Good Business Signage Could Save Your Business

Considering all the steps it takes to get a business up and running, not to mention keep running, it’s not surprising to learn that many small and large business owners neglect to do the research necessary for proper signage. Generally, by the time they get around to considering what would be a good sign and signage for the company there is very little budget left. Little understanding of what good signage can do for your business and little dollars left in the budget are an unfortunate mix. Quite often, the signage and signs purchased for a company are inadequate and end up costing the company more money in the long run.

Careful consideration of what role the sign will play for your company is important. Branding is just one of the more obvious roles, that should be factored into the design purchase and placement of your business signage. A sign is a very visible symbol of your business. It’s quite often the one thing that many people will remember. It’s worth considering featuring your sign in a fairly prominent area of your companies building.

I’ve heard several success stories relating to adequate and inadequate signage for a business. One that springs to mind at the moment is a story I heard from a friend who has a client that own a fairly successful restaurant. The restaurant was well-known and established as it had been running for a number of years with many happy, repeat customers. The owner however had dreams to expand and grow the business into an even more profitable one. As it turned out, better signage was the answer to a much increased customer influx.

In the early years of the restaurants success, they had done nothing in regard to signage as a means to attract new customers to their location. After consulting with an expert in the field, some recommendations are made. As it turned out, there were several large and busy roadways, not far from the restaurant. Some strategically placed, prominent and attractive signs were put into effect as a result. The restaurant entrepreneur saw some fairly impressive growth over the next few years. As time went by, buoyed by the success of all the new customers, the restaurant actually expanded and saw staggering growth of over 300% in their customer base.

It makes you wonder, how successful they would’ve been with those signs from the very beginning of the restaurant. The moral here is, obviously, that signs and good signage should be considered from the very beginning any new business venture. While signs may not seem like a big deal at first, this story obviously demonstrates how important they really can be. The amount of money spent on good signs in the beginning may seem prohibitive. But in fact, good signage is one of the best marketing tools there is for getting the message out about your business. In some cases it can even be better than word-of-mouth advertising.

Just Do Something . . . Anything!

There are to do lists that never get completed. Tasks that never get started. Glorious opportunities that never come to fruition. And, lives that are lived unfulfilled. All for one simple reason. Someone, somewhere, for some reason, didn’t take action.  They need to learn, how to take action.  There are a multitude of reasons why people don’t take action, but the biggest action killer, is fear. Fear can take many guises, and forms for different people. You could be afraid of being told “no”, fear of being wrong, fear of failing, fear of not living up to yours or someone elses expectations, or fear of rejection.

They can be residual effects from dramatic events that have transpired in your past. I still remember an event that occurred to me in kindergarten. It was one of our first days, and we we’re all doing a simple task. After completing it, I quickly realized I had done it incorrectly based on what my teacher showed us. She then started coming around the room to check on everyone’s work. With the best of intentions I’m sure, as she was likely just checking to see if we needed any help. I was mortified. I knew I had done the work horribly wrong, and thought I was going to be in big big trouble. I don’t really remember how the situation ended, just me feelings leading up to it. I’m sure the conclusion couldn’t have been that bad, since I did manage to get through kindergarten.

The point I’m trying to illustrate here, is that many times fears are just imaginary thoughts existing only in our minds. Not always, but quite often our little fears are based on a non existent reality. Created only by our own imagination. That’s not meant to dismiss them as trivial, as fears can become quite strong and quite overwhelming if we allow them to go unchecked. The good news is, that if we create this fear in our mind, there’s no reason why we can’t also destroy it. It’s simply a matter of having a process for doing just that. One, that works well for me, is writing. Writing this very article is a tactic I’m using for overcoming a very unproductive day. And it’s working.

Simply by virtue of doing some reading and research into my own motivations I’ve become more informed about my fears. By writing about them, and intertwining personal events for my life I’m able to better understand and overcome that obstacles in my path. For others, talking with friends and family can be another strategy for overcoming fears. There’s nothing like exposing your fear to the light of day through discussion, to make it seem insignificant and beatable. Further empathetic feedback from friends is sure to help you win your battle.

Find Your Meaning In Every Action You Take

Early on in our careers, generally right after high school, college, or university most people have the obvious goal of finding a job. Generally that means a job in their chosen field of study if they’re lucky enough to have completed our studies. Four, five or more years of university had better amount to some tangible benefit, or they better have some good explanation for Mom and Dad. If they’re going straight from high school, into the work force, then generally any job will do. As long as the pay is good, the pressure is not too great, and you get to work with a cool bunch of people. Somewhere along the line, all that starts to change. At least for some of us, let’s find meaning in life, and what you do with your life.

I know it did for me. Not sure exactly where or why, but I do have some theories. For a lot of years, probably into my early thirties what mattered to me, was that the job paid well, that I was not bored to death doing it, and the shorter the hours the better. Around the time my father died, that thinking started to change for me. I needed to feel what I did mattered. I had been working for a consulting company, that was by it’s nature very entrepreneurial. The money was good, and the perks were fantastic. Prior to that, I was really just a cubicle clown doing whatever management dictated as necessary. Adequate pay, and OK working conditions.

Eventually, I went to work for a large financial institution. Now the work and pay were both OK, but I started asking myself bigger picture type questions. Epitaph type stuff. Was I making the world a better place by what I did for a living? Was the company I worked for making a significant and positive impact on people and the world in general? It started to matter to me, how my contribution and indirectly my employer affected other people. I didn’t really like the answers I was getting. I was working for a bank after all ;)

So I decided to go out on my own. If figured I could make a fortune in the online world. Opportunities abounded, and there was money to be made. The financial success has yet to come true, but that’s another story. I still need to satisfy my moral conscience and know that I was contributing in a good way to the world at large. Some of my earlier business strategies were a little borderline, but if I could satisfy my need for making the world a better place, I was OK with that. I remembered reading a story about two college friends who also wanted to make the world a better place for having had them in it. Once decided to go work for a volunteer agency in remote third world countries. The other decided became the CEO of his own very successful company. The first guy was able to help a few people at a time through his hands on approach in disadvantaged countries. The CEO was able to help tens of thousands through his own philanthropist organization. Who was more successful? To me, it was the CEO.

I’m not good at digging ditches and building homes in third world countries, but I like to think I’m pretty handy at computers, and running a business. Although so far, that hasn’t been proven on the balance sheet. My point being, that you don’t have to sacrifice your own desires to make a difference. Whatever you do, if you put your whole heart into it, and be successful beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll be fortunate to make the world better for others. I plan to accomplish just that, and I’m working that plan today.

You Are Your Biggest Hero

Small short phrases that hold beneath them powerful meanings are often referred to as sayings or quotes. They say a lot with only a few short words. They don’t always say the same thing to everyone, but that again is part of their power. They’re open to interpretation. They encourage people to think. They may have a somewhat obvious meaning, but if you dig deeper, they often have more to offer. Their also very non specific, in the sense that they can be applied to a lot of different situations. Where do you find a real life hero?

I read it in the locker room of my local health club. It’s obviously meant in that context as a motivator. Something to encourage you and inspire you as you do your 30 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical trainer. That works for me, at least for the first few minutes. But if you think about it a bit longer, I think you’ll find plenty of mental fodder, to get you through your entire workout.

Being the hero of your own life to me means several things. One of those things is that you are ultimately responsible for all your actions. There is no reason to blame anyone else for your problems, faults, mistakes, and short comings. Not your parents, not your friends, not your co-workers, not your family, and not even your enemies. You, and only you should take blame and credit for where your are today. You made each and every decision in your life that put you where you are today. If you like where you are, congratulations! If you don’t, then you need to make some more decisions to get you where you want to me. Don’t leave things to fate, unless your happy having no control over your life.

But, being the hero of your life means more. Especially the use of the word hero. That’s a pretty big word. I think super hero, when I hear that word. They just go together. Having a super hero in your life, is different than having a husband, wife, brother, sister, cousin, mother, father, or best friend. A hero is larger than life, and they often have a profound influence on you and your well being. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have a few heroes as I’ve grown. Some real, and some imaginary (that’s another story). They’ve all played an pivotal role in shaping me into who I am. But, to imagine yourself as your own hero, is an incredibly empowering feeling. If you believe it. Not just read it, or say it, but believe it. It’s not that far of a stretch, especially if you have the slightest bit ego within. You can shape your own life in incredibly positive ways.

Being your own hero, means you have the ability to save yourself from anything. From any situation. From anyone. From any place. If you need rescuing, you have within yourself the power to make it better. If you want a better job, you have the wherewithal to make it happen. If you need to get out of a bad relationship, you have the strength to see that those changes take place. If your weak, you know where to find strength. Even if your deathly ill, you have the resolve of spirit to see the larger picture, and feel secure in your spiritual well being. These are all skills we’ve learned in living through the years. Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures. The will to survive is strong, and we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have without it. Sometimes we forget though. We need reminders. Our lives can get tough, confusing, and frustrating . . . we forget. That’s part of the beauty of a little phrase like “You are the hero of your life”. It quickly reminds us, of who we are, and what we are truly capable of.

On A Quest For Some Peace And Quiet

There are plenty of things we need as human beings, but one of the most neglected, is peace and quiet. Or more specifically, an absence of distraction and stimulation. We live in a frantic society, where we’re constantly bombarded by news, media, gadgets, family, friends, telephones, computers, television and work. It’s a wonder, more of us don’t go crazy. I work from home, and have three small children. Thankfully, they’re all in school, otherwise, very little work would get done. My most peaceful time of day, is the moment they’re off to school and I know things will be quiet. I know I have hours of time to do what I deem important.

Every work day morning, it feels like I have my whole life in front of me. My spouse is off to work, the kids are at school, and the dog is asleep. Since I work for myself, I pretty much set my own agenda, and schedule. Even though, I have a full day of work ahead of me, it feels like a big weight has been lifted of my shoulders. I know I can concentrate on what I need to do, and if I can get on a roll, I’ll get plenty of things done.

I’ve always been a fairly quiet person, even as a child. As I grew, into my teenage years, I remember moments seeking out locations where I knew I would have moments of quiet solitude. We used to have an apartment that we rented in on of the big houses I grew up in. It was closed off from the rest of the house. Since it was old, and kind of retro fitted to an older house, the layout was a little odd. The washroom for example, was kind of in the middle of the apartment, with no windows. I often preferred to use that washroom as it was fairly isolated from the rest of the house and sort of felt like being in a sensory deprivation tank. When I worked in office towers, which rarely offered much quiet, I would still manage to find some on my lunch hours and coffee breaks. There was a hotel adjoining one of the office buildings, and I would often just find a sitting area on one of the floors where I could just sit, or sit and read. The pool had a very peaceful observation area with couches and very little foot traffic.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to find these little hideaway places, but I know they were essential to my well being. Having an opportunity to just be with yourself, and not having to wear a mask or appearance for the benefit of others is a calming feeling. Most people who have an office job, never see that benefit. They have to expend energy sustaining the facade of a good employee, while at the same time doing their job. Whatever that is. I never really thought of it before, but it’s nice to be able to truly be myself, while doing the work I enjoy. It’s liberating, and very honest.

Some, some would argue, that I’m not truly in a world of piece and quiet when I start my work day, that’s fine. But I am in a much more quiet and honest environment to do what I need to do. I generally try not to worry about what others think, or feel that I’m putting on a brave face for their benefit. At the very least, I think what we need from peace and quiet, is a chance to be ourselves. Our real selves. Our honest selves. While That’s not where I was going when I started this piece, that seems to be where I’ve ended. Peace and quiet means a chance for us to be 100 percent honest. It’s a good place to be. At leas for a few more hours.

Taking The High Road To Happiness

We live in a culture, that thrives on happiness. It seems like every time you flip on the TV, listen to the radio, or read a blog, you hear someone say, “I just want to be happy”. Happy with their career, happy with their spouse, happy with their kids, happy with their life. At times, I wonder if being happy, is more important than food, shelter, and love. I think, at times, it all sounds very self indulgent. Considering all the suffering that goes on in the world, that all some people want, is to be happy. But, it really does seem to be a basic human drive.  Ever wonder how to find happiness.

I think we hear it a lot in western culture, because we are so very lucky to live in a prosperous, civilized country. For the most part, the majority of us are well taken care of in terms of basic human wants. Food, shelter, and family. Not everyone, but most. After you’ve achieved those things, what do we look for next? It would appear, to be happiness. Of course, having basic needs met doesn’t mean happiness. You can have a great house, plenty of money, and an amazing car, and still not be happy. You could hate your job, despise your spouse, and generally just fight with your kids day in and day out. So, what does one do to find happiness?

Eating may make you feel good. Drinking is more than likely to make you feel happy, for at least a little while. Television, smoking, the internet, drugs, gambling, porn, and a cornucopia of other addictions may also give your feelings of euphoria, and happiness in the short term. But it’s all very short term. It’s never a permanent solution to your overriding sense of unhappiness. When used as a distraction, and in moderation, these things actually do to improve our lives. They allow our minds and bodies to escape, relax, and recharge themselves. That’s OK. But, when those distractions begin replacing or interfering with the important components of our lives, we have a problem.

When they affect our jobs, our family relationships, and our sense of worth, serious problems can result. Working in your own business, and as your own boss, on your own, can can make your very vulnerable to happiness inducing activities. You have more control of your life, and are less answerable to bosses, and other colleagues. If for instance, your business starts to fail, and nothing you do seems to fix it, your far more likely to turn to other forms of happiness inducing activities. It does seem to be a basic need.

For example, on days that are particularly frustrating, I find myself eating a lot more. And not those healthy foods. But the junk stuff that tastes so good, and makes me feel happy. Comfort foods, they’re often called. And, once I start it seems like there’s no stopping. These days for instance, it’s right around Halloween, and I know there’s all kinds of little chocolate bars lying all over the house. And I know, once I try just one, I can’t stop myself at 2 or 3 or 4 or 5. It really is an addiction. A quest for happiness. Because of my own food addiction, whenever I see an overweight or obese person, I often think there goes someone not happy with their life. They’ve substituted excessive food into their life to make themselves happy. In the long term, it only makes things worse.

The real trick here, is to find happiness in the most important, core parts of your life. That means, your family, your job, your spouse, and your friends. If your not finding happiness in your core activities, then your far more likely to substitute one of those short term fixes into your life for happiness. The solution, is not in forcing yourself to go on a diet, or watching less television. The solution is to find happiness in the big things in your life. If you hate your job, give some serious thought to what you really want to do, and do it. If your marriage is horrible, either work hard to fix it, or move on. If your extra curricular activities and group of friends aren’t making your happy, then change them. That’s easy. The first, and hardest step, is to recognize where your happiness is derived from. After that, it’s all up to you.

Self Doubt Is A Creepy Little Killer

Every time I start down the road to success, I hear this nagging little voice in the back of my mind, that says things like “that won’t work,” and “what a silly thing to do,” and “you don’t really want to do that.” It isn’t just when trying to make little decisions that it springs up. True, it can come up with something small like trying to decide my what topic my next article will be. I don’t know how many times, I’ve gone in circles from topic to topic, trying to find something that was perfect enough to satisfy that bit of self doubt nagging at me. It’s very time consuming, negative, and frustrating.  Let’s figure out how to overcome self doubt.

It can happen with the big stuff as well. This is when things can get really costly, in terms of time and focus. I often find myself vacillating from one business strategy to the next. It’s easy to do with an online business, since the barriers to trying different strategies are often very low. It doesn’t take much to set up a website, create some content, and start promoting it. While those may be the three basic steps to success in the world of online business, as they say, the devil is in the details. Creating websites, content and promotion can be done literally hundreds of ways. Chances are, most of them will work to some degree or another. The key is to be persistent with one long enough to make it work for you.

Self doubt can very easily scuttle a perfectly good business plan, by pointing out all the flaws and chinks, that are preventing the plan from working early on in it’s execution. This generally leads me, the entrepreneur, to the search for better, and “perfect” strategies. I hate to think about how many times I’ve let this happen to me. There are so many voices clamoring for your attention online, that distractions are a dime a dozen. Blogs, email subscriptions, and forums are all chock full of the next brilliant idea. Some of them are genuinely good, possibly even brilliant. But chances are that the one your working at the moment is pretty good as well.

It’s a difficult balancing act to follow. While every plan needs to be tweaked during execution, the decision to totally discard one should not be taken lightly. If components of a plan are not working, then remove, improve, or tweak them. Merging ideas from others into a plan can be important to it’s success. I’m finding, that as of late it’s better to block out that voice of self doubt. Instead of focusing on the pieces that aren’t working (there were always be some), it’s far better to look at successful results of a plan. The topics that seem to draw attention. The business partners that are looking for win-win relationships. The areas where you feel like adding real value to your clients and partners. That way, the voice of positive reinforcement can win out over, and drown the annoying squeaky one of self doubt.

Using Narcissism To My Advantage . . . Who Else Would I Use It For?

I have a confession to make. I’m a narcissist. Big surprise huh? Actually we all are to some degree. According to Freud, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Supposedly, a little bit of it is good for your sense of self and some decent self esteem. Makes sense. A total absence of any any narcissistic tendencies, and you’d end up being a doormat for everyone else’s wants and desires. You’d never be able to say no to anything anyone asked of you, and you’d end up being a basket case. That’s not really a problem for me. I tend to swing more the other way. So, maybe narcissistic behavior is not totally evil?

I do come by it honestly though. I get it from my mother. It’s always the mother’s fault isn’t it? Seriously though, I recognized it in her long before I saw it in myself. As I get older though, and a little more introspective, I’ve caught myself behaving in somewhat more selfish ways. Little stuff at first. Take casual conversation for example. Just making idle chit chat with friends and colleagues, I find myself always twisting the conversation back to being about me. It’s natural to always input a little of yourself into any conversation, that’s part of the reason for talking with others. To understand a different perspective. But, when the bulk of the conservation seems to center back to one person, you have to wonder if things have become a little one sided.

I try to be more aware of it these days, and make it a point to give others the opportunity to discuss their views and feelings. Simply by asking them what they think, is a good way to keep the conversation more balanced. But, I’ve decided it’s not always necessary to fight human nature. If I’m a little self centered, then why not use that to my advantage. Especially if it helps me with my somewhat struggling business. And in the process, maybe give something of use to others. Not very narcissistic I know, but I’m working on it.

A narcissist should have no problem be introspective, and I’ve decided lately, that’s what I need to do to help my business survive. I’m a lone wolf operation for the most part. Trying to make a living online. It hasn’t been easy as of late, as I’ve had plenty of failures land on my doorstep. Which is ok, as the saying goes, “if your not failing, your not trying”. The problem is so many failures seemed to have battered my self confidence into a bit of a bloody pulp. Which is hard for me to admit, as being confident has rarely been a problem for me. I can only think of one other time in my life when it was. In that case perseverance eventually won the day, but this seems worse.

A lack of confidence can lead to a paralyzing fear of action. Being afraid to take the next step no matter how easy that step is can be debilitating. My plan at the moment, is to write as much about myself (narcissistic enough for ya?) in a honest analyzing way, to break out of this paralysis. Honesty is key here. With myself, and about myself. It seems to be working, and the more I do it, the more avenues it seems to open. One tidbit of article worthy introspective discussion seems to lead to the next.

My goal here, is to not only get out of my funk, but to build upon that and head down the path towards self improvement. There are a number of areas I’d like to work through, so there should be not shortage of material. I have plenty of goals that need to be met. Wish me luck, and hope this has been of help to someone else.

If It’s Really Her Best, Then Tell Her So!

My teenage daughter said something to me the other day, that caught me a little off guard. She said “my best isn’t good enough.” It’s a little out of character for her and caught me by surprise. This is a happy, confident kid whose had straight A’s since kindergarten, had plenty of friends, and for the most part has been a thoughtful and caring sister and daughter. There have been exceptions, and there have been some growing pains, but that’s to be expected. I’d be more worried, if there weren’t a few problems. I wasn’t exactly a perfect teenager, and know now that those problem incidents are an important part of growing up.  Time for a little teenage advice.

To give you a little more context, let me explain. She didn’t make the comment, in defense to statements made by anyone else. She was going into one of her rather long winded explanations (as only a teenager can do) for why she couldn’t walk to swimming practice, even though the pool is only a few blocks away. I’ll try to paraphrase. It went something like this. “Its’ too cold . . . the cold gets deep into my muscles . . . they’ll never warm up . . . I don’t need anything else working against me . . . already my best isn’t good enough.”

I didn’t really say anything. Not because I lost focus during the rather long explanation (which I sometimes do), but because I didn’t know what to say. How could her best not be good enough? She’s my kid after all. Even if she wasn’t it shouldn’t matter. When is anyone’s best ever not good enough? It’s all you’ve got. I mean, maybe it wasn’t good enough to win the Olympic gold, but it’s still your best, and that should never be diminished or degraded. I thought afterwords, that I should have said something more. Later while thinking about it, I came up with a pretty good rebuttal. Something like, “Your best is ALWAYS good enough. You’ll never go wrong in life doing your best”. You know, some good life lesson parental advice derived from years of experience that a teenager can really use. Even if they’d never admit to it being helpful.

I’m a great one for platitudes. Especially for others. But sometimes, I think I need to use more of them on myself. And actually believe them. I’ve been struggling lately with my business, and a little self encouragement would be helpful. I don’t believe lately, that I’ve been doing my best. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I struggle to move myself to take those first few steps. I procrastinate, and find plenty of non productive stuff to make myself busy. Maybe I’m just afraid, that my best isn’t good enough. Scary huh? In a familiar sort of way. I have a good business plan to work from. One that’s been built from the battlefield of many failures. I just need to execute it. The problem is, that even though the plan is battle tested, and ready for the real world, I’m not sure the General is.

I’ve decided, that writing about my struggles and my perception of those struggles would help me to work this out. Since writing is part of my plan anyway, it achieves several goals. I’m coming to believe, that running a business is not just about making money and achieving fame. It’s a lot about self discovery as well. Learning what your capable of, and how resilient you can be in the face of adversity. Writing this helps. In the meantime though, I think I need to talk with my daughter. She needs to believe, that her best is always good enough. Not just know it, but BELIEVE it.

Failing My Way To Success

In order to be successful, your going to need some successes (more small business success stories). Obviously! But what may not seem so obvious, is that your going to need some failures. It’s how you learn, it’s how you get better, it’s how you become a more adaptive person. Blindly rushing into success after success without failure will eventually get you burned. I know I’ve been there before. While it may be a great confidence builder to get some instant wins right out of the gate, it can be a detriment as well.

Let me explain. When I first started my online business several years ago, I set up a website to that was devoted to music. Specifically the pursuit of free music. No, it didn’t have legal, or illegal music downloads anywhere on the site. What it did have is a lot of automatically generated pages. Meaning pages focused on specific keywords, with a lot of automated feeds and advertising built around them. I didn’t really understand SEO, or what the search engines considered acceptable at the time. In case your wondering, search engines hate this kind of stuff. Initially the site did quite well. I did practically no promotion on it, and withing a month or so, the site was getting close to 3000 visitors every day. It even achieved the number one spot on MSN for the term “Free Music” for a day. PPC advertising alone made over 150 dollars that day. When MSN got tired of me, Yahoo fell in love with me in a big way.

For a few months, I was king of my world. Master of my domains, and lord of the internet. I’d only been in business for a few short months, and with just a few websites I was making close to my full time working salary. It wouldn’t last. Eventually the search engines got tired of me (as they rightfully should have), and my website traffic dwindled to a trickle. I’m not sure I’ve really recovered from that. I tried desperately to duplicate that early success but never really came close.

There were two problems here. One, I achieved a perceived sense of success early on with little or no failure. I figured this was easy, I was doing everything right, and and didn’t need to do anything different. I coasted, when I should have been approving and adapting. I should have been getting better. I should have been diversifying. I should have been trying harder. When failure did finally come, I didn’t know how to adapt, and only now am I truly figuring that out. In some ways, I would have been better off with some more failure early on to teach me the lessons of adapting and improving.

The second problem, was that I really didn’t understand what I had done to be successful in the first place. Hence I couldn’t duplicate the success. I just got a little lucky in the beginning. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN were not back then, and are still not today an exact science. They’re fickle. There are things a webmaster can do, that will improve your chances with them, but no guarantees. I’ve learned that, and a few other lessons along the way. Now it’s just a question of merging all those failed lessons into a string of successes. The moral here being, welcome your success, and adapt to them. It will toughen you and make you better at whatever you do

Does Fear Of Failure Breed Fear Of Success Or Vice Versa?

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately, and I really can’t seem to battle my way out of it. I started my own business a few years ago, and have had some mixed success with it. To say it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, would be an understatement. It’s an online business, and one that I’ve always believed I would be successful at, no matter what anyone said. Even the people closest to me. Typically, they’re the ones who have said the most. While I continue to believe that success in this business is possible, I’m not sure I still believe, that I can be successful in it.

I’m not sure whether to classify this barrier, as a loss of faith, or simply a fear of failure (maybe overcoming fear of success?). I’m leaning towards fear of failure, as that’s what it’s feeling more and more like. It’s a hard thing to admit, most importantly to myself. I suspect, it’s coming from years of struggling with different approaches to my business, and not having any one of them achieve the success I need to survive (business wise). If I do hold one ace card through this battle, it’s my obstinate refusal to give up. Sure, I may be suffering from a fear of failure, but what do I do about it. Just give in? Not likely. It’s a paralyzing fear for sure, but why not use it to my advantage. Let it be the fuel to feed the engine I need for success.

One of my many strategies to build a successful online business, is that of content creation. Since I’m not a gifted artist, accomplished musician, or gifted video maker, that generally means writing. I used to enjoy writing as a kid. But, when I do it as a business strategy, it seems a bit of a struggle. I’ve written on multiple topics in my quest for online financial success, but they often hold little personal interest for me. And ultimately, it’s that feeling that does me in. I manage to achieve some momentum for a period of time, but can never seem to sustain it for long enough to achieve any long lasting success.

Now I know I’ve heard this a thousand times before, but one of the most common pieces of advice given to any aspiring writer or blogger, is write what you know about. Well, I always disregarded that somewhat, believing that I never really felt qualified enough to write on any particular topic. While I was struggling for a topic the other day, that little voice inside me was working overtime, and kept telling me how every subject I looked at just wouldn’t work. It occurred to me after a few hours, that what I really need to write about, was my own personal struggle.

I know writing has therapeutic value. I know I enjoy writing once I get started. I know I’m a good writer. I know I have a real sense of accomplishment when I’ve written something. Even if it’s just a silly little email. I often peruse my sent folder, just to admire the little email jewels I’ve sent out recently. Sick, yes I know, but true. So I figured, why not kill several birds with one stone. By writing about my struggle, I will actually solve my content creation problem, have an easier time writing because the narcissist in me loves talking about myself, and perhaps even cure myself of a fear that exists largely in my head and heart. Consider this article my first step in that direction, and here’s to my success. And yours!

Don’t Let Wrap Rage Ruin Your Christmas

I thought it was just me, that cursed and swore every time I had to open one of those hard plastic enclosed items you just brought home (they call it wrap rage). You know the ones I mean. Where you need to grab the pruning shears from the shed, get them sharpened, get some lucky family member to firmly hold the package, and then start carefully cutting along the edge of the plastic, hoping you don’t sever a vital part of your new purchase or the lucky family member.

They even have a name for this kind of packaging . . . a “clamshell case”. The name doesn’t sound nearly as obnoxious as the packaging is in real life. Clamshell actually evokes in me images of the beach, a little seaside restaurant, and an appetizer I might enjoy while downing a beer as the sun goes down. Nothing could be more remotely different in the real world. Chock one up for the marketing guy who named this little piece of packaging.

I never really complained about them before, as I just blindly assumed there was good reason why they existed. I was sure it had something to do with protecting the precious cargo in transit like a baby in the womb. Better than 3 or 4 inches of bubble wrap, and much more environmentally friendly I assumed. I also assumed the retail shops liked them because they cut down on theft. I reasoned, that the stores thought it would be much more obvious to sneak out a $15 pair of ear-bud headphones, if they were in a package that was the size of a four slice toaster. They could be right. Or maybe it’s just that the would be thief decided it was too much of a pain in the butt to open the things up once you got them home, and instead ordered a pair in a plain brown paper bag off eBay.

But, today, I found out I wasn’t alone in my suffering. Apparently Amazon has started a crusade against the evil packaging companies. And not just the clam-shell cases. There’s also those ridiculously twisted twist tie crazed packaging of little girls dolls and other childrens toys. I always figured the twist ties were actually a bonus puzzle enclosed with the toy. Especially since I seemed to spend more time getting the darned things un-twisted then my kids ever spent playing with the toys. Silly, naive me!

Now, Amazon has come up with something call “frustration free” packaging. Not nearly as imagery pleasing as clamshell for this beach bums brain, but in theory should allow me more time for clams and beer after the unwrapping is all done. Thank goodness. They’ve even put together a video of two parents unwrapping a very cute pirate ship. One with lots of twist ties, and another with their new “frustration free” wrapping. Guess which one gets to play with their pirate ship first? It’s a truly riveting contest, right now to the end. Ya really gotta watch it.

I’m just happy to know, that their is a cure for wrap-rage within my lifetime. One horrible disease soon to be brought to it’s knees by denizens of online shoppers and the power of the internet. Cheers to Amazon! Who knows what next injustice they’ll solve next? I’m betting on either cancer or the glut of reality dance shows spamming my television as of late. Either one would be welcome in my books.

Are You Ready For A Hunter Sailboat?

It depends on a number of things really, and most of those things are specific to the individual buyer. I can tell you, that in my case it was the right decision. I was pretty lucky, considering it was the right decision for a lot of reasons I wasn’t even aware of. I didn’t do a lot of research before making the purchase, and really did it on more of a whim. Not that I hadn’t thought about buying a sailboat before, I’d thought about buying a sailboat for years, just never serious enough to give me cause to reach for a checkbook.

This time was different. A friend of a friend was selling a 1994 Hunter 29.5 in the hopes of moving to a bigger boat. Two-foot-itus they call it. In his case it was actually six-foot-itus, but I digress. They we’re looking to move on, I was looking to get started, and I knew the previous owner was fastidiously careful about caring for his stuff. That included his boat. We finalized the deal, signed the paperwork, wrote a check, and took possession of my shiny new (9 years old actually) boat. It’s been six years since then, and I’ve been more than pleased on a number of different occasions with our boat.

One of the nice things about buying a relatively newer Hunter, is space. At one point in time, sailboats were built primarily with performance and speed in mind. Little consideration was given to the below deck accommodations. Meaning, they were small, sparse, and somewhat uncomfortable. If the boat was only meant for racing and a place to hang out on for a few beers afterwords before heading home, then it wasn’t much of an inconvenience. But as time went on, a slightly different demographic of user became interested in boats.

Families. Sailing was becoming a family activity. Families mean husbands, wives, children and possibly even pets. This means more room, nicer amenities, and maybe a little less emphasis on speed. Five knots . . . six knots . . . doesn’t really matter. As well, the boat became more of a socializing place. Given that the today’s recreational boat spends far more time at dock, then on the open water, it made sense for the boat to be very functional at dock. AC / DC, running water, ice makers, refrigeration, microwaves, and shelter from the elements all factored in.

The Hunter 29.5 I sail tries to do a little bit of everything. Both performance wise, and at-the-dock wise. For a less than 30 foot sailboat, it has an incredibly big cockpit. Bigger than many boats in the 35 foot plus size. Our record is 14 people in the cockpit at one time. At dock of course ;) It was a cozy 14, but 14 none the less, and I think we still had one transom seat empty.

Down below, it’s much the same story. The settee is “C” shaped, so it’s quite easy to put our family of 5 around it with room to spare. Even six or seven would be doable if necessary. It sleeps six rather comfortably, when the salon table is lowered. Hunter also makes good use of the space available for storage. They manage to put cupboards and little storage niches all around the boat. Enough to equip it for a two week sail up to the North Channel for a family of 5. Of course, there was some extra provisioning along the way.

The rigging on the Hunters is also quite easy to handle for the first time “family” sailors. They incorporate whats called a B&R fractional rig in many of their boats of this size. What that does mean, is a smaller head sail for easy handling, and a bigger main sail for the power to drive the boat when you want it. Layout and accessibility are another factor when working on your boat. Engine belts are one simple thing that come to mind. While my inboard Yanmar diesel is readily accessible from all four sides, I have a buddy that use to own a 1970ish Mirage, that needed equal parts mechanic and contortionist just to tighten the engine belts. Something to keep in mind when looking for a boat.

All in all, I consider myself very lucky with our boat. Buying it, I knew next to nothing about sailboats, and somehow managed to get a boat that fits most of our needs while being reliable, and well designed. The one piece of advice I would give to new boat buyers, is to seriously consider how you plan to use the boat before you buy it. All kinds of boats are right for all different sailors for all different reasons. As long as you match up your needs with what a boat is offering, you’ll have a lot of happy memories at dock, and on the water.

You Can Make Your Own Computer Games For Free

There’s no doubt, that computer games are here to stay. They have to be one of the most prevalent forms of software around. You can find them on PC’s, Macs, cellphones, pdas, and BlackBerrys. They even have their own genre of hardware. Specifically for gaming. There are living room styled consoles like Xbox, Wii’s, and PS3s. As well as a horde of portable gaming platforms, like the PSP, GameBoy, and DS. I can’t think of any other software that warrants it’s own hardware platform. We sure do like to play don’t we?

It’s a basic human need . . . for some even an obsession. Play time is a stress reliever, a much needed distraction, and arguably a self esteem builder for the winners. But another basic need that computer games can feed, is that of creation. Everyone loves to create. Whether it’s a five year olds finger painting hanging on the fridge, or Stephen Kings next great horror epic. Anyone with an emotion to express, story to tell, or movie to capture can do their thing.

I must confess to be a wanna-be game developer from way back. I first tinkered around with making computer games on a Commodore 64. And if I really want to date myself, I’ll confess to writing a very basic random number generator type game in Basic on a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. Fortunately for the inspired gamers of today, the technology supporting game building has improved by several light years since then. From the simple to use yet powerful GameMaker from YoYo Games to the Unreal Editor (UnrealEd) that ships with the purchase of most games powered by the Unreal engine. This enables anyone who owns the game to create their very own version of the game using the same tools as the professionals.

It’s a beautiful world to live in, if you’ve got the itch to build games. Not only are the tools available, but the information on how to use them is freely given and discussed in forums all over the internet. A google of the term “game developer forums”, shows 194 million results. WOW! I’m sure they’re not all totally relevant, but as I puruse the top few entries, I see a few places where I’ve spent lots of time. Including, but not limited to, and The latter being an offshoot of the independent gamers forum started by Steve Pavlina on his old website, back when he was a legend in the world of independent gamers.

While the tools mentioned above work great for building and designing games, there is plenty of opportunity for other skilled artists to create for the gaming world. Digital artists are every bit if not more a part of game creations than programmers and designers. It’s the visual styling of a game that often sets it apart from the competition, and garners kudos from critics and fans alike. Musicians and sound effects artisans can have fun helping to build games these days. While music and sound effects can often be rather forgettable in games, (especially some of the derivative casual games clones), the really good ones auditory aficionados can really add a whole dimension to the gaming experience. Games like System Shock 2 (Irrational Studios), and the more recent Bioshock (2KGames) come to mind as benefited from some incredibly talented sounds and music.

So, don’t put it off any longer. If you’ve got the game builder itch, it’s time to scratch. You could be the next Leonardo Da Vinci of the game business. The world is waiting.

Make Your Spam Filters Work For You

We all know what email spam is, and anyone who spends more than a little time online, has gotten more than their share of the stuff. It’s the scourge of the internet world, and the one real chink in the armor of the webs first real killer application . . . email. Most of us probably can’t remember how we managed to survive without email, and far fewer of us, remember a day when spam was just a really cheap and questionable luncheon meat byproduct.

Fortunately for us net-citizens, the good guys have been battling the evil forces of email spam pretty much ever since that first ludicrous email was sent out questioning thousands of men’s manhood and potency. Unfortunately, spam blocking, and spam filtering is not an exact science today, and likely never will be. It always needs a little supervision and feeding from the good users of all those email services. Free or otherwise. I’d like to make a few suggestions, as to how to make your filters work better for you.

Throw Away Email

While this suggestion may not be really considered a filter, it is probably the most effective method of combating personal spam as any. That would be, a throw away email address. With the plethora of free email accounts available out there, this one is a no-brainer. It’s always a good idea, to have one email account, that you use to give out to all those website offers, and forums that require one before letting you use their service. Whenever I sign up for any service that I’m not all that familiar with, I make sure to give them my throw away email account. I rarely if ever check this account. If at some point down the road I feel comfortable with the web service or forum, than I’ll change my account information to reflect my “real” email account. The one I usually only give to family, friends, and trusted sites. Think of this throw away email account, as one big spam folder. This technique kind of makes you the filter, by using your own common sense as a filter for whom to trust with your personal email information.

Teaching Your Filter Right From Wrong

As I mentioned earlier, your spam filters are not perfect. They can all benefit from a little guidance. It’s important, to not just delete spam from your email inbox every morning with a vengeance. It’s far better to flag it as spam. Most email providers provide this feature somewhere prominently displayed on their email screen. If your email software doesn’t, then it’s time for a switch. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Excite all provide this functionality. When you flag incoming spam mail as spam, your teaching your email filter to be a better filter. Filters make a best guess as to what is spam based on a very complicated set of algorithms running behind the scenes. Every email provider has slightly differ rules they follow, but the one rule they all follow is secrecy. They’ll never divulge how they identify email spam, to anyone, including you their client. It would make it to easy for the spam kings to use it to their advantage. The point is, that when you flag spam, you make the spam filter a little smarter for you, and for everyone else. Most filters will collect flagging information from all their customers, and use it as a filter for everyone’s email, not just the original flagger. So, don’t just delete your spam, flag it.

And Vice Versa

Of course, the opposite is true. Sometimes filters can be a little too aggressive, and important personal emails you really need, can end up in your spam folder. Be sure to check your folder whenever your reading your email. And, don’t just move any good emails you find to your inbox. Tell your filter this is real email, and not spam. Once again, most email software provides this feature, and if it doesn’t then move to one of the previously mentioned that do. This works the same way as before, and makes your spam filtering better for you, and everyone else that uses your email provider.

Who knows, with a little perseverance from the good citizens of the net, maybe our grand kids will only know spam as that somewhat questionable luncheon meat ;)