Friday, July 27, 2007

How to Find High-Demand Products That Sell Like Hotcakes

By Paul Smithson

You can't sell a product if you don't have someone to sell it to! A good guideline to help you figure out whether Internet surfers are simply doing research - not looking to buy - is the number of words they use in their search terms.

  • One or two words ("gift baskets") means they’re probably doing research.
  • Three or more words ("corporate gift basket" or "gift basket supplies" or "Orange County gourmet gift basket") means they’re probably looking to buy.

You can supplement the product demand information you gather from your keyword research with the following:

  • Go to Click on the Shops link at the bottom of page. All 42,000 websites that accept PayPal are listed here by category. There's a Categories column on the left side of the page. Click on the category of the product you're researching. PayPal will display the top shops in that category, ranked by volume (the number of sales made through PayPal).

If, for example, you're thinking of selling tooth whiteners, you'd click on the Health and Nutrition category. And one of the things you'd find is a listing for a company that sold 16,736 of their bleaching kits through PayPal. Since that company seems to have robust sales, they're obviously making money. A tooth whitener, therefore, is a good product to sell.

  • Go to In the search box, type in the kind of product you're interested in selling - let's say, a supplement that has something to do with human growth hormone. The search results will list all the news groups that are discussing human growth hormone (40,200). Click on the links and you'll find out how many people are posting to those news groups. If there are lots of them, that tells you there is a great deal of interest in human growth hormone, and a supplement like yours will probably be very popular.
  • Go to Click on the Top Sellers tab. The items featured there are organized by category and updated hourly. Amazon may be best known for being an online bookseller, but they also sell a wide variety of other products - computers, jewelry, apparel, automotive, personal care, cell phones, and electronics, among many others. This will give you a good idea of what people are buying on the Internet.
  • Go to In the search box, type in the product you're interested in selling. eBay will display how many items are available for sale in that category. If you type in "yoga mats," for example, you'd find that 455 such items are available. That's good information, but what you really want to know is how well those yoga mats are selling. So click on the Sell tab at the top of eBay's home page. Then click on the Seller Central link at the bottom of the Sell page. Scroll down the page, and click on the What's Hot link, then click on Hot Items by Category. This is where you find out which categories and products are HOT - and where demand is outpacing supply!

The Four-Hour Work Week

I've been reading The Four-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. It's very engaging - smart and full of good stories and good humor. The book's argument - that you can run a successful business by working only four hours a week - is mind crack for any busy entrepreneur. Ferriss makes the idea seem plausible.

I don't remember how I found out about him. I do remember seeing a piece he wrote in Forbes Small Business that featured a photo of him training in mixed martial arts with a caption that went something like, "I run a great business... and spend more time on sports than work... using my simple time-saving system."

Ferriss is not only an interesting guy, he's a master at promoting himself. For example, he holds a world record in the tango (for the most turns made in a given time) - and to document the achievement, he got himself on Regis and Kelly. He also won a martial arts competition by, as it turns out, taking advantage of a technicality in the rules.

Ferriss was working 15 hours a day, he says, when he came across the work of economist Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto is the one who came up with the original "8/20 rule" (also known as Pareto's Law), demonstrating that 80 percent of a society's wealth is produced and owned by 20 percent of the population. "This highly debated principle," Ferriss points out, "also applies to other situations. For instance, 80 percent of a company's profits typically come from 20 percent of its products and customers."

Ferriss applied Pareto's 19th century concept to his company "by pinpointing the sources of most of my sales - and my problems - so I could spend my time more efficiently." He quickly realized that of more than 120 wholesale customers, only five were bringing in 95 percent of his revenues. Then, in a single day, he made a few simple but "emotionally difficult" decisions that changed his life for the better.

"First, I decided to stop pursuing most of my customers so that I could profile and duplicate the most profitable ones," Ferriss says. "I was spending most of my time working on small accounts, when the big five already ordered regularly without any follow up. I also abandoned being busy for being productive. I realized I could reduce my hours by limiting tasks to the critical few and cutting my work time to force myself to focus on the most important projects."

I like what I'm hearing from this guy.

Make $250,000+ a Year ... With Your Video Camera

By Paul Lawrence

When my two partners and I agreed to pursue the venture, we thought of it as almost a hobby. We all enjoyed combat sports and thought it would be cool to sell related videos. And, if we made a few extra dollars by doing it ... even better.

Fast-forward a few years and the enterprise we started is anything but a hobby. For the employs 10 people. people who now own it, it's a very serious business that nets over $250,000 a year and

But what I find really incredible about this story is that we started this business with only a few hundred dollars.

For the first videos we produced, we just rented the lowest-level broadcast-quality camera for $50. And we hired a service to do some simple edits for about $100 more. After that, we placed some small ads and created a website. The rest, as they say, is history.

Naturally, if you're financially able to purchase all the equipment, it makes the whole thing more convenient. Still, I recommend producing a video or two first. Then, once you've got some cash coming in, go ahead and buy a video camera, a computer, and the appropriate software. You should be able to get everything you need for about $6,000.

There is an almost unlimited opportunity to produce videos, because there's a demand for them in just about every area of interest. Since my experience with that first partnership, I've created and produced a variety of other videos that have all been extremely profitable. (By the way, I eventually sold my share for a nice profit.)

Some of the best kinds to produce are instructional videos. Because people are buying information - not special effects or top-notch acting - your production doesn't have to be perfectly polished. It shouldn't look like you shot it in your garage with a camcorder, but it doesn't have to look like a broadcast television show or blockbuster Hollywood movie.

You may already have the technical know-how to create your own instructional video, and you may even feel comfortable being on camera yourself. If not, no problem. All you have to do is hire people who have the skills or knowledge you lack.

In one instance, I became acquainted with a fitness instructor who had developed an awesome technique for stretching the back that really helped me. And because so many people suffer from back pain, I figured there might be a market for her system. So I hired her to host an instructional videotape that I produced.

The results were nothing short of fantastic. I made a $5,000 profit within days of putting the video up for sale. And I did it without having any personal expertise in videography.

And I'm definitely not the only one who's been able to turn instructional videos into a profitable business. KH came across a man who, in his 60s, was in better shape than most 20-year-olds. His muscles were toned and he had amazing energy and vigor. The man agreed to turn his personal exercise regimen into an instructional video (with KH as the producer) - and within 30 days of shooting it, KH had made a $10,000 profit. The best part is that KH had started with a mere $250 investment.

If you have your own area of expertise that you can transform into an instructional video, so much the better.

As I've mentioned several times in ETR, I taught ballroom dancing for years. And I've earned a nice stream of income from an instructional dance video I created during that time. Because I featured my own skills in the video, my investment was even smaller than it would have been had I needed to hire an outside expert.

One of the best things about creating and selling videos is that they can provide a continuing income stream. Once you've made the video, all you have to do is fill orders. And if you have a topic that continues to interest people - and you continue to market it - the video can sell forever.

Here's how to get started with your first "how-to" video:

1. Choose a subject.

2. Either plan to be in the video yourself or hire a qualified expert.

3. Rent or buy the camera and editing equipment.

4. Shoot and edit.

5. Using the direct-marketing techniques you read about in ETR all the time, sell the video to your target customer.

Producing and marketing your own videos is not only exciting and fun, it can also be very lucrative. Plus, this is a business where you can quickly get your foot in the door with a very small outlay of capital. Just take an inventory of subjects you know already or find interesting ... and you could be a video producer in a matter of weeks.

Second Time's a Charm

by Jay Abraham

This is the second opportunity I've had to make a meaningful impact on your business life - and I want to get right down to work.

You have a business - new or old, large or small, successful or struggling. I have the methods for making it grow, prosper, and thrive. More importantly, I can teach you how to do all that easier, faster, safer, and with far less stress than the way you've been trying to do it.

And I'm going to prove that to you right now.

His name is Doug. (No last name needed.) Doug is frustrated and feeling beleaguered. (Perhaps you are, too.) He's struggling and up against a mental wall. (Sound familiar?) Doug hasn't enjoyed the success or results he's been expecting since he started his business. So he asked me this question:

"What advice/resources would you give to an over-40 entrepreneur who has not had a lot of financial success in his life? The problem seems to me to be psychological."

Psychological? Apparently, Doug feels that his problem is something "inside" him - low self-image, perhaps... or low expectations. And he desperately wants to know how he (you?) can step out of this mental "miasma." (See "Word to the Wise," below.)

* First, recognize that success is a combination of ability and possibility... all mixed with the healthy understanding that failure is not a permanent state - only a temporary response to a test or experiment that didn't work out.

Stated differently, most of you are needlessly limiting, restricting, and unintentionally impeding the level of success, income, certainty, and control you can have in business - all because you're not seeing how much more you can really do.

* Stop doing that!

First of all, in business, being a good marketer is the key difference between mediocrity and making millions, tens of millions... even billions.

So the first thing you have to do to change your negative mindset is become a more masterful marketer. That can increase your long-term business success rate by more than 10 times - if you know how to do it right.

Next, you need to develop what I call "funnel vision" instead of "tunnel vision." When you have funnel vision, you see with absolute certainty not only what is possible - but also exactly how to engineer and successfully achieve any and all realistic (or even audacious) goals you set for yourself.

My way of developing funnel vision is to study different approaches that have been "borrowed" from one industry and successfully adapted for use in another industry. What you learn is that if you are the first one to use such a concept in your industry, it could skyrocket your success. Stated differently - a business-building approach that's as common as dirt in one industry can have the profit-making impact of an atom bomb... if you are the first/only one in your industry to try it.

There's one more factor involved in greatly improving your success in business. You need to become an expert in three techniques that I'll be elaborating on in the weeks to come:

(1) masterminding

(2) testing various assumptions

(3) building on multiple income streams, revenue sources, and profit centers.

So, Doug (and everyone else who feels the same way), as you can see, success in business has nothing to do with your psychological makeup. It's all about developing a certainty about what works and what doesn't... and what works better and best... to build a recurring business income model.

Unfortunately, they don't teach this at business school. But that's what I'm going to do - in easy-to-master installments - in the weeks and months to come.

Grab Market Share - but Be Prepared for What's Going to Happen When You Do

by Paul Lawrence

One of the most effective strategies to break into a new market and obtain market share is to offer your product or service at a much lower price than that of your competitors. In fact, this was the subject of the very first ETR message: "The Most Powerful Way to Grow a Business".

It is often possible to do this by containing your expenses and being willing to start out with a smaller price margin. And then, once you are well established, to slowly raise your price closer to the rest of the market and increase your profitability further.

I have done this with several types of small businesses (you can learn about many of them in my Microbusiness program) - but for today's discussion, I'd like to talk about one in particular.

Several years ago, I began and became the successful operator of a swimming pool maintenance business.

When I started this business, I determined that the competition had a very large profit margin and that I could still make money by offering my service at a much lower price.

The strategy worked very well, and I rapidly built a thriving small business. But some problems cropped up that I hadn't expected at all.

When executing this "discount price" strategy, I had anticipated that I would have trouble keeping expenses low enough to earn a large enough profit. And I was concerned that customers might be skeptical as to the quality or the reliability of my service.

In fact, neither of these things happened.

What did become a problem was that my competitors became very hostile toward my business and took action to try and destroy it.

One of the things they did was report me to government regulatory agencies for running an "unlicensed" business.

You see, in the swimming pool maintenance business, you have to be able to purchase the chemicals you use at a wholesale rate. And this wholesale rate is only available to licensed companies.

Fortunately, I did have the license. So this effort on the part of my competitors to shut me down didn't do any harm. But they did use their clout to make life difficult for me in my dealings with the few pool-chemical vendors in the South Florida market where my business was located.

One very large competitor threatened to pull his business from a certain vendor if he continued to sell to me. Because of the competitor's size, the vendor, although apologetic, cut me off.

I quickly realized that if this were to happen with one or two more vendors, I would be out of business. So I changed my strategy.

But I'll be honest. My first reaction to the hostility was to be defiant.

When I received nasty calls, I snarled back at the callers and shouted (with an equal number of profanities) that this was America and I could charge any price I wanted. But after being cut off from that first wholesale vendor, I realized that what I needed was a strong ally.

I contacted one of my other large competitors and told him that I'd like to propose an arrangement whereby he could earn additional profits.

I explained that I was a young company with a low overhead and thus didn't have any repair staff on hand. But my business was growing - and I was finding that I needed to have a way to handle repairs that my customers wanted to have done.

I proposed that this competitor could handle those repairs in exchange for my receiving a small "commission."

The deal made sense and he agreed.

I then began using the same vendor that this guy used. (And I made it clear to the vendor that this competitor and I had a "business relationship.") With a strong ally on my side, I was then immune to the griping of other competitors.

10 Tips for Safer International Travel

by Lori Appling

1. If you're traveling to an unfamiliar country, it's a good idea to contact the American Embassy for information about safety. They can tell you what crimes U.S. citizens need to be wary of and what precautions you should take. You'll find a listing of U.S. Embassies and Consulates at .

2. Do a little research about clothing customs and pack accordingly. In Turkey, for instance, in many places it's considered provocative for a woman to show her knees. The website talks about making the most of international travel, including dressing appropriately.

3. Don't wear flashy jewelry or expensive watches. Arrange to keep your valuables and passport in a hotel safe. If you need to carry them with you, a money belt or pouch worn under your clothes is the most secure way.

4. Don't travel with cash. Instead, consider traveler's checks and credit cards.

5. Make a photocopy of your passport and take it with you. If you have the misfortune of losing your passport or it gets stolen, this will make it easier for the American Embassy to arrange a replacement. Consider leaving an additional copy with a friend at home. Extra passport photos are helpful, too.

6. Ask the American Embassy or the country's tourist bureau about laws that are different from those in the U.S. In Singapore, for instance, you can be fined instantly for smoking in public buildings, littering, jaywalking, spitting, feeding birds in public places, chewing gum on the local transport system, and failing to flush public lavatories.

7. Check with the tourist board or your local phone company for instructions on how to call home. AT&T and MCI have toll-free numbers that reach a U.S. operator. You can then use a credit card or phone card to make a call.

8. Keep your prescriptions in their original bottles. Drug laws are very serious in many countries. The original containers, along with copies of your prescriptions, will help you avoid problems. Be especially mindful of prescriptions that contain narcotics. In that case, a letter from your doctor is a good idea, too.

9. If you are traveling alone, make sure a friend back home has your itinerary and knows where you will be and when.

10. Use your street smarts. Keep to well-lit places at night, and be aware of the people around you.

What's Better Than Money When You Don't Have Any?

by Jay Abraham

If you're thinking of starting a new business, or if your existing business wants to grow, it's easy to get frustrated if you don't have the capital to fund what you're dreaming about.

But you don't have to be frustrated. You can use your creative alternatives - and they are extensive.

First, ask yourself the two big questions: "If I had the money, how would I use it?" And "What would I spend it on?"

For example, do you want to run ads, hire a sales force, or build an Internet website or e-commerce division? Do you want to expand your inventory? Your product offerings? Or do you need more technology, software, computers, and so forth? What is the purpose of your capital requirements. That is, where would that money go?

Once you're clear on the answers to those questions, realize that you can persuade plenty of businesses and people to provide you with the equivalent of what your money would be used for. But instead of paying them upfront cash, they'll probably accept a more creative payment alternative.

Here's a good example to stimulate your mind ...

A past client of mine had zero marketing money. So we got 1,000 magazines, newspapers, TV and radio stations to run ads for us, selling a starter-sized unit of our product for a $3 purchase. The advertising media put up over $20 million in advertising for free, so we let them keep all the money from the first purchase (the $3 sell). We got enormous exposure - and a million people who purchased for the first time. But we also got 100% of the back-end (repurchases) too! And 500,000 out of the million people kept repurchasing over and over again. (They averaged 10 times with an average of $3 per purchase - or $30 each on the back end.)

This promotion did so well that we made an 80% gross profit. In fact, a NYSE-listed company asked us to sell the company for tens of millions of dollars.

Does this give YOU any ideas?

Here's another example ...

A friend of mine needed a sales force, but he had no money to pay for salaries, travel, and so forth. So he did two brilliant things.

First, he found three people locally who sold non-competitive products to the same market he was targeting and offered them twice the normal commission to take on his product. They did - and sold millions of dollars worth.

But he didn't stop there. He found a large, well-capitalized telemarketing company whose main activity was calling homeowners at night. Since they hardly used their daytime hours, they were delighted to sell my friend's "business to business" product for him during that normally light time - and receive half the profit (which was four times their normal compensation). My friend didn't care, because every sale that they generated was pure windfall profit (see "Word to the Wise," below) for him - and, of course, he also got 100%, of the back end.

Another friend found a business that had over 100,000 square feet of unused storage warehouse capacity. My friend needed 75,000 square feet, but was low on capital. He persuaded that company to furnish him with their unused space ... in exchange for a small share of the sales he generated with the new products that he was able to inventory.

Still another exciting story is about a friend who wanted to be in the business of selling cassettes at grocery stores and mini-marts. But he had no capital.

He learned my theory: that there's always someone out there who needs what you want or need even worse than you need or want it ... and who will be eager to make it happen for you. So he went out and found a huge music distributor that had just lost a major account and wanted to replace the business. He easily persuaded them to furnish hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tapes for him to distribute in a way that allowed him to offer the grocers better payout terms than their current suppliers. Both sides prospered mightily.

Or how about barter?

You can trade whatever product or service you sell or make for whatever you need. I've traded my consulting and seminar-type products for expensive trips, cars, jewelry, furnishings, and services for my office.

When they didn't have capital, I've seen people make deals to get needed products or services (such as giving the provider a share of future sales in exchange for the needed items) for a period of time or up to a multiple over the market value of the product or service furnished.

For example, once a friend got a software company to give him $200,000 of needed software in exchange for giving them 3% of his future sales for 18 months or $400,000, whichever came first.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How To Make A Million Dollars As A Mover

Startup costs: $2,000

After college, Brian Altomare had several startup business ideas, from selling 1-800 numbers (which he learned was illegal) to starting an internet marketing company (which he ended up doing with three college buddies). While the internet marketing business didn't last, Altomare's memories of moving in and out of college dorms did--and they inspired him to start MadPackers in 2005.

Describing the experience of moving into his dorm with his father's help as "horrendous," Altomare saw a need for a company that simplified the college moving experience. After sitting on the idea for a year, he researched everything from couriers to price points before starting MadPackers as a one-employee, homebased operation. Altomare's business, which offers moving services for college students and provides packing supplies, now employs 55 people, and he envisions MadPackers evolving into an all-purpose company serving college students.

The company's sales for last year were $800,000, which Altomare says puts MadPackers on track to meet his sales projections of $1.5 million for 2007. One way MadPackers is reaching its target audience and building sales is by aligning itself with music entertainment. In March, the company launched its Door to Dorm concert tour, which visited 17 campuses and three festivals.

Altomare attributes much of the company's growth to its 2005 partnership with Universal Express Inc., a company offering luggage delivery and other services to travelers. Universal Express has not only invested in MadPackers, but it also provides customer service support, logistics and guidance to the company.

Still, Altomare says he has learned quite a few lessons on his own, from not hiring friends and family to making sure to pay interns and learning to take breaks. "At a certain point after you've developed the concept or the idea, remove yourself from the brand and the company," he recommends. "Take a break and go explore the world."

How to Do the Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voice Mail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call

Forget the paperless office - that’s aiming too low.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture: a paperless life. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate three other nuisances: answering the phone, checking voice mail, and returning phone calls.

Is this possible? It is. The key to finding means to accomplish the "impossible" is asking the right question: "How would you do ____ for a week if your life depended on it?" Most things considered impossible just haven’t been looked at through the "how" lens of lateral thinking.

Here are two warm-up exercise questions for Paperless Life 101:

What would you have to do to never again touch mail?

What would you have to do to never touch another check?

Consider these as real questions. If I offered you a million dollars to stop doing these two things for a month, could you do it? Here are a just a few potential strategies you could use… then we’ll move on to phone games:

  • No more mail

First, we need to cut out the crap - reduce volume. To begin, get removed from junk-mail lists and common commercial mailing lists. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Get removed from the most common junk-mail lists at (This costs a few dollars in some cases.) And check alternative strategies at
  2. Use LifeLock, or another identity-protection service, which automatically removes you from large mailing lists, one of the most common vehicles for identity theft.
  3. Have your mail forwarded to special processing centers, where it is all scanned and e-mailed to you. One popular service is Remote Control Mail, which offers two big benefits to the time-focused and mobile-minded: (a) Relevant postal mail is funneled into e-mail, so you can check both e-mail and postal mail at once. (b) You can travel freely, whenever and wherever, without ever missing a letter.
  • No more checks
  1. Set up online banking so you can issue checks directly from your bank, and set up automatic recurring payments.
  2. Give your accountant power of attorney to sign specific checks (for tax documents, etc.) on your behalf. Power of attorney is no joke, so do your homework - but it can be used with little risk. This approach not only cuts down on checks but also on finance-related mail, which you can then forward to your accountant for handling, start-to-finish.

"But what of the other 9-to-5 headaches?" you ask. "How can I eliminate the need to answer the phone, check voice mail, or return phone calls?

Here are a few quick fixes:

  • No more answering the phone

Use a service like GrandCentral so you can listen to your voice mails as they’re being left. Each caller is required to announce their name before the call is dialed, and you are able to preview the name and then send the call to voice mail, where you can listen to the message they’re leaving. If you want to speak with them, you can jump in. If not, let them leave the message.

  • No more voice mail

Stop managing separate inputs from office phone voice mail, cellphone voice mail, and multiple e-mail accounts. Consolidate. Get your voice mail delivered to your e-mail inbox, which then serves as your single communications "funnel" - with all your e-mail, postal mail, and voice mail in one place. GrandCentral can e-mail audio files, but for those who want text, Simulscribe is a popular option with nearly 90 percent transcription accuracy.

To further encourage people to communicate with you via e-mail, there are two approaches that I’ve used effectively: Indicate in your voice mail greeting that they must leave their e-mail address, and then respond to them via e-mail. You can also use a service like Jott to send a voice message to them as an e-mail.

  • No more returning calls

Pinger enables you to send voice mail to people without calling them. Why would you want to do that? Pinger’s website explains:

"We’ve all been there - you make a call and think to yourself, ‘please don’t pick up,’ or you call and think ‘I hope I’m not interrupting…’ With Pinger you leave the message at your convenience, and they get it at their convenience. Unlike voice mail, there is no ringing, no annoying prompts, no lengthy greetings - just your message."

None of these strategies is perfect, but they do demonstrate that none of our impossible questions are impossible to answer. Once you frame the question in terms of "how would I…?" it is entirely possible to stop tolerating most of life’s annoyances and eliminate them altogether.

How to Make a New Business Work

Apart from starting off with (and sticking to) a good plan, there are nine secrets I’ve discovered to making a start-up business work:

  1. Don't spend too much time planning.
  2. The most effective way of entering a new market is to offer a popular product at a much lower price.
  3. It’s ultimately about selling.
  4. Don't spend too much money.
  5. Before you invest time and money in any business, know exactly how much you are willing to lose - and get out if you hit that point.
  6. Get operational fast.
  7. Go for the quick cash first.
  8. Let your winners run and cut your losses short.
  9. Pay attention to Pareto’s Law (the 80-20 rule): 80 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your resources.
  10. Under - promise and over - deliver
  11. Schedule for on-time delivery.

Build a Business That Doesn’t Need You

Entrepreneurs start there dream business in there garage. Business takes off. Entrepreneur slowly becomes de facto head of marketing, sales, product development, customer service, shipping etc., etc. Business booms but then stalls. The problem? The founder no longer has time to be that original entrepreneur who had the great ideas and the energy that brought about the initial success.

If your company’s survival is based on you, you don’t have a business, you have a self-employment job.

Entrepreneurs fall into this trap, too. After initial success, they discover that they’ve dug themselves into a hole. They can’t take a vacation. They can’t take on any of the other projects they’re interested in because all their time is wrapped up in this one business. And one day they wake up and find out that they are the company. Without them, it will fall apart.But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even though it’s tough - because you are financially and emotionally invested in your business - you need to get out of the way so your business can grow.

From day one, you should be planning to build a company that doesn’t need you. One of the first things you need to do is let go of your ego and find a superstar who can eventually run your company. Then you can focus on your big vision and more ideas.

And especially if your business is "personality based," you need to create other related "pods'’ that can generate income from sources other than "you."

Facts Every Marketer Needs to Know About Refunds

Many marketers, both large and small (and I include myself among the latter) go bonkers when customers return products for a refund.

As BK, an executive with one of the biggest and most famous direct-marketing publishing companies, told me, "Our books contain great information, incredibly valuable. Why should we allow someone to read the book, benefit from all that great content, and then cheat us by sending it back for a refund?"

If you feel the same way, let me share with you a few important facts about refunds:

1. First of all, a refund request doesn’t mean your product is bad or the customer doesn’t like it.

Example: A customer returns your $300 DVD set on investing in foreign currencies. "It actually seems like a great program," the customer says in his refund request. "But after watching it, I’ve decided this isn’t a business I want to get into. It’s just too much work!"

To me, this is a perfectly legitimate - and reasonable - position for a customer to take… don’t you agree? In this case, offering a refund is not only a legal requirement but also eminently fair: Why would you want your customer to be out of pocket $300 for something he can’t use?

2. Offering a refund doesn’t cost you money. It makes you money.

Novice marketers fret about offering a money-back guarantee. "If I do that," they worry, "won’t some customers take advantage of me by profiting from the information in my material… and then returning it?"

Yes, some will. But here’s the thing: Offering a money-back guarantee reduces buyer reluctance and increases buyer confidence… resulting in more orders. In almost every instance, the greater revenues and profits from the increase you get in sales by offering a guarantee is MUCH greater than the small amount of money you lose issuing refunds.

After all, would you buy a product for $30 or $100 or more - sight unseen - without a money-back guarantee? Of course not.

3. Longer guarantees are better than shorter guarantees.

If you are currently offering a 10- or 15-day money-back guarantee, extend it to 30 days. Already offering a 30-day money-back guarantee? Then test a 60- or 90-day money-back guarantee.

The longer guarantee term invariably increases response rates and sales, because it eliminates the concern many buyers have with a short guarantee - specifically, that they will forget to open and try the product… and that by the time they get around to it, the guarantee will have expired and they’ll be stuck with it.

Not only that, the longer guarantee actually reduces refund requests.

Reason: The buyer is in no hurry to evaluate and return the product.

Result: The buyer soon forgets about the guarantee… and whether he actually uses the product or not, he just keeps it.

4. Generous guarantees sell more product than miserly guarantees.

Ever see a guarantee that says you’ll get your money back if the product is returned "in saleable condition"? With a guarantee like that, the prospect worries that if he does return it, you’ll claim it arrived scratched or broken.

Similarly, some sellers of information products offer a money-back guarantee… but only if you offer documented proof that you followed their system and it did not work for you. But what if I get your system, but something comes up and I decide I don’t have time to work through it. Am I stuck with it because I didn’t use it?

The more unconditional your money-back guarantee is, the higher your response rates will be. Conditional guarantees depress orders.

Here’s something interesting to consider…

A year or so ago, I began selling e-books online.

With a hard-copy book, my guarantee is: If you don’t like it, return the book and we will refund your money.

But you can’t really return an e-book. I thought about eliminating the guarantee, but realized that is absurd. Instead, I stress the fact that buyers can get a refund without returning the product.

My standard e-book guarantee reads: "If you are not 100% satisfied for any reason - or for no reason at all - just let me know within 90 days. I’ll refund your $29 payment in full. No questions asked. And you can keep the e-book FREE, with my compliments. That way, you risk nothing."

Result: My refund rate on e-books is lower than for any other information product I sell, including CDs and hard-copy books. In fact, I get virtually no refund requests on e-books, though you could say my guarantee openly invites people to take advantage of me.

My conclusion? Yes, there are a few con artists out there. But most people - especially when you are open and fair with them - are honest and will be fair with you in return.
So follow my advice on refunds. Then watch your sales volume - and profits - soar.
I guarantee it - or your money back!

A Free Internet Tool That Can Add Thousands to Your Bottom Line

Imagine a "magic" well that you could tap into any time you wanted - one that would make it possible for you to simply drop a bucket into it and pull up any of the following:

  • New customers for your company
  • Excellent employees
  • Skilled consultants in almost any field
  • People with cash who want to invest in your business
  • Buyers or renters for your real estate

Well, this is not a fairy tale. With the CraigsList website, you can do all of the above and a lot more. And you can do it for free!

CraigsList was founded in 1995 by self-described "computer geek" Craig Newmark when he started using a list server to post notices about events in the San Francisco area. People eventually began using his site to post notices for job openings, cars for sale, apartments for rent, and even personal ads.

The site grew by word of mouth, and now serves 450 cities worldwide, gets more than seven billion page views each month, and ranks with Google, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, and Microsoft as one of the top 10 most-heavily trafficked English-language websites.

Here’s how to harness the power of CraigsList:

CraigsList Is a Fantastic Place to Find Job Seekers in Practically Any Industry

If you’re looking for someone to do just about any kind of job - mow your lawn or refinish your cabinets, for example - you will probably find a qualified candidate on this site. I posted an ad for a Web page builder in the Miami area. Within 24 hours, I was inundated by over 50 applicants, most of whom were offering their services at very reasonable rates.

With a little effort, I was able to find a qualified individual who was willing to do the work from thousands of miles away for $12 an hour. And he built a site for me that had quite a few complicated features, such as:

  • An automated shopping cart for my customers to place credit card orders
  • An automated product-delivery system that instantly delivers my product (a book) as a PDF file to the customer
  • A number of links and pages that incorporate quotes, photos, and other graphics

This very sophisticated website cost me approximately $120 - total - to construct.

But CraigsList can offer you much more than access to Internet webmasters. You can use it to recruit full-time or temporary employees for any business. It costs nothing to post job-recruitment ads for all but a few cities (including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, San Diego, and San Francisco).

You Can Create Income With CraigsList, Too!

There are several ways to generate income with CraigsList.

If you are seeking new clients, you can place your own advertisements in the Services section. You can also scan various forums on the site for people who are looking for the kind of services you provide.

If you have something to sell, you can do it on CraigsList via its Classified section. This is a great way to make a few extra bucks the next time you clean out the attic. And you could conceivably make substantial profits by selling high-ticket items like houses, cars, or furniture, just to name a few.

5 Steps to Getting Started:

  1. Go to and select the city where you’ll be conducting your buying/selling/hiring/etc.
  2. Choose an appropriate category. For example, if you wanted to sell a computer, you’d go to the For Sale section of the site. Then, within that section, you’d click on the Computers category.
  3. Write a catchy headline and copy for your advertisement. (You can choose to let people see your e-mail address or have CraigsList forward all the responses to you… anonymously and for free.)
  4. Post your ad by clicking on the button in your selected category that says "Post."
  5. Your ad will run for 30 days before it automatically terminates, but you can have it removed at any time. (When you place the ad, you’ll get a confirmation via e-mail with instructions how to edit or pull your ad.)

A word of caution: As with all classified-style advertising, keep in mind that you’re dealing with strangers on CraigsList. So protect yourself by thoroughly checking references for the people who respond to your job offers. And if you’re selling something - especially a high-priced item - ask for payment via a cashier’s check or money order made out to you.

CraigsList is an enormously popular website that offers many ways for you to benefit - both in business and in your personal life. Taking advantage of free Internet websites like this is just one of many "street smart" tactics every small-business entrepreneur should be engaging in.

Becoming Your Own Bank

By Alan Cowgill

Susan was the last to
report. With no small sense of accomplishment, she told the room of 227 attendees that she had managed to secure $1.5 million in commitments from private lenders. When we added the commitments obtained by other students at my recent Private Money Bootcamp in Las Vegas, the total was over $73 million.

It’s always gratifying to help beginning and seasoned investors alike get past one of the hurdles slowing their progress: not having enough money to do their real estate deals. In all, over the last few years, my Private Money students around the country have reported acquiring financing commitments of more than $425 million!

And it doesn’t just work for houses. Last year, one of my students, Robert Anderson, used private money to purchase a $1.8 million apartment building. He used one of the techniques I teach to structure the deal so that he had no payments until the property sold.

He sold it eight months later for approximately $3.3 million. After paying the bank back the loan plus approximately $255,000 in interest, he walked away with a $1.2 million profit for himself. And that was Robert’s first real estate deal.

Of course, I use these same techniques myself. I’ve bought over 200 homes and small multi-unit properties since my first real estate deal back in 1995. Today, my team and I buy an average of five to seven houses a month. All of it is done with private money.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • With private money, you can do all-cash deals… scooping up bargains that are off-limits to investors who depend on bank financing.
  • You provide your lenders with a high-yield, safe alternative to the stock market.
  • You don’t have to wait three or four weeks or more, as you do with bank loans, so you can buy under-market deals from sellers who need to sell now.
  • If you’ve quit your job to become a full-time investor, the bank quits you. That doesn’t happen with private money.
  • You set the terms of the loan, not a bank
  • Every successful deal creates more funds for your next deal. Your lenders want to put their money to work with you again, and often refer other potential lenders to you.
  • You don’t have to deal with providing the stacks of tax returns, applications, and endless forms required by banks
  • When you buy a property at a good enough discount, you can borrow the entire purchase price from your private-money lenders, plus closing costs and repairs. That’s not going to happen with a bank.
  • You never pay the outrageous fees set by hard-money lenders
  • You can structure some deals so there are no monthly payments. (I’ve done this with about half of mine.) This solves potential cash-flow problems on major rehabs or luxury homes

Those are just some of the benefits. And the best part is that, once you understand a few key concepts, building your private-money network is easy.

But there are a few things you have to make sure you do right first.

Marketing and Presentation Skills Are Key

You need to know how to market for private money. There are things that will work, and things that won’t… and things you can say, and things you can’t.

You need a clear, credible, and benefit-filled presentation. If you just try to "wing it," you may end up turning a potential investor off by coming across as someone who is unprepared and not serious. And how many times can you "go back to the well" once you’ve made a less-than-favorable impression?

As you expand your private-money network, you need to make sure you’re following all state and federal rules and regulations. In most states, you can build a network of a few dozen lenders without filing a bunch of paperwork. Go beyond that number, and you must do the filing. Cross state lines, and there are other docs to file. And there are regulations to follow if you "pool" money.

Those rules and regulations apply only when you cross certain thresholds. And they’re not too cumbersome if you just take the time to understand them and do what you’re supposed to do. So here are a few pointers…

Keeping in the Good Graces of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)

When it comes to complying with SEC regulations, you will be in one of three situations.

1. You don’t have any private lenders, but are ready to jump in the water and start bringing them on board.


First, you need to do the following:

1. Create your disclosure document to be handed out to lenders.
2. Understand your state’s SEC compliance threshold.
3. Find an SEC attorney and let him in on what you are doing.
4. Complete your disclaimer statement.

Whether or not you have to file with the SEC depends on how you decide to operate.

  • If you are going to work with family, friends, and associates and stay under your state’s compliance threshold, you don’t need to file.
  • If you are going to advertise, pool money, work with strangers, cross state lines, and/or go beyond your state’s compliance threshold, you’ll need to file with your state’s SEC office before you approach your first private lender. (You will also need to notify your state’s SEC office before you get your first private lender if you are in one of 10 states that require you to do so.)

2. You have a few private lenders, but are under your state’s compliance threshold.

You need to do all the above, plus complete a form to let the SEC office look back to see what you have been doing.

3. You are over your state’s compliance threshold, and have made a mess.

In this case, hire an SEC attorney and let him guide you through the jungle. You won’t like it, but I believe it’s better to put all your cards on the table face up and take your spanking rather than wait and hope you don’t get in trouble.

The bottom-line…

You’re dancing with a gorilla. Why take a chance? There are rules on how to play the game. The SEC controls the rule book, and they are there to protect the consumer, not you.

The easiest way to be in compliance is to take the appropriate steps before you secure your first private lender and start your business off on the right foot.

I find that many real estate investors are scared of the SEC. If they would only follow the rules from day one, they wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Word Of Consumers

Take a cue from Vichy Korea (skin care): since end of last year, they've been inviting customers to blog about their experience with the Myokine anti-wrinkle product line. Consumers shared and tracked results day by day, adding updates in real time. Vichy not only 'learned', but also gave back by having skin experts answer individual questions. 9,000 people signed up for the program. Vichy France also asked its customers to pitch in on Journal de ma Peau, a blog about their 'Peel Micro Abrasion' product.

In the Netherlands, retail chain Kijkshop is recruiting webcam-testers to film their week-long use of electrical shavers, hand blenders, mobile phones and other devices. Every month, 15 to 20 webcams will be installed in kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms across The Netherlands. Kijkshop is now putting the first 3-5 minute long movies (and reviews) online for all to see. More than 5,000 people have already expressed interest in taking part.

TV Wardrobe

Fast Company: We're talking about consumers who want to own the same pair of jeans that Meredith wears on "Grey's Anatomy" or a dress that was seen on Gabrielle's character on "Desperate Housewives." The Times dubs this new phenomenon "shopping-enabled entertainment," a rapidly-growing marketplace now aided by several new websites selling the most popular and fashionable of the as-seen-on-TV products to consumers.

Shopping enabled entertainment gives a whole new meaning to product placement where viewers no longer have to be persuaded by advertisers to buy their products, but instead their brands are being actively sought-out by a celebrity-obsessed culture.

I first came across such fans last summer when reading message board posts on a design magazine's website. One fan had just seen the movie "The Break Up" with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn and was dying to locate the living room furniture used to decorate the couple's condo. The message board soon revealed hundreds of other fans who had admired the set as well and were seeking advice on which stores carried the exact couch, the end table and even the paint color on the walls.

Now, websites such as or cater exclusively to these consumer demands and fans no longer have to fret over where to find their favorite TV items; a visit to the sites reveals just how extensive this market has become. As reported in the Times article, these websites don't just sell the clothes and accessories worn by characters on more than 100 televisions shows and movies, they also allow visitors to take virtual tours of TV and movie sets to purchase the tiniest details such as the Tupperware set used by Bree on an episode of "Desperate Housewives."

Friday, July 20, 2007

How To Make 5 Million Dollars With A Microsite

Gerald Prolman launched in 2003 to sell sustainably grown flowers that are freshly picked and then gift-wrapped. But as the company grew, he needed a better way to meet the increasing demand from florists, event planners and other whole-salers. So in June, Prolman launched a microsite to make it easier for these customers to place orders.

A microsite lets you focus on a specific purpose, such as selling clearance or discounted items, selling products to businesses vs. consumers, promoting new merchandise, or trying out a new product line. Sometimes the design and navigation of a microsite differs from its parent site. “Unlike consumers, florists shop by variety and color, so the site is set up to help florists find what they need quickly,” says Prolman, 46, who projects 2006 sales of up to $5 million for his San Rafael, California, company.

So why didn’t Prolman just launch a separate section on his existing website to focus on wholesalers? Simple: to prevent consumers or future competitors from having easy access to the customized pricing available to wholesale customers. “The pricing is tailor-made for each customer based on volume,” says Prolman. “Once approved as a wholesale account, they will be given access to the site.”

When Smaller Is Better And More Profitable

Bucking the trend of ever-expanding dining portions, Chicago-based Minnies is out to prove that bigger isn't always better. Featuring a wide selection of bite-size gourmet burgers and sandwiches—including traditional favorites such as grilled cheese and Reubens, alongside the more inventive Mykonos (roast chicken, tzaziki sauce and kalamata tapenade) and Thanksgiving delight (roast turkey, cranberries and wild rice gravy)—Minnies applies nouvelle cuisine portions to casual dining. Besides serving waistline-minded eaters something to nibble on, the fifties-style diner gives hungrier customers the mix-and-match pleasure of tapas restaurants.

While other restaurants are starting to offer Lilliputian portions in response to consumer demand, serving miniatures-only is a niche concept that could definitely take off, much like dessert-only eateries. While Minnies isn't currently offering franchises, interested parties are encouraged to submit their contact information should they elect to do so in the future. In the meantime, this could be a fun one for budding restaurateurs to replicate in other regions.

How To Make $4000 A Week From A Silly Cat Picture

Eric Nakagawa, a software developer in Hawaii, posted a single photo of a fat, smiling cat he found on the Internet, with the caption, "I can has cheezburger?" in January, 2007, at a Web site he created. It was supposed to be a joke. Soon after he posted a few more images in the same vein: cute cats with funny captions written in a silly, invented hybrid of Internet shorthand and baby-talk. Then he turned the site into a blog, so that visitors could comment on the postings. What happened after that would have been hard for anyone to predict.

"We just thought, O.K., they're funny,"Nakagawa says. "Suddenly we started getting hits. I was like, where are these coming from?"

He saw traffic on the blog, I Can Has Cheezburger, which he runs with his partner, "Tofuburger" (she refuses to disclose her real name) double each month: 375,000 hits in March, 750,000 in April, 1.5 million in May. Cheezburger now gets 500,000 page views a day from between 100,000 and 200,000 unique visitors, according to Nakagawa. The cheapest ad costs $500 for a week. The most expensive goes for nearly $4,000. Nakagawa, an accidental entrepreneur who saw his successful business materialize out of the ether, quit his programming job at the end of May: "It made more sense to do this and see how big it could get."

Cheezburger's story is unusual in the upper reaches of the blogosphere in that the time between launching and reaching a critical mass of readers who sustain the site is so compressed. But many of the most popular bloggers have similar tales of starting out with a niche idea—an inside joke, a particular obsession—and watching it explode. Of course, most blogs linger in obscurity and are read by only a handful of people, and few ever reach the level Cheezburger has. What about a blog like Cheezburger lets it break away from the pack?

The initial appeal of the blog may have been a fluke, but its growth since then has been part of a tightly controlled experiment to help answer that question. Nakagawa and his partner constantly tweak the site to see what draws readers and what leaves them cold.

"We basically have a playground where people keep coming to play, so we're trying to create new games all the time,"Nakagawa says.

To drive traffic, they try to time their new posts with when people are most likely to be reading: in the mornings, on their lunch breaks, or in the evenings. Early on, when Nakagawa saw the site getting 1,000 page views a day, he added a widget that allows visitors to rate each post on a scale of one to five cheeseburgers. That helped boost traffic to 2,000.

Readers don't just rate or comment on the posts. They create them. Cheezburger depends on its fans to submit pictures, write funny captions, and send them in. Nakagawa has built a tool to let readers select a ready-made photo or upload their own, add and position captions, choose font styles, and submit a finished product. Any visitor can vote on the submissions, and the most popular ones make it to the main page. The function saves Nakagawa from having to find funny captions for photos, and it creates a lasting bond with readers.

That kind of interaction helps make I Can Has Cheezburger as much a community as a blog. A post by one user will inspire another to play off the theme, forming a narrative. "It's like you're creating a story supplied by people in the community, and then the people in the community supply the next part of the story,"Nakagawa says.

The idea of building a community around content supplied by users sustains several top blogs, and most put the idea of community ahead of making money. For Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, who lampoon celebrity fashion on their blog, Go Fug Yourself, the fact that ad sales on their blog now pay their salaries has not changed what they set out to do from Day One: have fun. "It was one of these inside jokes that we thought was going to just stay an inside joke,"says Cocks.

Part of it has to do with the nature of the medium: Blogging creates a direct connection between authors and readers, a conversation with distinct voices carried out in comments and e-mails and other blogs. Nakagawa wants to see how big that conversation—not to mention his business—can get. "It's kind of like, how far can you take it?" he says.

How To Build A MultiMillion Dollar Business, Teaching Others How To Use Computers

Seventeen years ago John W. Scherer sensed that video lessons are going to be all the rage. This is when he founded his Video Professor Inc, a multimillion corporation that sends out 250,000 packages every month and has over 5 million customers in US alone.

You know that John W. Scherer must be a very good marketer if he made Willie Nelson buy eBay trading course from him.

The core of his successful marteting strategy (not surprisingly) has been giving away free trial lessons. Company's intertal marketing experiments have demonstraged that a person who watched at least one trial lesson is 11 times more likely to purchase a course of interest (currently, the most popular course is on using Windows Vista).

In fact, the conversion ratio for Video Professor lessons are so good that John W. Scherer has rolled out several infomercials. Perhaps one of the reasons Video Professor customers find these lessons so valuable is because of Video Professor's unique "What-You-See-Is-What-You-Do" teaching technique, which allows users to follow the lesson step-by-step in the actual program they're learning. Plus, each lesson title comes complete with sections designed for beginner, intermediate, and advanced users.

How To Make Money Selling Tumbleweed Online

The lowly tumbleweed is a nuisance to most inhabitants of Western Kansas. The Russian thistle bushes are everywhere. They clog drainage ditches, pile up against fencerows, and have even been known to cause traffic accidents.

But the weed is blowing only good fortune to Linda Katz of Garden City, Kan., who is proving that you really can sell almost anything on the Internet. You see, this former real estate agent, who’s married to a roofer, sells tumbleweeds over the Web.

“It all started as a joke,”says Katz, 49. She asked her son to build her a family Web page so she could communicate with friends and give it the tongue-in-cheek name Prairie Tumbleweed Farm. Never mind that she didn’t even live on a farm, but in a subdivision. Nevermind that you can’t cultivate tumbleweed, which spreads its seed as it tumbles in the wind. For authenticity’s sake, Katz added a price list ($35 for a big weed, $25 for a midsize one, $20 for the small economy model)

Remember, Katz wasn’t looking for business, but it found her all the same, thanks to the power of Web search engines.

Orders started to pour in from all the places where people love Hollywood Westerns: Alaska, Austria, Britain, Hong Kong, India.

Japanese customers proved so eager that she has added a section to her Web site in Japanese. Movie and TV production companies in Britain, Finland, and the U.S. have ordered tumbleweed for props, too, including a $1,000 order for the children’s show Barney & Friends. A scientist from New Mexico wanted tumbleweed for research purposes.

Many of Katz’s newfound customers use tumbleweed to decorate their homes, even in lieu of the traditional Christmas tree.

During Katz’s first two months on the Web, the site logged 2,000 visitors. By mid-January, the number had grown to more than 56,000. Katz says she’s making about 30 tumbleweed sales a week, which suggests revenues of about $40,000 a year.

That may not sound like much, but neither are her costs. She fills orders by grazing Kansas fence lines for tumbleweed and buys her mailing boxes in bulk lots. For labor, Katz uses her five nieces and nephews to help collect the stuff, and she gives them a share of the profits.

“Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing?” asks Katz.

The Bra Strap Niche

Entrepreneur Dao Tran-Boyd is hoping never to be strapped for cash again after finding the holy grail of business: a niche product.

Bra straps sound like the kind of idea that could get laughed out of the Dragon's Den but as Mrs Tran-Boyd, founder of Glamorous Bra Straps said: "The simple things in life are the best".

That maxim holds true in business and 18 months after its launch the company has been shortlisted by the Gift Association for its Best Gift of the Year Award.

Mrs Tran-Boyd, from New Malden, said: "We are absolutely delighted to be shortlisted, especially as we have been trading for just less than a year, but have already achieved a retail and wholesale customer base across the UK, Ireland, Channel Island, Europe and even as far as Egypt and Nigeria.

"Until now bra straps have been a fashion nightmare, but not any more."

She started making the items at home selling them at school fairs. When interest grew, she took the plunge and invested money to approach a wholesaler in China.

The company is now taking enquires from agents in the USA and Canada and has over 150 hand-made straps in its collection.

Having a keen interest in community and charities, Mrs Tran-Boyd is happy the straps have been a hit with breast cancer sufferers and she now hopes to use the product to further good causes.

"Its simple, but it makes women feel sexy and glamorous," she said.

AdultFriendFinder.Com - How To Make Millions With 'Adult Dating' (As In Dating For Sex) Websites

Warning! NOT SAFE FOR WORK! is for those who wish to find some pals with whom to “play” and for those who choose to share tales of their adult exploits with appreciative new amigos. It’s kind of like joining an x-rated country club.

Founded in 1996 by Andrew Conru and privately owned, the FriendFinder Network operates with a staff of more than 200 from its corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California. The FriendFinder Network is the leading global online relationship network, allowing over 20 million registered members to confidentially and anonymously meet people with similar interests and mindsets in a safe, exciting environment. Last year revenue is estimated to be around 87 million US Dollars, with most profit coming from AdultFriendFinder.Com

So what's behind the success of this adult dating website? What strikes you right away is how much access is available to everyone regardless of membership level. Without paying, services like accessing member personals are limited, but still available to you. All those thumbnails of tits, ass, or cock scrolling by in the search results will peak your interest and start your juices flowing for sure. Just a titillating taste and you’ll probably sign-up for full service anyway. In the meantime, anybody can send a wink to show interest. Adding a profile to your Hotlist sends an e-mail displaying your crush on the other member. As a bonus, the popularity of a profile can lead to privileged access even for a standard member. Paid subscribers for an extra fee can allow free access to anyone, increasing the number of responses they get.

How To Get Rich Selling ... Aprons

Aprons are generally considered more of a fashion faux pas than fashion-forward. They're hidden in the backs of drawers and thrown aside in the presence of company. Helena Steele knew it wasn't always this way. She could remember when her grandmother, Jessie, would bake treats while clad in finely constructed aprons with beautiful patterns on them.

So in 2002, Helena and her daughter, Claire, formed Jessie Steele, a line of aprons meant to go far beyond the kitchen drawer.

When the mother-daughter team created their line of vintage-inspired aprons, their unique backgrounds proved to be invaluable. Claire, a former model and marketing executive, used her knowledge of fashion and marketing to promote the business, while Helena, an accomplished seamstress and the founder of Golden Gate Kitchens, a successful kitchen design company, helped with the design. Their mission was to create an apron that bridged the culinary/fashion divide, an accessory that could be worn whether buyers were making meatloaf or strolling down Fifth Avenue.

"We definitely feel that they're functional fashion," says Claire, 29, who helped Helena, 54, update the vintage apron styles and textiles for modern wearers.

Claire and Helena unveiled the aprons to immediate success. The vintage styles are a hit among home chefs, as well as hip retailers and boutiques, which have seen a growing demand for retro styles, from '20s flapper gowns to bell-bottoms.

Today, the aprons are sold at stores such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, which appeal to gourmet cooks, and at small boutiques, which cater to more stylistically adventurous clients who love to wear the aprons as a fashion statement.

The company plans to start offering hospitality design and to expand the boutique line to contemporary, traditional and urban themes. Projected sales for 2007 are $3 million.

Even in the midst of their growing success, Claire and Helena take time to appreciate the foundations of their homegrown business. "One of the ideas of Jessie Steele is to celebrate your family, your friends and your home," says Claire, "and that's an important part of what we're doing."

Lisa Saunders Story

Lisa Saunders had been a fan of Shade Clothing for about a year when she moved from Southern California to Calgary, Alberta. But in her new home, she had a difficult time finding Shade's line of shirts, which is designed to be both modest and stylish. In her search, however, she discovered a way to fill her own clothing needs and those of other women in Canada--by becoming a Shade Clothing personal shopper. "You need to feel strongly and passionately about what you're selling," she says. "I knew I loved Shade."

Shade Clothing began its personal shopper program in March 2006, but the program wasn't available in Canada. Saunders knew it could be successful there, so she contacted the corporate office and worked with them to get the program up and running, eventually becoming the first Canadian personal shopper in June 2006. She's also a hiring manager, in charge of recruiting and training new personal shoppers in her area.

For Saunders, 32, Shade Clothing provides the double benefit of giving her access to clothes she likes and letting her earn money while raising her two children at home. But her biggest challenge, she says, has been getting the word out about Shade. To target her main audience--women and girls--she posts fliers at preschools, elementary schools and women's gyms.

She also relies, of course, on word-of-mouth generated by her in-home parties, where women try on samples and ask her advice. These parties, called home showcases, are Saunders' main source of sales. Saunders can even host parties over the phone, allowing her to have customers in other locations and run her business while she travels. "You can sell to anyone, anywhere," she says. Though the parties are her main focus, Saunders can also make sales through open houses, internet sales and personal shopping appointments.

Saunders recognizes that her business is about more than just making a sale; getting repeat business and good word-of-mouth are vital to direct-selling success. "I want all customers to feel appreciated, whether they're placing a $30 order or a $300 order," she says. With that goal always in mind, Saunders projects 2007 sales will reach at least $60,000.

Sammy Hagar And His Cabo Wabo Tequila Empire

Sammy Hagar, former lead singer for the mega-band Van Halen, is renowned for his soaring vocals and stadium showmanship. However, for the past 15 years, Hagar has earned another reputation: entrepreneur. As the founder and front man of the 200-employee, Novato (Calif.)-based Cabo Wabo Enterprises, with about $60 million in revenue, Hagar is behind a top-selling line of premium tequilas, as well as a growing chain of tequila bars, aptly named the Cabo Wabo Cantina.

"Like many people, my first introduction to tequila was probably around the toilet," jokes Hagar, who at 59 still has the youthful exuberance of an arena rocker. "Still, I dug the salt and lime. It was a fun drink."

But in 1982 he sampled the good stuff—premium blanco tequila—during a visit to Cabo San Lucas, a small Mexican fishing village on the tip of Baja California. "It changed my life. I had the true taste of tequila, and I became a blanco freak," says Hagar. Thus a businessman was born.

Ten years later, Hagar opened his first Cabo Wabo Cantina in that same speck of a town, envisioning a place where he could drink tequila and play music when he was bored. "It was just an ego trip," he says. "The town wasn't even big enough to accommodate the idea."

In fact, his business manager quit over the project. "She thought it was the stupidest idea," he recalls. "She said I'd spend a half a million dollars, we'd get sued, and it would be a money pit."
Famous Friends

Although Van Halen and the band's manager also thought it was a lousy idea, Hagar got members of the band to come in as partners. Together, he says, they invested a total of about $400,000. The Cantina kicked off with an MTV party, forwhich the music network flew in 300 fans. But Hagar says that following the launch, business slowed to a trickle, and the village, little more than a ghost town at the time, couldn't support it.

"The guys in Van Halen got sick of it," he says. "We lost money for five years—about $40,000 a year—[but] that's pocket change to those guys.… They said the place was too hot, there were no telephones, and no TV. But that's what I loved about Cabo." So Hagar took sole ownership of the Cantina.

Then things turned around. Hagar brought in a new manager to run the bar. At the same time, Cabo San Lucas started to earn a reputation as a tourist destination. The surge brought new infrastructure, paved roads, and new hotels. And people began flocking to Hagar's cantina.

Before long, Cabo Wabo was out of debt and turning a profit. "We first made about $30,000 to $40,000 a year, and then we started making a lot of money," says Hagar. "I didn't give a crap about profits. I thought if this place could just break even it would be a great place to play." Soon, rockers like Iggy Pop, U2, and Guns 'N Roses began flying down to play at the little cantina.
Packed House

By 1996, Hagar decided he wanted to produce a premium tequila to sell at the bar. He partnered with the Rivera family that had owned and operated a distillery in Jalisco since 1937.

It was a tiny operation. At first they sent Hagar their handmade tequila in jugs, vats, and five-gallon gas cans. Hagar stored it at the bar in a little barrel and served it in porcelain bottles with cork stoppers.

"Every step of the way, this was organic," explains Hagar. "I had no intention of starting a tequila business. I just wanted this to be the best tequila in the world and sell it in the bar. Period."

However, Hagar's business continued to grow as Cabo San Lucas developed. In 1998 the town became part of the cruise-ship circuit. "[The cantina] was packed all the time whether I was playing there or not," says Hagar. And more and more people discovered his Cabo Wabo tequila. "It was way beyond my hopes and dreams. It just exploded, and I knew this could be a real business."

In 1999, Wilson Daniels, a top wine importer based in St. Helena, Calif., launched a spirits division and contacted Hagar about distributing Cabo Wabo in the U.S. According to Hagar, the company signed an order to purchase 6,000 cases of his tequila, which retails for about $50 a bottle. That first year they ended up selling 37,000 cases. Last year, Cabo Wabo sold 140,000.
Rising Spirit

What began as a hobby is now a serious business. According to Stephen Kauffman, Cabo Wabo's president and an industry veteran, for the past several years the company has seen sales growth of 25% annually. And he says Cabo Wabo is tied for the No. 2 superpremium tequila spot with Don Julio, behind Patrón in the U.S.

The brand is also sold in Canada, Australia, and Mexico, and there are plans for a larger global market push. This month, following his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Hagar introduced Cabo Uno, a $250 limited-edition reserve.

Kauffman says the company is also considering other brand extensions, such as a beer label. It already sells T-shirts and other accessories bearing the Cabo logo. And in 2004, Hagar opened his second Cabo Wabo Cantina at the Harrah's casino in Lake Tahoe. A third in Las Vegas is scheduled for 2008.

Cabo Wabo has followed the upswing in the fast-growing U.S. tequila market. Made from the spiky-leafed agave plant found in central Mexico, the distilled spirit, once considered a low-end party drink, has seen a renaissance due to an increase in demand for high-end tequilas.

According to Nielsen Scantrack and LiquorTrack, sales of tequila rose 12.5% in 2006, grabbing a 6% share of the total $58 billion U.S. spirits market—nearly triple the pace of overall spirits, which grew 4.5%.
The Worm Turns

A number of factors including the continued popularity of margaritas are behind the surge in demand. For one, an agave shortage in 2000 spiked prices, narrowing the gap between the cheaper and more luxe offerings. And many of the largest liquor conglomerates such as Diageo, Seagram, and Allied Domecq, as well as smaller boutique labels, have all recently jumped into the premium tequila business.

Eric Schmidt, manager of information services at Adams Beverage Group, an alcoholic beverage research outfit based in Norwalk, Conn, says that in the past few years many new brands have entered the market. According to his tracking, in 2004 there were 13 new entrants, in 2005 that number rose to 19, and in 2006, 40 new labels joined the party. To understand just how far tequila has come from the $7-worm-in-the-bottle iteration, Patrón recently introduced a limited-edition Gran Patrón Bordeos priced at $400 a bottle.

As for Cabo Wabo, Schmidt says: "Hagar has created a great niche. As far as the affiliation with Hagar and the party atmosphere, they've done very well. But on a volume basis, it's relatively small."

Being a huge corporate brand was never in Hagar's plan. Refusing to deploy a team of marketers, he relied on his grassroots rocker platform to spread the word. In 1999 he wrote the party anthem Más Tequila, and he says he always mentioned the brand in interviews.
Just Like Martha

Moreover, on tour with his solo band the Waboritos (he stopped formally fronting Van Halen in 1996), he created mini versions of his bars on stage featuring bikini-clad waitresses serving tequila. His annual October birthday parties held at the Cantina in Cabo San Lucas attract thousands of fans who party with Hagar free of charge.

This past March he hosted a week-long Cabo Wabo cruise from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas. Although tickets cost between $1,249 and $4,619, it was sold out.

Hagar says the secret to his success is that he maintained authenticity by turning his lifestyle into a business—kind of like Martha Stewart for the hard-core partying set. "I didn't want layers of people telling me what to do," he says. "I didn't want a CEO and a chairman, and a president and vice-president and head of marketing."

Instead, Hagar says he has a small group of people who work for him. "Before I made it as a rocker, I had a lot of executives tell me what to do to make it, and I never listened to them," he says. "They'd tell me to write a song like this or I'd never make it. But I did it my way. And the same thing here, many businesspeople were trying to convince me that to make this a great thing, I had to have a corporate structure and involve people who knew what they were doing. I don't believe that. I didn't want to make it like that."
Creative Decisions

Indeed, while Hagar says he could have rolled out 80 Cabo Wabo Cantinas by now, he remains cautious about diluting the unique brand experience he has created. He's thinking about launching cantinas in Orlando, Atlantic City, and Fresno, Calif., but he fears turning the lucrative tequila bars, which account for about 25% of his business, into a cookie-cutter chain. "I'm fighting with myself on this one," he says.

Right now, Hagar is content to both play the party and host the bar. "I like owning and operating a business," he says. "It's as creative as stepping on stage or making a record."

Of course, this is one businessman with a buzz.