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Dec 2011

The eBay shop: win or fail?

Posted in Business tactics | 2 Comments »

So, if you toddle off down Soho’s fashionable Dean Street in central London in the next several days, you’ll pass a shop that you probably never thought you’d see in real life. An eBay shop. No, really. It has second-hand stuff in it, and you pay using your smartphone. There are weird ideas, and then there’s this. And I think it’s pretty original.

“But I don’t have a smartphone!” you cry. No problem – HTC have provided the shop with tablet computers for you to use.

“But I don’t have an eBay/Paypal account!” Why? What century are you living in? I’ll admit there’s always going to be people who feel a little unsure about Paypal, but realistically one could argue they’re a damn sight more open to helping you than your bank is.

“But I don’t want second hand stuff!” Then don’t worry. There are plenty of shops with new things in. But if you’re looking for a great deal on something you might not be able to find new, then this is a good idea.

It’s not often I go all voluntarily gung-ho on promoting an idea that’s not mine, especially a corporate one, but I really like this – I walk in, use my phone, pick up my item, and walk out. There’s no messing around, I operate my own till, and I can finally see the eBay auction in person, which, if you buy expensive stuff from the online auction house, is pretty important.

But it proves that a great business on the internet is fully capable of actually making the 2011 transition in reverse – moving from the digital to the physical space. It’ll be interesting to see how this would work on a larger scale – if professional eBay sellers would “rent space” within the shop, or whether or not they’d remain on the high-street or aim for an IKEA-sized warehouse.

But is it worth it? One of the main reasons people like eBay is because of the sheer range of rare and cut-price goods to be found there, and all without leaving your house, or worse, actually visiting a flea market. Or even a shop. The horror.

It’s an idea that’s going to have to be test-run several times – this is by no means the first eBay shop in the UK, and this one only runs till the sixth of December (future people, it’s 2011 at the time of writing, so don’t send me hate mail if it’s not there just before the Mayan-predicted apocalypse next year). But if it goes well, we may just see a whole lot more of them. I’m totally up for it – what are your thoughts?

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Nov 2011

Is it worth learning webmaster skills as a business owner?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

A lot of online businesses are run by a small team of people – and in some cases, just one person. That’s a lot of responsibility, but with hired help for coding and building the site, creating something that practically runs itself is going to prove to be an advantage in the long run. But sites will break, and not having the right skill-set to fix anything can really let you down in 2011.

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” states the Joker, in The Dark Knight. Odd place to source your advice, but I couldn’t agree more. If you’re doing something for free – i.e. fixing someone’s broken HTML – then you better be getting something great in return, or you’re costing yourself time you could be a) sleeping, b) making money, or c) not doing endless amounts of people favours with no rewards. But sadly that also means that those who are computer illiterate and trying to run a site will often run into difficulties – specifically, ones they can’t fix without forking out for a second salary.

Learning basic skills doesn’t take long at all – HTML and CSS are not impervious to the almost beginner – and even learning how to set up and manage a WordPress blog is going to help when it comes to making sure the small business you’re trying to get off the ground doesn’t falter in the early stages. After all, you don’t want to have to run to an IT-knowledgeable friend or relative (or worse, expensive freelancer) when you could be Googling and problem-solving.

The Google aversion is probably the source of 90% of the tech problems I hear. It’s so simple to Google your answer, and people are vocal and knowledgeable enough to have written about it years before you’re wanting questions answered and problems solved. Sometimes I ask questions on Twitter despite knowing I should be Googling, but it’s this knowledge – that the info I need is out there, waiting to be read, that means all is not lost if those I know personally can’t help me out.

Being a self-starter is all about being driven and committed, and making sure you can accomplish what you need to in a self-reliant manner is part of that. Starting a business means saying goodbye to the nine-to-five, and if you think any different then you’re kidding yourself. In the beginning, everything is down to you, from the accounting to getting the office internet connection set up. You don’t turn up for eight hours a day and claim a salary each month.

Sound daunting? It’s not – learning how to craft sites, deal with Paypal and forgo paid themes in favour of your own CSS artistry can actually be an enjoyable and empowering experience. It certainly has been for me – I know that after learning, Googling, asking questions and making mistakes, I can take a great site idea and actually build it into a working prototype. For every person who’ll call you a “noob” or claim you’ve no business, well, running a business, there’s someone who’s willing to walk you through the basics. Don’t get left behind – be one of the people leading the way.

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