IT and IT tools

Changing clouds

My last post was about clouds and a silver lining. I have to admit now that the abundance of clouds I described and used only worked for me for about two months.

One - big - cloud

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There are two main reason for abandoning Capsule and other linked-in cloud programs:

  • no easy mail merge for specific letters to contacts
  • growing costs for email marketing due to the growth in contacts

We like to keep in contact with everyone on a regular base, and write maintenance reminder letters to all those clients of which we don't have an email address (yep it does happen we don't have a single email address - people do find us by phone and order materials that "old-fashioned" way), plus for certain tasks in the sales process we use specific letters (such as quotes, order confirmations etc) based on templates. The mentioned Alive Docs turned out to be too cumbersome and could only be used for predetermined letters, plus printing those letters was a hard task: every single one of them had to be emailed to your own address and then you were able to print it - not the most time saving task invented.

The linked-in MailChimp (which we already used - for free - for blog alerts for this and the Charing news blog) will charge you if the number of contacts grow above 2000, which is lower than the number of contacts/clients we have. Although the costs of this, combined with the costs for Capsule and Wufoo (the webform program) was still below the original costs of Octane HQ, when I found another CRM program which links with Kashflow and has its own email marketing facility I had no hard time saying goodbye to MailChimp for our main business.

intouchcrm

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30 days free trial, upload and download data, email marketing, web forms, surveys, mail merge, task management and a bit more. That's what intouchcrm gives you.

Webforms = bye bye Wufoo (£ 10.00 per month)
Email marketing = buy bye MailChimp Monthly plan £ 35.00 per month)
Advanced mail merge (per group or per contact) = bye bye Alive Doc (free for the moment)
And of course bye bye Capsule (£ 8.00 per month)

Intouchcrm has two types of plans: Premium (£ 12.00 per month with 200 email credits and other limits) and Unleashed (£ 18.00 per month with 5000 email credits and hardly any other limits).
Since we email all of our contacts (those with an email address of course) at least once every week the 5000 email limit is reached halfway through the month, but even purchasing additional credits (for instance another 5000 for £ 15.00) makes the whole program with its many facilities cheaper than the combined cloud - and way cheaper than Octane HQ while doing all and more!

This new program comes with its own help desk, webinairs and practical advice emails, what more can you ask? The savings we make per month, plus the features the program offers was well worth the second switching of programs in a few months time.


Clouds with a silver lining

If you care to remember, beginning 2010 I wrote about our search for a better CRM program (going beyond AWeber etc)
We settled for Octane HQ, at that moment in time a great 2nd Generation program which suited the bill perfectly (then and there). Before Octane HQ we (you and me) were more used to 1st generation software programs, the ones you had to install on your own PC (or Mac).

Second Generation Programs (in my opinion) didn't involve any downloading or installation on your pc, they are online, hosted by the software maker and accessible where-ever you have an internet connection. Octane HQ did what we wanted it to do but that was/is all. Lately I had the feeling it was overtaken left, right and centre by 3rd Generation Programs - online AND able to "talk" to other online programs:

Cloud Computing - API

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(image courtesy of spiral-fotolia.com)

Application Programming Interface (API) enabled online software is what I call 3rd Generation Software. Each program does what is does best - just like Octane HQ - but the main difference is it "talks" to other programs. Reducing the time and effort for business owners to enter duplicate data from one (online) program into another.

End of last year - on Kashflow's forum - I encountered Alex Monaghan, who asked me if I would be interested in a program that would enter all new Ecwid orders straight into my bookkeeping program Kashflow. Now this already happened (partly) when my client paid using Paypal, but all other payment options resulted in having to enter all the data manually (both in Kashflow and in Octane HQ).

Alex reported last week that his KFSync was ready to test out and the ease of how seamlessly it worked made me wonder about the effectiveness of Octane HQ. Surely in this time and age there would be a better - automagical - system to use?

Looking at Kashflow's Integration Pages it brought me onto Capsule CRM - which when you look at their Addons & Integration Page you'll see various well known programs. That, plus the price of the program itself, sold me and I was off to start the new process of filling Capsule CRM during the 30 days free trial, connecting the programs I needed for our business one by one.

My new "API Cloud"

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Imagine Capsule as Main Program (where I register opportunities and manage our - growing band of - contacts) I've tried to visualise above how the API integration works.

Let me "walk you" through various scenarios to explain how everything connects:

  1. Suppose someone comes to our website (a Joomla site, online software with its own add-ons, components and extensions), reads our informative pages and decides to place an order in our secure webshop (Ecwid widgets installed as plug-in), selecting phone payment as payment option.
  2. The order is processed in Ecwid, through the KFSync lands within a few seconds in Kashflow and through Kashflow a few seconds later in Capture CRM (*1) - both programs checking if it is a new client or a new order from an existing client.
  3. I then check in Capsule if the new client is already on one of the mailing lists in MailChimp and if not I click one button in Capsule to add this person to the appropriate list
  1. Now suppose another person visits our website and requests one of our additional information filling in one of the Wufoo webforms.
  2. His/her details land automagically in Capsule (with the added tag of Lead)
  3. And sends the same details to MailChimp who emails the requested information.
  4. This person then places an order over the phone, and all I have to do is fill in the address details in Capsule and click the link "export to Kashflow" to create the invoice in the bookkeeping program.
  1. Another person used our Support Desk (Zendesk) to ask us a question, through the added Capsule App in Zendesk I can simply export the details to Capsule (and when this person then places an order click the same link to export to Kashflow) and again add them to the appropriate MailChimp list.

If you are wondering why Alive Docs is added, that is a simple program that can contact Capsule in the event you want to mail merge letters etc (letters to be emailed or posted - where posted means the mail merge is emailed to yourself as PDF)

Besides saving me time and effort, all these connecting programs will save me money too (in the end). So, definitely Clouds with a Silver Lining

*1 = do note that Capsule considers every contact coming in from Kashflow an Organization and not - as so many of our clients are - as a person. If you, like me, want to register them as person you'll have to correct this manually in Capsule - which gives me the opportunity to add the odd person to a "Case" - a great feature in this software program to remind yourself of things to print, call etc per contact.


Are we dumb?

In the last two days I received the following emails, both warning me about restriction of my account due to irregular activity.

Future activity

The first one was from Barclay - yesterday 26.09.11

It stated: We detected irregular activity on your Barclays Check Card on 27 September, 2011

Wow, I want one of those, a bank card that already knows what I'll be spending my money on the next day.

How to detect a spoof email

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Today it was an email from Paypal:

Dear Customer,

You may have noticed that some limitations have been placed on your PayPal account. As a valued PayPal customer, we want to let you know what this means and how to resolve the situation.

And right at the bottom the very helpful tip:

How do I know this is not a Spoof email? Spoof or ‘phishing’ emails tend to have generic greetings such as "Dear PayPal member". Emails from PayPal will always address you by your first and last name.

Are we dumb?

I do know these phishing methods do get a result once in a while. But to be honest, everyone who falls "victim" do these scams I really can't feel pity for.

If you cross the street without paying attention you might get knocked down by a car, if you don't pay attention to all the warnings your bank etc bombards you with you might get robbed. Not your bank's fault, not the government's fault - your fault!

If you do fall for these tricks and scams, yes, then you are dumber than dumb. So stop complaining and start paying attention to what exactly you receive in your inbox.


Shall I Clarify-it for you?

When words are not enough to explain a problem or a bug in a software program screenshots normally will help to clarify the problem and speed up the interaction between user and support desk.

I often use(d) ScreenSteps Desktop for these matters

ScreenSteps Desktop

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One of my favourite programs to write documentation, manuals, blog posts and instructions with. Very simple to add screenshots or other images and a multiple way to export the document (or whole manual) to Word, PDF, Blogs, Websites, ScreenSteps Life etc.

But using ScreenSteps Desktop for the one-off documents to explain a problem is now a thing of the past. No longer do I need to have a separate "manual" in the program where they add (uneccesarry) to the number of files in my Library.

From the makers of all things ScreenSteps: Clarify-it

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A product name that does exactly what it says on the tin: it clarifies your (one-off) communications.

It works partly in the same way as SSD, but with some specific differences: no instant saving to your library (you can opt to save the document though) and what I quite like about this (can I call it like that) "spin-of" is it has nestled itself in the task bar

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always "at the ready" to quickly take a screenshot - which then automagically opens the program - add a tittle and some - if needed - further details, click share and off it goes as online document to be viewed by the support desk of the company I need to explain the problem to.

Clarify-it or Dropbox

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You can upload it to your (free) account of Clarify-it (which also works with ScreenSteps Desktop) and/or to Dropbox.

Automagically the link to the page (hidden for google spiders and bots) on Clarify-it.com is copied to your clipboard and all you have to do is create an email to the support desk you need help from, paste the link and let them sort out the problem.

I don't even have to save the document, it's online and when the problem is solved I don't need it any longer so why would I add extra files to my pc?

Example:

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Here's the actual link.

And presto, hardly half an hour later:

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In need of clear as crystal and speedy one-off communications? Just Clarify-it

(Beta download now available for both Mac and PC)


I'm just a silly blogger, I know. But nasty?

Early this month I compared Real Time Marketing with the "speed" paper magazines can publish a two-way conversation.

I'm known to speak my mind (and known to write double Dutch English too), 'cos I'm just a silly blogger interested in IT, progress, marketing and interaction between various parties.

Invite to comment

And, as silly bloggers do, kindly invited the editor and the regular contributor mentioned in my post to comment in the comment box. The editor in question did reply, by email only and only to state that modernising the online presence of the trade magazine would costs a lot of time and recourses. (I still beg to differ.)

The regular contributor (Sid Bourne) replied in the September issue, but only on our reply - published in July's issue - to his story from May.

Who's nasty?

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Not only do I lack proof reading skills, according to Mr Editor I'm nasty too (besides being, as already acknowledged, silly).

Funny thing, the Internet. The original post is being found time after time since yesterday (when the September CFJ issue landed on all subscribers doormat) on various phrases all containing: CFJ goes pubic. Oh, those modern times and tools!

Honourable

In 2007 I received an email from someone I did not know, but who very kindly had taken time to inform me on a typo he discovered on my site where I explained where the business novel :The Kiss Business was all about.

I'd missed out the c in the word exciting, making running a business both exiting and scary - funny that ;-)

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Thanks again for this, Paul F. - hope your business is going well and you enjoyed my book?

Now I could of course return the favour and call Mr Editor a nasty and ignorant person, but that would just be silly, wouldn't it?
Honourable however, he definitely isn't.


Old speed - new speed: DM Scott versus Contract Flooring Journal

Yesterday two things happened, both related to speed of interaction.

New speed - David Meermans Scott

David Meerman Scott explains Real-Time journalism, a mind-set

Being a (full) member of The Directors' Centre Business Club I'm treated every month to interesting, worthwhile articles, tips and videos, collected by Robert Craven's people.

This month they uploaded the crowdsourced video of David Meerman Scott delivering his key-note speech about Real-Time Marketing & PR at the Marketing Sherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas (2011). (You can also watch the video here on vimeo, I highly recommend you do)

At the time of writing this article I have only had time to watch about 35 minutes of the full 50 minutes yesterday, but it left me impressed of what Real-Time journalism (marketing) can establish and am fully aware this "mind-set" is within everyone's grasp and ability. In this day and age of interaction in a blink of an eye, he outlines the importance of a fast response to enquiries and using current trends to get your brand and products talked about.
(And he's not just talking about twitter, facebook or QR's)

Old speed - Contract Flooring Journal

The second thing what happened yesterday: the August issue of Contract Flooring Journal was delivered by our village postman. CFJ is one of the floor trade magazines we're subscribed to. It contains news about floor covering products, preparations, legal and regulation tips/advice etc for the contract flooring trade (as retailers ourselves we are not often involved in contracted work but we like to read everything that is happening in the market).

Underneath this month's article of one of the regular contributors to the magazine (Sid Bourne) there was a little note:

Contract Flooring Journal applies cliff-hanger tactics to keep readers interested?

(had to use my good old scanner to get the image)

Oh, goodie. CFJ employing "cliff-hanger" tactics.

Short history:

  • in CFJ's May 2011 issue Sid Bourne wrote something in his article we did not fully agree with (and fortunately, the May edition of CFJ has just been uploaded to their website, so I can now link to the original article, instead of having to scan it from the magazine, print it as PDF, upload it to my own server for you to read).
  • after reading Sid's article we wrote a comment and emailed it to the editor.
  • the editor replied:
    • "We love to get feedback from readers, the more controversial the better.... We work about six weeks ahead, so it will be the July issue."
  • Duly in July my comment on a specific part of Sid's article was published - we did not write the headline though, editor's prerogative
  • Sid must have written his reply soon (remember, 6 week deadline)
  • We're in August now, cliff-hanger note in CFJ
  • September: we will finally be able to read Sid's reply
  • In the event we want to reply to his reply - do the calculations: Sid and others will be able to read this in...... NOVEMBER 2011

A full six months later for the 4th item in a discussion to be published and read - would anyone still remember what the original article and first comment was about???
Really 21st century breakneck speed here.

Come on CFJ, get up to speed. Open up your website for interactive conversations like this. May issue is now pubic *(see edit below), 3 months old news. Extend your website with an "subscribers only" area and have the latest issue there the minute the genuine article lands on our doormat. And allow instant comments and replies on all articles.

Having a Facebook profile (not a Page) and a Twitter account is not enough to get new speed.

Inviting Sid to the new speed era

Sid, if you happen to read this, you are kindly invited to publish your reply to our comment right here in the comment box, so we can drag this conversation - in my opinion sure to be a worthwhile exchange of opinions and experiences - into this century of Real-Time journalism.

---------------

* Edit 31.08.11

CFJ editor's "reply" in Sept issue:

CFJSillyBlogger

No Alan, pubic IS the word used, "grave typing error" on public. It does exactly what it says on the tin here: known to write double Dutch English ;-). And I plan to leave it in as not to disappoint all those now searching "cfj blog now pubic" (17 and counting).

Of course, it would have been much more honourable of Mr Editor, during our email conversation about above "nasty" post early August, to give a gently nudge about the "grave typing error".
Apparently, giggling as a schoolboy over the word pubic is more important than keeping up with modern times.


The irony of it all

The struggle this morning to log in to our bank account:

Some good news first

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Trying to log in

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Eh... trying to log in, only hit the enter button

After the third attempt the bank finally let me see my account. Then when I tried to make a payment:

Time flies!

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But fortunately:

logging in to Online Banking is going to become easier!

It can't happen fast enough!


Pay attention to get attention

Today the local postman delivered a large envelop, that is one thing to get my attention.

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The address was hand-written - now that always gets my attention
(although I never write the address on envelopes we mail out, I couldn't bare to waste any postman's time trying to figure out what on earth has been written down - I know, I have a terrible hand)

Therefore it was the first envelop to be opened. Inside I found two leaflets (A4 and double A4): new products and trade price list of the new products. Plus one letter.

"Dear Sir / Madam

I am writing to thank you for your continued business and support in these very difficult times and....."

Now they'd lost my attention.

Cold leads, prospects, clients and returning clients

Trouble is, I don't know the business sending me the handwritten large white envelop with shiny A4 leaflets inside. In fact, I've not even heard of them, let alone am continuing to do business with them.

If I had been a returning client - as the wording "continued business" would indicate - the writer would have known my name and tittle to address the letter to me personally - which always gets my attention (after I check if they wrote my name correctly and not changed it into Karen - or Caroline as frequently happens too)
If I had been a client (having made a first purchase) the wording continued business would not be appropriate - and they would have known my name to address me personally.
If I had been a prospect, see above.

As cold-lead, I'm the last person to deserve the thanks the writer is expressing.

So instead of turning the first sentence of the letter into a feeling of being seen as a valued contact - as no doubt the writer's intention was, it put me off completely and I binned the lot, shiny leaflets and all.

Now there is nothing wrong with trying to rake in new business in "these very difficult times", we all do it in various ways. It only works much better if the letter, the wording, the content is appropriate for the reader in question. Explaining all the benefits of doing business with us to a long standing client would definitely get me on the wrong side of my valued client - they already know. Thanking a cold lead for their continued business.... you get the picture.

Have you divided your contact database into specific groups

Database

Every business is able to create a database, be it through the most elaborate software or a simple spreadsheet. It is quite easy to divide your database of contacts into specific groups:

  • leads (cold leads)
  • prospects (warm leads)
  • clients
  • returning clients

Writing two (leads and clients) or four (to each group individual) letters does not take much more effort than writing one "trying to catch all" letter and wasting precious materials (envelop, leaflets, postage). At least you won't aggravate the very people who's attention you are trying to get.

When's the last time you checked your database?


Launch of Selling Online Basics E-guide, thanks #BNBT

The idea of creating this E-guide started when I switched from our desktop ecommerce software to the online software Ecwid (Ecommerce Widgets) for our retail secure webshop (still IMHO one of the better decisions we made).

Until recently this idea just sat on the back-burner. It wasn't until I started watching and writing about BBC's Britain's Next Best Thing (#bnbt) I realised how needed this simple guide really was. The show on fledgling designers and many mumpreneurs made me truly aware of how many other start-ups, work-from-home-persons, I-have-an-idea-lets-build-a-website youngsters and semi-retired baby boomers could be around.

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What BNBT also showed us (me in any case) is how little aware many still are on free online programs they can use to start an Ecommerce Venture without having to break the bank and/or without having to know in-depth knowledge of software. You don't have to wait til a high street retailer decides to stock your product before you can start selling, nor do you have to dress down your product or idea to accommodate high street retailers desired purchase price. Just launch the darn product!

So thank you, #BNBT of kicking me into higher gear and finish the "darn" thing in double quick time:

The basics, right here

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There are more Ecommerce sites being launched every single day than there are premises being opened for "old-fashion" retail outlets. More and more articles, blog-posts, magazine and even books are written on the rising tide of businesses selling products online. But none, or very few, will hand you the simple steps to launch your own Ecommerce site.

This guide will.

No need for:

  • an existing email address
  • an existing website
  • an existing webshop
  • PDQ equipment (to handle incoming payments)
  • an existing money-pot to pay for software to start selling online

All you need is:

  • your product, even if it is just one single product, be it digital or physical
  • internet access
  • passion about your product(s)
  • some writing skills to pass on your passion to your prospects
  • this guide

This guide is for:

  • work-at-home people with a ready product, by it digital or physical
  • existing start-ups without a foot in the door of existing retailers
  • hobbyist planning to turn their hobby into a sustainable income
  • people from 16 years old (due to some age limits software companies have implemented) to lively and entrepreneurial pensioners
  • anyone already using PayPal's "buy now" buttons or PayPal shopping cart and who finds this too limiting
  • anyone who knows their (new) product will excite others
  • anyone just wanting to empty their attic or garden shed but don't like Ebay
  • anyone without html coding knowledge, seo knowledge, web-design knowledge
  • anyone who wants to start selling online in one single day (half a day even)

It will hand you the online tools to start selling, it does not promise you'll be rich within a day - or a week, it's a tool guide, not a "get-rich-quick" scheme.

Who am I to write this guide?

Together with my partner I run an independent specialised retail business, he does the installation of the quality wooden flooring I sell. Besides the selling of our products through our showroom I manage our website, blog, ecommerce site and all other web marketing. Single-handedly - without an IT department, without an IT manager, even without an IT background or college grade.

However, I only use software programs that comes with an excellent customer support, be it with their documentation, training videos or email support. Some even come with their own users forum or twitter account for instant help.

The four online software programs (all award winning software) I will be discussing in this guide are free, and still have superb support available. Why? Because 3 of these programs have fee-paying account levels too. It's the principle of these companies to help you out from the start and they make no difference if you pay for your account or have a free account. Simply said: they hope you will love using their program so much you eventually become a paying customer once you realise how many more benefits a higher account level can give you. That's how I got to know all the ins and outs of the programs in this guide and on most I'm now a fee paying customer.
But for starters, the free versions are all you need to get started selling online.

The fourth free program is quite different, it has related programs - some free, some "pay-as-you-go" - you might become interested in later. The fifth essential online program you need is one of the so-called "pay-when-you-sell", no fees upfront or fixed monthly contribution.

Because of managing the webmarketing "single-handedly", I started to see/learn/experience how programs can be combined to become bigger than their own parts. None of these programs on its own will give you a complete ecommerce site, but by cleverly combining them you'll have absolutely everything you need to start selling your product or products online. Since more and more online software programs are able to "talk" to each other the combining (or linking them together) has become easier than ever.

This guide will focus on how to sell your product online as simple, quickly and easy as possible. It is therefore not an in-depth guide on all four individual programs. The title of this guide is called "Selling Online Basics" for a reason, it gives you instantly what you need to get the basics to start selling your product/products online. Later on you can dive into the single programs yourself to see what else they can do, but the "basics" is all you need for the moment. And all of these basics are covered in this guide.

So, what's in the guide?

  • An introduction to all the programs you need, the reason(s) why you can start with the free version (if applicable) and how to upgrade to a higher account level of the programs (if applicable for you).
  • A logical sequence of opening accounts for the free version of the online software programs you're going to use for your Ecommerce site (online presence).
  • Step by step screen shots of what you will see and need to do during the opening of these accounts
  • Extra information on the programs, but only if and when relevant to the essence of Selling Online Basics
  • How to combine/link the programs together into one effective working Ecommerce presence without the need to enter data all over again in separate programs.
  • An "if you already have..." per chapter, giving you shortcuts for the whole process
  • An extensive reference section for additional tactics and advice at the end of the guide to help you become a successful ecommerce business. (Remember, this guide only covers the online "basics" - but all of the basics you need.)

This guide starts on the premise of not having any the tools yet. Some tools, such as an email address, everyone might already have in place. Then still, it might be very handy, for a one-off product for instance or testing a brand new range, to sign up with the free version of the online tool discussed in this guide.

It's the simple combination power between the programs which makes the whole selling online process so simple and effective!

Karin H - proprietor of 1 Plus 1 Makes 3, managing director Wood You Like Ltd


Just ship the thing #BNBT

From yesterday's BNBT (Britains Next Big Thing) 5th episode, two things stuck in my mind: don't wait for permission and why did some not predict and benefit from the exposure (free marketing!) now their contributions are aired on national TV?

To patent or not to patent

In our world of wooden flooring everyone knows of the ongoing legal war between two multinationals in laminated flooring. Who's infringing on who's patent on the click system? This has been going on for years and every time the trade thinks it is finally settled, off they go again for another very expensive legal war in another country. These are multinationals, not work-at-home mums with a great invention many were looking for.

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Elaine Armstrong, mumpreneur from West-Sussex has looked into patenting her bikeback but the costs to hold a patent can be enormous.

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When Theo Paphitis remarked on the fact she had not pursued it further, Elaine gave the best answer possible in my opinion: and besides the costs for a patent, I would not have to money to fight any copy-cat.

Just ship the darn thing - establish your product as The Original as soon as possible, copy-cats will follow anyway, patent or no patent. At least then you have been able to recoup all the research and development costs.

But it seems the bikeback is not yet for sale, anywhere!

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Waste of buzz created by BBC's program. It only takes 30 minutes to set up a secure online shop (with Ecwid Ecommerce widgets) and start selling the darn thing. Even if it is not yet really polished or if the packaging isn't perfect yet - at least get pre-orders in!

The Ledge, without an edge

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Russell Leith's invention of The Ledge - a self-supporting stand, wooden plank/board supported by only one leg and the wall - failed to get into Habitat. Reason: their product technology expert thought it was too much of a risky product that could trigger loads of complaints from clients when their Ledge was knocked over by children or pets (while Russell's' own family and many of his friends don't seem to have a problem with it, having the Ledge in their homes for over 9 years).

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But by Habitat's decision it seems to be the end of the line for him. While others, still in the running or dropped by one of the three big retailers participating in the program, can at least be found on the web (see here for the full list - as far as known) no Google search can give you any further details on Russ or his Ledge.
He himself claimed after the last meeting with Habitat: there is a future for the product.

Sure there is and having watched the program there must be plenty of potential buyers out there. But you can't find the darn thing on the wibbly wobbly web at all!

Missed opportunity, wasted time going through all the (e)motions of contributing to the program.

Any takers out there to pre-order the soon to be launched "Selling Online Basics"?

UPDATE 19.05.11: Selling Online Basics" launched!