Who has YOUR domain name?

Who has your domain name?

As domain names become more scarce you might want to think about saving your own. Many people use their own name. Right now this may seem like a vanity thing, but it could be a valuable professional asset in the future.

Think of 5-10 domain names that you would like to own, then do a search to see if they are available. You’ll be surprised to find out how many are already taken. You can use Network Solutions to see if the name is taken. (Virtually every hosting service allows you to check domain names.) You can register your domain name for around $15/year.

Once you have a domain name you will need to get a hosting service if you want to have a presence on the Web. Some hosting services offer free domain registration, but their monthly rates are much higher.

Be smart and get the license to your own domain name now while you still can. Most likely it will become a valuable asset in the years ahead.

Photo from iStockPhoto.com

Career Decisions

A student recently sent me an email asking some valuable career questions. Here is a summary of her questions as well as my responses:

I am having a hard time distinguishing the differences between:
-Web Designer
-Web Master
-Web Programmer and
-Web Developer

A web designer normally does the layout, color, font, graphic stuff of a web site.
A web programmer or web developer writes the code that makes a web page happen. For example, a designer might design how a form is laid out and then give this idea (often as a PhotoShop or Illustrator file) to the programmer. The programmer than writes the code to make the form work when the user clicks on the submit button: saving data to a table, sending information as an email, creating and displaying a web page telling the user that something happened. (The web designer will probably dictate what that user-feedback web page will look like).

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used by web designers and PHP or ASP.NET (languages that run on a web server) are used by web programmers.

Based on these descriptions you can see that often a person can be both a web designer and web programmer. However, with larger web sites and organizations these two areas become more distinct and have people with different skills doing the particular jobs. Designers are usually more artistic and programmers are generally more technical and detail oriented. A designer’s work is seen and most often a programmers work is “behind the curtain”.

A Web Master is more of a job description. Most web masters design and programming the web site or manage the designers and programmers that do the work. Who ever is in charge of the web site is normally considered the web master.

Skill sets for web designers include PhotoShop, DreamWeaver, InDesign, and Illustrator. Also a good sense of layout and design, psychology, and a strong understanding of human interfaces are important.

Skill sets for web programmers include PHP, ASP.NET, XML, Java, XHTML/CSS, Flex, DreamWeaver, Eclipse and/or Visual Studio, Linux. Understanding programming logic, database design, programming frameworks like WordPress and/or Drupal, and client/server relationships are all important skill areas.

Whenever I look into getting an actual degree in this field, basically all I can find is a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, which seems to be more technically focused on the hard-core computer science than I am necessarily interested in. However, I would like to be as marketable as possible, so I would be willing to work toward such a degree if necessary.

For computer degrees there are general two main types. An Computer Systems (CS) degree focuses more on theory and how to design operating systems. How a computer work, how a chip parses through language statements, and how data can be stored as a structure. Some courses normally include things such as Finite Automata theory, Compiler design, and Computer architecture.

An Information System (IS) or Information Technology (IT) degree normally deals with more practical uses such as computer support, programming, and using operating systems (instead of writing them).

CS degrees generally require higher math skills such as calculus more math than an IS or IT degree.

It is my feeling in today’s market that employers just want folks that know how to design and code. You already have a bachelor’s degree so a programming diploma from SCC is more than enough credentials, especially with a good portfolio like you are working on. That experience is the valuable piece. I know of several people that are doing well after having completed the Web Programming Certificate although the Programming Degree will give you a better overall coverage in the industry. From an employer’s point-of-view it isn’t so much what degree you have. Instead they want to be certain that you have excellent problem solving skills (you do), excellent communication skills (you do), and a good basic knowledge of design and programming (you do).

Asking the Big Questions – The TED Conference

TED Conference LogoEvery once in awhile the power of the Web still surprises me. Recently, reading David Pogue’s blog from the New York Times,  I discovered a real gold mine: The TED Conference. Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

Every year some of the brightest people in the world meet in Monterey, CA for a few days to talk about what they are doing. It costs $4,400 to attend a conference and the 2008 conference is already sold out. Speakers are not paid but get to attend the conference for free. (You can also request an invitation from their website based on your enthusiasm, ideas, and success in your field.)

A little pricey you say? But wait, they’ve put some of the presentations on line. You can watch the videos of some very amazing presentations . Each is about 20 minutes (although there are a few three minute specials), and you will be thinking about them for days. The TED videos are especially effective if you watch two or three in one setting. I usually catch a couple before I go to sleep at night, just to give my brain something to think about in my dreams.

Here’s a quote for the upcoming 2008 conference, The Big Questions:

"Many people come to TED seeking something out of the ordinary. A chance to mentally recharge. A chance to step back and consider the really big stuff that’s happening. A chance to understand life in a richer way. "

Check out these videos and you’ll see what they mean.

Your Own Piece of the Web for $40/year or less.

Peter K Johnson's home pagePeople understand the Web because they use it every day. But, not everyone knows how easy it is to get your own web site up and running on the Web. You can do it for less than $40/year.

Domain Names

The first part of getting published is to get your own domain name. A good domain is hard to find because most of the common ones have already been taken. You want one that meets the following requirements:

  • describes your site
  • is easy to remember and easy to spell
  • is available on the Web

The DNS (Domain Name System/Server) keeps track of all the domain names on the Web so there are no duplicates. Domain names can be ordered from InterNic and other DNS vendors. For your convenience most web hosting services allow you to order a domain name as one of the services.

An annual license for a new domain name will cost about $17/year. Many web hosting services offer domains for free or very low priced as a loss-leader. Existing names are more expensive. Many people around the world purchase domain names hoping to resell them later. Often names licensed names will cost $1,000’s, especially if a company really wants a particular name as part of their product identity.

Because of the scarcity of good names it is best to make up a list of 20 or 30 names that would be appropriate for your web site. Prioritize them, then visit your web host provider as outlined below and do a search for each one. Be ready to purchase any you find. I’ve heard tales of people searching for names only to come back a few days later to find that their names have been licensed by someone else.

Purchase as many years as you can. (This is one of the criteria that Google uses to determine how to rank a web page.) Also, think of purchasing multiple endings (.com, .org. .net) as well as multiple names. If there’s a variation (or commonly misspelled version) purchase that as well.

Keep in mind that domain name licensing is separate from having pages published on the Web. You can license a domain name now without having the added expense of hosting a site right away.

Because of their high value and growing scarcity, a good domain name is an important asset for any company or business.

Web Hosting

There are thousands of hosting services available. A simple search on the Web (for example: web hosting comparisons) will give you lots of options.

Beware of GoDaddy.com. They are very popular right now and market their services heavily. However, their servers have very strict policies and a lot of tools such as Drupal, a popular CMS (Content Management System) , and CGI scripts are very difficult to install.

Building Web Site

You can create your own web site with a text editor and a browser. Cost: your time. More sophisticated web programmers use DreamWeaver from Adobe/Macromedia. Please don’t use FrontPage. It is now defunct having been replaced by Microsoft’s new product: Expression. There are also many free web editors available including NVue, FirstPage, AlleyCode, and Amaya which runs on Mac OS X as well as Windows.

Often people take my Web Programming I course just to learn how to write HTML and build their own site.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to build your own web site you can always contact the computer science or art department at your local college. Ask if their web students need projects to work on. For example, my Web Programming I and Web Programming II courses both have capstone requirements involving community business partners.

Your Own Piece of the Web

So, for less than $40/year you can have your own site up on the Web. At the very least you should consider setting up a personal home page. And, if you are an entrepreneur (or even thinking about being one) now is the time to get your piece of the web. At the very least, reserve your domain names.

Want to see more details on all of this? Check out my business presentation out on my web site: Web Marketing

Writing a Business Plan – Five Easy Pieces

Writing a Business Plan

stack of five gold coinsFive Easy Pieces

Your business plan is one of the best tools you have to communicate your vision and excitement to a lot of different people. It doesn’t have to be a dry, boring document. Here are some ways you can make it into a document that reflects all the critical areas that people in the business world are interested in.

There’s five easy pieces:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Describe the products/services (buildings, inventory, technology, manufacturing)
  3. People and Stakeholders
  4. Marketing
  5. Dollars and Sense

Each of these is like a puzzle piece that affects the other pieces.

Writing a business plan involves writing each of these once, and then going back in and reworking them as new ideas and relationships surface as other sections are completed. By breaking the business plan into these five steps it becomes much easier to write and refine.

A business plan should be viewed as a working document. It helps to think of it as software that changes with different revisions. Each revision can be released and utilized, but the software is always being improved and extended into new areas. As your business grows it will need other, more detailed solutions. Your business plan documents this so others know and can realize what version you are currently using to run and operate your business.

The following highlights some common questions that may help you finalize each piece.

Executive Summary

People that read business plans for a living have very little time. The Executive Summary is written to make their job easier and more interesting.
In just a few paragraphs you not only want to capture the essence of your company, but catch the reader’s interest as well. Write this once and then revisit it each time you’ve finished working on one of the other sections. Then, weeks later, revisit this summary again and read it with more objective eyes.

Don’t labor too long over the Executive Summary. But reread it, rewrite it, and refine it often.

A good way to start is by writing five bullet points answering who, what, when, where, and why.

Frost your executive summary by adding a catchy headline. Not too cutesy, but something that will pique everyone’s interest. Keep in mind the old newspaper example for catchy headlines: Dog Bites Man vs. Man Bites Dog

Products/Services

Describing the products/services you are offering describes the what of the business plan. A simply as possible describe the products and services that the company will be offering. If you have multiple products/services give each one its own section.

For now just write a paragraph describing the product or service. Don’t add any fluff, or if you do, edit it out later.

Writing this section may trigger lots other ideas for marketing, and people, and money. First of all, try to stay focused on describing your product/service. But, if you are worried you might forget your ideas, go ahead and jot them down as a footnote. That way you can grab them and include them later with more details as you work on the other pieces.

People

The people piece is the who of your business plan. You will want to describe the owners of the company and list your board members. In addition, include the different types of employees (job descriptions) that are necessary to offer the products/services you’ve already described.

Being a small business it is necessary that several people may do many different tasks. It’s not unheard of for the President to also be in charge of sales as well as head janitor, especially during the start-up phase of a company.

You’ll want to demonstrate the team of experts that you are using to make the company successful. Depending on the business you will most likely be using an outside accountant, legal counsel, technology expert, and marketing consultant. Listing each of these professionals shows you know how to build a strong management resource team.

You probably have other stakeholders as well. Include them as part of this section, describing what their involvement is in the business.

You can mention the customer as one of your stakeholders, but the customer is so important that they get their very own piece. It’s called Marketing.

Marketing

Marketing is best summarized by the two questions: Who is the customer and what does he or she need?
Marketing includes all the activities that involve determining who the customer is and making a connection between them and the product/service being offered.

This section can get fairly involved. You may want to set up several subtopics describing the following:

  • Who is the customer? If you have different target customers describe each one.
  • What needs does the product/service meet? It is often helpful to envision a particular person that you know that fits the customer profile being targeted. Simply describe the traits this person has and how the product/service will meet his or her needs.
  • How will we tell the customer about the product/service?

    • How will we inform people about the company? (goodwill, publicity, community service)
    • How will we inform people about specific products?
    • Different types of media to be used (web site, email campaigns, brochures, magazines, trade shows, articles and white papers)
  • Where is the target market located?
  • Describe the sales process (handling leads, closing the sale, customer service and follow-up after the sale)
  • Who is the competition and why are you different?
  • Marketing calendar
  • List the marketing activities will you be doing each month for the next twelve months.
  • What were the actual results of each of these activities
  • What should be done differently next time? (discard the activity, modify the activity, combine it with another activity)

This section will probably have the most information and be changed frequently. It is recommended that the marketing calendar be made an active part of your business activities and be updated often.

Dollars and Sense

This piece describes the why of the business plan. You might be in business for several reasons, but most likely it is to make a profit. This piece shows what things will cost, what your margins of profit are, and how much profit you plan to make.

As the company becomes older it is very helpful to include past history as well as projections. Don’t go into vast details here. Just give monthly or quarterly sales as well as fixed costs (salaries, rent/utilities, supplies) and variable costs (production materials, research & development, taxes).

Two important items to include in this piece:

  • Margin of Profit (MOP) – This is a percentage showing how profitable an item is or a product line, or sales in general.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) – Compares how much money is made when compared to how much was spent. If you invest 1,000 dollars for a new web site that brings in only 500 dollars for the year, than the ROI is very poor. However, if you can show that the web site will probably increase sales way beyond the 1,000 dollar investment, than the ROI is very good. MOP and ROI work closely together. If you are working with a very low margin, you will need much more sales before you can see a return on your money. On the other hand if you have a high margin you can see immediate ROI. But, a higher MOP may increase the sales price too high, resulting in loss of sales and a smaller return on the investment.

Summary

stack of five gold coins

Your business plan is probably the best way you can communicate your vision and excitement to a lot of different people. These five steps will help you write a business plan that is effective and helpful. You may use it to help secure a business loan, to determine what and how you are going to proceed in business, as well to get others excited about your ideas and the potential of the company’s future. Don’t forget to smile as you write it. After all, it is your future!