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Using Google Forms to Test Market

July 30, 2009

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If you are interested in trying to start a new business venture, especially online, it is essential to test market your idea before sinking any serious funds into your project or seeking out debt or venture funding. Fortunately the web makes test marketing much cheaper, efficient and wide scale than it used to be. Approaches to testing a new product or service online generally includes a combination of setting up a landing page and using Google AdWords to drive traffic. If you have some basic HTML knowledge your landing page could cost you nothing but the hosting and domain regristration (approx. $8/month). If you need a little assistance, I have found that WYSIWIG HTML editors like www.squarespace.com are great for getting a basic landing page up and running (@$30/mth). After that plan on investing $150-250 in Google Adwords for traffic generation.

So now, how does Google Forms fit into the equation. When you start your test marketing, generally you do not actually have a product or service to provide. That’s the whole point behing the test marketing prior to investing in actually bring your product or service to market.  It would be nice though, if you could provide visitors to your site with something that might later help convert them to a sale once you actually have something you can deliver. Google Forms is part of Google Docs and allows you to collect data from website visitors, customers, clients, etc. and automatically pulls that data into a Google Spreadsheet for later analysis.

Using Google Forms you can setup an embeddable site survey for you visitors to collect information from them in addition to just testing interest in your product or service.  The way to set this up is to include the form either directly on the landing page or as a direct link from the landing page. It is important that you set the survey up so that first you show the site visitor what the asking price for you product or service will be, before directing them to complete the survey if they choose to ‘buy now’. This is so that you can actually test the price points you set up. Once they click to ‘buy now’ or whatever other wording you use, direct them to your form which will ask them to enter, name, email, phone, etc. You can also include options for them to opt into newsletter lists or request other feedback. Now you have contact information you can use to keep in contact with these prospective customers and hopefully follow up with after you launch your product or service. Also if you make use of Google Analytics now you can take the statistics from Analytics regarding site traffic and the number of survey responses to calculate a good estimate of your site conversion rate.

Obviously this strategy relies heavily on using Google’s array of web based tools. If you are unfamiliar with many of these the best thing to do is sign into or up for a Google account and go through the various tutorials to learn the ins and outs. Overall it’s a good investment in time if your test marketing helps you avoid pumping your hard earned savings into an idea that doesn’t test well or if it helps you pin point a real winner.

Try this Google Form

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Open Source More Viable With the Advent of Cloud Computing

July 1, 2009

Open source solutions like Linux have promised to provide businesses with reliable computing platforms without the high cost of ownership that comes with standard software licensing agreements. However, many businesses have been fearful of adopting open source solutions because of concerns regarding compatibility and the learning curve of picking up a new operating system. It seems like with the growing trends in cloud computing, that many of the fears of open source computing may finally be laid to rest. If you are accessing your applications through the web, what does it matter if it’s from a PC running Windows, Mac or Linux. There will still be those applications that only run on certain operating systems that will require organizations to maintain desktops dedicated to those applications but with the prevalence of remote desktop options available this hardly seems to be a barrier.

If this proves to be the case, many small businesses can truly benefit from this shift. Linux typically has a lower occurrence and vulnerability to virus attacks and worms. It also is an extremely stable platform which translates into more uptime and productivity. Lastly, it spares the small business owner of the hassle of managing access licenses and the potential liability of having improperly licensed software. I have seen one case where an audit by the Business Software Alliance uncovered an improperly licensed copy of software that drove a small business into near bankruptcy after all the fines were assessed. One thing small businesses can do is start with a trial run using a dual boot installation of Linux which allows one PC to run both Windows and Linux. This allows the business to trial Linux in parallel first before committing. This may require the assistance of a technology consultant to implement, but considering the fact that the operating system is free, a relatively inexpensive pilot could be established before putting any real monetary resources into such a transition. If you feel brave enough to try this on your own (I am attempting this on my home network first) here are the instructions for doing a dual boot install for the Ubuntu distribution of Linux and a link to the download file for the Ubuntu operating system that you will need. I am wondering what successes or failures other businesses have had with making the move to open source and whether a cloud computing model remedied any problems?

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Living Where You Can Get the Most for Your Dollar

June 30, 2009

CNN Money has added a cost of living calculator to their website where you can do comparisons of how far your current income would stretch in other US cities. This is a great tool for identifying potential location-based business opportunities (geoarbitrage).  I ran my info through and it looks like I am clearly better off being permanently located where I am in North Carolina, based on cost of living elsewhere in the nation. On average a dollar will stretch 3 times as far in NC as compared to Manhattan (no surprise there).  But it was interesting to find that dollars in NC would go 1.25 times as far as they would in Maine or Oregon.

Hacking Sleep Cycles Part II – Polyphasic Sleep

June 26, 2009

Last week I wrote about some of my personal experiments with sleep cycles and ways to get more effective sleep. It appears a fellow blogger had similar thoughts and wrote a post on polyphasic sleep patterns. Although the sleep patterns discussed here range from relatively minor changes to the extreme ‘uberman’ it is definitely worth a read if you are interested in finding a way to cut 6 hours out of your normal sleep schedule without suffering from any sleep deprivation symptoms (or at least that’s the claim if done right).


Link to original article

Polyphasic Sleep Patterns

Polyphasic Sleep Patterns

Why You Should Work in London

June 18, 2009

In many cases the hardest thing about leveraging a geoarbitrage a strategy is finding the actual opportunities. Arbitrage requires that you locate discrepancies between two separate locations or geographies. So naturally your first question should be ‘where do I start looking?’ The answer is look for the extremes or the outliers. If I want to earn the highest amount per job possible I should seek the locations where those jobs are at a premium. A premium may exist if there is a lack of qualified candidates for that role or it could be because there is an overall higher COLA in the location or geography where the job is available. One search indicated that in the US the highest COLAs are in New York and Los Angeles, not surprisingly. If we expand the scope globally we find that Moscow, Tokyo and London rank in the top three most expensive cities to live in. What this tells me is that I should find work in London, get paid in pounds (GBPs) and live in North Carolina where my COLA is 1/3 of London’s.  Why not look for jobs in Moscow or Tokyo? For me, the only real barrier is language but that makes learning a foreign langauge even more valuable and tempting as a way to further leverage geoarbitrage.

So how do you work in London but live in the US?  The two relatively obvious answers are either temporarily relocate for contract basis work or find remote positions. As an accountant I am already familiar with the amount of bookkeeping and tax work being sourced overseas. By positioning myself as a financial accounting expert in both GAAP and IFRS (US and international accounting) I can win business from those London firms who need that specific niche filled. And, if I really want to take this to the extreme then I outsource the work I win to India or other bookkeeping outsource hotspots so that now I get paid in GBPs,  pay my workforce in Rupees and live on US$s.

Arbitrage Flowchart

Hacking Sleep Cycles

June 16, 2009

When it comes to getting sleep, most of us just don’t get enough or at least as much as we want. I recently welcomed my first child into the world and needless to say my sleeping patterns have been altered. The science of sleeping has been studied and researched intensively and many aspects of our sleep cycles are still a mystery. Even given some of the unknown aspects of sleep, certain patterns are well documented and here are a few things that can help synchronize your sleep pattern with your body’s natural rhythms. When it comes to sleep normally quantity is the main driver, however, there are some factors aside from the number of hours of sleep that play a role in how effective your sleep is. The following is based largely on empirical observations of my own sleep patterns so a lot of potential variability will exist between my own and readers sleep patterns.

Sleep cycles consist of several phases. First you have two alternating sleep states that you cycle through during a night’s sleep; REM and Non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of a separate set of 4 cycles that can last between 5-15 minutes per cycle. Once a person has progressed through all 4 cycles of Non-REM sleep they will then enter into the REM sleep stage. REM sleep stages can last anywhere from 10 minutes up to an hour. REM is the sleep stage that is associated with intense dreaming.  The key thing to understand regarding the cycles and their impact on how tired you feel after a night’s sleep is that when you are startled awake before completing an entire sleep cycle you typically will find that you are more exhausted than if you complete the entire cycle.

The practical application of this is that if you know you are going to be unable to get a full 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep then you should strive to try and set your time to awaken in between complete cycles.  Also once you have woken up you should generally resist the urge to hit the snooze or go back to sleep for a little while if you will not be able to cycle through a complete cycle or two. One exception is that generally the first two phases of the Non-REM stages, each lasting 10-15 minutes won’t leave you feeling overly exhausted. These are the two cycles that correspond ruffly with ‘cat naps’, power naps and caffeine naps (in which you consume a cup of coffee prior to your nap so that in 20-30 minutes you exit stage 2 of the non-REM cycle with a boost of caffeine to increase alertness). From tracking my own sleep patterns I have found that I typically cycle through my sleep stages in increments from around 70 to 90 minutes. I have found it also helps to make it through more than one uninterrupted sleep cycle so the REM stages can continue to build through each cycle. If I get woken up in the middle of the night (say by a crying infant) I typically only try to go back to bed if I have a good solid 3 hours available before I normally wake up so that I can cycle through two full uninterrupted cycles. I have found that in those cases where only an hour or two is available, trying to go back to sleep usually results in me only making it through one cycle and not feeling that much more refreshed or results in me waking up mid-cycle and feeling even more tired.

For interested readers, who want to try to apply this to their sleep habits, the first step is figuring out the length of your own sleep cycles. Since most of us don’t have access to EKGs this will largely have to be based on more subjective personal measurements. Most of us have suffered through exhaustion though enough times to have a basic sense of our sleep patterns. Try keeping a journal, making sure to note details regarding tiredness in cases where you were awoken suddenly or tried going back to sleep for a few hours as these will help pin down relative cycle lengths. Once you have a general idea of your sleep pattern then you can start using the hacks above to start getting better quality sleep.

Introduction to Geoarbitrage

June 15, 2009

Geoarbitrage is a concept popularized by Tim Ferriss, author of the New York Times bestseller The Four Hour Workweek. Arbitrage is a well understood financial concept where disparities between markets are leveraged to generate or broker a return. While securities in one market might carry a premium they could be obtained at a discount in another market where supply has driven the value down (usually for just a short time). Geoarbitrage builds on this concept and incorporates the notion that labor on an international scale has its own disparities that can be leveraged to increase the return on our time. Geoarbitrage is an art with the single purpose of outsourcing ones personal and business life to markets where labor is at a discount and thus freeing up the time of the busy professional or entrepreneur to focus on the highest and best use of their time, whether that be for personal or business use. A key concept in geoarbitrage is determining your hourly rate and comparing that to what you could pay a virtual assistant overseas to do that same task.
Outsourcing labor overseas is not a new idea. Businesses have been successfully doing this for years as the economy has become global in its reach. What makes the concept of geoarbitrage novel is that the focus is not on just outsourcing manufacturing or similar tasks overseas but rather seeking out other unique outsourcing opportunities. Geoarbitrage can entail something as simple as having virtual overseas assistants do research on an upcoming project or managing the email box of a busy professional. This can easily extend to one’s personal life in that a virtual assistant can act as a personal online shopper on your behalf or hunt down hard to find tickets or gifts. The real trick to successful geoarbitrage seems to be coming up with the types of activities that can be sourced to a virtual assistant and defining the rule sets to deliver to the virtual assistant to get the task accomplished. A real pitfall here could result if the arbitrageur ended spending more time identifying the outsource opportunities and rule sets than it takes to do the task them self.
Geoarbitrage can also extend to other disparities outside of labor costs. Real estate and COLA adjustments in given areas can result in geoarbitrage opportunities for entrepreneurs and employees alike if they can negotiate alternative work arrangements that leverage remote/home office or telepresence. If you can live in an area that has lower costs of real estate but is near a major airport so you can gain access to major cities for occasional meetings then an opportunity to own a home that might not be obtainable in more expensive areas of the nation can become a reality. Because of disparities in COLA adjustments in different parts of the nation it may also be possible to command a wage or contract fees that are 10-20% higher while working remotely from a location with a significantly lower COLA. Imagine living in the Midwest but making the salary or contract fees associated with jobs located in major metropolitan areas and you can begin to connect the dots to how this might work from a practical matter. These types of opportunities abound for those who seek them out and will become even more prevalent as our global economy continues to expand.