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Blog Blazer Friday – Aaron Wall of SEOBook

Each week I will be publishing an interview from the book Blog Blazers (in alphabetical order) which can be purchased on Amazon here. The interviews were all done in 2008 and the full list of bloggers interviewed can be found by clicking here.

So let’s start this week with Aaron Wall of SEOBook


Aaron Wall



Aaron Wall is a well known blogger who primarily focuses on search engines, internet marketing, and why ideas spread. He is also the author of the eBook entitled “SEO Book” which has sold innumerable copies and is referenced throughout the internet.

Although Aaron is successful now, it has not always been easy for him. Early in his youth he was nearly legally blind, at least until half-way through high school without knowing it. Even through this adversity he still had a strong disposition towards entrepreneurship, most notably buying and selling baseball cards.

After graduating high school, Aaron joined the military as a nuclear reactor operator on a special operation fast attack submarine. However this was not the lifestyle for him for several reasons and he soon left the military. Upon leaving the military Aaron went through some rougher times and almost went bankrupt. This is when he took a job as a middle level manager.

He continued to work as a middle-level manager for almost a year while simultaneously learning everything he could about the web. He finally quit to focus on his web initiatives when he had reduced his debt to $10,000 and was making at least some money on the internet, which at the time was about $100/month. It didn’t take him long to go from there to making $10,000 a month. Within a year (the end of 2004) he had achieved success! Since then he has only been growing his success.


Steph: What makes a blog successful according to you? Is it traffic, reach, revenue, etc.?

Aaron: It depends on the goals of the site. I have some blogs that make no money and have a low readership but help people, and to me those are successful. Other blogs are just about personal expression while my business ones are more income oriented. It is easy to get stuck on traffic stats, but you still have to pay your way.

Steph: When did you decide you finally reached success with your blog?

Aaron: I started my blog in December of 2003, started selling my eBook on it in February of 2004, and was fairly successful by April of 2004. I got started on the web in January of 2003.

Steph: How long does it take to become a successful blogger?

Aaron: I had a little known blog on my other site for about 3 months prior to creating SEO Book, so I guess it took about 7 months total. Though you don’t really become successful overnight or at any set point in time. I think of being successful as being self funding and having the confidence necessary to keep learning and keep trying new things.

Steph: Who do you think are the most successful bloggers on the internet today?

Aaron: I think Seth Godin and Matt Cutts have great influence. I love reading GapingVoid.com. I am mostly focused on internet marketing at the moment though, so my view of the web is a bit limited.

Steph: Which five blogs do you regularly read?

Aaron: I read every post Frank Schilling writes on his Seven Mile blog. I am a regular reader of SearchEngineLand.com. And while it is not updated as frequently as those two, I love TropicalSEO.com by Andy Hagans. CopyBlogger.com and Paul Kedrosky are equally refreshing.

Steph: Which websites would you recommend for any new bloggers starting to blog?

Aaron: Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is a must read if you want to understand how to write compelling conversion oriented copy. Daren Rowse’s ProBlogger.com is a must read if you want to get into understanding the mechanics of blogging. I also think you should read at least a dozen blogs about a topic you are interested in to learn how and why ideas spread amongst bloggers. Use iGoogle or Google Reader to make it easy to subscribe to a wide array of blogs.

Steph: Which book(s) would you recommend for new bloggers (these can range from marketing books, blogging books, etc.)?

Aaron: The Cluetrain Manifesto teaches you why the web is different than monolithic marketplaces of the past. Steven Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think teaches you about how to create a usable website. If you make a site that is usable and market demand oriented people are going to use it. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow teaches you how to be remarkable. Links are nothing but citations or remarks. If you know how to be remarkable then marketing is easy.

Steph: What is your most successful blog post ever?

Aaron: As far as spreading on the web, I would have to say that posting about getting sued for blog comments went far. I also launched an SEO tool called SEO for Firefox. Beyond those, I don’t think I have had any signature posts that I could easily point out as examples of successful posts. I actually had one article that did well before I became a popular blogger, but I think many of my posts are pretty good and I was lucky enough to enter a growing market early with a unique voice.

Steph: What’s your biggest tip on writing a successful blog post?

Aaron: If you are new to blogging and want an idea to spread make sure you get community feedback early on such that market leaders in your industry have a vested interest in talking about your blog post.

Steph: What’s your best advice in regards to content and writing for bloggers?

Aaron: It is easy to think that if you had one hit post that would get lots of readers, but people are fickle and competition is fierce. Doing well with blogging is not about writing one key post, it is about performing day after day and helping a few people at a time. Eventually big success comes out of all the smaller successes. Sometimes it arrives via an accident or mistake.

Steph: How important do you think are the headlines of your blog articles?

Aaron: Headlines are critical. They set the tone for the piece and a strong one can even change the mood of the reader before they even get to the content. Some social media sites will vote up a story based on the headline, without even bothering to read the story.

Steph: Do you spend any money and time on marketing?

Aaron: I have spent over $100,000 and over 3 years marketing my blog.

Steph: What are your main methods of marketing your blog?

Aaron: I have an affiliate program, I buy AdWords and AdSense ads, and I pay for a lot of custom programs that I give away. In turn, people link at my site and tools and talk about my site, which leads to more sales.

Steph: Which marketing tactic has surprised you the most in terms of its effectiveness?

Aaron: Just performing day in and day out. Making oneself available via email, blog comments, etc. allows you to make connections and build brand loyalists one person at a time.

Steph: What are your quick and short five best tips for blogging?


Link out to other interesting pages. Linking out is a form of free marketing, plus it prevents you from wasting time trying to create the web again from scratch.

Read and write everyday.

Write a second personal blog for family, political, and off topic posts.

Consume information in a variety of formats, including books, DVDs, magazines, and blogs.

Mix up your format. Use pictures, headers, and sub headers.

Steph: What is the most common pitfall new bloggers generally fall into?

Aaron: Many bloggers get burned out because they try to be too rigid following someone else’s advice, and thus take the fun out of blogging or feel everything has already been said before.

Steph: If you knew what you know now when you first started, what’s the one biggest tip you’d give yourself today?

Aaron: Re-invest more aggressively sooner.

Steph: What repels you the most from a blog (animations, in your face advertising, etc.)?

Aaron: AdSense ads plastered above the content on a blog with a default WordPress design. It basically says I don’t care for you.

Steph: Do you make any direct money from your blog through advertising, product placements, etc.?

Aaron: I sell a bunch of eBooks. As an indirect revenue stream I sell consulting services.

Steph: What is your best monetization method (Ads, affiliate marketing, etc.)?

Aaron: Selling my own product far exceeds the profit potential for selling ads in my market. In the search marketing community most people are quite ad blind in nature, and there are only a few scalable business models that are willing to spend heavily on advertising across blogs.

Steph: Do you find you get more from direct monetization of your blog or from opportunities that come because of the existence of your blog?

Aaron: Right now I would say direct monetization is ahead, but I have lots of opportunities I am still building on. I just don’t like to count checks until they are cashed.

Steph: What’s your most interesting story related to your blog and blogging experience?

Aaron: My wife met me through buying my eBook. If I did not start my blog so she could find me I will still be a hollow lonely man.

Steph: What’s the one biggest opportunity that came to you because of your blog?

Aaron: Getting married to my wonderful wife. I don’t deserve to be with someone so wonderful. I need to work hard to become the person she deserves.

Steph: Any other comments or thoughts you’d like to share?

Aaron: Thanks for the interview Steph.

Blog Blazer Fridays


Like I said I will start posting an interview a week from the book I published called Blog Blazers (seen above). However I decided to first have an introductory post today to give you a list of the bloggers that were interviewed (in alphabetical order as they are presented in the book). As well I thought it would be good form to add a link back to the introduction on every post for people who join later on as way for them to quickly catch up. This way they can have a starting point.

First the details for anyone interested in purchasing the printed book, you can buy it on Amazon here as well as a digital copy from the website here. The main difference is that you can click on the links in the digital book where as the printed book you have to type them in. Other than that the printed book and digital books are identical. In any case, I will be publishing all the interviews here so you can also just read them here and click on the links here. The printed book is really more for people like myself who prefer printed books, or the digital book for people who want everything together in one nice file for their iPad, Nexus, Kindle, and so on. Also please note that you can also subscribe to receive emails of the interviews by entering your email in the form in the top right corner or entering your email in the form on this page.

That being said, the book was published about 5 years ago, back in 2008. So over time some things have changed, but the interview questions were intentionally selected to be as timeless as was possible and while making it interesting and offering the reader a lot of actionable items. I also tried to ask everyone the same interview questions so that the book would make it easy to study how different people succeeding at blogging. You want to know the secret to blogging success, there is NO ONE SECRET! Different bloggers succeeded in very different ways. The biggest hurdles to blogging success are number one starting and number two stopping. There is no one single way to succeed or a single secret recipe for success. Different bloggers have succeeding in different ways using different techniques.

Back to the book, and before I go ahead and list the bloggers interview, if anyone wants to peek ahead and read the individual blogger’s bios, you can read their bios here. Warning of shameless plug: Also if you’re interested, you can find the reviews about the book here.

Now, as I was about to say before, deciding who to include in the book was very very hard. I wanted to not only include successful bloggers, but also up and coming bloggers, bloggers that weren’t mainstream yet. I wanted to include bloggers for different subjects and niches. There seems to be more technology related blogs than other niches. I also tried to include bloggers that I believed would be around for some time, at least 5-10 years. When it comes to blogging, most people are notorious for only blogging a short time, from a few months to maybe a year, so I wanted to avoid bloggers that were going to be gone shortly.

So without further ado, here is the list of bloggers interviewed in alphabetical order:

As you can see the list of bloggers interviewed is quite large and substantial. At the time some were just starting out and have now reached new heights of success!

I’ll be posting an interview a week for almost a year, for 40 weeks in all! It will be called Blog Blazer Friday.

Thankfully the vast majority of the bloggers I invited to be interviewed in the book have lasted the test of time, at least in blogging time (5-10 years). Almost all of the blogs are still alive, all but just 2 blogs!! The ones without the links are the two that are no longer online. A few more do have their blogs online but aren’t actively posting anymore. But overall the vast majority are still very active bloggers and have only grown more since the book was published! Overall I have to admit I’m pretty happy with the results 5 years later.

There’s definitely a lot of good information and details in the interviews and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed compiling them.

The Move to Aweber From Feedburner is Completed

Handing keys over

As most of you realize, about two weeks ago I made the hard decision to move the email subscription list for this blog from Feedburner over to Aweber. I basically had come to the realization that Feedburner is coming to an end sooner than later, most likely sometime later this year to at most sometime next year. The signs are pretty obvious in my opinion. So as a result, rather than continue to build up the email subscriptions only to lose them later, I decided to take the hit and move to Aweber now.

I knew it was going to painful and I would lose many subscribers over in the transition based on what I read from many other bloggers. It was pretty clear the subscription count would drop significantly. There was no if, the only question was by how much?

Firstly, and this is the hardest to swallow, everyone you import over to Aweber basically has to re-subscribe (re-opt in but it’s really the same thing). To prevent spam, and thus to prevent people from importing random email addresses and email lists and causing harm to their service, Aweber require that every single person you import re-opt in. That is they will send out an email saying that if you wish to continue receiving emails, you have to once again click on the link to confirm your subscription. Not a big deal, but this does require an action from all your subscribers.

The problem here is twofold. Firstly many people are afraid of clicking on links they receive. When it comes to subscribing, they usually get it within a minute or so, so it’s very fresh in their minds. It’s an expected email and they’re ready to respond. However when it comes out of the blue, even if you announce it in a previous communication, it’s still not as expected, so a lot of people will be reluctant and just not click. It’s unfortunate but that’s reality.

Also, and this is again another reality of our world today, asking people to perform any additional steps is enough to lose a certain percentage. Yes they may still be interested in your articles, but any additional work will cause a drop of some people. Just like adding an extra field in your purchase is likely to lower your sales conversions, asking to re-opt in will unfortunately drop some people.

And of course, and this is probably a good thing, over time some email addresses will no longer be valid. For example I still had many hotmail.com email addresses which Microsoft have since converted over to outlook.com. So for some people they may just have re-subscribed with another email address. Others just missed the opportunity. Similarly others may have used their work email address and are no longer employed at the same place so the email address is still in the list but is no longer active. Basically a bunch of little reasons for why some subscribers are no longer valid. So all list naturally need some pruning over time. It’s just psychologically tougher to do at the same time as everything else even if you know why.

With that in mind, the last blog post I wrote here was to let people know what I was doing, so that they weren’t as big a surprise when they received the email to re-opt in. Basically a friendly notice. And since then I decided to wait at least a week to give as many people as possible a chance to re-opt in before posting again so they wouldn’t miss anything. So yes although I was planning on writing more often, I held back to give the transition a little bit of additional time.

So what was the end result? Well firstly I’m happy and relieved it’s done. I’ve been wanting to do this for at least the last 2-3 years. I don’t know why I held off so long, probably it just didn’t seem as important. That and I didn’t want to lose any subscribers along the way. In any case it’s now done and as a result I can breathe more freely. And most importantly I can feel more comfortable that any efforts I spend on growing the list are not going to be lost in the future.

And now for some metrics. Well right off the bat 26.6% of the emails bounced when sending out the re-opt in email. So yes although that stung, that’s actually a good thing. It’s the pruning I just talked about. S4o basically 26.6% of the email subscribers over the years are no longer active. So this is a good purge. No point in sending out emails to people whose email addresses are no longer valid.

After that, in terms of re-opt ins, well let’s just say that quite a good number of subscribers were lost. I expected it, and it was definitely within the norm from what I read online from other bloggers who did the same thing. Everywhere you read about it, people say do it sooner than later because the cost of transitioning is painful. After this experience I completely agree. Do it sooner than later. It’s not fun so if you’re going to do it, do it sooner rather than later. It’s better to keep the number of lost subscribers in absolute numbers lower because the percentage will most likely be about the same. In other say losing 10% of 10 is much better than losing 10% of 1 billion in absolute numbers. That being said, I’m finding a week later previous subscribers are still in the process of re-opting in, so I don’t yet know what the final percentages will be.

On a positive note I’ve absorbed the cost so that’s now done. And although I lost some subscribers, quite a lot did transition over which is great! Above that, all the RSS feed subscribers are still there, they haven’t changed in numbers at all according to Feedburner (I left Feedburner for the RSS feed for now since there’s no reason not to – there’s no penalty if they go away and I transition that later).

What’s also good is that I already have quite a large blog with almost 500 posts written over 8 years so that will definitely help me re-grow it back to the same level of subscribers pretty quickly. My guess is that I’ll be back to this same levels within 3-6 months, so that’s about the cost for moving if you’re curious. Which like I said before, if you research it, that’s actually pretty good.

I believe this is also the very first time ever that FollowSteph has had less email newsletter subscribers than my company LandlordMax Property Management Software email newsletter! By the way the company email newsletter is also managed by Aweber and has been for at least a year now. In any case I don’t expect that to last very long, usually blogs get more subscribers than company newsletters, regardless of how good they are. What’s nice though is to see both of them growing on a daily basis!!

And on that note, I welcome back everyone who has transitioned! I also look forward to posting quite a lot starting now. And later this week, I will start to post one interview a week from my book Blog Blazers which you can find on Amazon here. The list of bloggers I interviewed can be found here (and I will be posting in the order of the book). So it should be quite a lot of fun. There’s lots of great interviews in the book.

Until then, here’s goes to the first post using Aweber!

Moving Email Newsletter to Aweber From Feedburner

future and past

Today’s post is more for the people who follow this blog by email, those who have subscribed to the email newsletter to receive emails of the posts. Basically the recent closing of Google Reader has made me realize I can’t hold off moving away from Feedburner any longer. It’s pretty clear that Feedburner is on it’s last leg and that Google will drop it shortly. Another example of some of the risks of hosted services.

In any case, as a result I’ve decide to transition over to Aweber (affiliate link). I’m going to import the email list into Aweber, but the downside is that Aweber requires that everyone re-opt in to get the email newsletter. In other words they will not send you any new blog posts by email unless you confirm your subscription. They do this as a policy to prevent spam on their system. Otherwise anyone could just import any list of emails they wanted and Aweber’s email service quality would go down. The downside is that you’re almost guaranteed to lose some subscribers along the way, and as unfortunate as that is, I don’t think I have a choice.

Therefore please accept my apologies for this inconvenience, and please do go ahead and re-opt your email newsletter subscription when you receive the invite. I look forward to continuing to post many articles in the future. Also starting next week I plan to post one chapter of my book Blog Blazers each week (an interview a week). You can find the list of people interviewed for the book here. If you can’t wait, or you want a hard copy, you can order the book on Amazon here.

In any case, I do appreciate your patience, help, and understanding in transitionning to Aweber. And if you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact me. In the meantime expect to see an invitation email to the new email newsletter service later this week.

And thank you for following FollowSteph.com!!

Google Reader Alternatives – Not Everything Should Be Hosted


First let me preface this article by saying that although I believe SaaS, cloud services, and hosted services can be very good and wise decisions in some situations, in others they can also be very terrible options.

Not to rehash the past, but I wrote a previous post called What are the Risks of Cloud Services? I explain when it’s good to use hosted services and when it isn’t. They have a time and place, and running core and critical business functionality and data is generally a bad place to use cloud services. I won’t go into the same arguments again, I’ll just recommend you read the article if you haven’t already.

That being said, many people are about to be cut off from Google Reader at the end of the month. There’s only a few days more before their Google Reader service goes away for good. Luckily they gave us a month’s notice, but you can’t always expect this from every company. Additionally we’re very lucky that for most people this is a convenience rather than a critical service. Unlike say the core data for a property management company were you store your accounting, leases, tenants, late rents, etc., Google Reader is mainly just a place where you manage a large the reading of a large number of websites in a convenient and easy way. I personally use it and loved the service. I used it every day. I will definitely miss it.

The problem with a hosted service is that they decide when you can no longer use the service. NOT YOU!! It could be tomorrow, or in the case of Google they can give you a grace period to do what you need to. And in this case, we’re actually even more lucky in that Google offers the ability to backup the data. The big problem however is what do you do with the backed up data? It’s not an industry standard. Generally there is no way to backup the data, and in most cases you have no warning at all.

So what’s happened in the last while is that a bunch of people are trying to create products and services to fill in the void created by Google Readers dismisal. But before continuing, you should be congnicent that if it wasn’t such a big service from a big company, most likely the users of Google Reader would be out of luck with no alternatives. The norm for online services is that you lose everything when the service closes and you normally have no warning. It’s very very common! Just this month alone I personally read (who knows how many I didn’t see) about at least a dozen web services that have closed down on Hacker News which is a place where you can find a lot of interesting news from the Startup community.

One of the more poignants one that recently caught my attention and pretty much inspired this post was called My Startup Has 30 Days to Live. You can read the discussion from Hacker News here. Specifically one comment from patio11 drew my attention, also known as Patrick Mckenzie, where above suggesting they stop taking money unless it’s absolutely necessary to pay employees, he also said:

“It sucks. It will be better, very soon. You don’t have to be scared: this is routine and, while it doesn’t feel like it, you’re actually in very good position, both absolutely and relative to many other people.”

The key comment being “it’s routine”. That this is common. Many online companies close. The problem is that we haven’t experienced it as users enough yet. Much like most people don’t really realize computers and especially harddrives do fail, and quite often. I know more than a few people who have lost all their pictures and videos because they assumed computers just always worked and didn’t need to do any backups. Until digital cameras really became mainstream, most people didn’t really feel the pain when their computers failed because most of the data wasn’t as critical, or shall we say important to them. It’s different now, so people are going through an education process and are learning that you need to backup your data, that computers do fail and it can be very painful.

And with that in mind, I was quite surprised, well ok I wasn’t surprised by it but rather surprised that we’re still repeating the same mistakes when I read the following comment about one of the latest Google Reader replacement options called Sismics Reader which is a software you own and manage on your computer (I have not tried their software so I cannot say if they are good or not):

“This looks pretty promising. Judging from the demo, they have the UI close enough. They need to offer it as a service, though. I like that I have the freedom to run my own server, but I really don’t want to have to bother in practice.”

Basically you want to use a hosted services to replaced the hosted service that was just closed down and for which you’re now trying to scramble to find an alternative solution, because you were lucky enough to be able to backup your data, even if you have no place to restore it to yet.

Cloud and online services can be good in some situations, but we still have to learn that they have a place and time, and that time and place is NOT always!! We internally for LandlordMax use cloud and hosted services for a number of things including email delivery, email newsletter management, version control, and so on. But each of these systems can either be replaced within minutes to a day, or use a standard data structure where the data can also be pushed to another service right away. For example we use Subversion which is one of several industry standard systems for managing programming code. We do regular backups, and if our host goes away, we can move to another service within minutes. In fact we could host it internally on our own computers but we don’t for reasons that are more beneficial for us specifically. The key is that we’re not locked to the success of another company. Losing our programming code overnight would be catastrophic for us, so it’s critical that this data never be locked out. We need to make sure we have regular backups and alternatives should something happen.

With all that in mind I’m personally more interested in a Google Reader replacement that I can own and manage myself. There are just too many startups right now clamoring for Google’s fallout, and I suspect a LOT of them will be gone within the next year or two. And at that point, it’s right back to the very same situation as today. And the next time we may not be able to transfer the data to another solution. I don’t expect these new solutions will support each other’s data formats, assuming you can even export any data at all. At least with a software solution you own and manage you can continue using the software for as long as you need or want. If the company closes, discontinues the software, etc., you can still continue using the software for as long as you want. A small difference with a very big implication!

Online and cloud based solutions can be good, just be careful not to assume they are always good because this is not always the case. And if you haven’t already read my article about the risks and when it’s good and when it’s not good to use a hosted service, then I suggest you do so sooner than later.

And hopefully a good Google Reader alternative will appear soon. From what I’ve seen there hasn’t yet been a good solution to transition to yet. Every comment and suggestion I’ve seen so far about Google Reader alternatives has been about making due with what they have. There’s been no obvious goto solution yet. Right now it’s still really about just good enough until someone releases something worthwhile.

PS: In all this we never even mentioned issues such as what happens if you get locked out of your service. What if for example Google decided one day to lock you out of your Gmail account? What if your credit card failed and you didn’t notice until after they closed your account and deleted all your data? Just a few other things to look out for…

Printing is Broken on Mac OS X with Java 7

Confused Programmer

Printing on the Mac OS with Java 7 has been broken for a long time, months in fact. I don’t understand how this can possibly happen. After all printing isn’t exactly a small issue, and the Mac isn’t exactly a small market. So how can this be? For months? I don’t get it…

Specifically the font attributes are not honored on the Mac OS. Java seems to make the proper OS calls but for whatever reason the Mac OS just ignores those calls. Here’s the official bug report. To quote:

“Call to MacOS native function CTTypesetterCreateWithAttributedStringAndOptions did not produce the expected result.  Although the font dictionary was passed in options, for unknown reason, it is ignored.  Fix is to add the font dictionary in the attributed string and use CTTypesetterCreateWithAttributedString.”

And this only affects the Mac, it works fine in Windows or with Linux. The following code shows how to replicate the Java 7 printing bug on the Mac OS:

Font font = new Font("Times", Font.BOLD, 24);
Graphics2D g = (Graphics2D)graphics;
g.drawString("Hello World", 10, 10);
// Increase font by 10 - Mac OS ignores this next line of code.
g.drawString("Hello World in a bigger font", 10, 100);

The weirdest part of this whole issue is that it’s really only broken in Java 7!! Of course it’s the only stable release of Java. How does that make any sense? It still works on Java 6 which is no longer supported (past it’s End of Life). For Java 8, which is still in beta and does NOT have a stable release, it seems to be working. However for Java 7, nope. Nothing. Nada. Huh???

In case you want to read further information from the better links I found on the issue, they are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Just a few links. So it’s not exactly an unknown issue. Many people are struggling with it.

That being said, several people have found workaround solutions, including us here at LandlordMax Property Management Software. A common solution I’ve heard is to create an image of what you want to print and print that image. It makes sense and it will work because you’re bypassing the font attributes. I’m not a big fan of this solution, especially since it doesn’t really scale well to multi-page report printouts that we need in LandlordMax.

So what we’ve been forced to do is create a temporary PDF file of the report, ask the Mac OS to print the file using the system command lp filename.pdf, and then delete the temporary file. This works pretty well, the only downside is that the Page Setup and printer setting options that comes along with most programs are not available because we’re not really printing from the software itself, nor can we pass them on to the system command. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way to print within Java 7 on the Mac OS.

We added this workaround in the software with Java 7 Update 17. Unfortunately s far as we can tell the bug has been around at least since Update 9, but probably earlier. I just checked and we’re now at Java 7 Update 25, and guess what. Still no fix! No mention of the issue either.

The big question now is whether this is a Java (Oracle) issue or a Mac (Apple) issue? In either case, I would think both companies should want to fix this issue right away. It’s not exactly a minor issue. I don’t understand what’s holding up a resolution to this issue. It makes absolutely no sense to me. This is core functionality that affects both their users in a big way. It’s not a little bug, it’s huge! Printing is important, even in today’s digital world.

Hopefully Apple and Oracle can put their differences aside for a little bit and resolve this issue. It’s affecting a lot of people and we don’t deserve to be the collateral damage to their war against each other.

Lines of Code Revisited Again

LandlordMax Rental Property Software - Lines of Code

Again, just like last time, I completely agree that Lines of Code (LOC) is not an ideal metric to measure the scale of a system because of all the varying factors. However this is all I have so I’m going to do the best I can with what I have.

As many of you already we’re hard at work on a networked and multi-user version of LandlordMax to which you can see the daily status update here. It will be released as a minor update, that is a letter increment rather than a full version number increment. The main reason for this is to assist people in moving up to the networked version with the lease friction and costs possible.

In any case, I thought I would share with you today the scale of this effort. Yes again I do realize LOC is not the best metric, but it’s really the only metric I have which can show the scale of the effort. As you’ll see, the amount of new programming code included between each version is fairly close. This is NOT intentional by any means, and I hadn’t realized it until I generated this chart today, it just happened that way. Anyways as you’ll quickly see, the difference in LOC between the last version, version 6.05d, and the upcoming version 6.05e is about the same as a full version number release!

Of course a lot of that effort is specific to the networked offering and the as such the desktop offering will only get some of the benefits, but regardless it’s still a major effort.

All that to say the upcoming networked version 6.05e is a major undertaking, probably more than most people realize. Offering networking capabilities along with multi-user support is definitely a lot more complex than just letting multiple users connect to the same database, especially when you’re dealing with complex data that many of the users connected to the same system at the same time will be sharing and modify on a regular basis. You have to deal with a lot of synchronization issues, especially when it comes to modifying and saving existing data which I won’t get into today.

And if anyone has any suggestions on other interesting metrics I can fairly easily, please let me know. I’m always interested in learning more about our system.

Amazing Tip To Increase Your Real Estate Rental Profits in Less Than a Day

Writing checks

Before I begin let me share a story that some of you might have already hear, at least in some variation of another. A woman sends her husband to the store to buy a ham, but she specifically asks him to have the butcher cut it in half. Of course the husband forgets to ask the butcher, so when he gets home his wife is not too happy that she has to cut the ham in half. The husband then proceeds to ask his wife why she cuts it in half, to which she responds that her mother has always done it that way and that was reason enough for her.

Luckily for the husband, his mother-in-law is there visiting for Xmas. So he takes the opportunity to ask her why she always cut the ham in half before cooking it, to which she replies because that’s how her mother also always did it.

Still not happy with this answer the husband convinces his wife to call her grandmother to try and figure out this mystery. After all, this is now three generations that have always cut their hams in half before cooking it, and no one knows why. It baffles him that no one has ever asked why. Well thankfully the grandmother finally had the answer, it was because her oven was too small to cook a ham in one piece, so she had to cut it to make it fit. A simple solution to a simple problem that was no longer true.

The moral of the story of course being that everyone just did the same thing because that’s how it had always been done. No one ever questioned WHY it was done that way, they just went ahead and continued to do the same thing.

And this is at the heart of the incredible tip I’m going to offer you today on how to increase your PROFITS, not your income, but your profits, by a pretty significant amount!

As many of you already know, my company LandlordMax Software sells property management software (also sometimes refered to as rental property software, landlord software, and so on). One questions we get asked often enough is if we offer check printing. Which leads right into the tip on how to significantly increase your profits while at the same time reduce your workload!!

Why do people need check printing? Seriously. Think about? Why? Do you really need to have software that prints out tons of checks each month these days? When is the last time you looked at automating their bill payments? Most property managers and landlords just continue to write and send checks for their bills, but why? Because that’s how they’ve always done it. But is it necessary?

Today many many many bills can be completely automated. If you cover the utilities for your tenants as part of the rental agreement, then each payment to the different utility companies can be automated, avoiding the need to write and send a check to each company. We’re not talking just one check here, possibly quite a lot. Today most utility companies have some kind of method or other to have your bills automatically paid.

If you’re a property management company that sends checks out to the individual property owners, there are a number of other options you can exercise. Most banks and financial institutions have all kinds of ways to send money digitally that will save you time and money (and fees). For example most employers these days no longer pay their employees with checks, most just do direct deposit. I’m not suggesting you take their route with your clients, only that there are options out there. When was the last time you looked?

How much of a difference can it make? What is the cost of writing and sending one check? My personal ballpark figure is about $1-$2 per check. This includes the cost to order the checks themselves, then there’s envelopers, stamps, bank fees, etc. I’m also ignoring any penalties for checks lost in the mail, which if you send a lot of checks, you’ll for sure have had some checks lost in the mail.

Above this I’m also not including all the labor costs. Sure the software can automate some of this, but you still need to load your printer with special checks which you probably had to order at a marked up price to match the specific you’re using. Then there’s the time of putting each check into the right envelope, making sure there’s no mistakes along the way. And don’t forget preparing the envelopers and so on. Printing all those mailing labels, sticking them on. It adds up faster than most people realize.

And I haven’t hit the price of the software. If you have a professional property management software solution then you’re easily looking at the thousand dollar or more range. If you’re using a small business accounting software with check printing, then it’s at least some hundreds. If you’re not using any software, then how long does it take you to manually write all those checks? In either situation there is a cost.

With all that in mind, if you have over 100 tenants (an easy round number) at 5 checks a month per tenant on average (plus one property owner payment), you’re looking at spending anywhere from $500-$2000/month of total expenses on just producing checks! Over a year it can easily get into the five figures! I do strongly recommend you look at your own full costs for writing all those checks, don’t just use my numbers. Do your own calculations.

And don’t forget to include the time costs, I can’t imagine an effort like that takes one person less than a full day to accomplish if it was all done at the same time. Over a year that adds up to 2.5 weeks business weeks of full time effort. Yuck. What a waste of time! I don’t know about you, but I have much better things to do. Especially if this can all be automated.

Now imagine that all it took was a day to automate almost all of this effort. No more need to print and/or send checks. Even if you can just automate your regular bills, and for property managers the need to print checks for your clients, how much money and time would you save? And again, this is PURE PROFIT! You’ve just reduced your costs, and not only has it not reduced the quality of your business, you’ve actually increased it!! All this because you’ve finally looked at WHY it’s always been done that way before!

To answer my question about our software, no we currently don’t offer check printing. We would like to, and do plan to eventually offer it (even after all I’ve said). However it’s not normally something you’ll see in competing solutions anywhere our price range. It’s much like a tenant asking for an in-unit hot tub while only paying an affordable rent. You can definitely get an apartment that offers in-unit hot tubs, but you should expect to pay quite a bit in rent. The same is true for check printing. However when people ask us, the answer isn’t really no, it’s more why do you really need check printing? Wouldn’t your time be better invested in researching what you can automate rather than just continuing to do what you’ve always done. Not only will you save on the price of the software, but you’ll save money each and every month from now on! And as an added bonus, the cherry on the whipped cream, you’ll have more time to grow your business rather than spend it on busywork that offers no real and lasting value.

LandlordMax 2011 – Another Record Fiscal Year!

About once a year I try to post how we’re doing here at LandlordMax, and it’s again that time of the year. But before I do, for those of you who are interested, here are the links to my previous yearly posts. And please note that although LandlordMax was originally founded in 2003, I only started sharing the revenues in 2007:

And now for the updated revenue graph which includes the fiscal year of 2011-2012:

LandlordMax Property Management Software - 2012 Fiscal Year Revenues

As you can quickly see, we definitely grew some more this year, to the tune of about 65%. Another really exciting and good year!

And similar to last year, this all happened during a recession which is continuing to see a lot of weeding out of our competitors! So we’re very excited about these results.

The biggest improvements for the company this year were mostly internal, although there are some improvements which are visible from the outside.

In terms of visible changes, we completely redid the LandlordMax website (long overdue) which resulted in a marked improvements in sales almost immediately. Above that we released an update to the software which was pretty significant in terms of scale and effort. The update not only fixed some issues, but it also included a number of big improvements and features. We completely re-wrote the user manual from the ground up which resulted in a significant decrease of 80% in technical support levels! That’s a huge win!! We started a newsletter for the company which is growing by about 20% a month! In less than a year (closer to half a year) the subscriber count is already in the solid 4 figures and we haven’t marketed it one bit. The only way to find it is on the footer of the company website (there isn’t even a dedicated newsletter page yet!). So having that level of subscription growth is quite impressive in so little time considering there’s also been absolutely no marketing effort. We completely revamped RealEstatePigeon.com and brought it to it’s own home rather than being hosted by a third party service. There’s quite a bit of work left there, but it’s a good start for now.

Internally, and much less visible, an incredible amount of effort has been put into releasing the networked version of LandlordMax. And I do mean an INCREDIBLE amount of effort. This release has almost doubled the size of our code base! In other words, it’s almost doubled the size of the programming code behind the software! That’s huge! I only wish I could properly express the amount of effort that’s gone into this release.

Above the effort to release the networked version, we’ve spent a lot of effort improving our internal systems and processes. I won’t go into the details here because it’s probably not very exciting for most people outside of the company, but I can tell you a lot of things have been improved and streamlined quite a bit. A lot of things that could be automated have been automated, much more than before. This has helped improve and increase our overall productivity significantly.

Our marketing efforts have also expanded quite a bit. I won’t go into the details here either, but I can tell you that we spend more a month now on our marketing efforts than we did in our whole first year.

All that to say we’ve been very busy. This year has probably been the more busy for me personally than I’ve ever been in my whole life! And I can’t wait to see how things will change for us as a company once the networked version is available.

Facebook IS Overpriced

Is Facebook worth the price?

We’re definitely in a tech bubble again. Tech IPO’s are over priced once again. Just last year I wrote the post Groupon – Back to Crazy Company Valuations, in which I explained how and why Groupon was insanely overpriced. What’s happened since that post? They went public, quickly climbed to the $25 mark and then not even a year later they’re barely trading at $12! That’s a 50% price decrease!

Not only that but their numbers still make no sense. Ignoring their accounting oddities and controversies, the P/E alone would be staggering (assuming they had a profit). For the same market cap you could buy quite a few amazing companies with a lot less risk and the same revenue growth.

But today’s article is about Facebook and not Groupon, so let’s look at their story. Why do I believe they are incredibly overpriced? Firstly, the IPO price was insane. $38? Seriously? That gives them a market cap of about $100 billion dollars! In of itself that’s not a big deal, but when you take into account their revenues and then it’s insane!

The P/E for Facebook is over 100! The last time we saw P/E’s like that was in the dot com boom from about a decade ago.

But ignoring that fact, let’s do a comparative analysis of Amazon to Facebook, since they have about the same market cap, are both in IT, and so on. Facebook has $3.7 billion in revenues. Amazon has $51 billion in revenues. Yes that’s more than 10x the revenues. Both are experiencing similar growth rates. Amazon has about 5x the total profits of Facebook. Both are selling for the same price!

So why would I buy a company that’s at least 10x smaller and making 5x less profits for the same price? Or put another way, if you could by a local little store for $100,000 or one for $1,000,000 that had the same revenues, same growth, etc., which would you buy?

Ignoring that, which means ignoring yet another red flag (which in of itself should be yet another red flag – talk about meta), how stable are Facebook’s revenues? We know that Amazon owns ecommerce. But above that, Amazon is also a leader in cloud services. Many many many many companies (some very large companies) rely on them for managing their IT infrastructures. This isn’t small, it’s a huge deal in the IT world. Personally I believe this is the future of Amazon and where they will grow extremely large and powerful.

Ok but that’s just one competitor, and maybe Amazon is wrongly priced, maybe it’s even under priced itself (or maybe overpriced too, it could be that Facebook is that overpriced – I’m not debating if Amazon is a good deal today, just that compared to Facebook, Amazon is a much better deal). But what about some other companies. Did you know that McDonald’s is cheaper than Facebook! Yes, it’s market cap is $90B. That’s 10% cheaper. It’s not growing anywhere the same rate, but still. Anyone heard of Visa? Yeah, that’s cheaper than Facebook! And it’s a company that continues to grow. And no one has any doubts that it’s profitable with their interest rates and all kinds of fees, etc. For the tech oriented there’s also Intel. Yes it’s a bit more expensive than Facebook, but it’s generating 15x the revenues and almost 10x the profits. And it’s revenues are growing (not at the same rate, but still quite nicely nonetheless).

So basically when you buy Facebook, you’re buying the stock with all of the growth of these companies already built into the stock price. In other words, you’re buying it assuming it will grow to the same size as these companies. It has to grow BIGGER than these companies for you to make any profit because the price already includes these gains! That’s a huge claim!

Of course we all know the stock prices are irrational and the price could go higher based on that irrationality, but trying predict irrationality is a fool’s errand and if you don’t jump out at just the right time, you’ll get severely burned. Not something I want to try my luck at!

I believe that the biggest reason Facebook is getting such a high valuation is because of it’s brand awareness. Almost everyone is familiar with Facebook. There’s even been a movie about it. Many many people use it. The problem is that most people don’t stop to think where and how Facebook makes it’s revenues. In case you don’t know, most of it’s revenues come from ads.

Yes it’s similar to Google and their ads (Adwords), except that Google has a major advantage over Facebook. People on Google are actively searching for something when they go to Google. They aren’t just perusing and maybe they’ll click on an ad, they’re actively searching for something, including the ads! With Facebook, the ads are a distraction. When you use Facebook, it’s to socialize. It’s not to actively look for products. You’re in a completely different mindset. You don’t go to Facebook to find something, you go to socialize. With Google you go to find things.

And since Google and Facebook share such a similar business model, it’s only fair to compare them. Google is priced at twice the price of Facebook ($200 billion market cap). Google’s revenues are growing quite well, similar to Facebook’s. But Google is generating more than 10x the revenues and about 20x the profits!! Not bad for twice the price. And you don’t have to hope it will make it, it’s already there!

So let’s do a comparable analogy of Google and Facebook. If I was to give you two options:

– Buy stock A for $1 that’s generating $0.61 revenues and $0.20 profit
– Buy stock B for $1 that’s generating $0.04 revenues and $0.01 profit

Which would you want to buy? It’s pretty clear and obvious isn’t it? Now let’s say I added another:

– Buy stock A for $1 that’s generating $0.61 revenues and $0.20 profit
– Buy stock B for $1 that’s generating $0.04 revenues and $0.01 profit
– Buy stock C for $1 that’s generating $0.52 revenues and $0.05 profit

In case you’re wondering, stock C is Amazon. In either case, as you can quickly see, Facebook is incredibly overpriced. At this time, Google would appear to be the best deal (best profits – and a higher profit margins!). Of course this quick analysis is missing a lot of factors such as growth, marketspace, etc. But it’s good enough to see the scale of the valuations of the different companies. Kinda makes you think doesn’t it?

So how is Facebook fairing since the IPO? Well firstly did you know that Morgan Stanley spent billions to support the initial IPO price point?. Yes the market wouldn’t bare the initial price so it had to be propped up.

And since then, the price has continued to decline. Right now as I write this the price is hovering around $31/share. That’s approximately a 18% price decline in just a few days! And the biggest tell of the stocks success will be when it releases it’s first real financial report as a public company. If it doesn’t meet the incredibly high expectations, well let’s just say the market has a history of not being too kind to such stocks. It will be interesting to see how Facebook does on its first filing after the IPO.

But do remember that for Google, as important as the big accounts are, Google Adwords has a lot of small accounts too. My company LandlordMax spends quite a bit on Google Adwords advertising each month. And we will continue to do as long as the ROI is positive. However many small businesses aren’t experiencing the same positive results on Facebook. Here’s just a few examples:

As you will quickly notice, the results weren’t just not positive, they were atrociously negative. As in extremely bad! To the point that it’s in not even worth trying to adjust and fix.We’re not just talking small companies with naive marketers, but we’re also talking large companies with large budgets. That’s why I can’t see the same expenditure levels on marketing for Facebook ad campaigns as are happening today with Google Adwords. Yet this growth is already assumed and calculated into the current stock price.

Again some people have shown success, but I have read too many similar articles like those above to dismiss them as just bad luck. Sure Google has similar unsuccessful stories, but they are rare in comparison.

Being an entrepreneur, I constantly talk to a lot of other fellow entrepreneurs, and I have yet to personally meet someone who has had a successful Facebook ad campaign. Again, some people obviously have had success, and you can find articles about it. I just don’t personally know any. Whereas with Google Adwords I know of many people actively using it with positive ROI, including myself. So as anecdotal as this observation is, it’s still an important observation for me. Firsthand experience down in the trenches is always very valuable and should never be dismissed.

But if you buy Facebook stock, then the price includes this growth in today’s price. It has to acquire all these customers and more to justify it’s current price! Any increase in market cap (stock price) is then based on further expected growth and not actual real growth. Sure signs of a boom with a very high potential for a large price drop.

And in my personal predication Facebook will NOT meet it’s expectations. Facebook is a cool system, and it’s great for social networking, but in terms of a advertising value for a company I believe it has limited value. Unlike Google where people are actively searching, with Facebook the ads are more like banner ads. And we all know that banner ads have atrocious click through rates, just like Facebook ads are appearing to have. Yes you can significantly improve your targeting, but does that really matter that much? It doesn’t appear to be making that much of a difference in terms of ROI for Facebook ad campaigns from the results we’re seeing. And I can’t see it improving. I also can’t see Facebook trying to compete in search. So I personally don’t understand how they will ever get the same ROI on ads as Google.

Now I’m not saying Facebook isn’t a good business, it definitely is a good business. And it can definitely earn revenues and is profitable. All I’m saying is that the current price of Facebook is not inline with the value of its business. It’s too overpriced. If the price dropped significantly I would probably start to get tempted. But right now, it’s just insanely priced for what you get. Which means the price of the stock only has one direction to go, DOWN! Maybe not today, but give it a 1-3 years and it should better line up with it’s real value.

In either case, we’ll know soon enough. I’ll definitely have to post a follow-up in a year or two to see what happened between my initial predication today and then.

Update: Looks like the Facebook IPO is about to get quite messy!! It appears that the earnings estimates for Facebook were downgraded for the IPO but not everyone was notified. Firstly it’s very odd to do it at the very last minute of an IPO, but what’s even more worrisome is that some bigger investors were notified which is considered insider information. This could get really ugly real quick!!

Update 2: It’s quickly escalating. It now looks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan, along with Facebook itself, are being sued by investors claiming to be misled in the purchase of the Facebook IPO. If you thought Martha being sued for insider information and trading was a big story, this is going to explode in comparison. One of the largest IPO in history, an over-hyped IPO, investors losing 20% in two days, large dollar values of insider trades, a high profile company, it all has the making of one of the biggest stories of the year. I’ll even predict that a movie, even if it’s just made a made for tv movie, along with at least 2-3 books, will be released within a year.

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