Business & Internet


Moms Can Be Driven, Ambitious Workers Too

Working moms will think this title just states the obvious, but unfortunately not everybody agrees that a woman who’s had a baby and taken time off work can come back and be as valuable and committed a worker as she was before. This is why I was delighted to find out that this year’s US Open winner, Kim Clijsters, is a mother -and one who took two years away from the game while she had her baby. If you can regain your place in elite women tennis after two years of semi-retirement, then surely you can go back to your office job and perform at the same level as your male peers? Apparently, the answer is not straighforward.

2009 US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

The topic of working women becoming mothers has interested me since I took my first job in corporate America. From the very beginning I realized that here the assumption is that a woman will delay having children for as long as possible, so as to maximize the number of years she can spend fully committed to advancing her career.

Most of my female friends in corporate jobs who dared having a kid in their early 30s complain about having become invisible on their return to work -in some cases less than 10 days after giving birth. They’re understood to have revealed a strong preference for their family life over their job -as if the two things had to be mutually exclusive-, and are no longer considered serious contenders for career advancement.

Worst of all, these assumptions are not only held by men, but also by a majority of women. I’ve heard female colleagues scorn another one who’d had a baby -what had she been doing in this line of work, where full commitment is taken for granted, when all she wanted to do was be a mom?

I’m sad to say that they may have a point in their anger. They fear that the behavior of those who became mothers will reflect badly on them: their bosses could worry that any other woman in the team may be thinking of having a baby soon, and put forward a man -the safe bet- whenever the next promotion comes along.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this state of affairs changing any time soon. We can of course hope for a time when corporations will realize that moms can be devoted workers, and that giving them some flexibility to juggle their job and their children’s needs can benefit everybody involved. But, realistically, from the inside I see no indication that we’re even moving in this direction.

For my part, I’ve given some thought to the possibility of leaving my job and starting my own business once I decide to have kids -for me, delaying motherhood for the sake of my job is out of the question. This is perhaps the easy way out, but I know it’s being considered by an increasing number of women. Many of the mother-entrepreneurs profiled in Secrets of Millionaire Moms mention the flexibility to organize your work-time around your family commitments as one of the reasons why they decided to work for themselves.

Besides, what’s the alternative? Being the last to leave the office and working 60-hour weeks so as to dispel any doubt that you’re as dedicated as the men and the non-mothers? Every time I see a co-worker pathetically reminding everyone that she didn’t turn off her Blackberry during labor, or how easy it was for her to get back to work two days afterwards, I make the same promise to myself: I’ll do everything in my power to never be in their position.

In the press these days:

  • 09/15/2009 @ MoneyCNN.com:
    Have a Baby and a Career Too – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urges working women not to pass on the next promotion to start a family.

TALKBACK

  • If you’re a working mom, what was your experience going back to work after having your baby?

  • How do you think the challenges facing working moms could be addressed?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

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This post is part of the series Getting Twitter Followers: What Works and What Doesn’t, reviewing some of the methods you can use to get Twitter followers.

You can find other posts in the series here.

If you’ve used any system to increase your Twitter followers and want to share your experience, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment below.

featured users

On the road to $1M rating:

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Let me start this review with a disclaimer: I’m just evaluating Featured Users as a tool to attract Twitter followers. Their website says that advertising with them is “a great way to get more Twitter followers and support your favorite Twitter apps”. So if your main objective is to support the applications that display Featured Users banners, then you may be happy with the results. On the other hand, if you just want to get new people to follow you, then Featured Users is a downright waste of money.

Advertising in Featured Users works in the following way: you pay a fixed amount to have a small banner with your Twitter profile displayed across a network of Twitter applications and websites [You can see the list of participating websites here]. People who find your description interesting click on the banner and are directed to your Twitter page, where they can choose to start following you.

When I first heard about the Featured Users concept I thought it sounded like a good idea, and decided to give it a try. And though I’m not usually much of a compulsive buyer, that day I went for the most expensive package: I bought 11,500 impressions of my profile for $100.

Once all the impressions had been used, I logged on to Featured Users to evaluate the results. I anticipated they’d be disappointing, as my total number of followers had barely moved from the initial 400. They turned out to be even worse than I expected.

The 11,500 impressions had translated into 48 people clicking to see my Twitter page -implying a dismal click-through rate (CTR) of 0.475%. It’s not possible to know how many of those actually became followers, but even in the best-case scenario I’d have paid $100 for 48 of them, which works out at a whooping $2 per follower.

Was the low CTR due to my profile being unappealing to those who saw the banner? Yes and No. Certainly my CTR was well below average. However, according to Featured Users’ numbers, even the average user would have seen less than 100 people click on her ad. In the best-case scenario -where all those who click become followers- she’d have paid $1 for each. This seems outrageously expensive to me.

You could argue that those who click on a banner displaying a profile are more likely to be targeted followers -interested in what you have to say. But bear in mind that it’s possible to get 100 targeted followers in less than 15 minutes for free: just search Twitter for a couple of keywords related to the topics you care about. You’ll get a list of tweets containing those keywords. Browse through them and follow the first 200 users whose tweets provide genuine information -it’s very easy to spot and avoid the ones just trying to sell you something. That’s it: next time you log in you’ll find that more than 50% of them will have followed you back.

Is saving the hassle of manually following 200 people worth $100? Judge for yourself. For me, the answer is a resounding no.

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Secrets of Millionaire Moms

Learn How They Turned Great Ideas Into Booming Businesses

On the road to $1M rating:

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They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the saying applies literally to Tamara Monosoff’s Secrets of Millionaire Moms: if you can look beyond the shabby cover and the flat, black-and-white inside layout -betraying that the book was originally published in ebook format- you will be pleasantly surprised.

Monosoff draws on her own experience as an entrepreneur and those of 17 other women -all of whom decided to turn their ideas into start-ups and eventually grew them into multimillion-dollar companies- to illustrate the steps needed to create, manage, and grow a business.

The first original aspect of the book is that all the profiled entrepreneurs are women, many of them in their 50’s and beyond -while I think it’s safe to say that the typical image of a self-made, millionaire entrepreneur would be that of a man. And there is a further catch: as the book title suggests, all these women have kids, and have had to work hard at achieving the elusive work-life balance, coming up with ingenious ideas to be able to enjoy their children while they worked hard on their businesses.

The fact that the book focuses on moms doesn’t make it any less of a business book. Apart from a chapter about juggling family and business, all the topics covered are of prime interest to anybody considering starting their own venture: how to turn your life-fantasy into a workable business plan, the importance of understanding the finances, how to raise capital, administer assets, or manage employees.

I think that most readers would define Secrets of Millionaire Moms as female-oriented. Being told from a female perspective, it often touches on issues that are typically considered of more interest to women. For instance, references abound to the internal critic that continuously reminds you of the reasons you can’t do something -it’s usually assumed that this nefarious inner voice is more commonly a problem for women, although I suspect that many men will be acquainted with it too. There’s also a discussion of the guilt factor from being away from your kids which, if the readership of blogs on the topic is anything to go by, is also of greater concern to women than men.

This is not to suggest that men won’t find the book useful and enjoyable. The times when a man could -and would want to- spend all his life working while leaving his wife to take care of the household and the family are long gone. Men entrepreneurs will at some point in their lives come across the difficulty of juggling work with family life, and the fact that a business book tackles this topic head on should be welcomed as a refreshing novelty, in step with modern times.

In the end, the book is extremely inspiring without lacking realism: while it continuously underlines the importance of believing in yourself, it doesn’t hide that being an entrepreneur can sometimes be difficult -you may have to spend birthdays away from your kids, have money troubles, feel anxious and stressed, or be obliged to fire employees. The ultimate message, however, is a positive one. All interviewees agree that the sacrifices they made were worthwhile, and more than compensated by the gains in terms of flexibility, outlets for their creativity, and financial independence.

I loved reading a business book written by a woman who was able to achieve her dreams through hard work. While I cannot stress enough that both male and female readers will enjoy the book, it’s still harder for us women to find entrepreneur role models. Thanks to Secrets of Millionaire Moms, I’ve found several to add to my list.

You can leave a comment here

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Getting Twitter Followers: What Works and What Doesn’t

This post is the first of a series reviewing the multitude of products and services that promise to get you thousands of Twitter followers.

If you’ve used any of these services and want to share your experience please send me an e-mail or leave a comment HERE

Next post in the series:

I must admit I first joined Twitter looking to publicize my posts. As a beginner in the blogging world, I was struggling to generate traffic. Experts will tell you that as time passes your audience will slowly build up, but I was impatient, and Twitter seemed the perfect vehicle to attract readers: I just had to broadcast the title of my post and those who found the topic interesting would click on the link.

I first joined Twitter looking to

After a couple of months on Twitter, I had become a devotee of the site for very different reasons. I had found several personal-finance bloggers whose posts I now read assiduously -such as @MoneyEnergy or @fiscalgeek. I was also talking regularly with people whose interests had nothing to do with my blog: new moms, college students, photographers. And I was enjoying every minute of it.

Having met just one of these people would have made my Twitter adventure worthwhile. But while I still wanted to drive traffic to my blog, I had less than 400 followers -hardly enough to get more than a couple of visits whenever I announced a new blog post.

I decided at that point to do something about it, and started researching the best way to add followers to my account. In the process I discovered several things:

  • Most of the programs promising to bring in hundreds of followers are completely ineffective or downright scams -they just want to get your email address and have no intention of actually getting anybody to follow you.

  • There’s a big difference between bringing in untargeted followers -which are relatively easy to get, but may not be at all interested in what you have to say- and targeted ones.

  • As appealing as having thousands of followers seemed to me in the beginning, sometimes I doubt it’s really worth it. At some point it becomes difficult to keep conversations -you feel overwhelmed, in the middle of a crowd where everybody tries to talk on top of each other.

This post is an introduction to a series where I want to review the services I’ve used to increase the number of followers in my account. If you’ve ever used any of them -whether you still have those followers or have resorted to unfollowing 90% of them, as I’ve seen some people do when trying to keep up becomes too hard-, your contribution would be very useful to other readers looking to increase their Twitter following. Please consider writing a comment to this post or e-mailing me directly to share your experience.

And remember to come back tomorrow to read the first review.

TALKBACK

  • Have you tried to get more people to follow you on Twitter?

  • Do you think trying to get thousands of followers is silly, and would rather stick to the few select ones you currently have?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing:

Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business

On the road to $1M rating:

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Crowdsourcing, the fascinating first book of Wired writer Jeff Howe, analyzes the transition currently taking place online from content created by professionals to that created by the community -think, for instance, of the thousands of user-generated videos populating YouTube.

A very recent phenomenon, crowdsourcing is the result of the expansion of Internet, together with the ongoing democratization of the means of content creation: the wide availability and falling prices of digital cameras and blogging or editing software means that an amateur photographer, journalist, or film director can produce content sometimes rivaling professional quality. Moreover, through the Web they can reach an audience of a size previously only dreamt of by the most successful and prestigious authors.

Through sketches of real-life conversations, success stories of Internet companies, and a wealth of data, Howe takes us on an enthralling trip through the origins, the present, and the future of crowdsourcing, raising many thought-provoking issues on the way: will the rise of the amateurs make professionals redundant?; will amateurs be able to maintain the same standards of quality?; does the crowd need a benevolent dictator to organize it?

Crowdsourcing and businesses

Howe is optimistic about amateurs’ ability to coexist with professionals in the long-run and to deliver high-quality products. He reviews several business models that prove that it’s possible to employ what the crowd has to offer -from content-creation to expertise in obscure fields- to create a union that is valuable for all parties involved:

  • Sites like YouTube, Digg or Flickr rely on users not only to provide all the content, but also to organize it -whether by adding tags or voting on its quality or relevance.

  • The website InnoCentive posts projects from Fortune 500 companies such as P&G to a network of 140,000 amateur scientists. This diverse scientific community has sometimes been able to solve problems that had got the companies’ R&D departments stumped for months. Those who come up with a valid answer to a problem are rewarded with prizes ranging from $10,000 to $1,000,000.

  • Established companies with a business model unrelated to the crowdsourcing concept -such as Dell, Heinz, or Amazon– are finding ways to both capitalize on and engage the crowd, from organizing contests to create their TV advertisements to relying on users to rate the products they offer.

  • While the book doesn’t cover this type of businesses, I’d have been interested in an analysis of sites like Zopa, were members of the community lend money to each other, therefore sidestepping the banks as providers of borrowing and investement products.

When the crowd is not so wise

Howe’s optimism is partly justified by the mere existence of the businesses mentioned above, which show that crowdsourcing can be a mutually beneficial exercise for them and the community as a whole. The book, however, doesn’t dwell on the potential problems of delegating decision power to the crowd, two of which I think are particularly important:

  • 10 minutes browsing the videos posted in YouTube are enough to realize that much of the content created by the crowd is of very poor quality. Howe argues that the community itself is best suited to sort through the masses of mediocre videos and come up with the best, but I’m not so convinced. While YouTube has delivered a couple of pop music hits, very often the most popular videos involve naked celebrities or clips of animals doing funny things -amusing but hardly of any artistic value. The same can be said of some of the articles that make it to the front pages of Digg or Reddit.com.

    There is a danger, articulated by Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur -tellingly subtitled “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values”-, that we’ll enter an “age of mass mediocrity where the mob replaces experts and we all become collectively dumber”.

  • A related, more dangerous problem occurs when the crowd is manifestly wrong. The housing bubble that started to burst in 2007 is a good example: Most people shared the utterly unreasonable expectation that housing prices would continue to grow forever. The role of the crowd was to reinforce such beliefs, leading to escalating home prices and the eventual collapse of the whole housing market.

Despite some misgivings about Howe’s blind face in the community, Crowdsourcing is the book I’ve enjoyed most this year. It made me think about where the Internet revolution is going, and the consequences it will have for the way we do businesses, in ways I’d never considered in the past. If you’re lucky to be looking for an entertaining holiday book, I definitely recommend it.

TALKBACK

  • Have you read this book?

  • The new collaborative creativity opens up many possibilities for businesses and individuals. Do you think these outweigh the problems? What could be done to avert or minimize the risks?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

The 10 Worst Quotes Circulating Twitter

Jump directly to WORST quotes

Quotes are the latest fad on Twitter. Few of us can resist the urge to add a witty sentence every couple of tweets. It seems that, whatever it is we feel the need to say in less than 140 characters, somebody has already said it before -so why not quote them?

It sounds like a good idea, and in principle it should be -quotes can be deeply inspiring and uplifting. The problem is that the number of quotes being tweeted or re-tweeted has become so large, that we’re in serious danger of becoming numb to their message. We’re on the verge of a quote-overdose.

It’s time we developed some simple rules of quotetiquette, and I’m going get the ball running proposing the first three DON’Ts:

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DON’T write quotes in your automatic tweets. You may have found the sentence exhilarating when you first read it but, trust me, the effect fades after the first couple of repetitions. Let’s just say that when I read for the sixth time in 90 minutes that “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity”, I was able to clearly picture what Einstein had in mind when he wrote the sentence: he foresaw a day in the future when people would use Twitter to set up automatic feeds repeating sentences out of context. Like automatic parrots -isn’t that genius?

DON’T overdo it with the pushy quotes. You know which ones I mean, the reach-for-success-failure-doesn’t-exist-and-if-you-fail-you-haven’t-been-thinking-positively-so-you-deserve-it type of quote. They’re supposed to be inspiring, but can become a bit scary sometimes. This morning I made the mistake of opening Twitter before I’d taken my coffee. The first thing I read said: “make today your masterpiece”. Ok, so no pressure there. I had to fight hard not to go back to bed and cover my head with the sheets.

DON’T write quotes that lose their meaning taken out of context -remember, your readers won’t know where you took it from, and may understand something very different from what you intended to say.


The following is my list of the 10 worst offenders:

  1. “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win”

    Again, no pressure there…

  2. “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail”

    Meaning: if you’re not rich and successful, it’s your fault.

  3. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”

    Not only it’s your fault, it’s a sign that you’re stupid.

  4. “Success if the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”

    In my experience, though, when you’re explaining to your boss that despite your apologies the last five times you’ve again spilled coffee over the photocopy machine, keeping the enthusiasm may become a little tricky.

  5. “It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny”

    Wouldn’t it be ironic to find out that this person was involved -God forbid- in a plane crash?

  6. “Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.”

    The jury is still out as to whether these are the words of a personal-growth guru or of Bernard Madoff.

  7. “The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”

    That’s why capitalism invented bank bailouts!

  8. “Do one thing every day that scares you”

    And why not start by jumping off a bridge?

  9. “Human behavior may not be totally predictable, but it’s usually reasonably easy to predict”

    We don’t know for sure who wrote this sentence, but you can clearly detect the words of an economist. Before the banks stopped lending.

  10. “The only true gift is a portion of yourself”

    Gore!

TALKBACK

  • Do you think there should be more or less quotes on Twitter?

  • Have you found other quotes that sound strange out of context?

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE LIST HERE

10 Reasons to Start a Business (While You’re Still a Teenager)

bored_and_poorThe postcard in the picture describes in just two words how many of us used to feel all too frequently during our teenage years. In Getting Loaded: 50 Start Now Strategies for Making 1,000,000 While You’re Still Young Enough To Enjoy It, Peter Bielagus spells out his suggestion for young people who’re not happy about being bored and poor: Start a business!

This clashes with common wisdom, which favors waiting until you’re older and more experienced. But by waiting you risk leaving it until you’re surrounded by responsibilities -work, children, mortgage- and with no free time to speak of. While you’re a teenager you’ve got lots of time at your disposal, and those years are likely to be your most creative ones. Why not put them to good use?

Starting a business while young, whether it grows into a full-time occupation or remains a part-time endeavor that you abandon before you finish college or get a job, will provide you with a wealth of experience that’ll serve you well whatever you end up doing in later life. As Bielagus puts it in Getting Loaded, “It will teach you things no classroom can teach you, like how to deal with rejection, fear, failure, success, and, most important, people”. Consider it your very own practical MBA.

While there are good reasons to start a business at any point in life (no age is too young, none is too old), these are the main ones why it pays to start a business while you’re a teenager:

  1. You can afford to take more risks. You don’t have to worry about whether investing in the business puts your children’s financial wellbeing at risk. Plus, in the face of any setback, you’ve got many years in front of you to recover -or try again.

  2. You have drive. You’re in the age of thinking big. Your dreams have no ceiling and you’re passionate beyond reason. Tap into that energy -and apply it to an idea you believe in.

  3. You have energy -certainly more than most people 20 years older than you.

  4. You want to annoy your parents. Don’t they give you a hard time with their never-ending speeches about becoming a lawyer? Show them there’s more to life than Law School!

  5. You want to make your parents proud, too. They’ve told you a hundred times you should grow up. What a better way to show you’re able to take responsibility for your own life?

  6. The experience will serve you later in life, whether you continue with the business, start another one, go to college, or get a job.

  7. You hate feeling bored. Once you start working on your idea, you won’t have time for boredom. Actually, you won’t have much free time at all. But as long as you’re working in your passion, you won’t miss it, either.

  8. You have plenty of friends. I bet that many of them are also looking for something to do. They can become a source of cheap labor to tap into, they can help you brainstorm ideas, or even become your business partners.

  9. You want to be popular. How many people your age own their own company? Your friends will admire this, and you may even inspire some of them to start a businesses of their own -and they’ll queue to get your expert opinion.

  10. You want to find your purpose. A business will expose you to activities you’ve never performed before. Do you hate keeping business books? Do you enjoy developing ideas to help others? Do you love the contact with other people? Everything you discover about your likes and dislikes will help you find a direction for your adult life.

So if you’re young and have a passion, give a thought to the possibility of turning it into a business. Don’t let the hurdles -lack of money the most obvious one- deter you from trying: be creative and you’ll come up with ways around them. Ask yourself:

  • How could my passion be turned into a product or service that would benefit other people?

  • Is there a similar product or service in the market people are prepared to pay for? Can I improve on it?

  • Which creative strategies can I use to put my product or service in the market without a big initial investment? Could I start pitching it to neighbors, colleagues, friends, local associations?

Hopefully answering these questions will provide you with a whole new perspective on what until now you considered just a hobby. So now just get moving. Good luck!

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