners, rich media, and other formats – with publishers (that’s you if you’re a website owner).  If you’re thinking of going this route, other ad networks to consider are 24/7 RealMedia (www.247realmedia.com), Advertising.com (www.247realmedia.com), Chitika (www.chitika.com). ), and Burst Media (www.burstmedia.com).

Many publishers/site owners choose to hold off on approaching ad networks until their website has achieved fairly significant, reliably-documented traffic levels, since otherwise the CPM rates you can command (CPM = cost per mille, or cost-per-thousand-impressions ad rates paid by the network for your ad space) tends to be extremely low.

Site Sponsorship

Finally, we should mention getting companies to sponsor your website or certain key pages.  Just starting out, it’s probably not worth approaching companies about potential sponsorship.  Get your site up and running and let them come to you.  Extend the welcome mat to potential sponsors by placing an “Advertising” link at the bottom of the home page that takes them to a page providing contact information and the types of sponsorships and ads available.  Typically, sponsors pay a flat annual fee for their sponsorship.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #3: Content Management August 1, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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If you’re building an information-intensive business, you’re going to be concerned about what’s referred to as content management – that is, constantly writing, editing and posting new written material and graphically editing, laying out and posting new pictures and graphical material and/or video material to the site.

Bear in mind that, even if you’re not running what you think of as an information-intensive business – let’s take my buddy Adam’s and my mythical GemGuitars as an example – you may be surprised at the extent to which you’re constantly updating information with your public.  With GemGuitars, for instance, we’re going to be perpetually posting new products, updating prices, removing products that have been sold or are have gone out-of-stock, adding new blog posts by stringed
instrument experts,  adding new specials, adding links to articles topically interesting to our audience, and so on.  My point is that you don’t have to be running an online magazine like Zouch (http://zouchmagazine.com/ — where my son Ben Price serves as Literature Editor), or Stanford Magazine (http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/) to find yourself in the position of managing lots of content, and lots of rapidly-evolving content.

I use WordPress to publish the simple blog you’re reading here.  This blogging services review  (http://blog-services-review.toptenreviews.com/)   also lists as strong services, in rank order after #1 WordPress, TypePad, Squarespace, Blogger
(from Google), MySpace, AOL Journals, Windows Live Spaces, Xanga and LiveJournal.

What you’ll find is that most blogging services are quite good at providing you, as an editor/site owner, with great administrative tools and add/edit/change/update content.  Most are really good with written content, while some are better than others with managing graphical content.  In addition, pretty much all these services make it quite straightforward to link your blog into your website, as well as into various social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on.

And while we’re on the subject of content management, let’s chat a little about content creation.  As you’re building a business these days, it’s so much less important for everyone to be in one place.  I mentioned the upcoming cultural touchstone
Zouch Magazine, and their talented editorial staff and columnists are dispersed far and wide, from Montreal to Nashville, Ann Arbor to Dallas and even the Channel Islands.  How does an organization like this function?

With cloud-based storage and cloud-based document-sharing – Dropbox and its numerous storage and doc-sharing competitors,
Google Docs and its cloud competitor Microsoft Office 365, and so on – it’s becoming easier and easier not just to work from home, but to work from various locations.  Add to that the quick-and-easy – and inexpensive! – ability now to set up 3- and 4-way conference calls, face-to-face video-time conferencing and collaborative whiteboard discussions and editorial sessions… and it gives a geographically-dispersed team the potential for a true working intimacy and interactivity.