Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Open Source: A Free Alternative to Microsoft

When my computer started acting funny a few months ago the first person I called for help was my friend Carol Wade (left), who's worked in IT for many years and is a genius at solving computer glitches. She immediately suggested two things: 1) do an Ad-Aware scan, and 2) ditch Internet Explorer and use Mozilla Firefox as your web browser - it offers better protection against spyware and viruses. Carol's a big proponent of open source software like Firefox, and if a techie like her likes it so much, I wanna know why, so I asked her to come and talk to the Mogulettes about it. She prepared a handout detailing all the reasons she thinks its better, which I've pasted below.

What does "open source" mean?

  • The “open source” movement began in 1998, when the Netscape Corporation decided to release the newest version of its Navigator Web browser with the source programming code openly available for users to view, and for software developers to tinker with.
  • "Open source" has come to mean "free software," or rather, software whose source programming code is open, for use, examination, improvement, review and commentary by the general public. It is often also generally free for download and installation, without paying any purchase or licensing fees.
Is there such a thing as "closed source" then?
  • Yes. Much of what we as computer users know is “closed source” software. The best example of this is also the most widely used and widely known, that of Microsoft Corporation. Very little of Microsoft’s software code is open source.
  • Microsoft’s revenue is based on product licensing. That is, they pay developers to create their software; then, they ask end-users to pay high license fees to use their software. Microsoft then pays its developers, but keeps some money for itself.
  • There are many hands in the pie (so to speak) with “closed source” software. There’s the company built up around developing consumer and business software. There are the company’s investors, shareholders and board of directors. Of course, employees and developers are a huge part of the operation as well.
  • The final product is software, which the consumer ends up paying a huge cost for…were there fewer people involved in the process, it would be a lot cheaper.
So, open source is cheaper…
  • As mentioned above, “open source” usually means free. Free to download and use, free to try and to get rid of, free to update and upgrade. This is the primary benefit of using open source software.
  • Because the product is the first and only concern with open source software, there is nothing to buy; the people making the software are people who love programming.
  • They’re not doing it to make money; they’re usually either sick of paying too much money for often expensive and buggy software themselves, or they work for one of those companies making expensive software, but want to give back to the community by writing simpler, cheaper applications.
Well…what’s available?
  • You may already be using one or more open source applications! The popular Web browser, Mozilla Firefox, is one of the most widely used open source programs around. Firefox gained widespread use starting a few years ago, when viruses targeting Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer, hit critical mass.
  • Believe it or not, the Firefox browser originated in that first release of Netscape Navigator, in 1998!

Here are some helpful hints:
  1. There is an open source equivalent for almost every popular closed source application.

  2. You get what you pay for: support for open source applications is not centralized, and have a WYSIWYG approach. Pronounced: “wizzy-wig,” it means, “what you see is what you get”! However, there are usually websites and forums associated with open source software, where developers and users can communicate solve problems in the design.

  3. There is open source software for both PCs and Macs. In fact, there are even entire open source operating systems! The basis for these systems were around long before Microsoft made Windows, and continue to influence a whole realm of low- or no-cost computing that is slowly moving into the marketplace (such as Red Hat Linux)
Five good apps to start with:

Browser: Mozilla Firefox
One of the best, easiest to use free Web browsers around, it uses tabbed browsing to cut down the number of open windows. It’s designed a lot like Internet Explorer, with security settings, bookmark organization, customizable toolbars and history reporting. It’s also easy to install, use, and migrate your bookmarks from Internet Explorer. It’s performance is very reliable.

Email and Contact Management: Mozilla Thunderbird
Tired of Outlook Express? Want a simple, light, uncomplicated way of managing email addresses and client information? Mozilla Thunderbird is Firefox’s email-management cousin that, like Microsoft Outlook, manages all your customer data easily and simply and without fuss. Thunderbird also doubles as a powerful RSS feed aggregator. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication," and is a method for skimming all the important stuff off the top of your favorite news and blog sites, right into your email reader, without having to visit the web pages!

Calendar and Time Management: Mozilla Sunbird
Thunderbird doesn’t have a calendar built-in, to save system resources for people who either don’t want or need a calendar application. They separated it out to Sunbird, a super-basic calendar and alarm/notification program for busy folks on the go.

Document Management: OpenOffice
Can’t afford outrageously-priced copies of the latest Microsoft Office Suite? OpenOffice is a fully-featured document-creation program similar, comparable to (and conversant with) all MS Office applications.

Photo Management: The GIMP
Need to crop and do other simple image manipulation tasks, without being hassled to purchase software from Adobe? Try the GNU Image Manipulation Program (called The GIMP for short) - leaner than Photoshop by miles, cheaper and pretty user-friendly.

So think twice before splurging on the new Microsoft Office 2007. Why pay for Internet Explorer, Outlook, even Photoshop... when you can get similar or better products for free?

What's your experience with open source? Chime in!

PS - To contact Carol, email her at c.wade@earthlink.net

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creating a Budget

Do you ever daydream about new gadgets or office equipment you'd like to own if you had extra cash? Here's my what's on my wish list: a new laptop, a new printer, a new desk and a matching bookshelf to go with it. Even though I'm clearly convinced I really need all these things for my business and I'm picturing how great my home office would look if I had them, according to Padma Vaidyanathan, a CPA who offers tax advice and preparation to small businesses, I need to hold off on buying high ticket items. She advises clients to wait two years before making major purchases, or at least until they're making money. (Aaargh! Delaying gratification is not one of my strong points...). But Padma does offer an alternative: "Be creative! Try to borrow, barter, shop around, buy used. And keep in mind that it won't be forever."

Having a clear idea of what our expenses will be is also known as a budgeting (I use Quicken for this but there's also MS Money. Another good resource is MetLife's webpage on Creating a Budget). Padma gave us a tutorial on creating budgets during her visit with the Mogulettes this week (listen to a quick summary by clicking below).

She suggests starting with your fixed expenditures first. Those are items you need in order to live and ones that don't change every month, like rent, health insurance and utilities. From there it gets a little tricky because you'll need to keep tabs on how much you spend for things like entertainment, groceries, clothing, etc. Compile at least one month's data so you'll have an idea what to estimate for each category. Once you know how much you spend, you'll know how much your business has to make in order to cover your expenses.

As for startup costs (my wishlist above falls under this category) keep those separate. Figure out which ones will be one-time expenses and which will be recurring. And keep them low - we need to stay as lean and mean as possible in the beginning! (Anybody have a used laptop they'd like to donate to a good cause? See me!)

Padma's other Do's and Don'ts:

  • Don't be quick to incorporate or do a DBA ("Doing Business As"). Use your own name at first until you get a better idea of what the focus of your business will be.

  • Do open up a separate business bank account. Figure out how much you think you'll need (see above) and either "lend" yourself the money or borrow it and place it in the account.

  • Many banks won't give out corporate credit cards to startups, so another option is to designate a regular credit card only for business transactions, that way you won't go crazy looking through receipts come tax time.

  • Analyze your business expenses. Ask yourself: What's working? What's not?

  • Stay on top of collections. Use Quickbooks to invoice clients, and mark bills "due upon receipt". It's okay to charge a finance fee and/or late fee.
Did I miss anything? Please add any tips or links of your own!

Monday, August 20, 2007

What's in your Mogulette toolbox?

"Women helping women achieve success" - that's the Mogulette motto, and I just got wind of a site that shares the same feeling. The Women Entrepreneur's Toolbox has the most comprehensive list of business websites and blogs for women by women that I've encountered in cyberspace so far (and believe me, I do a lot of surfing... How else would I be able to do all my procrastinating?). Aside from a link to yours truly (the Mogulette blog made it!), here's a small sampling of other sites you'll find there:

Chronicles of a Mompreneur - I loved their recent post about leveraging your time
The Anti 9 to 5 Guide - advice for women looking for life outside the "cube"
Empower Women Now - great tips on how to make money off your website/blog

Spamato - a tool that eliminates junk email
Box - lets you store files online and access them remotely
Highrise - a contact management system with all the bells and whistles

Women 2.0 - for women that work with and in the field of technology
International Virtual Women's Chamber of Commerce - no geographic or physical boundaries!

I learned so much just by browsing this handful of sites...but there's a lot more there. Take a look...

Have a mogulific day!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How I got on the NY Times

Great news! I was mentioned in a New York Times article this week, which was quite a thrill for me. According to the latest numbers, since it was published the traffic on my blog is up by 55%! I thought I'd share my story, for all those Mogulettes looking to spread the word about their fabulous but still unknown products and services. So here's how it happened: A while back, one of my friends sent me a link to a NY Times article which I found very interesting, so I emailed the author, Marci Alboher (that's her on the right), to compliment her on it. That gave way to further correspondence between us, and the timing couldn't have been better. It just so happened she was in the midst of writing an article about how blogs are useful in job transitions for her column, Shifting Careers, so she asked to interview me for the piece. Of course I said yes (I was ecstatic!). Blogging Your Way to Business was published this week and I've been busy telling everyone that I know in the whole wide world about it since then.

Living the "slash" life
Marci writes about entrepreneurship and career transitions in her column as well as her blog, although the latter is more focused on her life as a "slash" - one in which she juggles multiple career tracks (in her case it's author/journalist/speaker). She talks more about it in her book One Person, Multiple Careers. The "slash" life fits in very well with the Mogulette concept. I'm shooting for writer/startup coach/speaker. What kind of slasher are you, or would you like to be? Tell me about it!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Website Building and Management Basics - Part 2

Here's my to-do list for this morning: brush my teeth (check), do my leg exercises (check), build a website (aaargh!).

The task of constructing a little "shack" on the world wide web can be overwhelming (there's so many moving parts that have to be figured out!) but luckily I'm being guided through it by a super knowledgeable instructor, Maisha Walker (that's her on the right), who is teaching the course that I started blogging about in my last post. She's come up with a checklist of what a typical website needs, which you can find on her website. She spoke about it in detail during the class, and here's some of the notes I took:

Domain Names - Maisha stresses that it's important to have a domain name that matches the name of your company, so that people can find you. If the domain name you want is not available with a “.com” ending, consider alternate names. Maisha said it took her two years to come up with a domain name she liked for her company: messagemedium.com. She strongly recommends registering your domain name under multiple endings - “.com”, “.net” and “.org” - as well as plurals and common misspellings of your company name. Two companies that offer that service: GoDaddy.com and Register.com. This will allow you to have your own e-mail address with your domain name - for ex., janedoe@janedoe.com - which adds credibility to your business. When registering your domain name, make sure that you or your company are the REGISTRANT for the website because that is who legally owns the website.

Logos - Your logo is a representation of your company which will go on every piece of written and web material. It is worth the investment to hire a logo designer. When you hire a designer make sure to have a contract that provides you the rights to the artwork. Make sure to get the original files so that you will be able to use your logo in many different formats and sizes. You can also look at Logoyes.com and Logoworks.com to design your own.

Photograph-Invest money on a good photographer

Site map - It outlines the structure of your website

Site content – What information (images and text) will you be providing in your site? Here's an example of sections you might include: Mission Statement, About Us, Products/Services, Contact Us, etc.

Site Design - Will you do it yourself using a template or hire a web designer? Also check my earlier post for more on this.

Site type or purpose
- Is your objective to generate leads, make money from advertising, sell products/services, or something else?

Site construction - Who will build it?

Maintenance plan - Check my earlier post for details on this.

Tracking tools and goals - Know what your financial goals are and figure out how much traffic you need to generate to achieve them. Track your marketing, for example how effective was your email campaign, ads, newsletter?

(That's Maisha in the left chatting with the Mogulettes after class.)

Coming up next: what are the requirements for proper site design?

Til soon,
Your chief Mogulette-in-the-making.

Website Building and Management - Part 1

Hello fellow mistresses of the universe!

One of my business counselors recently suggested I put together a website in addition to my blog, and the timing couldn't have been better because the Dept. for Small Business Services is sponsoring a three week course which started last week on that same topic, so a few of the Mogulettes and I signed up for it. I was unable to attend the first class so I asked Jen, a fellow Mogulette and creator of the most adorable and scrumptious custom designed cookies (that's her on the right) to share her notes with us. Here's what she sent:

Six Step Process for Planning a Website

It is important to understand the different steps and skills needed to create a website. If you are hiring people to create your website, be sure to get a team of people with the right skills for each step. You can also use templates and content management tools to create your own website. These are discussed below.

1- Planning & Strategy

You’ll need to complete a business plan and a marketing plan before you create your website so that you know what role it will play in your business. Think of your website as an employee - you will have to spend resources on it, but it will help you generate profit.

2- Design

What do you want your website to look like? There are standard templates that can be used (see below). A common mistake people make is spending too much of their budget on the design/look of the website. When hiring a designer, make sure to get a designer who is specifically a web designer and not a print designer since the two mediums are different.

3- Construction

Once the design is completed, it is handed off to constructors for the technical building of the website. A web constructor/developer is different from the designer. There are specific languages developers use, such as HTML coding, Java Script, Pearl, ASP, JSP or PHP. Again it is best to work with a team so that you have people who have technical expertise in many areas.

4- Launch

Make your site visible to everyone.

5- Marketing

Have a plan for how you’ll get people to your site and how you’ll generate profit from it.

6- Maintenance Plan

Include in your business plan how often you will need to update your site (new products, promos, update prices, etc). Decide who will be doing this and how. Be sure to add the cost regular maintenance into your budget.


On the more technical side we talked about Content Management Tools (CMTs), which is software that allows you to control the content (images and text) on your website. CMT’s provide templates that you can use to create your website without having any technical expertise. Some CMTs sit on your computer and others are on your hosting company’s server. Many hosting companies offer content management tools to help you build a website. Examples of this are DreamWeaver, Joomla!, and Front Page.

Coming up on the next post: ...what should go into your website? ...logos, domain names and much more. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Do-it-yourself PR for Your Business

According to Jason Grant, public relations is like having a messenger service that lets people know about you. This industry veteran has helped businesses, celebrities and socialites get their share of the spotlight for 15 years. He graciously stopped by "Mogulette Central" this week to teach us a few tricks on how to spread the word about our products and services without spending a single dime.

Here's some of his suggestions:
Give discounts or free samples to the media.

Donate your products or services for goody bags at charity events and they'll put you on their press release. That way not only will the guests get to know your company but also whatever media they send their press release to. Choose only the ones that fit with your business.

Follow-up. After your product or service gets mentioned in an article or a TV or radio show, run with the story. Let other outlets know that it's been written to give it added exposure.

Constant repetition is what makes people aware of a product or service.

The difference between advertising and PR: People automatically know that ads are paid for, but with PR they think the editors or reporters have actually researched the market and your product stood out.

Two possible ways to position yourself:
1- As an expert, to talk in general about your field. Introduce your company, what you do and the topics you can address.
2- Come up with a timely angle - editors & producers love this one because you're doing the legwork for them. Remember to pitch differently depending on the publication. For example, if you're a dating coach, on Valentine's Day you might want to send out the following pitches:

For "The View" - How to find out if he's "The One"
For More magazine - Do's and don'ts of dating over 40
For local newspapers, or your local TV morning show - Most romantic places around town to "pop the question"
For Glamour magazine - The new rules for successful online dating

Elements of the press release
Make sure you answer who, what, when, where and how. Include your website, your blog, your 800 number - if you have them-, where your product or service is available (what outlets - on and offline). The more accessible you are to the public the more they'll like your story. If you're only available locally find a national angle you could chat about. Make sure your first paragraph hooks them: what's interesting about you/your business?

Who to pitch
Glance through the magazine or newspaper you'd like to target and find the section that best fits your business. See who writes it and direct the query to them. Say you're launching a line of jewelry - then you would send your pitch to the accessories editor at the NY Times or the "Best Bets" section of New York magazine. Other ways to find the proper person to speak to: look at the masthead in the front of magazines, or simply call the publication's switchboard and ask the operator. Start with local media first. Weekly newspapers, neighborhood circulars. Once you get the hang of it, then devise a citywide, or regional angle, and pitch it to the respective publications. When you feel you're ready, go national.

Make a list of all the possible media outlets that would fit your business, and don't forget websites and blogs. Write a "master" press release and send it out systematically. Or for a $90 fee, PRWeb will send it out to thousands of outlets for you. Very important: after a few days, follow up with a phone call, and keep trying until you get through to the right person.

For more on how to get free publicity, visit The Publicity Hound, where you'll find tons of articles.

If you'd like one-on-one help, Jason is available for PR consultations at very reasonable rates. Email him at jhg912@aol.com.

Let's create some buzzzzzz!