Right Tools For Right Jobs

When choosing a Content Management system or a shopping cart for your web site it is usually a good idea to ask yourself – what is the problem you are trying to solve?

Choosing the right CMS (Content Management System) is very hard. Most people (as noticed on quite a few message boards) make same mistake – they try to figure out what software they need to make money online. “I want to create a community, what software do I need?”. First of all – what kind of community is it going to be? Writers? Photographers? Make-up artists? Everyone has different requirements, and different level of knowledge. Photographers are a little easier to please, as they are used to complicated and cumbersome camera controls, but try to cater same interface to a community of models and make-up artists (same industry, after all) and you will be hit with an outcry for mercy.

Choosing a shopping cart is just one notch easier. First – customers already knows that he wants a shopping cart solution. Second – he is aware that whatever choice he makes is going to affect him in the future. Uploading or entering inventory is a time consuming task and not many people have time to experiment with that. But the ultimate question remains the same – what kind of problem the customer has? What is he/she selling and in which quantities?

There are customers who’s only reasonable solution would be an eBay. Some people can use quick shopping cart options, like PayPal’s shopping cart or BuyNow buttons, or even CafePress. Some could benefit from ZenCart, osCommerce, VirtueMart or peers. Sometimes company grows out of bunch of Excel spreadsheet and starts using CRM, sales and inventory tracking systems, such as RegKeeper, some flavor of QuickBooks, Configure One’s electronic catalog software or other platforms. Certain clients order a custom web site with integrated CMS and shopping cart.

Using full-blown shopping system if you only need to sell two flavors of your widget is unwise. Using PayPal for web store with thousands of clients may cost you significant percentage of your business. Each tool has its own (limited) scope of use. Management 101: Before offering a service – think: what is the problem the service is going to solve? If you have the answer to this question – you will find tools in no time.

Five Major DON’Ts Every Business Should Know

Don’t be afraid of competition. Whatever you do (or decide to do) – there always will be a competition. Think of the ways you can do better then competition. Target market niches, provide more information then competitors, stand out. If you sell what everyone else sells (like knock-offs, replicas and such) – be one step ahead, write reviews, describe why people buy knock-offs, why yours are better then a shop next door. Build a social web around your store.

Don’t forget to follow-up. This way your customer will know that you are serious seller, even if you sell one dollar widgets. Sending e-mail is as inexpensive as it could be. Even follow-up e-mails can be automated (schedule sending of an e-mail in your e-commerce system to your customers, 7 days upon successful finalizing of the order).

Don’t force your customer to register in order to check-out. Always offer a no-registration check-out option. You still be able to collect all the information about a customer you need, but you will save them a minute or two during checkout process and (this is more important) save them a hassle of remembering their password next time they are at your virtual door. They will register once they realize they return often enough.

Don’t be afraid of Google, Yahoo and anyone else. It has been said numerous times – don’t think about search engines, think of your target audience. If you are in the business of selling widgets – write couple of good reviews on latest widgets, provide decent photos, build a reputation of a vendor who knows its widgets and not just sells stuff. Google likes good content as do your customers. One of major reasons why people prefer to shop at Amazon and NewEgg – is because they can read reviews (including those of customers) and see lots of pictures. Create web site that will be convenient to use and you will get ahead of your competition.

Don’t overwhelm your customers with all the current promotions and e-mails. Maintain a database of how many times you have e-mailed each customer. Try this trick: if you have sent out around seven promotions and a certain customer never visited any links from those e-mails – generate another e-mail that will ask the customer if he/she wants to unsubscribe from future e-mails. Unsubscribe automatically if no response is given. Chances are high that all your promotional correspondence ends up in Spam bin, so there is no reason to overload your servers or pay for e-mail delivery for this customer. On the other hand – it may alert customer and enact him/her to actually confirm subscription and look closer to your deals.

Hosted E-Commerce Solutions

Any entrepreneur get to deal with many leads. However, not all the leads become clients. Part of that non-converting crowd are people who choose hosted shopping cart software. The reasons why we should like those people are numerous, but I am going to list just one of them.

Reason 1: If they didn’t accept our services they can still spread the word. People have very different needs. One person could be happy with hosted shopping cart. Another would need a full-featured web store front. Some will need clustered server farm. So even if we suggested some third-party off-the shelf e-commerce solution – we still on good terms with our lead.

Reason 2: With most of third-party solutions customer may need unique design. This one is too obvious to complain about. No matter how good the solution is – people will have natural urge to tweak it to their heart’s content. While a customer is able to upload inventory from Excel file and couple of images, tweaking style sheets and design may get too complicated. It is boring, too.

Reason 3: Any off-the-shelf or hosted e-commerce solution have its limitations. While being useful and user-friendly, it falls short when you really need to grow. When hosting lots of pictures, like sample or product images, or when electronically delivering your products, like eBooks or downloads, then server load and bandwidth will become issues with your hosted solution provider. You will fall back to people who can build a custom solution for your business. People who you already know.

Reason 4: There is a steep learning curve at the beginning of using any software. When you just starting everything seems unusual and complicated. Once you familiarize yourself with the software of your choice – you’re the king of the hill. When you come to someone to design and develop your custom-fit business solution you already know what you want! The design and development guys spend tremendous time determining what is it that client wants. People with experience are a great gift, like a second free customer. What could be better?

Overall, the idea of hosted shopping cart or online web page creation tool or whatever else is there is very productive for consumers, solution providers and web design guys. Consumers acquire knowledge and understanding of what they want. Solution providers acquire a stream of customers. Web design guys acquire educated customers. Everybody wins!

Why .COM domain name is important

Running your company’s web site doesn’t really require .com domain. It almost don’t matter what business you are in. However, for marketing purposes, .com domain is almost a necessity, since most people are so much used to all domain names ending in .com. If you are running del.icio.us, it is whole another story and you wouldn’t need an advice in such a case.
Owners of web sites within .us, .biz, .info, and other domain zones are just marketing their web sites differently. Take a look at New York’s Transit Authority’s web site – mta.info. Very easy to remember and almost everyone in New York with access to a computer does.
The alleged problem with uncommon domain zones is that not everyone knows they exist. They are also just a tad harder to remember. In the early days of .biz and .info domain names in these zones were offered at a huge discount, sometimes even for free. A lot of fraudsters, scam artists and spammers have grabbed nice looking domains in those zones which led to the common perception of these domains as “knock-offs”, “fakes” or businesses in third-world countries that shouldn’t be trusted. Currently it’s not exactly true, but that’s what we usually hear from prospective clients when choosing domain name for their web sites. Sometimes this myth prevents a very successful marketing campaign from starting – because this myth can actually damage the reputation of promoted brand.
Domain name in a .com zone is a must if you are running E-commerce web site. Same approach is suggested if you are running web hosting business. There are a lot of after market names you can buy for a very low price. If that’s too expensive – your business model must be wrong.

History Of Russian Food

Ever wondered in a Russian restaurant and got amazed by the amount of calories that each dish contained? Or, maybe, thought why do these Russians eat that vegetable soup with meat, then pasta with meat and then have that sugar-rich drink with plenty of fruit? Read on, for we are about to tell you where the Russian food is coming from and, most importantly, why is it this way.
For starters, let’s remember that Russia, aside from being a land of Tsars, Bolsheviks, Revolution, Perestroika and Sputnik is a vast amounts of land. It’s so big it takes almost 1/6th of total surface of all land on Earth. Apparently, the climate there isn’t always friendly. In fact, most of the Russia’s land experiences cold weather approximately 7 – 8 months in a year. Which doesn’t leave much for warm-loving crops, animals and other growing or running food that one can procure.
Such conditions required that prepared food has to be easily preserved and provided enough energy for people to survive during long cold months when procurement of food was hard or not possible. This has led to dishes like “borsh” – heavy vegetable soup with cabbage, beet and, in some recipes, small pieces of meat, “okroshka” – another heavy soup based on kvas or kefir with (varying from recipe to recipe) pre-boiled eggs, cucumbers, potato, small cubes of meat, onions and a number of additional ingredients or ever famous “pelmeni” (aka ravioli) – a nice little pack of meat (proteins) and dough (carbs, fiber) that is very easy to prepare and consume.
It has also created a number of dry snacks, that are well preserved and usually consumed together with some sort of alcoholic drink (beer, vodka, “samogon”) as those too provide high energy boost and produce sense of warmness, necessary during cold times.
Most of traditional Russian meals are not spicy. However, being such a vast land, Russia inevitably happen to be the place where East and West would cross their paths. Roads from Asia lead to Europe – all the way through Russian spaces. Apparently, getting spices and other condiments, not custom to original Russian foods, was much easier business for cooks in Russia, than it was for Europeans. The fact that this land had been a place of many crossroads also explains why Russian food has meals similar to those in many different countries. For example, Russian vareniki or pelmeni are very similar to ravioli from the West and dumplings from East.
The energy volume of Russian meals have been, so far, rarely superseded. Traditional Russian bread and milk breakfast is hardly anywhere near (calorie-wise) to any other breakfast – weather European or Asian. Russian “vareniki” or “pelmeni” with traditional sour cream are a killer meal that is quite heavy on proteins, carbs and fat.

Russian Food Day

The following is a contemporary yet already traditional course of Russian food for the whole day. Whether you want to take a day off just to experience this course or invite your friends over for just a part of it – I’m sure it will be fun.

To start our RUSSIAN FOOD DAY you have a choice of a light breakfast or a heavy breakfast. Light breakfast consists of two boiled eggs with two slices of Russian white bread with butter. Heavy breakfast is three scrambled eggs with chicken and pork cutlet and same two slices of bread and butter. After you’re done with this part you get a saucer full of farmer cheese (also known as Tvorog) and a big cup of hot sweet tea.

Get some rest, go work in a field. Come dinner time, depending on weather you could have two choices of either a hot weather dinner or a cold weather dinner. Let’s start with cold weather dinner.

First course is, of course, borsh with garlic bread cakes. Don’t mind the after-smell, it’s just tasty. Second course is a famous chicken Kiev cutlet with fried or mashed potatoes. Alternatively, you can have pelmeni with sour cream, butter or vinegar (some people do find it tasty). Side dishes must include sour cabbage,pickles or pickled tomatoes. Add vodka to the taste. Then you can either have hot tea again, kvas or compot (recommended) – a drink that’s heavy on a fruit juice and sugar.

For hot weather dinner you may want to start with okroshka – a cold vegetable soup based on mix of sour cream and water (some people use kvas instead, but this practice is questionable). There is also a so called cold borsh, but okroshka is just much better tasting. Second course should consist of either golubci (mix of meat and rice rolled into cabbage leaves and stewed) or stuffed peppers or stewed meatballs with fried or mashed potatoes. Side dishes may include same sour cabbage, vinegret, fresh or pickled vegetables or salad. And finally, for the third course, you can have same compot, fruit juice or mors, jelly drink (kisel) or hot tea.

If you think that’s enough for today – you are wrong. You’re only half way through.

The poldnik is something similar to British five-o-clock, but is held at around 4 – 4:30 PM. Usually it consists of a cup of cocoa drink, hot milk or hot tea and a large cookie, piece of cake or something else baked.

Fourth meal for the day (aren’t you tired of eating yet?) is a late supper. Sure you have already noted that previous three meals are somewhat formalized. The late supper is the one with the most variety. You can repeat the breakfast or you can have something else – the choice is yours. Historically, late supper was needed to clear out whatever was left after breakfast or dinner, so that no leftovers would take up place in a refrigerator. Therefore this meal is open to improvisations.

Fifth and last meal was late night tea time. This is where the samovar comes into play. Sweet hot tea was usually served with bakery of all kinds, sweets, honey or various fruit jams or preserves.

If you could survive this five-meal marathon, you surely can work a 12 – 14 hour workday, have only one-day weekend, down a bottle of vodka with two unknown fellows and get home still standing straight.

How To Make Woman Happy – And Her Man Too

We were laying on the bed, letting the steam off after some very private moments. I said: “This was great”.
“I don’t feel you’re happy enough” – my husband replied, “what’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing, just something on my mind. It’s not about what we just did, it’s something else”.
“What is it, baby?” – he braced his hands around my chest. I curled inside, like a real baby in her mother’s arms, and sighed. “I was looking in the mirror” – I pointed to the dresser mirror right across the bed – “and I noticed something”.
“Hmm… how beautiful you are?” – he asked.
“No… how old I am” – I sighed again – “you know, the wrinkles, the fine lines… I think I even saw the crow’s feet, but you made me too busy at that moment”.
“But you still don’t look your age, honey. Not even close” – he hugged me a little stronger then before.
“I know, I know. But still, you know – it shows”. I heard him chuckle: “What about those buckets of creme you used up all these years?”
“It helped, but it’s not really what the skin needs. You know, I worked more than ten years in beauty industry, I’ve seen more skin then you ever will” – I teased. However, he was quick to return the favor – “It’s never too late to start catching up, although I’d miss these tender moments with you” – he replied.
“Oh, you know what I mean” – I surrendered – “no cream will restore that stuff that makes skin look young”. “Ah, the collagen, I remember” – he returned, like a school boy answering questions for his homework. “Good boy” – I joked, – “so you must remember that with age collagen dissipates and your skin looks wrinkled and old”. “Yes, ma’am” – he said – “although I can’t really comprehend such complicated words right after so much physical activity and so much pleasure.”
“Alright”, I said, “I’ll let this go this time, but next class – be prepared”.
Next day, Thursday, was my working day at the Sensitive Touch spa, where I worked as laser hair removal technician. Making people beautiful is what I do best and what I really love to do. I mean – think of it, women must look beautiful or gorgeous – you decide. Either way, they must be attractive. The doctor I work for, Dr. Halaas, was in the office too. We were chatting how plastic surgery gets more and more attention – and more acceptance. Personally I think there’s nothing wrong if somebody wants to look their best and uses latest and greatest in plastic surgery to aid. Dr. Halaas was on the same page with me.
“I looked at you this morning” – she said – “and I noticed you look happy”. She paused, then added: “Happy, but concerned”.
“Yes… and yes” – I laughed.
“Let me guess – your husband makes you happy, and your wrinkles make you concerned” – she said.
“Yes… and yes, again!” – I responded.
“Well, how about we do something about it?” she asked, somewhat provocatively.
“About husband?” – I asked, jokingly.
“Yes, and about those wrinkles, too” – she smiled, while grabbing my hand and leading me to the room.
Couple of minutes later I was comfortably seated in the chair with Dr. Halaas holding a syringe with Botox in her hands.
“You will need about three or four shots of Botox in the forehead” – she said as she was administering first round of injections. She changed Botox to Restilane. “A couple of shots of Restilane under the eyes, your bad eyesight is causing more wrinkles when you supposed to have at your age.” She did the shots and changed Restilane to Juvederm. “You seem to like to laugh, so we’ll fix your laugh lines” – she kid while proceeding with the rest of injections. In under ten minutes the whole procedure was over.
“The face might ache, there might be some swelling, might be even headache. But you’ll survive. Now, let’s go back to work”.
By the end of the day the aching and headache were in place, but actually there was very little of swelling. My husband met me at our apartment’s door. “What happened, baby? Did you get into a fight? Did you showed them?” – I waved him off: “I got some Botox injected, so I may not feel well tonight”. “Ahh” – he nodded – “the eternal dream is coming true in front of our eyes. Where’s the popcorn when you need it”.
It’s the second day that I was fully aware of what happened to me – the headache, the swelling and the aching – in addition to short, one-day, cold. It was discomforting a bit, but neither painful nor it was swelling. By Saturday the only visible reminder of the procedure was some dark spots under eyes that by Sunday all but vanished.
Sunday night we went out to some quiet (as we thought) Turkish tea place. It turned out more crowded than trendy Manhattan on Friday, but it wasn’t the point. My husband and I were feeling the looks from other tables – everyone was checking me out. “I bet they envy me. Not a date in this room look as young as you do” – my husband told me – “Girls check you out even more then guys do”. I laughed. “No, seriously! I wish you could see all the looks they gave you already.”.
And you know what – I believed him. These Botox/Restilane/Juvederm injections were the best thing I ever did for myself for whole twelve years of working in beauty industry. No cream will ever recreate the collagen in your skin – you have to make the injection of the proper aid to restore it. I am not saying cremes or lotions are useless. They help you preserve your skin and slow down the aging. But no lotion will stop the aging, and no creme will restore the firmness and elasticity of the skin. Botox and Restilane, on the other hand, restored my forehead and under-eyes skin. My eyes again are green almond-shaped beauty (as my husband puts it) and seeing it in the mirror every time makes me feel twenty again.

Action Toys In Two Cultures

Coming from a non-American childhood, action toys are a novelty for me. Back in the country where my childhood passed we had totally different toys – including action toys. Most of the toys were based either on cartoons or on imagination of an artists in the doll factory. There were plush animals making squeaky noises, remote-controlled tanks and lunar vehicles (Lunohod-1 was the hit); there were dolls with really strange facial expressions that could close and open their eyes and smaller dolls that couldn’t do anything but were a good throwing material.

We didn’t really have that much of action toys selection. There were tons of other stuff, but specifically action toys – like figures from Halo, Aliens or even hockey players – no one actually thought it would be a good idea to produce. Of course, there were no Halo, neither Gears of War, nor even a single action figure of a hockey or soccer player. And forget about Elvis, that guy was outright banned while he was still alive.

So what kids did was made action toys themselves. There was a scrapyard nearby my school with all kinds of telephone wire cuts and pieces scattered around. We collected the wires and weave action figures from those wires as we saw fit. We had built armies of foot swordsmen, squadrons of horse raiders, platoons of riflemen, machine gunners and sub-machine gunners. Battles that raged on our floors were rival only to those of ancient China and its terracotta armies. The best part of all of this (at least our parents appreciated this the most) the whole enterprise was absolutely free. There was, however, an incentive, since all died soldiers (or rather materials they were made of) would be divided by the winner and the looser of the battle. Called that spoils of war.

These days, obviously, aren’t the days of toy soldier conscription. The action toys, to paraphrase a well-known motto, are few, are proud and are very expensive – at least to be bought in similar quantities. Oh, and the fun part of scouting a scrap yard for wires of necessary colors and actually building your action figure are long gone. Instead, the action figures – whether produced by McFarlane or Neca – are almost photo realistic representations of the original, no matter be it a NFL football player or a Halo 3 Master Chief. Even more so, manufactured action figures have more accessories, more movements, look better and overall, probably more fun to play with.

In all honesty, sometimes I miss the childhood with self-made action toys, armies of wire soldiers and all the fun associated with it. On the other hand, when I see how toddlers, teenagers, and sometimes very much grown-ups are happy when they get their hands on one of the latest action figures – or an old one they’ve been dreaming about for so long, I think it’s a small price to pay.