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Month: July, 2007

How secure is your web site?

30 July, 2007 (10:47) | Security | By: Nick Dalton

Even if your web site does not hold any national security document you should take the security of your web site seriously. This is especially important if you are selling products on your web site.

A typical setup is that you have one or more sales pages for your product and when a prospect clicks on an order link they are redirected to PayPal, 2CheckOut or some other payment processing service. This setup is good for several reasons, the most important being the fact that you avoid having to deal with credit card numbers and other sensitive customer information. So far in 2007 there have been published reports of more than 89 million identity records exposed from data breaches. See the Identity Theft Resource Center for some really scary reading. Leaving data theft worries to companies who specialize in handling financial information is a great strategy for most small businesses.

But that does not leave you totally in the clear. If you are selling a digital product that the customer can download immediately after the purchase, you need to ensure that the product is protected. There are many ways that web site owners inadvertently leave their valuable products unprotected – making them available for free to anyone who knows where to look.

Here are the 3 most common errors:

1. Easy to guess filenames.

If the title of your e-book is “AdWords Secrets”, then don’t name the file AdWordsSecrets.pdf. It is just too easy to guess that the URL for downloading your e-book might be www.example.com/AdWordsSecrets.pdf

At least add a version number or a date into the filename, e.g. AdWordsSecrets_v42.pdf or AdWordsSecrets_20070707.pdf. This will make it much more difficult to guess the filename and the URL.

2. Search engines indexing the download page or the product itself.

Today’s search engines are extremely efficient in spidering content on the web and keeping your web pages secret from search engines is becoming increasingly difficult. Even if you don’t have any public links to your secret product download page there are several ways that a search engine can find out about the page and index it. Once it’s indexed anyone who uses that search engine may see your product download page in the search results, and they can download your product for free.

You should regularly check what each search engine knows about your web site. In most major search engines you can use the site: operator, e.g. site:example.com, to get a listing of all the pages on your web site that have been indexed.

3. Improperly configured robots.txt

robots.txt is a text file that you can place on your web server to guide search engines to what content they are allowed to index and what is off limits. While this may prevent most search engines from indexing your secret web pages, it opens up another vulnerability: any curious web surfer is able to view your robots.txt file. If the file explicitly forbids search engines from looking in the /downloads or /report directories, then it’s very likely that’s where the secret files are stored. With this knowledge the web surfer can more easily find your product and download it for free.

You need to strike the right balance between protecting certain files and directories in robots.txt while not revealing too much about the structure of your web site.

Selling digital products online is a great business. Make sure that you get paid for the products that you have painstakingly created by following the guidelines above and applying common sense.

More details on how to protect your digital products can be found in my latest report: The Digital Security Report.

jvAlert News recommends the Digital Security Report

24 July, 2007 (23:02) | Security | By: Nick Dalton

Micheal Savoie at jvAlert News has a nice plug for my Digital Security Report.

It’s a long post, so you need to scroll down to the “Security Expert Exposes Holes In Your Website!” headline.

Leverage Other People’s Attention

15 July, 2007 (16:24) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

Outsourcing work become a necessity in today’s business world. The realization that you cannot – and should not – perform all the tasks of running your business yourself is an important milestone on the path of every entrepreneur. Tim Ferriss – of 4-Hour Workweek fame – has taken this one step further and is outsourcing his life. His web site has several great stories on this topic.

A slightly different approach to leveraging other people’s attention is to have an intern program. James Brausch has the most successful intern program that I’ve heard of. Interns commit to working 3 hours per day, 5 days per week on James’ businesses. In return they will learn and improve their skills in copywriting, traffic generation and product creation.

His intern program has two levels. Level 1 interns receive their instructions from an autoresponder series and they report the results of their assignments to a level 2 intern manager. When an intern manager sees a pattern of excellence they invite the level 1 intern to become a level 2 intern. This selection process is extremely valuable and level 2 interns will be great candidates when a new paid position opens up.

James Brausch is very protective of his time and wherever possible he automates his businesses. The intern program is no exception to this. No interns have direct access to him; no secret phone number, no special email address. The processes James has setup have been tested over time and they are self-explanatory to anyone who can follow basic instructions. Sure some interns will feel that they need more hand holding, but that is part of the selection process. 95% of the interns typically do not perform the tasks assigned to them. You shouldn’t expect more of your interns and you need to design the intern program accordingly. The tasks that you assign to level 1 interns must not hurt your business if they are performed incorrectly or not at all, because that is what will happen 95% of the time.

The benefit of joining James Brausch’ intern program is of course that the interns get to see how a very successful Internet business is run from the inside; skills that they can directly apply to starting and running their own Internet business. But if you’re just starting out and haven’t yet made a name for yourself, how do you successfully recruit interns to work for free on your business? James will answer this question himself on Monday, along with many other questions on how to start your own intern program.

Make Your Attention Count Twice

11 July, 2007 (16:24) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

In the attention age you must use your scarcest resource – your attention – wisely, if you want to succeed.

For repetitive tasks that you don’t want to pay attention to again, record a video as you’re doing the task. Most likely you’re performing the work on your computer, so just start Camtasia recording in the background and speak into the microphone as you’re working.

The recorded video will serve as perfect instructions for an intern or an outsourcing company. All they have to do is follow the exact same steps as they see in the video.

Another option is to create an information product from the procedure that you’re performing. It doesn’t have to be something unique that only you know how to do. There is always a market of people who want to learn directly from someone who has done it before instead of trying to figure it out themselves.

James Brausch is a master at this. His products Create A Blog, Create A CD, Create A DVD, Publish A Newsletter, etc. where all recorded as he was performing these tasks to create other products.

Speaking to yourself and recording what you’re doing may feel strange at first, but when you consider that this is the last time you will be performing this task or you think about the extra money you will earn from an additional information product, I’m sure you’ll get over it. ;-)

Fail Fast For Free

6 July, 2007 (23:42) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

A startling revelation for many entrepreneurs entering the Internet business arena is the very low cost to get started. The article headline is a phrase I think I first heard from Robert G. Allen back in 2001. Since then the business climate has changed from irrational exuberance to the attention age. Today all entrepreneurs need to consider one resource that is definitely not free. In fact it’s the most scarce resource you have: your attention.

You can get your website or blog up and running practically without any cash outlay. You can even fill it with content, add affiliate links and AdSense ads without paying a dime. However, if you spent 3 months of your attention on this project it definitely does not qualify as free (or fast for that matter). To avoid this attention trap you need to approach your projects systematically.

Define Your Goal

A goal needs to be both specific and measurable. If it doesn’t meet both of these criteria then you don’t know when you’ve won and earned the right to celebrate.

“Make money online” is an example of a poorly defined goal. A better goal would be “Make $500 per month as an online affiliate marketer by working on average 2 hours per day”.

Define Your Projects

When you have defined your goal, you need to come up with several project ideas that can help you reach that goal. Brainstorming ideas and dreaming about how successful they will be is very alluring and many people spend their entire lifetime in this stage. As a beginner there is an easy way to cut directly to the chase: Follow in the footsteps of someone who has already achieved a goal similar to yours. If you’re already a seasoned veteran you can skip ahead to the next section.

Allow yourself one hour – definitely not more – of online research to find a mentor that you can follow. Start searching at Amazon.com for books on your subject. While there are literally thousands of ebooks on every conceivable subject, the hurdle to have a book published and distributed by Amazon eliminates most of the junk for you. Also scan a dozen or so blogs that cover your topic. Don’t get sucked in, just look for names that keep coming up in multiple blogs, and frequent linking to the same authority blogs.

Once you have found your one mentor purchase their beginner’s book, ebook or ecourse. It is very important at this stage to stick with one mentor and one information resource. There is a cacophony of contradictory voices out there and as a newcomer to the subject you have no way to evaluate who is right and who is wrong. Trust your gut instinct when you selected your mentor and stick with it through the duration of your project. Do not switch horses midstream. That will cause you to lose your focus and bring you back to square one.

As you’re reading your new book or ecourse, make notes of projects that your mentor recommends and which you think you can accomplish.

Evaluate Your Projects

When you have several potential projects that can bring you closer to your goal you need a systematic way to select which one to implement first. Create a list of evaluation criteria. There is no right or wrong evaluation criteria, but each item should be important to you. Here is my list:

  • Size of market
  • Proven market
  • Cost to reach prospects
  • Profit per item sold
  • Complimentary products available for upsell and back-end
  • Competition
  • Startup cost ($)
  • Your attention required for startup
  • Your attention required ongoing
  • Your passion for the project
  • Strategic fit

For each project, answer each evaluation criteria with one or two sentences. Then assign a value from 1 to 5 to each, where 1 is bad and 5 is excellent. With this scale a very large market would get a 5 (excellent) while a very high startup cost would get a 1 (bad).

Do not spend more than 2 hours on this. Too many projects never get off the ground because they are analyzed to death. Read the headline of this article again.

Once you have assigned values to each criteria for all of your projects, you simply add up all the numbers for each project. And the project with the highest total score is the one you should start with. Once you are comfortable with this evaluation methodology you can assign different weights to the evaluation criteria. For example, if you are low on cash reserves the Startup cost criteria may the most important to you. Then you can multiply the 1-5 score for this particular criteria by 2 or 3 to give it more weight in the overall score.

Approaching your projects systematically like this has several benefits:

  1. The likelihood of you selecting the best project is much higher.
  2. You have justified to yourself why you selected this project. When you’re having a hard time and you’re doubting if you’re really doing the right thing, go back to your notes and reinforce the reasons for selecting this project.
  3. Keep your list of evaluated projects. Each time you have a new idea for a project, evaluate it using the same criteria and compare it to the other projects. Each time you complete a project you know which one to tackle next.

Complete Your Projects

The fact that you have a large list of potential projects does not give you a license to jump between them. Focus your full attention on your current project and see it through to the end. Finish it even if you come up with a new project idea that scores much higher than the one you’re currently working on.

Even with this systematic approach not all your projects will be successful. Learning to fail and learning from your failures is also very important. And if you never complete your projects you are guaranteed to never be successful.

Physical Distractions

6 July, 2007 (16:07) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

While it’s the explosion of electronic communications and media that has pushed us into the Attention Age, good old fashioned clutter is still a source of distractions that needs to be dealt with.

Ryan Healy has a great method he calls the Three-File System to deal with paperwork. Most of us have a tendency to collect and keep information just in case. The Three-File System has a simple solution to ensure that you don’t keep things forever. In a nutshell the system works this way: Get three file folders and label them #1, #2 and #3. When you need to file something away because you might need it in the future, place it in folder #1. At the end of each month move all items in folder #1 to #2. What was previously in #2 gets moved to #3. And what was in #3, which you by now realize you have not looked at or needed for three months, is simply shredded.

Do you have a stack of magazines and trade journals on your desk? Throw them out now. Should you ever need any of the information contained in them, most respectable publishers have web sites where you can search the full content of magazine back issues. If they don’t – oh well. It’s very unlikely that they are the only source for any particular piece of information.

Catalogs? Unless it’s a vintage, collectible Sears and Roebuck catalog send it to recycling. What possible use does a paper catalog have today? The company’s web site is superior in just about every aspect. While you’re at it, save some trees for your grandchildren and ask the company to stop sending you paper catalogs by mail.

Pay attention to your kids

6 July, 2007 (10:42) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

I was going to soccer practice with my son the other day. He’s only 3 years old, so the practice has a high degree of parent involvement. We were out on the soccer field and in between two exercises I noticed that another dad pulled out his Blackberry and checked his email. What email could possibly be that important? And if he was expecting something that important, what was he doing out in a soccer field in the first place? Multi-tasking is highly overrated. Pay your full attention to the one thing that is important at any given time. And don’t think that your kids don’t notice. You are their role model.

Copy Something From Bill Gates – His Thinking

5 July, 2007 (22:22) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

Twice a year Bill Gates has made a point of taking a Think Week – a week where he isolates himself from all daily distractions and focus on strategic thinking. Can you do the same? Can you afford not to? If the man running one of the worlds largest companies can take a week off without the company falling apart, you should be able to as well.

 

In this attention and interruption age I’m going to suggest that you everything you can to eliminate all distractions. Here are the ground rules:

 

  1. No communication gadgets. No email, no cellphone, no Blackberry, etc.

  2. No Internet access.

  3. Bring several carefully chosen books, but leave all magazines, newsletters and newspapers at home.

  4. Bring pads of paper and your favorite writing pen.

 

The objective is to really focus your full attention on your business for several days without distractions. But isn’t paying attention to your business what you do 18 hours a day? Unless you are extremely disciplined, what you’re doing everyday is paying attention to a thousand tasks and details, more or less related to your business. And if you never stop to to really think about your business, this is what you will continue doing for the rest of the business’ life.

 

Don’t use this time to create a new information product that you can sell when you get back on Monday. Don’t even get distracted by brainstorming the details of a new product. This is the time to pay attention to what you are doing well, what you enjoy doing and what you do not like. Where is the majority of your profits are coming from and where is the majority of your time spent? Where is your time wasted? What are the sources of most of your problems and stress?

 

When you know the answers to these questions you can start mapping out the strategy for your company for the next year. Only after that, are you allowed to start thinking about new products and services that will fit your strategy.

 

By leaving all the communication gear behind your attention will not be wasted by researching your ideas online, getting distracted by other related ideas, getting disappointed by finding others who are already doing what you planned, etc. I’m not saying that you should jump into a new venture without any research, but everything has its time.

 

I would even suggest leaving your laptop behind. If you’re like me, you can type at least twice as fast on a keyboard than you can write with an old fashioned pen. And I’m sure you will miss the real-time spell check and the grammar suggestions. But the point of the think retreat is not to produce stacks of well written prose – it is to pay attention to what you write. When I write with a pen I find that I spend more time thinking about what I’m about to commit to paper.

 

Block out time for your Think Week in your calendar today. Then start thinking about the books you want to bring with you to your “desert island”. You don’t want to spend all your time reading during the think retreat, so start skimming the books ahead of time. When you find a particularly interesting section just put a post-it note on the page so you can get back to it during the Think Week.

 

Here is my list:

 

  1. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

  2. Blink  by Malcolm Gladwell.

  3. Faster by James Gleick.

  4. Simpleology by Mark Joyner.

  5. The Dip by Seth Godin.

  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

 

 

 

Train your customers/partners/coworkers

5 July, 2007 (16:42) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

If you always respond to emails within 2 minutes and if you’re always available by phone (at all hours of the day), that is what people will come to expect of you. And with expectations set this high, it’s very difficult to get off the treadmill.

 

When I sent out my first invitation to potential JV partners (on a Friday of all days) I spent the entire weekend watching my email, phone and web stats like a hawk. Not only did it waste my weekend, it also sent the wrong message to the prospective JV partners. If I respond to their first email within 5 minutes on a Saturday, that is what they will expect in the future too. If I instead had waited and returned all emails on Monday at 11:00 would I have lost some deals? Probably. Are you willing to give away your precious attention to anyone and everyone to get a little bit more business? Do you think that a client who expects your response within 5 minutes on a weekend is going to be a high maintenance client in the future?

 

Instead you should “train” the people you deal with to expect email responses twice a day and having their phone calls promptly returned once a day. Not only will you regain your sanity, but your colleagues will also be able to work more efficiently. Once your whole team is in sync this way, you will be one well oiled, unstoppable machine.

 

Never check your email (first thing in the morning)

5 July, 2007 (15:07) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

Is your email inbox in the morning overflowing with thoughtful and strategic information that is directly related to what you intended to focus your day on? It never happens to me.

 

Instead it typically contains a myriad of minor problems all screaming out for my attention. If I get involved in all those minor problems first thing in the morning, it seriously derails my day. My brain gets scattered in a thousand directions, I focus on the wrong things. And I get in a bad mood because after 3 hours of dealing with others’ problems I have not paid any attention to my strategic agenda.