Is Author Marketing Club Worth It? Definitely

Author Marketing Club review



A terrific service for entrepreneurial self-published authors looking for tools to make their books more successful and drive book sales.

Author Marketing Club is an online community of over 20,000 authors, along with a collection of targeted tools and advice.

If you want to increase your self-published book sales, check out Author Marketing Club.  Whether you write fiction books or nonfiction, there’s something for every author.

Members get access to valuable services and practical tools — and they are very good tools, too.  And to answer the question, “Is Author Marketing Club worth it?” — the answer for entrepreneurial authors and self-published authors is definitely YES!

Key Features of Author Marketing Club

Author Marketing Club started in late 2012, as a free members community.  About a year ago it added a premium membership.

Members get a combination of tools and marketing-related services to help them market their books. Today there are two levels of membership: free and premium.

If you’re thinking premium = expensive, you’d be wrong. The premium level is $105 annually.  For the value you get, it’s a bargain.

Premium members, of course, get access to more tools and services than free members.

This isn’t a community beating its chest about how wonderful self-publishing is and trashing traditional publishers. This crew doesn’t have time for that. Instead, the focus is on learning and taking advantage of every possible technique to drive bestsellers as a self-published author.

The founder, Jim Kukral, is an author himself.  He’s been published by a traditional publisher and has self-published a number of books.  So he is familiar with the world of publishing from both the traditional and self-published perspectives.

But he’s also an experienced, pragmatic and creative marketer. He knows that the money comes to those who keep their eye on the ball. And the ball in this case is about selling books.

To sell books you need to write a good book, have determination, and have access to the right knowledge and the right tools. The writing and determination come from within you.  The knowledge and tools come from Author Marketing Club.

Why Join Author Marketing Club

Author Marketing Club review - premade book covers

Everything is practical and targeted. There’s nothing purely theoretical or abstract — or off-topic.

There are so many tools and services with Author Marketing Club, it’s hard to cover them all. They include:

  • Webinars and mastermind groups: For instance, a recent webinar discusses the difference between book titles for fiction (straightforward titles work best) and nonfiction (more creative titles work best). Kukral, who hosts these, gives advice that shorter titles (6 words or less) sell better than long titles. And similar advice is given.
  • Bookalyzer: If you want to check out the competition, or analyze your own book, this tool tells you the book’s rank on Amazon, how different size cover images will look, and other analytic information.
  • Description Generator Tool and ebook: This gives advice on writing effective Amazon descriptions, and generating the copy for you.
  • Reviewer Grabber Tool:  Reviews by consumers are essential to validating social proof. People are more likely to buy if others reviewed it. This tool helps you identify people who have reviewed books similar to yours. Then you can reach out to them via email and ask if they will review your book.
  • Pre-made book covers: Each premium member is entitled to one free pre-made book cover (value of $30).  Other premade covers are available for purchase ala carte.
  • Free Book Submission Service:  If you have a free book, this helps you find lists and services that promote free ebooks.
  • Author services marketplace: Those who do editing, formatting, cover design and other services can list them here.
  • Daily emails highlighting author ebooks: These emails are great for discovering new books. And they help authors spread the word.
  • Free blog upgrade service:  If you have a website, you can get a WordPress blog installed for free, along with 10 free plugins.
  • Live events: In September the Club held its first live event, called Author Marketing Live. It was a fantastic event. About 150 authors attended, including some very successful Kindle authors in fiction and nonfiction.

This chart from the site outlines key features:

Author Marketing Club features

What Could Be Better

The value is there, and Kukral keeps improving and adding to it.  There are no major negatives to point out in this Author Marketing Club review.

As far as future improvements, it would help to have more author discussion and sense of community. There had been a forum, but it wasn’t very active. Currently it is being upgraded. There is a Facebook Page, and it has over 7,000 fans.  There’s also a private Facebook Group for those who attended the Live event in September.  But with so many places to find updates and community, it feels scattered.

Also, most of the advice is targeted toward Amazon and especially Kindle ebooks. Jim Kukral says that’s because Amazon is still the 800-pound gorilla. And that’s true.  Still, going forward it would be useful to see more tools for platforms like iTunes and Google Play.

Who Author Marketing Club Is Best For

Author Marketing Club is ideal for book authors who recognize that writing is not only a creative endeavor, but a business. According to founder Kukral, those who work at marketing their books, and who write more than one book, tend to have more success.

It is perfect for authors who are hands on and entrepreneurial do-it-yourselfers. In other words, if you’re the kind of author who not only writes, but wants to be actively involved in the editing and formatting of your book (at least at some level), the tools will be very valuable to you. If you want to take control of your success through marketing your book, Author Marketing Club will be perfect.

On the other hand, if you are the kind of author or aspiring author who prefers to send book proposals to traditional publishing companies, and not get involved with editing and formatting and uploading to Amazon, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But Author Marketing Club may not be as much help to you.

If you are an author who thinks you shouldn’t have to do any marketing because “a good book will sell itself,” then Author Marketing Club is not for you either. But remember, you’re not doing justice to a great book if readers can’t find it.  In today’s world you can’t leave book marketing to chance. It’s all about getting your master work found.

Take a look at the huge list of testimonials, from successful real authors, on the site.  See who uses and gets value out of Author Marketing Club. Would you like to be among authors like them someday?  Then Author Marketing Club will be great for you.


Amazon Echo: Fun, But Not Very Useful – Yet

Amazon Echo voice activated assistant



Echo is a fun gadget that doubles as an audio speaker and an automated assistant to handle small tasks. While promising, today it doesn’t do enough to be meaningful as a productivity tool.

How would you like to have your own administrative assistant to help you research information and compile simple lists?  All done hands-free by saying commands aloud?

And when you’re not assigning or asking things, how would you like an audio speaker that sounds good, so you can listen to music in the background as you work?

Interested? Then you’ll want to check out the new Amazon Echo.

We tapped into the expertise of Brent Leary, industry analyst, who got an early look at the Amazon Echo. He shared his thoughts for this review.

Key Amazon Echo Features

Amazon Echo is an exciting new device that in the future could change the way we interact with the environment around us.

Think of the Amazon Echo as a speaker that lets you listen to music — but one you can also talk to.  It answers questions and performs simple tasks such as creating shopping lists and to-do lists.

The Echo consists of two parts:

  • a combined speaker / microphone device, and
  • a software app.

The device is a cylinder-shaped speaker that stands upright. It’s 9.25 inches tall and just 3.27 inches across. The speaker is omnidirectional (it broadcasts out to all sides).

Around the top of it are seven microphones to pick up your voice from all directions.

Let’s say you want to know the weather. You simply address it by its name (“Alexa”) so it knows you are talking to it.

Say the word “Alexa.” Then ask something like, “What’s the weather in Atlanta?”

If the Echo is asleep, it will wake up. If it is playing music, it will stop and answer your question.

It can hear you across the room. Amazon calls this “far field voice recognition.”

Via your WiFi connection, it streams your request to the cloud where the Echo “brain” resides.

Within seconds, Alexa (equipped with a female voice) speaks the answers back to you — hands free.  The spoken answers also appear typed out in the app on your tablet or browser.

The Echo device works together with its cloud-based app connected to the Internet.  The app is what enables it to create a shopping list, for instance.  And it’s not just music you can add to your shopping list. You can add food, clothing or other items.  You can also create a to-do list.

The accompanying app can be used on the Kindle Fire, Android devices, and browsers.  You can use the app even when you’re away from the speaker device.

Amazon Echo app


The Amazon Echo is innovative and has a lot of positives going for it:

  • Echo is simple to set up.
  • Its voice recognition is good. You can speak naturally and it still picks up your commands.
  • Alexa’s speech sounds natural — not like a robot.
  • The speaker delivers nice sound output. With Bluetooth you can connect tablets and phones and listen to music services such as Pandora and Spotify through the speaker.
  • It comes with Amazon Prime and TuneIn integrated already.
  • It is relatively inexpensive.  It runs $199, but Amazon Prime subscribers get it for just $99 currently.


The biggest downside with the Amazon Echo is its limited usefulness — so far. Today, it’s really more of a consumer entertainment gadget that’s not all that useful for productivity:

  • For small businesspeople looking for personal productivity tools, it is likely to disappoint. Today, it’s limited mainly to looking up facts you can find online and creating simple lists.
  • It handles easy questions well, such as math calculations or queries about straight-forward facts. However, as the video below demonstrates, it can get stumped. Sometimes one word in the question makes a difference.
  • It would be nice if it were tied into recommendation engines like Yelp to get answers to questions about things like “best pizza places,” for example.
  • It would be nice to integrate music services like Spotify. While you can play tunes from Spotify over the speaker via Bluetooth, you can’t give Echo voice commands to play songs from your Spotify account.
  • Used as a speaker, it certainly has decent quality. But it’s not the best speaker on the market. High-end audiophiles will demand more.

Who Amazon Echo Is Best For

The Echo is for early adopters who love to be the first in their circles to try new devices. If you like experimenting with innovative gadgets, you’ll love the Echo.

And if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll especially like it because of the great introductory price. The following video by Brent Leary shows the Echo in action.

Amazon Echo shows exciting promise as a personal entertainment device / personal assistant.

But right now it is limited. Mainly you can use it as a speaker for cloud-based music and video sound. You use it to answer simple questions and create lists.

Echo doesn’t do much more than that — yet.

Amazon says more services and functions are coming. That may be quite soon, given that the device is tied to a cloud app that Amazon can easily update. Right now, though, it is not full-featured enough to be a productivity tool for your business (or for you personally).

Our star rating gives Amazon the benefit of the doubt that it actually will follow through with more services and smarts via the cloud.

Echo is one of those devices that, if we look back a few years from now, we may wonder how we lived without it. Echo is ahead of its time.


Added Value Makes Dasheroo a Different Kind of Business Dashboard




Though still in it’s beta stage, Dasheroo offers unique value above and beyond more traditional business dashboard solutions. Factor in the fact that it’s free (freemium pricing is in the future) and Dasheroo may just become the most useful small business tool ever.

One of the most critical tasks of any small business owner is keeping an eye on the business’ vital signs such as sales and leads numbers, marketing campaign performance, inventory levels and so on. Unfortunately, gathering and analyzing this data is a time consuming task and time is something that’s always in short supply.

Enter the business dashboard. Dashboard solutions will gather your business data automatically, merge the data from all your sources into one solid whole and then present very useful, easy-to-understand reports. What a time saver!

Time was definitely the driver behind the creation of the latest dashboard to arrive on the scene, Dasheroo.

“I was working with a team that needed a unified view of the business’ vitals,” Dasheroo co-founder John Hingley tells Small Business Trends. “We found that the required data gathering and analysis was eating into more and more of the team’s time. We had to find a better way to get the reports we needed.”

Hingley soon realized that the answer lay in a business dashboard, but he wasn’t satisfied with the solutions available.

“I discovered that there was a big learning curve for each solution,” says Hingley. “In addition, you often had to wait a full day for your data to update.” Thus Dasheroo was born.

This Dasheroo review explains more.

Providing Valuable Insights

From the start, the team at Dasheroo wanted to create an easy-to-use solution that added value above and beyond simply reporting the numbers. The value they focused on became “insights”.

Hingley explains, “Out of the box, other dashboard solutions present one or at most two data points per widget. This led to an overwhelming amount of widgets that became noise rather than insights. We offer insights right from the start.”

The first step in providing insight was to consolidate different data into one useful view. You can see an example of this in Dasheroo’s Facebook insight shown below.

dasheroo review

As you can see, all relevant data from Facebook is shown within one preconfigured dashboard insight. This allows you to look at your data across several days to identify trends. Note the handy “Day” and “Week” values. They provide a quick view of how your results are trending.

But that’s not where the insights end. Dasheroo enables you to drill down into each data point by simply clicking on its name. For example, when clicking on “Reach”, the following screen appears showing not only the data in more detail, but also explaining what data is being looked at:

dasheroo review

This is just the tip of the insights iceberg for Dasheroo. Future plans include curated sets of pre-created insights within and across apps. (One example might be how many leads in resulted from a traffic spike on your blog?) These prefab insights will be created by Dasheroo and shared with the Dasheroo community by fellow users.

Another future plan calls for prefab dashboards based on role of the person using them (e.g. CEO, CFO, Social Media Manger). These template set-ups are supposed to both save time and help dashboard novices get up to speed more quickly on the insights that would be most useful to them.

Also coming, the company says, are alerts that are expected to take action when specific thresholds are reached. The feature, if it lives up to claims, could be real lifesaver in some situations.

Lastly, a big priority of Dasheroo’s are recommendations — a feature that is expected to take insights to a whole different level by offering real business advice when your data takes a turn for the worse.

Team Collaboration Adds to Insights

Another outstanding feature of Dasheroo is the team discussion feature. As you can see below, collaboration is enabled both within and across teams, leading to a more nimble and effective organization.

dasheroo review

Seeing this functionality may bring security to mind, but Dasheroo has got you covered there as well. Today, you can show or hide dashboards based on organization. This could make Dasheroo a great tool for agencies or consultants that want to provide access to their different clients, but not necessarily let everyone see everything. In the future, the company says there are plans to add access control at the insight level both within and outside of a business.

Growing Pains

The downside of Dasheroo is that it’s just so new. Existing dashboard solutions offer connectivity with a lot more online apps and solutions, making Dasheroo’s stable of eight connections feel mighty lonely.

Of course, no company can avoid the “toddler” stage, and Dasheroo seems to be growing up as quickly as it can. Their public launch is slated for Q1, 2015 by which time the team behind Dasheroo says they hope to have a much larger set of connections in place.

For a newbie company, they have a fairly active community already, a good sign for the future. Of course, it helps that Dasheroo listens and acts on the community’s suggestions, and the ability to shape the tool according to your needs is one plus to getting on the Dasheroo bandwagon early.

The Bottom Line

Growing pains aside, the real value of Dasheroo lies not in what it lacks, but in what it has built and continues to build: a curated dashboard chock full of prefab insights that will do more than just show your business’ vitals.  It helps you figure out what those numbers mean and how to make the best use of what you learn.

That’s just the thing for small business owners in need of more actionable information.

Images: Dasheroo

[“source-smallbiztrends”] Hypertargets Social Media Relevant to Your Business

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Usefulness to Small Business (1 – 100):
Functionality (1 – 100):
Price (1 – 100):


Until recently, the time, effort and money required kept most small businesses from implementing hypertargeting. That changed with the introduction of Leads by, a tool that enables you to offer each client and customer what they want, when and where they want it.

Imagine the perfect sales pitch; one that offers each and every potential client and customer what they want, when and where they want it. Called “hypertargeting”, the ability to offer the perfect sales pitch has long been the holy grail of marketers.

Until recently however, the time, effort and money needed to implement hypertargeting kept the strategy in the realm of science fiction, especially for small businesses (in fact, if you’ve seen the science fiction movie, “Minority Report”, you saw hypertargeting in action). That all changed with the public launch of Leads by in December of 2014.

A mere month or so later, claims that Leads has, “generated over 10 million business leads since launching” and that, “Businesses using the tool are seeing a 30 percent increase in click-through-rate, and a 25 percent increase in social media followers, enabling them to increase the number of leads they can convert to traffic, sales, or engagement.”

Sounds intriguing, eh? Let’s take a closer look.

Target the Right Audience

To start working with Leads, you need to create one or more “audiences”. As you can see below, an audience can be created using a hashtag, a location or an event. Leads will use these audiences to target potential clients and customers for your business. Leads Audience Types

Here’s how lead targeting works for each type of audience:

Creating an Audience Using Hashtag Targeting

Hashtag targeting enables you to identify leads based on their use of social media hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The leads identified are folks who have used the particular hashtag in their own social media updates and thus may have an interest in the topic.

In this example, a crafts business may wish to target folks who are interested in upcycled products because they make those types of crafts. Leads Creating a Hashtag Audience

Creating an Audience Using Location Targeting

Location targeting enables you to identify leads based on where a social media update is made. This is made possible by the fact that Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can each capture a user’s location when an update is posted.

In this example, a hotel right near O’Hare airport may wish to target people who are in the airport. Leads Creating a Location Audience

Creating an Audience Using Event Targeting

As with location targeting, event targeting enables you to identify leads based on where a social media update is made. However, in the case of event targeting, a time span is specified as well.

In this example, a sports memorabilia vendor may wish to target folks who attended a Yankees game on August 17, 2014 from 4:30pm to 10:30pm. Leads Creating an Event Audience

You’ve Got Leads

Once an audience has been created, Leads begins to scan all the updates on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Based on the type of targeting used for each audience, Leads will add matching folks to your list and presto, you’ve got leads. Leads Leads

Why Was This Lead Added?

For example, I created an audience that targeted leads using the hashtag #smallbusiness. Based on that, Elance was identified as one of my leads. Why? As you can see below, they used the hashtag #smallbusiness in one of their Twitter updates. If I want to dig a bit deeper, I can click on the “a photo” link and a media viewer window pops open to show me the specific update. Leads View Lead Reason

Engage Your Leads

Now that I have a list of leads, I want to use social media to engage each one directly. Using Leads, this can be done either automatically or manually.

As shown in the example below, there are three actions that Leads can automatically take on your behalf to engage your leads. Here’s a quick chart of those actions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook:

Twitter Instagram Facebook
“Favorite” a tweet “Love” an image “Like” a post
“Follow” a user “Follow” a user “Like” a user or business
Make an “Offer” Make an “Offer” Make an “Offer”

If you’re uncomfortable with automated actions, you can turn off automation and engage each lead manually. While that may help you target your engagement a bit better, it can be a time-consuming effort.

Action History

As you can see in the image below, Leads tracks the actions it takes on your behalf directly on each lead’s listing. Leads Action History

For an overall view of activity, Leads includes basic reporting functionality as shown in this example: Leads Statistics

Make an Offer

Now, here comes the magic. Leads enables me to set up hypertargeted sales pitches by audience that I can offer to each lead. Here’s how that looks in action: Leads Offer Management


Leads enables your business to reach out and target folks who are more likely to purchase your products and/or services. The value of this hypertargeting approach cannot be overstated. The added ability to automate is the cherry on top of the sundae.


While Leads’ targeting methods are effective, there’s still a ways to go. As targeting stands today, there are a lot of assumptions being made. Take my #upcycling audience above for example — I will get leads who are interested in upcycled products, but a number of them will be competing businesses. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to those folks, but it seems a bit odd to say the least.

The Leads platform itself is a bit clunky at present. I experienced considerable issues working with the tool until I switched browsers from Firefox to Chrome at which point it worked fine. However, there was no help documentation noting that Chrome might be a better choice.

In fact, there was no help documentation at all.

Hopefully these bumps are just a sign of a young product with room for lots of improvement. If things don’t improve soon however, the future of Leads may be uncertain.

Final Word

While Leads can be a powerful asset to your business, the tool is still experiencing some growing pains. That’s not a deal killer however, and with a little patience, you just may find Leads to be the heaviest hitter in your online marketing toolbox.


More in: Content Marketing, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter


With BigPicture, Spreadsheets Come to Life with Visuals

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BigPicture combines the power of Excel to manipulate numbers and play all sorts of “what if?” scenarios and reporting set-ups with automatically created, easy-to-understand images. You’re gonna’ wonder how you ever lived without it.

Being introduced to BigPicture is like peeling an onion – there are a lot of layers inside, each one adding depth and functionality to this new Excel add-on.

While you may not love onions (or onion metaphors), by the time you reach the center of BigPicture, you’re going to wonder how you ever lived without it.

BigPicture was created by Palisade, a maker of risk and decision analysis tools, most of which live in Excel, for more than 30 years. Until now, Palisade’s products have been very quantitative in nature, running piles of data through different types of simulations to answer real-world business questions such as, “How likely are we to lose money on this new venture?” or “What factors will contribute to our success the most?”

BigPicture is a different beast all together. Driven by two marketplace needs, BigPicture offers the ability to analyze business questions in a qualitative manner and the ability to visually show quantitative results in a visual, easy-to-understand way.

That may not sound very interesting, but I can assure you that a description alone barely scratches the surface of BigPicture’s potential. That’s why I called the folks over at Palisade and had them walk me through their tool’s paces. I was blown away.

Let’s start peeling this onion so you can see all the goodies inside layer-by-layer.

Layer 1: Answering Business Questions Using a Mindmap

Mind mapping is an approach that enables you to visually organize information in a way that shows the relationships between different pieces of data.

For example, the mind map below was created to qualitatively answer the hypothetical question, “Where in Africa should I build my manufacturing plant?” Using location as a starting point, the map goes on to show both the business and personal advantages and disadvantages of building a plant in each location.

Laying the decision out this way enables you, and anyone else who views your mind map, to quickly see which location has the most upsides and the least downsides making it the most likely spot to select. In this way, BigPicture has helped us make a business decision based on a qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, approach.

BigPicture Mind Map

While qualitative mind mapping is useful (I use this approach often myself), I asked the Palisade team why I would want to do it in Excel.

That’s when things got funky.

Layer 2: Mind Mapping Dynamically on Top of Excel Data

BigPicture enables you to dynamically create and update easy-to-understand mind maps on top of data entered into Excel worksheets.

Let me take a deep breath here so I can yell, “Squeeee!!!!”

Why am I so excited? Because BigPicture combines the power of Excel to manipulate numbers and play all sorts of “what if?” scenarios and reporting set-ups with automatically created, easy-to-understand images.

The possibilities are endless. In fact, I kept the super-nice folks at Palisade on our web meeting running use-case after use-case well beyond the time it was supposed to end – sorry again guys!

Let me show you why.

Layer 2.1: Building a Super-Flexible Visual Sales Report

The Palisade team next showed me the sales spreadsheet you see below:

BigPicture Sales Spreadsheet

Then, using BigPicture, they built a data map. Before moving onto the photos, I was shown the following two set-up screens:

The first set-up screen let us select the columns to include in our data map. The order in which they were entered defines the relationships within the resulting data map – in this case “country” is in “category” which is in “region” which is in “year”.

BigPicture Sales Heirarchy

The second set-up screen let us select which of the numeric columns to include. What’s really neat about this is that third column that automatically “rolls-up” a particular number, in this case “profit” as it moves up the relationship chain.

BigPicture Sales Rollups

Let’s click “Create Map” to see how this looks:

BigPicture Sales Data Map

As you can see, the data map was built to our specifications – “country” is in “category” which is in “region” which is in “year”. As configured, the profit numbers are rolled up starting in country all the way through year.

When it comes to reporting, this visual data map is far superior to a spreadsheet. Most folks don’t need all that underlying data and that’s the true power of BigPicture – it turns reams of numbers into easy-to-absorb visual reports.

However, I didn’t like the table pop-up that showed “country” data when a category was clicked on – not visual enough. So I asked if the country data could be visual as well.

It took one quick hop back to the set-up screens to set profit as a topic as opposed to a table:

BigPicture Sales Table Settings

and the result is as you see below:

BigPicture Sales Data Map - No Table

All this power and it was quick and easy to use.

Layer 2.2: Building a Dashboard

That’s when Palisade showed me something really cool. If you change the underlying data in Excel, the data map automatically updates itself.

My mind started to spin with possibilities. What if you put the spreadsheet on your company’s server and displayed the map on one public monitor in each office all around the world? Then, when the central spreadsheet was updated, the data maps would update also.

Now you have a dashboard. Want to see which region is most profitable? Just look at the monitor and it’s displayed to all.

Layer 2.3: Building an Automatically Updated Dashboard

Then I though, “What if you used Excel’s ability to hook into external sources of data so that the spreadsheet is updated automatically?” Turns out that this is no problem.

Now you have a dashboard that updates itself as, for example, sales are recorded in your centralized database.


Layer 2.4: Building an Automatically Updated Dashboard with Warnings

I thought I’d seen it all, but then the team at Palisade showed me I was wrong when they demonstrated, as seen below, how you could use Excel’s conditional cell formatting rules to change a data map when a threshold is crossed.

Now you have an automatically updated dashboard that can warn you is something bad is happening like inventory dropping below a certain amount. That’s powerful stuff right there.

BigPicture Conditional Images

Layer 3: Building an Org Chart with Super-Flexible Reporting

As with many mind-mapping tools, you can also use BigPicture to create an org chart, but the similarities end there thanks to the ability to use Excel data to create the image.

You start with an employee spreadsheet:

BigPicture Employee Spreadsheet

Then you set up the relationship hierarchy between employees:

BigPicture Employee Relationship Settings

Click “Create Chart” and viola, you have an org chart:

BigPicture Org Chart

Where do the images come from? Glad you asked! You use yet another settings panel to configure the images:

BigPicture Org Chart Photos

Wanna’ know more about an employee? Just click on the org chart. As you can see, BigPicture is using the rollup functionality mentioned earlier to sum up the number of people under James as well as their salaries. Neat, eh?

BigPicture Employee Details

The numbers next to each person are pulled from the “Employee Performance Rank” column. An image is used for each number which is set up in yet another panel:

BigPicture Employee Markers

And finally, if you don’t like org charts, you can just as easily create a report like this one:

BigPicture Employee Report


I could go on and on (BigPicture even lets you create data maps that can be viewed as a slide show with narrative along the way), but I need to wrap up this review. If you want to learn more, you can play with it for free right now.

That’s right, while it’s still in beta, you can download the add-on for free (for now) from Palisade’s site(BigPicture works with Excel versions 2007 and later – sorry Mac users, it’s PC only). One big advantage to beta is that the company is looking for feedback so you can really help shape the product as it moves closer to official release.

When BigPicture comes out of beta (likely late spring, 2015), the cost will be an easily affordable $15 per co-current seat (meaning more than one person can use the tool, but only as many folks at one time as seats you own).

With its deeply flexible features and functionality, as well as an ever growing set of documentation and videos, BigPicture is the one tool you don’t want to overlook in 2015.

Image: Palisade


Financeit Lets Small Businesses Offer Consumer Financing

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If you’ve been itching to offer financing to your customers, the free, low-risk and easy-to-use online solution Financeit just may be your key to better close rates and bigger transactions.

If consumer financing is at the top of your “confusing topics I wish I understood better so I could increase my bottom-line” list, then the online consumer financing solution Financeit is here to help.

Let me be up front here: to the ever-lasting frustration of my father (the accountant), finance is not my thing. However, when I sat down with Daniel Mayne, the Director of Customer Service at Financeit, I got it and that means it doesn’t get any easier than this.

Financeit Overview

Introduced to the U.S. in October 2014, Canadian-based Financeit offers an impressive, step-by-step yet flexible solution that enables small businesses to offer financing (i.e. loans) to customers when they’re making a purchase (e.g. buying a couch and paying it off over time).

On the whole, consumer financing is a very good thing — it can lead to better close rates and bigger transactions for your business. Until now however, there have been few solutions that cater to small business with low numbers of loan transactions. Financeit aims to fill that niche.

“Larger lenders want lots of transactions,” Mayne explained. “Financeit is ok if you only do one loan a year.”

Financeit breaks its offering into four business verticals: retail, auto, home improvement and health. With minimums as low as $500 for the retail vertical and $1,000 for the home improvement vertical, it’s clear that the service caters to small businesses.

Businesses that use the solution are called “Partners” and Financeit is committed to training and serving its partners well. This is apparent in its newly launched help area.

“We believe in giving everyone the tools necessary to succeed, ” said Mayne. “From 1-to-1 training to videos and webinars, we focus strongly on partner support.”

While service is a big plus, the most compelling arguments for becoming a Financeit partner are the low cost and risk levels.

On the cost side, unless a business offers special terms (e.g. 0 percent interest rate for 12 months), the solution is free to use. If a partner does offer special promotional terms, a flat, one-time administration fee is charged up-front.

Once a loan is approved and a purchase made, a partner receives payment within three business days. That’s it, end of story. No chasing after payments, no penalties to the business if a consumer defaults. Now, that’s the definition of low-risk.

As Financeit earns its money from the interest charged to the consumer, it provides full servicing of the loan, end-to-end. Despite this, Financeit is always sensitive to the reputation of its partner businesses.

As Mayne explained, “We always strive to provide good customer service throughout the loan payment process so the seller continues to be seen in a good light.”

Key Features

The core of Financeit is the consumer application and approval process. It all starts with the customizable application form you see here:


Once the form is ready to go, a partner can either e-mail a link to the form to a customer (which they can access via a mobile device right in the store), post a link to the form on their website (using images like the ones below) or enable a customer to start their application process right in the store using a desktop or mobile device.

Financeit review

Once a customer clicks on the link, they’re taken to the application form:

Financeit review

After the form is submitted and a conditional approval is in place (which happens in seconds), both the merchant and customer see a screen like the one below:


The customer is then prompted to head into the store (if they’re not already there) to continue the loan application process.

On the partner end, they are shown the step-by-step loan approval screen (note the handy steps on the left):

Financeit review

It’s important to note that while the loan requested was $5,000, the amount approved was up to $10,000. This is worth highlighting because this is where a business can up-sell a customer with related products or even something completely different. The more they upsell, the bigger the final transaction price will be.

This wiggle room on the loan is one of the most positive benefits of using Financeit!

During the next step, the partner uses a photo ID of some type to identify the customer:

Financeit review

Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to sign the loan agreement, something that can be done on real paper or, as you can see below, via digital signature.

Financeit review

Financeit review

The final step before the loan process to complete is a manual review by Financeit’s underwriting team. This can happen quickly — if it’s during business hours and the form was digitally signed — and approval can take as little as two minutes!

Financeit review

Finally, as shown below, the process is complete. The customer goes home with their purchase(s) and the merchant partner is paid within three days.

Financeit review

Don’t you just love a happy ending?

The One Bit of Bad News

If you’re super excited to try Financeit out for your own business, I’m sorry to tell you that there may be a wait.

Thanks to pending approvals, the solution is only available to businesses in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida currently.

Financeit is adding more states as quickly as possible (you can use the, “Become a partner today!” information request form at the bottom of their home page to see if your state has been added) so hopefully your wait, if you have one, will not be long.


If you’ve been itching to offer financing to your customers, the free, low-risk and easy-to-use online solution Financeit just may be your key to better close rates and bigger transactions. The company rates highly in customer service, too.

All-in-all, whether you’re a finance whiz kid or a bit financially challenged like me, Financeit is going to change the way you do business and your bottom line will love you for giving it a try.

Images: Financeit


Are You Backing Up WordPress? You’d Better Be

final backup

If your small business is backing up WordPress only once in a while, then you’re not alone.

In fact, a survey of 503 WordPress users released March 10 by CodeGuard, a provider of cloud-based website backup services, reveals that 47 percent of WordPress users backup their sites every few months while 21 percent back up WordPress “occasionally”.

This is not a good thing. According to CodeGuard’s report, backing up your WordPress website “is generally accepted to be the easiest and most cost-effective form of protection against WordPress failure.”

Yep, WordPress failures happen, and not having a recent backup on hand can really hinder recovery efforts:

Updates Can Break WordPress

When you update WordPress, remember that:

“Installing major updates…may break your website until the broken plugin, theme or custom code is updated.”

CodeGuard’s survey results bring the reality of that scenario home:

  • “21 percent have seen the ‘white screen of death’ (i.e. WordPress update failure) multiple times, and it’s horrible!”
  • “69 percent have had a plugin fail after an update, and 24 percent have had it happen ‘many times’”

Without a recent backup, recovering from a WordPress update failure can be painful. Why?

WordPress updates can, and do, occur often (even weekly) meaning that a backup taken even one month ago can be out of date. This could require many manual updates of both the core system, plugins, themes and custom code to catch your site up after it breaks.

Cyber Attacks

Websites are always vulnerable to cyber attacks, even those of small businesses. Global security company Symantec notes that in 2013, small businesses were targeted in 30 percent of all cyber attacks. The company explained that:

“Hackers use a small business as a stepping stone to get to a big business.”

Cyber attacks target your most sensitive data, customer and transaction records, and in the act of stealing your information and covering their tracks, your website can be severely damaged.

The lack of a recent backup can result in the loss of days, weeks or months of business (depending on how old the available backup is) even after recovery is complete.

Accidental File Deletion

Even folks skilled in WordPress can accidentally delete website files. However, the odds of doing do so are much higher for those who have not been trained. Unfortunately, as pointed out in CodeGuard’s survey report, that’s a lot of WordPress users:

  • 25 percent have received “very little training” in the use of WordPress while only 23 percent have received extensive training (leaving 53 percent of folks with training that falls anywhere between “very little” and extensive); and
  • 22 percent haven’t been trained at all in WordPress backup and have “no idea” how to do it while only 32 percent have received extensive training (leaving 46 percent of folks with training on backup that falls anywhere between “very little” and extensive).

This lack of training, as well as Murphy’s Law, has lead to this ugly statistic included in the report: 63 percent have deleted files that were not backed up.

Ouch! Without a recent backup, can you get those files back? The answer is: Yes, but very painfully.

What Should You Do Next?

All is not gloom and doom. As CodeGuard’s report notes, “Cloud-based services (for backing up) can cost as little as $5 per month, and most don’t require that the user have any technical expertise whatsoever.”

Unfortunately, CodeGuard’s report also notes that, “only 24 percent use a website backup plugin”. If you’re part of the remaining 76 percent, then choose a solution for backing up your WordPress website from the list we’ve gathered for you below. Any one of these can be used for backing up WordPress automatically. And they do not require extensive technical know-how. And some provide useful security features too.

Solutions for Backing Up WordPress


As you might have expected from the survey report, CodeGuard does provide a backup solution for WordPress websites, and at a reasonable price as well. They also monitor your site for changes and then email you with a report every day.

Backing Up WordPress


VaultPress provides both backups and security for your WordPress site with an easy-to-navigate up-to-date dashboard.

Backing Up WordPress

iThemes BackupBuddy and Security Pro

When it comes to backups, iThemes has long been known for their solid BackupBuddy solution. Now you can add security to backups as well using their robust (see the sample listing below) Security Pro offering.

Backing Up WordPress


BlogVault does one thing: backup WordPress sites. It has its own dashboard for you to manage backups and restores and even provides test servers where you can restore a backup to assure it’s the one you want to use to restore your live site.

Backing Up WordPress


Another all-in-one backup and security solution, Fortwave offers tons of features at a reasonable price.

Backing Up WordPress


If you have more than one WordPress site, then you’re going to love ManageWP, a solution that enables you to manage all your sites, including backups, in one place. Throw in security, live monitoring and alerts and optimization and even folks with one site will want to give this solution a look.

Backing Up WordPress


Another backup-only solution, myRepono requires a bit more technical know-how however, the prices are super-reasonable.

Backing Up WordPress


While you may not realize the downsides of failing to back up WordPress regularly, it only takes one incident to demonstrate how important it can be.

Here are two more statistics from CodeGuard’s survey to consider:

  • 24 percent of those talking about their WordPress site said “This site is my livelihood, I’d pay almost anything for a complete restore,” while 19 percent said they’d be willing to spend several thousand dollars, at least.

How much will not backing up WordPress cost you?

Taillights Photo via Shutterstock

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Is WordPress Really the Best Site Builder for Small Businesses?

wordpress hand



Thanks to its flexibility and low price, WordPress really is the best site builder for small businesses. That said, there are other options and in certain circumstances, they can be a better choice when building your site.

If you’ve ever wondered what market domination looked like, here it is:

  • 60.4 percent of all the current websites online built using site builders were built using WordPress.
  • 23.8 percent of all the current websites online were built using WordPress.
  • The numbers for second place – 2.8 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

Given these statistics, you may draw the conclusion that WordPress is the best thing since sliced bread. However, is WordPress really the best site builder for small business? Let’s find out.

In the Beginning

Built for blogging, WordPress has remained true to its roots. The functions and features of a new WordPress site all support one purpose: a well designed, search engine-friendly blogging platform complete with content categorization and tagging, link management, and comments.

WordPress has always been, and continues to be, an open source product, a fact that leads to two results: it’s mostly free and a diverse set of talented developers can contribute code to enhance the features, functionality, and design of the solution.

And contribute they have. Over time, WordPress plugins have added everything from eCommerce to communities and online support to the platform while themes created by award-winning graphic artists have catapulted the site builder to the forefront of design.

Yes, WordPress is the bomb, and we haven’t even gotten to the topic that makes it the best site builder for small business.

WordPress Gives Small Businesses Room to Grow

WordPress comes in two flavors, hosted and self-hosted. Both versions have their advantages and disadvantages. However, taken together they offer small small businesses a platform that can grow as their needs do. Let’s take a look at how this works.

Hosted WordPress — The Place for Small Business to Start

When a small business is launched, getting a website up-and-running is just one of the many, many tasks on the to-do list. Unless the business depends on site sales for its income (in which case, move on to the “Self-Hosted” section below), the website will likely serve as a marketing tool and not require much beyond the out-of-the-box WordPress blogging functionality.

That’s why the ideal site builder for a small business to start with is the hosted version of WordPress over at Not only is a hosted WordPress site free, its technical side is completely managed by the WordPress team, removing all the headaches of maintaining your own website.

All you need to do is select a design and add content. That’s easy to do with the hosted version of WordPress’ useful set of features:

Best Site Builder for Small Business

When it’s time to boost the design and functionality of your site, or if you want to do it right out of the box, you can retain your hassle-free hosted website by upgrading to one of two packages:

  1. Premium – This package includes a bunch of goodies such as your own “WordPress branding free” domain name, more storage, no ads and more customization options. All that is for $99 per year.
  2. Business – This $299 per year package gives you access to every feature that the hosted version of WordPress offers from the use of all their premium themes to unlimited storage, better support, and even eCommerce functionality.

At any level, the hosted version of WordPress is a great choice for small businesses simply for the peace-of-mind provided by the fact that a trusted partner is managing the technical end of their website. Many small businesses continue to use the hosted version of WordPress forever and as long as it meets their needs, that’s just fine.

For other small businesses however, the hosted version of WordPress is too restrictive, either from the start or as the business grows. You see, while it’s handy to have the technical end of your website managed by someone else, it means that you can’t touch that side of your site:

  • You can’t use an outside theme or play directly with the look and feel of your website.
  • You can’t add functionality to your website using a plugin that’s not part of the very limited collection available to you at
  • You can’t create customized functionality unique to your site by changing any of, or adding to, the code that runs your website.

If the hosted version of WordPress becomes too restrictive, or if it is from the get-go, then it’s time for the self-hosted version to come into play.

Self-Hosted WordPress — Complete Freedom (for a price)

The self-hosted version of WordPress is available for free over at Most website hosting companies offer the tools that make installing a self-hosted version of WordPress just as easy as it is over at

More importantly, if your website has outgrown the hosted version of WordPress, the solution itself has tools that will help you migrate to your new self-hosted version. That makes the decision to move, as well as the work itself, much easier.

When you build your site using the self-hosted version of WordPress, there are very few limits to what you can do. You can:

  • Spruce up your site using one of the thousands of premium WordPress themes available online,
  • Add oodles of features and functionality using one of the more than 36,000 plugins available over at, and
  • Add and modify the code any way you want as long as you follow the guidelines.

Unfortunately, with great power comes great responsibility. When you build your site using the self-hosted version of WordPress, there’s no trusted partner in place to manage the technical side of your website from troubleshooting any problems that may arise to the frequent WordPress updates, individual plugin updatesand WordPress backups.

If you’re planning to hire someone, whether internally or externally, to help you manage the technical side of a self-hosted WordPress site, you may end up spending more than you’d like.

If you’re not planning to hire someone to help, the price you pay is the steep learning curve ahead of you. WordPress may be user-friendly and there may be many useful free resources online, but there’s still a lot to learn if you want to take the self-hosted version route, especially if you’re planning to manage most of the technical side of your site yourself.

The Competition

Thanks to its flexibility and low price, WordPress is really the best site builder for small business. That said, there are other options and in certain circumstances, they can be a better choice when building your site.

Other Content Management Systems

At its core, WordPress is a content management system, one of many available for building your website. Unlike it’s closest competitors Joomla, Drupal and Blogger however, WordPress developers seem to have mastered the critical balance between powerful functionality and ease-of-use.

And that applies not just to developers who maintain and upgrade the software itself. It also applies to the independent developers who create the many plug-ins and other enhancements made possible with the platform’s open source design. The robust developer community is a testament that the folks behind WordPress are committed to the open source values of contribution and inclusion, values that have paid off for the platform many times over.

Specialty Site Builders

While the flexibility of WordPress enables a small business to build any type of website, sometimes the time and effort is not worth the end result.

One example is large eCommerce websites. If you’re building a site that will serve as a storefront with many, many products and product categories, you’re probably better off going with a robust eCommerce solution such as Bigcommerce or Volusion rather than pulling a site together using WordPress and an eCommerce plugin.

Other feature-rich industry-specific site builders that may have WordPress beat for their particular niche are Big Cartel for artists, Happytables for restaurants and Hotel Genius for hotels.


But when it comes to selecting a feature-rich, affordable site builder for most small business, WordPress is one of the best choices you can make.

Learning to make the most of WordPress can be challenging. So make sure you know all the facts before you make your decision.

WordPress Photo via Shutterstock

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Need an Online Training Solution? Try Traind




With functionality for training your staff and clients already in place Traind is ready for action. Add the ability to charge per course coming in 2-3 months and Traind may well become the complete online training solution your business needs.

Good training can be a critical success factor for your business.

Training your staff leads to consistency and efficiency, both of which can lower costs. It enables your clients to make use of the systems and processes you’ve put in place, leading to long-term customer success and satisfaction.

Training also uses your expertise to create and sell access to standalone classes can provide additional revenue while also boosting your business’ authority as an expert.

While there are online training solutions for all three types of training listed above, it’s been hard to find one that can support them all.

Until Traind that is.

Traind Overview

Traind is a new offering from Alchemy Learning that enables businesses to create a custom online academy in minutes. The solution is a natural extension from Alchemy Learning’s work with educational institutions and is a smart growth strategy for the company/

Even though Traind is young, it already offers a solid set of easy-to-use features. In addition, the company is already planning many future enhancement aimed to please their growing pool of early adopters.

Currently, Traind can support the first two types of training:

  1. Training your staff; and
  2. Training your clients.

Let’s take a closer look under the hood at what Traind offers today:

Key Features

What You See Is What You Get Lesson Builder

Traind’s lesson builder makes it easy to add content from media of any type including text, images, files videos and secure web resources.

traind review online training service

You’ll also find interactive features including mastery questions (that are tracked as the student progresses to give them a lesson score), hot spots on images (see example images below) and feedback prompts for correct or incorrect questions.

traind review online training service

Adding a hotspot to an image is easy: the spot where you leave the drag-and-drop red dot is the hot spot.

traind review online training service

Students see the pop-up text when they point to the hotspot with their cursor.

Modular Lesson Design

In your course builder page every lesson slide and lesson is modular, so you can drag-and-drop to change order or remove just one slide from the lesson for editing.

traind review online training service

Personalized Academy Page

As you can see below, all of your lessons are published and displayed within your own custom branded academy (more on branding next).

traind review online training service

Customized Branding

Customization options for your academy include color scheme, logo, “about us” text, and font:

traind review online training service

Responsive Design

Every page on the academy is designed to be responsive meaning they’ll look as good on your student’s mobile devices as they do on their desktops.

traind review online training service


When a learner completes a lesson, you get an instant update with their total mastery score as well as the option to grade any non-structured “field” questions.

traind review online training service

User Management

As the academy administrator, you can easily add new managers to the course creation process and learners to your courses by sending them links as shown below.

traind review online training service

Though this is a manual process today, an automated version is on the way (more on this below).

Course-Level Access

Courses can be set to three different access levels:

  • Private – if you’re not ready to share the course yet;
  • Public – the course is open to all your learners; and
  • Restricted –only a select subset of your learners can take the course.

traind review online training service

Restricted access will be key when Traind adds the functionality to offer individual courses for pay/once the feature is added, folks who pay to sign up for a course will automatically (here’s the automation mentioned above) be added to the list of students who can access its lessons.

Almost There

As mentioned above, Traind currently supports the first two types of training:

  1. Training your staff; and
  2. Training your clients.

The third type of training, offering stand-alone courses to which students can buy access, is still 2-3 months away for Traind.

Once the “pay for course access” feature is in place, Traind will become a full-service training solution that’s worth a close look.


Currently, Traind offers varying fee levels based on the number of “learners” (i.e. students) you plan to have.

When the “pay for course access” feature is in place, Traind will also offer plans that capture a percentage of each course sale.

Also in the works – blended plans that combine the fee and percentage models together.

Traind does offer a free two-week trial so go ahead and take it out for a drive.


If you need an online training solution, try Traind.

Traind is easy-to-use, has a clean look, responsive design and a growing set of robust features. The key word there is ‘growing’ – Traind is a young product and, as with many early adopters, if you sign up now, you’ll likely be able to influence the direction of the solution to support your own needs.

With functionality for training your staff and clients already in place Traind is ready for action. Add the ability to charge per course coming in 2-3 months and Traind may well become the complete online training solution your business needs.

Image: Traind


Is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 a Good Match for Small Businesses?

note 4



Within the Galaxy Note series, the S Pen is still its main selling point. The line includes the Galaxy Note 8.0 mini tablet and the Galaxy Note Edge smartphone. This time around, a few software enhancements have been introduced to the S Pen, some good and some not so good. Shop around a little and you can easily find lower-priced phablets from reputable brands.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 S Pen is still the defining utility hardware within the entire Note line. This time around, a few software enhancements have been introduced.

Key Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Features

Features of the Galaxy Note 4 include the S Pen, a 5.7-inch 1440 x 2560-pixel Quad HD Super AMOLED display, a wide-angle 3.7-megapixel front camera, an Exynos 5433 8-core system chip and Android 4.4 OS, Google apps, 32GB storage, 3GB RAM, multi-window feature for multi-tasking.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Pros

Taking screenshots via the S Pen is extremely helpful. To do this, hover the S Pen close to the screen, click the button that’s on the pen, then select the last choice on the wheel.

That’s simple enough but these steps take a little practice. The choice wheel also pops up automatically anytime the pen is pulled from its chassis.

Unlike older versions of the Galaxy Note, the S Pen can now be re-inserted in any direction without fear of damaging the phone. The pen thankfully still responds to the buttons on either side of the home button, an improvement Samsung made in 2013 to the Galaxy Note 3.

The included charger allows the phone to charge quickly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Cons

The sides of this phone are much too sensitive.

With a practically non-existent bezel, hands and fingers often initiate a command you didn’t intend. For instance, you could end up blocking a friend on Skype, opening something you didn’t want or, in the worst cases, sending something you didn’t intend to be sent. That happened to me.

I almost inadvertently blocked a friend on Skype, too. The bezel – albeit visually aesthetic on the Note 4 – is its own worst enemy.

The S Pen feature named “Direct Pen Input” provides a handwriting pad which is intended to be helpful, but it honestly just gets in the way. To turn it off, you’ll need to access the settings. This isn’t something a smartphone newbie would be comfortable doing.

The Note 4 is the first in the Note line to get optical image stabilization in the main camera. Despite that claim, it still produced blurry pics after I ran a few deliberate stress tests.

The off-contract price is $699.99 ($720 at Walmart). If you think that stings, you don’t have much of a choice because the price with a 2-year Verizon contract is $299.99.

Samsung bloatware has been toned down, but it’s still there.

Who Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Is Best For

This phone is probably best for those who are seasoned in using smartphones. Asian business owners who don’t write in English would likely have the biggest loyalty to this phone and all the variants within the “Note” line simply because of the S Pen.

The S Pen is popular in Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan because of its ability to write native input in the languages of those countries.

I don’t recommend this phone to people who are new to smartphones.

The browser windows are treated as separate entities when you view all your currently open apps. Some people might consider that a positive, however I feel Samsung likely modified it to meet the needs of new smartphone owners.

It, like so many other traits of the Galaxy Note 4, is a modification that falls flat because it seems to cater to people who are new to smartphones, but doesn’t really hit the mark with its intent.

Image: Samsung

More in: Samsung