Monthly Archives: April 2008

Reporting Cyber Crime and Hacking to the FBI

Attended the IT Summit in Laramie, and learned some good things about internet crime from a presenter from the FBI. Some of the information was illuminating.

Much of what he said was a reiteration of what I know – common sense protects you the majority of the time. But automated crime is not only on the rise (as we feel the impact of in spam and increasing site threats), it is exponentially increasing as technology makes it easier and easier for people to automate exploitation.

The real eye opener though, had to do with website exploitation reporting. Just what do you report to the FBI? I asked him. I told him I’d had a site that was exploited, and that since the web host had shut down my site due to abuse by someone else on the site, that I assumed they’d reported it to the FBI. He said they would not! So if your site is hacked, it is up to YOU to report it, and to preserve evidence.

Evidence comes in the form of two things:

  • First, any files that have been placed on your website.
  • Second, the log reports that show the activity during the time in which any material was installed on your site without your consent.

So how do you get that?

The typical scenario, is this:

  • You install some kind of insecure software, or a form, onto your site.
  • At some point, your email from the site stops working, or you get a report from a site visitor that the site is down, or you discover for yourself that your site is down. A notice appears that it has been suspended.
  • You call your hosting company, and they inform you that an abuse has occurred. At this point, you are UNABLE to access ANY files! You cannot preserve any evidence at all!
  • Usually, the hosting company will remove the offensive material, and then reactivate your account.
  • You can then access the log files (if your hosting package has visitor logs), but the offensive files are gone.

If you want to preserve evidence and report, you’ll need to ask your hosting company to cooperate. You’ll have to ask them to zip or tar (compress) the offensive files BEFORE they delete them, and then report the offense to the FBI, making the log files and abnormal site files available to them as requested.

To report a violation, go to: This organization is a cooperation with the FBI, and they aggregate small cyber crime reports, including site attack data, and looks for patterns, so that violators can be prosecuted. When they gather sufficient evidence to build a case worth investigating further, it is turned over to the FBI. Your report can help isolate an offender and bring them closer to prosecution.

The point here is, YOU must report. No one else will do it for you, because YOU were the victim.

Had I known that previously, I’d have reported and collected evidence on the three prior attacks experienced by myself or my clients during the last 4 years.

I’ve learned to protect sites better, but the risk is still there. In the event that it should happen again, a report will be filed, now that I know that I SHOULD, and now that I know HOW.

Sometimes the Experts Are Right

I had something in mind with this topic – You see, I take notes as I think of ideas, and I write down a title. Then I progress through the list when I have the time, and write each article. Only sometimes I forget what it was that I had in mind at the time… Takes some thought. And sometimes it never goes back to what it was originally.

Ah, yes. Now I recall.

I had blogged previously about trusting your own intuition and knowledge, when you get advice from an “expert” that doesn’t sound right. But there is another side to that. Sometimes the experts are right!

As a small business owner, you can’t know everything. A specialist can sometimes offer valuable insight – and often they will require you to make a shift in thinking that you do not want to make. The question is, how can you know when to trust your gut, and when your preconceived ideas are holding you back?

The first thing, is to not hire an expert just because they say they are an expert. Make sure they have some experience with businesses the size of yours, and with issues relevant to what you need. It is a lot like hiring a child psychologist who has never had children, or a marriage counselor who is divorced or has never married – personally, I’d never trust either one! Find out what their background is.

The next thing to ask yourself, is, “do they know something I do not which causes them to recommend this, or do I know something they do not, which makes their advice unworkable?”. This is critical! A good professional will be willing to discuss such things with you to help you figure it out. The answer to this helps you know if it is an understanding of the inside of your business which limits your options, or whether it IS fear holding you back.

And lastly, did they listen? I mean did they REALLY listen to your ideas, your explanations, and your own expertise? No one is an expert in every business! No “expert” can POSSIBLY advise you unless they have listened, because every situation is different. Experience helps us recognize patterns, but solutions are always individual. If they advised before listening, or if they insisted that they were right without hearing your objections, then they did not listen, and you are free to walk away and find someone who will listen!

I’ve had clients who wanted to approach a problem from a different perspective than I did. In the end, the client is the boss – but each of those situations was also very unique. Sometimes they knew something I did not. I had a chance to learn from them to increase my expertise. Sometimes I knew something they did not, and either could, or could not, help them understand it. But there is also usually MORE than one “right” way to do something. So it isn’t like if it doesn’t go my way that all hope is lost. And if you choose not to heed the advice of an expert, there may be an equally successful way to do it.

Most really good consultants will offer you a range of suggestions, and be willing to discuss the pros and cons of each, to help you think through your options. There is tremendous value in that, and one hour with a skilled consultant can save you hours and hours of trial and error and research. Like tapping into someone else’s experience for a short time – it empowers you if they have the right experience.

But if you consult a logger about baking bread, chances are you aren’t going to get the answer you need!

Growing Gadgetry and the Future

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Just because it is POSSIBLE, doesn’t mean that every alternative is going to wither away. But what AM I babbling about?

Gadgets. Smaller, more powerful, everything in miniature.

Some people seem to think that just because a cell phone can now theoretically do most of the functions of a laptop, that laptops will die a slow death and become obsolete as people run around squinting and trying to poke their smart phones to get work done.

NOT! I like my laptop. It is fast to use, has a lovely large clear screen, and enough power and capacity that I need no other computer. A phone just can’t replace that.

I heard a “futurist” state the other day that the computer keyboard would just poof into the vapor one day as speech commands took over, and as other forms of input took over. I think he is premature. The only thing that could replace a keyboard for data input, as far as sheer speed is concerned, is direct thought transference, and even that is problematic, because you’d have to sort out WHICH thoughts the thing was supposed to act on! Keyboards are fast. You can type information in faster than you can speak it in and correct the errors from speech input. You can give commands with a mouse or keyboard or other input device much faster, and more accurately, than you can speak them. That will be the case for a very long time, and some of the rules will not change unless something better comes along. So far, no one is even close.

See, your hands don’t have to talk. You can train yourself to go directly from thought, to action through your hands. Hands were designed to do that, and a keyboard allows us to directly translate thought, into words on the page, without having to mess with our speech centers, or try to get the computer to get the command right when it is spoken. You don’t have to think about how to tell the computer what you need it to do (which is an extra step), you just DO it. If you have experience with training someone to use a computer, when you cannot touch the mouse yourself, you’d know what I mean.

New technologies are good. They bring us new possibilities. But they do not automatically mean that they will eliminate other technologies. The “futurist” said, “All things being equal, wireless is always better than wires”.

But all things are NOT equal. Far from it. And they may never be. Wireless involves security risks that hardwired will never have. And it never will be equal for speed or clarity either. In some applications, those things matter.

The real issue here is that this man was making claims about the future – as many people do – without really THINKING out the issues he was talking about.

The future will undoubtedly lose many things we consider essential today, and many things will be replaced. Some current trends will continue, others have reached their practical end. Much of it we can’t know until we get there.

UPDATE: Five years after writing this post, I finally got my first smartphone. I was right. It can’t even come close to replacing the functionality of my laptop, in all the essential ways for online use. It is a convenience when I do not have my laptop, but still very much a hassle to have to type ANYTHING.

The Death of the Squeeze Page

I’d like all squeeze pages and one page websites to just go away. I am so tired of the hype, the deception, and the number of people I encounter who are taken in by them, or who think that the only way to run a business is to pressure, push, and grab, instead of giving, caring, and presenting something honestly.

I know good people who just don’t get it. They practice the tactics they’ve been told over and over, without thinking about what they mean, or that there might be any way to do better.

All I’d like is for them to read their words from the point of view of their audience – but to do that, they have to turn off all the programming they’ve been given that warps their sense of what their audience really does want. Sometimes we get things stuck in our head that are false, and even when someone explains why they are false, we cannot get past it to really know what they mean.

You don’t have to lie, or deceive to earn. You don’t have to come anywhere near it. And every single person that I see using the dishonest internet marketing tactics that are used on squeeze pages, would agree with me on that, while never even grasping that they are being dishonest themselves – that I mean something other than what they do when I say it.

If you say, “My friends and associates think I should charge more for this, they think I’m crazy for almost giving away this item which is worth $147 (or $97, or $297) for just $47 (or $27, or $97)”, then YOU are being dishonest. I’ve seen those words countless times on websites, and every single time I know that they are saying it because they’ve been taught that saying it is some kind of “secret for success”, when in fact, all it is, is a lie. Your friends and associates didn’t even get told what you were doing ahead of time. You wrote your standard copy without consulting anyone, because it is one in a long line of things you churn out over the course of the year. If they didn’t actually SAY that, then you lied.

The sad thing is, that those tactics drive away some of your best customers. The ones who will come back, refer friends, and help your business grow in ways you never dreamed. Maybe you do get buyers – but you are going after crumbs when you could be enjoying a feast!

Going Up Against Wal-Mart

In this article, we are using Wal-Mart to represent big business. It is not meant in any kind of derogatory way (heck, we LIKE Wal-Mart, it allows us to meet the needs of our family on a budget that we’d never be able to live on otherwise).

When you start out a business that is very small, limited by cashflow crunches, and unable to afford the best in marketing or sometimes even product or service tools, you need an edge. Something that people cannot get from big business. Something they want so much they’ll overlook your shortcomings, and appreciate that they got what they really wanted.

Typically, that is personal service. A concept which is so overpromoted as to be useless as a marketing descriptor. But the one, nevertheless, which makes the real difference. You can’t just say it though – because one thing big business CAN do better than you, is SAY it… and they DO.

So you have to find ways to make it clear that you are the real thing. Put aside the trite words, and show it – slow down, be patient, listen, help, and promote using tactics that don’t compete with big business on their terms. Find ways to make your own terms!

It means finding ways to reach people, be real, and develop relationships. Wal-Mart CAN’T do that. They can create a corporate face, but it is still a corporate face. They cannot be one person who knows the client. You can’t even get the same cashier twice in a row, let alone get someone to remember that you like Prairie Gold Hard White Wheat Flour so can they please keep it in stock.

Big business spends billions on researching customers, analyzing their patterns, keeping records to automate the feel of personal attention. But they just can’t do the real thing. All they can do is approximate it with cold efficiency.

You can be your business – you can know your customers by name, and you can be helpful even when you aren’t sure you can help them. Over time, this is hugely powerful.

Big business can’t touch that.

Being a “Woman Owned” Business

It was done because it has a few advantages. If I owned 51% of the stock in our corporation, we could be designated a “Woman Owned” business. Kevin agreed it was probably the best thing to do. And at the time, I knew so much more about the business than he did, that it also seemed wiser – if he died, I could carry on the business. If I were gone, the business would be gone. That is gradually changing. We still think our status as a Woman Owned business is a positive thing overall.

But it does present some interesting situations.

Women Business Owners is holding a convention in Texas next fall. I’d dearly love to go and staff a booth for our business. But I’d really not want to go without Kevin – partly because I like him, partly because it is his business too. They are happy to have men there, but I don’t suppose many really will be.

There have been other times when I felt like Kevin ought to get more credit also. But in the normal course of business, the reality is, that nobody really cares who owns it. They care more about whether you do the work, and whether they can work with you.

The government is happy – we give them a minute statistical boost. But then, they do not have a category for “couple owned” businesses.

So it has ended up being one of those things that has mattered in some ways we thought it would, has mattered in some ways that we did not expect, but which in most respects, has not been something most people even care about.

The First Year as a Corporation

The day we received the money to incorporate, I called the lawyer and made the arrangements. Later that day, I went to visit my husband at work, to let him know the money was coming in. I met him coming from the office, carrying his toolbox. He greeted me with, “I’ve been laid off, indefinitely.”

My first reaction was one of panic. Pull BACK! Keep the money! The safety net of one steady income was gone, how could we justify the $500 for the incorporation?

In the next instant, a calm settled over me. I felt strongly that the Lord had planned it that way – the money first, then the lay-off. That if we went forward, it would be ok.

It is one of the best decisions we have ever made. Kevin came home for good. Incorporation has been good for our business also – it makes us take it more seriously. It makes others take us more seriously also.

If you are a sole proprietorship that operates from a home, it is hard to get people to see you as a going concern. The failure rates for home businesses are very high, and part of that has to do with the fact that everybody and their dog claims to have one nowdays. Before, they’d ask us, “What is your business structure?”, we’d tell them “Sole Proprietor”, then they’d ask us “Are you a home business?” and that would be the end of the conversation. But a corporation means something different – they don’t even ask you anymore if you operate your business from home. I guess the statistics for home businesses that are incorporated are not so dismal!

We survived the first year. At a loss, but with paychecks. Sometimes I wondered how we would survive – and now that we are into the second year, I still wonder. But this time this year is better than this time last year. So growth is happening. I can live with that.

I don’t regret that choice to incorporate. I believe it has helped us to grow at a rate we could not have grown at if we had chosen to pull back.

Walking Away from Fragmentation

My imagination is so fertile, I have to reign myself in all the time. I run the risk of fragmentation on a perpetual basis! If I cut a bunch of things out so life seems more manageable, something seems to compel me to fill it up again.

But one thing I can absolutely recognize is fragmentation in other business owners lives!  I think it may always be easier to see that in someone else than in ourselves.

One key is to fill a void – and I don’t mean that in the way it sounds! What I mean is we often consolidate, and declutter our lives, and then neglect to fill the time we just cleared with the stuff we intended to fill it with. We say we are so busy, we have so many things to do, we have to cut back. So we cut back, and instead of taking more time on the things we thought we needed more time for, we feel instead that we can just plop something else in its place!

Part of that is because sometimes we do some of the things we do for the purpose of procrastination, not accomplishment. I’d rather take on a new class, and complain that I have no time to meet both the needs of the clients and the need to prepare the curriculum, than to just focus on doing the yucky part of taking care of the jobs I already have. Not that those classes are a bad thing! They are great! But I’d rather prep curriculum than have to recode a template or troubleshoot a recalcitrant shopping cart any day!

I don’t know that the struggle to keep my tasks manageable will ever be easier. I do know that I learn as I go, and that the process of prioritizing is always a challenge – but that life is also incredibly rich and fulfilling. Feeling overwhelmed now and again seems a small price to pay!

Keeping Your Focus in Expansion

In the process of expanding a business, we sometimes decide to go in more directions, when what we really needed to do is more in the same direction.

Business growth can get sidetracked if you try to do too much in too many things. Sometimes we also feel that we need to reach all markets – that if someone says they got good results here, that we have to do it too.

Business can get fragmented in two ways:

  1. When we take on additional lines before we are solid in the ones we are already running.
  2. When we try to market in too many directions or venues.

You can’t do everything. It pays to focus on what is going to make the most difference, and let the rest go.

You may find that a Ryze Network helps to bring traffic. So you may think that a Yahoo Group, a FastPitch Group, and a Google Group will help you too. Pretty soon you are pushed to keep up with them all, you cannot promote all so some flounder, and you are stretched. It is often better to focus on one successful method over five halfway methods.

Some people do this with blogging, websites, and article writing as well. Those things are all time intensive. Managing one blog, one website, and promoting one thing through article marketing is one thing – doubling, tripling, or quadrupling that effort is quite a different picture. You can lose your ability to keep up really fast.

Consider the time investment before you commit to a new thing. If you feel the desire to do more, find out what you can do within what you are already successfully doing – build on success, instead of dividing and floundering.

The “Ah-Ha” Factor in Business

She had an idea. She also had competitors. They had money. She did not. The website would be expensive, and then it would only do something close to what the custom programmed solutions that her competition was using could do.

I know from observing small businesses that a shoestring startup CAN compete with a big business, even when the way in which they do it is not as convenient. But it can only happen if the business has the “ah-ha” factor.

This is the thing that makes it desirable – something that the other businesses do not, or cannot do. Something you do that is unique.

In our business, it is the way we work with our clients, and the fact that we understand their needs in a way that larger companies do not.

For some, it is a unique product that cannot be found elsewhere.

For others it is a specialized service that no one else provides.

I didn’t know what it would be for her. I asked her what she could do differently to set herself apart. She thought about it overnight.

The next day she said, almost apologetically, “The only thing I could think of was this…” She then explained that there was an age factor in the equation, and that she wanted to target a different age group. The concept was perfect. The little idea she was not sure had merit was the key she needed to turn a hopeless quest into an achievable goal.

She now had something that the others not only did not do, but COULD not do without breaking their business model. She had something that every person in her target market wanted, but was afraid to SAY they wanted – but which, once they found it, they would share with their friends. She had a powerful “ah-ha” factor that would open the door to success for her.

Sometimes we miss that key point in our business, because it seems so common or ordinary to us. We take for granted the very thing that makes us different and salable. When we learn to identify it and leverage it for the real benefit that it is, our business becomes something unique and unmatchable.

In effect, we have dealt with the competition by crafting our business in such a way that they are no longer the competition.  Short term, it is always hard to get started in anything new. But long term, that difference is what will propel us to the top, and which will help our business to grow beyond the power of our own marketing reach.

Teaching Enrichment Courses

I have to say that teaching classes through the University of Wyoming Enrichment Program has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Frankly, I have to state right here that I could not do it on a daily basis – it would make me nuts! But teaching a major course each quarter and a handful of smaller ones suits me to a T.

The benefit to our business has been wide and long. Here are some of the things it has given us:

  1. I am far more comfortable doing public speaking. To the point that I can speak in front of almost any group, train virtually anyone, and have a great time doing it.
  2. Our business credibility rises each time we inform someone that we also teach enrichment courses on our business specialty.
  3. We are now getting other speaking and presentation opportunities.
  4. We have received referrals from the Enrichment Department for work in our specialty, not just for presentations.
  5. My husband, Kevin, has gained confidence within our profession by being with me when I teach. He has learned more of our business this way, and he has gained the ability to help the students as well.
  6. It has given us a peripheral product to sell, since we create our own curriculum (it does not exist for what we teach), so the curriculum becomes a secondary product.

As far as endeavors we have pursued, this has been one of the best. It is something that I recommend  wholeheartedly to anyone who feels they have the capacity to teach topics related to their profession.

How did I stumble into this? Really, I did sort of stumble into it. I mean, it was something I WANTED to do, and had a good deal of curriculum prepared for.  I began by asking a regional educational organization. They could not provide me with a sufficient student base, so I dropped that. I sounded out another. They also could not provide a reasonable student base at that time. Finally, one day, while on the phone with a staff member at the local Chamber (of which we are a member), I asked how one went about finding teaching and presentation opportunities. She suggested the University, but I did not know how to contact them.

One week later, I got a call from the University. Turns out, THEY had called HER, asking for someone to teach Web Development! I sat down with them and discussed possibilities. That fall, I taught my first class… a 12 week, 2 hour per week class. It was an amazing experience.

It does not pay well enough to do full time. Last winter, due to getting stuck in town overnight for TWO nights, due to closed roads, we lost money on a set of four classes. We will make a little on the one we are doing now – but not enough to fully compensate for weeks of preparation and three Saturdays teaching from 9:00 to 4:00. But the fringe benefits make it all worth it.

Besides just the ways it has benefited our business, I must say, the students are the greatest. They are dedicated, smart, and enjoyable people – the same kind of people I get for clients. Associating with them has been priceless – and they are honest with me about helping me improve myself as an instructor.

If this is something that you have a desire to do, I highly recommend it. Go and find an organization that can help you become an instructor – and then do it, even if you have only one student sign up. Because the things you will gain will be immeasurable, and will impact your business long term in ways that go far beyond the money the individual class pays.

The Fire of Enthusiasm

I read an article recently that talked about the Open Source movement, and why it managed to create such good software. The author said that MicroSoft could not pay people enough to produce stuff as good as a bunch of guys could produce who really believed in the project – or words to that effect.

There is a good deal of truth to that, and an application where business is concerned.  The lesson we get from it is, that pay does not determine our output. We work hardest for what we believe in most. We will stick something out if we love it and want it badly enough, even when it isn’t paying off like we want. But we won’t keep doing something, no matter how much it pays, if we can’t stand to get up in the morning and face it.

Quality of life is a term that is bandied about a lot lately. Most people translate that to mean money, but it doesn’t. Why do you think people give it all up to go homestead in Alaska? That isn’t about money!

When you love something, you can also become a powerful persuader – without even trying to be a salesperson. People tell me over and over that they can see that I am very passionate about what I do – usually they tell me that when I am not even aware that I am waxing enthusiastic about a topic. My interest in what I do compels me to both learn about it, and share it. That is more powerful than any trained salesperson, because it is real, and anyone can see that.

Combine that kind of enthusiasm with an equal degree of enthusiasm for caring about others, and you have an elixir that works better than any other marketing brew. Not that you don’t have to learn how to market well, or do the right things when you market, but just that when you top it off with a dollop of that kind of fire, you become unstoppable.

Look at the people who you know that are great business people, who had to sell their business to others early on. They have energy, enthusiasm, drive, and are perceived as an unstoppable force. It started with them having a dream to do something they felt really needed to be done.

Is your business that, to you? If it is, then keep working and learning, and the fire of your enthusiasm will eventually consume the obstacles in your path. If it is not, then figure out why, and make the adjustments so you can get up every morning with that excitement to get to work on changing your corner of the world.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.