So it’s not just me then – late payers ARE a problem. The AFR says so.

Posted by | News | No Comments
I was talking to my accountant earlier this year when I did my tax return and we got onto the subject of late payers. I have two or three of them, some debts going back more than a year. He, having hundreds of clients, has considerably more. If I'm fuming about people not paying me for services and websites rendered (and I am!), and his anger is in direct ratio to mine, I'm surprised his brain hasn't exploded. It seems people are scared to take their money out of the bank to pay bills. Assuming they have any in there, that is, late payers hurting the cash-flow from smallest company to largest. My accountant told me of one of his clients (anonymously) who has plenty in the bank but won't pay their tax bill, preferring to leave the money earning pitiful interest, and taking a slug from the tax office of 12% interest on the balance owing. This same company owes my accountant thousands. Again they have the money in the bank but will they pay him? Will they hell! He's lucky to get $500 every couple of months from them. He and I it seems are not alone. There is an article in today's Australian Financial Review. Read this. Late Payers a Growing Problem says AFR Note that large businesses and government agencies are paying slower. This has a direct impact on small to medium enterprises, and considering SMEs make up to 80% of registered Australian businesses, these are dire times for all of us who own a business. Late payments trickle down the line and have the potential to put us small guys out of business. Maybe I'm too nice. I pay my bills. On time. Including the tax man. Even if it leaves me with not much in the kitty until the next client comes along. It's the way I was brought up; the deeper into credit you get, the harder it is to get out. The GFC may be over but believe me, we are still feeling the impact and late payers are an obvious indication. How many of you out there with your own business are experiencing trouble with late payers? And what are you doing about it? Have you called in debt collectors or taken legal action to recover debts? Will your late payers agree to go onto a payment plan, paying you some each month, and stick to it? What's your next move? And when do you think the economy will start to recover? Answers on a postcard please (or just leave a comment).

Does Telstra/Sensis just not get it or are they cunning? Musings on a phone book

Posted by | Marketing, News | No Comments
TelephoneI couldn't tell you the last time I looked up a name in the hard copy of the Telstra/Sensis White Pages. It sits in our garage, under a box full of plant seeds. If I want to know a number I usually look it up online or ring the free Australian service 1223. Don't ring 1234, it costs you a bomb. My mother, however, is in her eighties and just can't get the hang of computers. For her, the phone book is King. With the hard copy she can see who's missing from the new edition; at her age her friends aren't as plentiful as they used to be and if she hasn't heard they've gone into a nursing home or the great beyond, the phone book is a source of intel. So she was horrified to learn that households no longer automatically receive a free copy of the White Pages on their doorstep every July. Now that most people use either the internet or one of Sensis' directory lines (remember 1223, people!), phone books have passed their use-by date. If you want one, you have to phone Sensis and order one. So Mum did. She was cheerfully told that the directory she'd receive would be one book rather than two, and in a new, more useful compact form so it didn't take up as much space. It duly arrived and the reason for its compact size was obvious - the font used is so tiny that even I, who can read perfectly, had trouble focussing on it at first. Mum, recovering at that point from a cataract operation two days earlier, was only able to read it using a magnifying glass and a torch shining onto it. (Why a torch? Oh, those blasted low-wattage energy saver lights we all have to use these days. You can't read anything in her kitchen/living room let alone the phone book.) Now sit back and think of this. Who doesn't use their computer or a smart phone to look up  The likelihood is, seniors like my Mum. They are the prime audience for the hard copy phone book, but Sensis in its wisdom hasn't taken into account failing eyesight, cataracts and the other eye diseases older people are prone to. It has completely misread its main audience. Or has it? Could it be a more cunning plot? Did the smart marketing people at Sensis, keen to save a buck or two on printing costs, decide on the tiny print, realise oldies couldn't read it and then think, "Oh, wait! That's not a problem at all. They'll just ring 1234 Directory Assistance if they can't read the book and we can charge them a couple of dollars out of them every time they do." Call me cynical, but I bet the previous para is a pretty close précis of what went on in the Sensis marketing meeting.  What do you think?

How do you protect your website images from theft?

Posted by | News, Services, Websites | No Comments
Client's image I've recently completed a rebuild of a client's site at If you look at it you'll see the images on the site all sport a large watermark in the middle. My client has been the subject of image theft in the last twelve months, with his images appearing (along with all his text) on someone's else's site. His images and text have been stolen and his copyright violated. The thief had set up a site to sell very similar if not identical products. My client pursued the other company both with a local solicitor and one in the country where the thief's business is located, with pretty good results. I notice one of my client's original photos is still being used on the thief's site, but the website copy has been changed. My client isn't alone. The very nature of the internet is sharing information. In my previous post I talked about content farms, which take what's not theirs and blatantly repost it. So how do you protect what's yours? Putting the copyright symbol on every page, or even the word copyright on every page should theoretically protect you, however copyright laws vary slightly from country to country. In order to protect my friend at the Gel Ice company, I decided to put a large watermark on each image using a simple action I created in Photoshop. Watermarking is probably the most effective way to stop your images being used by the unscrupulous. I considered the following options first:
  • stopping viewers from right-clicking and downloading an image. Well, yes, you can do that, but people can still click on Print Screen and grab an albeit low res copy of your image. However as I'm using WordPress, that little bit of javascript isn't compatible with my system
  • using Digimarc digital watermarking. Again, there's the Print Screen option. And the truly devious out there know how to get around Digimarc should they download a Digimarc image
I could have put a watermark indiscreetly along the bottom of each image, but if anyone wanted to steal the image and use it, most of the images could be cropped without interfering with the key object in them - the gel ice pacs. So it was all guns blazing with the watermark. It ain't pretty by any means but if it protects my client's intellectual property, that's a good thing.  

Google declares war on ‘bad’ sites

Posted by | News, Websites | No Comments
I read on the redoubtable Mashable yesterday that Google has declared war on 'bad' sites that are nothing more than content farms. You know the ones: you key in a search term in Google, go to a popular result and it's a page of auto-RSSed links, content lifted blatantly from other sites without acknowledgement or simply very poorly written and questionable content. You might as well not wasted five seconds you'll never get back clicking on the link and glancing at the page. War on spamWhile the changes in Google's algorithm will initially apply only to the US (but we'll get it eventually), it's great news for the rest of us who do have genuine original content on our websites. Any changes that help my clients is fine by me. We work hard to write SEO-friendly content for our client sites; when you're tweaking content every word is vital if you want to get a good search result. Google has been trying hard to rid spam sites from its search engine results, and is succeeding somewhat. If you clicked my link in the last sentence and read the article, you'll have seen this: "Google’s new classifier is designed to detect spam on individual web pages by identifying spammy words and phrases." Bear this in mind if you constantly repeat keywords on your website pages. Okay, if you're a genuine person or business you probably won't be affected by the new anti-spam algorithm, but repeating a keyword more than a dozen times on one page won't help you up the search engine rankings. I use SEO Scribe to analyse my blog posts. I've mentioned it before. Fab tool that really makes you think about what you're writing and what your keywords are. It can help you identify keywords. And it tells you when you've used a particular keyword too many times. Search engines CAN penalise you if it looks like you're rorting the system. Your keyword density should be about 5.5% of your written content, Scribe says. What would you like to see Google do next (apart from offer a proper help service, via telephone, with real human beings on the other end to help you with misbehaving Google products?)

Have mobile apps had their day?

Posted by | News | No Comments
A recent noshup of entrepreneurs in New York City has seen the prediction that mobile device apps have had their day, and will be superceded by simple mobile websites, according to this article by Spencer E Ante in The Wall Street Journal. Mark Ferdman, who runs Pushkart (which offers discounts for local merchants through an application for the iPhone and other smartphones) bit a chunk out of Apple, saying "Steve Jobs has done a great job of creating a marketplace that is unnecessary." The dinner in question (fettuccine with duck confit anyone?) was a semi-regular movable feast called Mobile Mondays, the second MM to be held in New York. At the dinner NYC entrepreneurs chewed the fat (indeed the duck confit) about issues they have in common. They're passionate about their geographical location and wouldn't dream of moving to Palo Alto, California, to start up and run their high-tech businesses. The statement about apps is interesting and thought-provoking. Apps were developed to make the smartphone experience easier. A fair percentage of them don't rely on you, the user, having 3G access to use them. So if apps gradually fade away in favour of websites (how full circle is THAT?!), you'll have to be connected and drawing on your data limits all the time. I wonder if Mark Ferdman has shares in a major telco? 🙂  In an ideal world 3G access would be cheap as chips and you'd never be without signal. But our world is far from ideal. OK, over to you. Are apps dead or dying? Would you prefer to use a dedicated app on your smart device or mess around with a website?  Share your thoughts below.

1 set of Yellow Pages, unread, free to good home

Posted by | Marketing, News | No Comments
How do you find out phone numbers?I'm a voracious reader; anyone who knows me knows that. But sitting gathering dust in our garage are books we don't even unwrap any more until it's time to throw them away - our telephone directories the White Pages and Yellow Pages. We never read them; never need them.  We moved them to the garage a few years back as they were cluttering up our miniscule living room, and there they have remained. At first we consulted them, but once they had a pile of gardening stuff on top of them it was easier to just go online than unpack the phone books. So these days if I want to find a specific person or business, I search online through the White Pages. I don't ring Telstra's 1234 service as it's too expensive. However, people, 1223 is a free directory assistance number from residential landlines on the Telstra network. Remember that and use it. Telstra doesn't promote this free service as they'd rather make money from you. If I'm searching for a non-specific business in a particular industry, I'll use Google. If I want a local handyman I'll firstly ask the neighbours who they used and were they happy with the result, or try the local newspapers. Re the newspapers, I'll then research the handyman on the internet to see what people are saying about him, if anything, or if he has a website I'll read it. If all else fails I'll use the Yellow Pages online. The one thing I don't do any more is read the print versions of the telephone directories. In an effort to win me back to these wonderful tomes that do duty in countless houses holding up broken bookshelves and other pieces of furniture, Telstra has issued our house with a mini Yellow Pages aimed at our section of Sydney. "Glovebox-sized," it markets itself hopefully. Poor thing, it gets no trips in our cars. My husband's glovebox is full of CDs and my old Golf doesn't even have one. Just some door pockets filled with rural maps and umbrellas. I did carry a "Glovebox-sized" Yellow Pages in the back of my car for while, and threw it out when:
  • I discovered it was three years out of date
  • I'd never used it
  • It was covered in oil as my spare oil bottle had leaked
My husband and I both own iPhones, so we have access to the White and Yellow Pages online when we're out and about. We don't need another bit of stuff in our cars which we won't use. My mother is in her 80s and relies on the print version of the directories, albeit with good lighting, spectacles and a magnifying glass. When each new directory arrives she compares old friends' entries with last year. If she hasn't heard from them in a while and they're not in the directory, she presumes they're in the hereafter instead. For her, home delivery of the directories is a must as she doesn't use a computer or smart phone. [pullquote_left]Why is there not an opt-out service for people who don't want the hard copy directories?[/pullquote_left]I suspect there are thousands of if not at least a million people like me, who use technology to find who and what we need. People who chuck their unread (but hopefully unwrapped) directories in the recycle bin each year. It's got me wondering how many trees are felled needlessly for people who just don't need their directories? And how much of the production and print cost is taken up in our account fees. Telephone directories are delivered automatically to every household and business. Why is there not an opt-out service for people who don't want the directories? Now to the big questions for those of you reading this who own your own business:
  • If you're a business, do you spend your advertising budget on the Yellow Pages?
  • Online and/or print?
  • If so, do you believe you're getting value for money and the number of customers you want from that ad spend?
  • Would you buy, at enormous expense, a large display ad if you're not one of the major players in your industry? (ie if you're competing against Canon Australia, or Harvey Norman, do you match their ad size?)
  • Or do you use only Google adwords or a split between Adwords and the Yellow Pages?
  • Perhaps you're promoting your business using a targetted Facebook ad campaign?
  • Is the Yellow Pages actually relevant to your business?
I'd be interested to know what small to medium businesses are up to when it comes to using the Yellow Pages to market their businesses. Is it a dinosaur, or is there still a need for your business to use it? As for me, I don't advertise in the Yellow Pages; much of my business comes from referrals or my own website. Would I advertise in the YP? No; I'm in an industry where I believe people who want to find me will go online rather than open a phone book.

When hacking meant horseriding

Posted by | News, Websites | No Comments
As a child and teen I rode horses - saying I was horse mad was an understatement. Back in those heady carefree pre-computer days hacking meant a ride in the countryside (or a trail ride here in Australia). One could buy a hacking jacket, usually in a tweedy fabric, for that very purpose. Which, as you can imagine, caused some ridicule in Aussie circles where the de rigeur outfit for a hack or trail ride in the 1970s was jeans, RM Williams boots, a short sleeved shirt in summer covered by a checked lumberjacket in winter. Now hacking means something completely different in the context of my life today. And oh heck, is there a lot of it about. One of my colleagues had not only her bank account hacked but her Facebook profile last year. Same person? Unlikely. Bank hackers try to get into whatever accounts they can. The Facebook one, which impacted on my colleague's other social accounts, could have been more personal; we'll never know as the hacker hasn't been identified. A close family member has also had a bank account hacked and as it's the same bank as my colleague's wonders if they are connected or if it's the same hacker on a rampage. Fruitlessly he's been searching online doing vanity searches with hacking terms to see if someone has bragged on a forum somewhere. I rocked with laughter when he told me what he'd been up to. Even the most private forum can be scrutinised by the powers that be and no hacker worth his binary codes is going to brag on a forum about ripping off bank accounts. And this week, one of the websites I manage was hacked into. It's not one that I control the hosting for; it was a co-development with another developer, who has it hosted overseas. All of his managed sites were hacked, with a nasty translucent skull on a black background overwriting the home page. Easy to fix, as the hacker, thankfully, hadn't changed any passwords en route. He'd just added an extra index.html page which overwrote the index.php page; a quick dash into the FTP area removed it. Because all his sites were hacked this reeks of a server security compromise. Some of the sites were coded in Joomla!, some in WordPress. My developer friend has now read the riot act to the hosting company. It really does pay to buy quality hosting, where server security is a top priority. You might think $100 a year is expensive to host a site when there are much cheaper options out there, but buyer beware, you can in some cases get what you pay for in terms of site security. If you are using a free platform such as Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress etc to host your website, try and install updates as they become available, as updates typically address security issues. Change your passwords often; don't use names of family members or pets just because they're easy to remember. A dedicated hacker has sophisticated tools that can break even complicated passwords (see paras about bank accounts being hacked above!), but making it difficult does make it harder for hackers to intrude on your online life.

Why we don’t need the National Broadband Network (NBN)

Posted by | News, Services, Social Media | No Comments
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is the subject of much controversy here in Australia. Great idea but too late. When it was first mooted the iPad and other devices which rely on mobile broadband access hadn't come onto the market. The growth in iPads, iPhones and other smartphones and tablets has been so enormous - and so fast - that it's clear wireless communication is the way of the future. In a couple of years mobile devices will be outselling traditional desktops and laptops in the consumer market. We don't need fixed broadband to our homes, particularly when we, the homeowners and taxpayers, will have to pay for our telecoms to be rewired to cope with the installation. The NBN won't be dirt cheap to use, either. And those of us who use mobile devices on the run will still have to pay for a wireless account to access our devices away from home. Wouldn't it be better to have one service, wireless, that users could hook into at home and while they're out and about? And what happens when we have natural disasters like the floods in Queensland last week? Look at the damage - infrastructure for power and water has been destroyed. In some places it will take in excess of three months to even get the power connected to houses again. If you had traditional broadband such as the NBN, you wouldn't have a connection right now. It would be washed away. But... wireless technology has brought the floods and the victims' plight to the world. People were taking footage on their smartphones and uploading it, using wireless technology. They were letting people know they were safe, using their smart phones to call family or post on Facebook. If the wireless technology is available, let's improve the service, make it strong and stable without dropouts, and replace the NBN idea with something people actually want and will use. Oh, and use the money that would have been spent digging up footpaths and gardens for the NBN to help the flood victims in Queensland. I tried wireless technology in its earlier days in Australia, using the Unwired system around ten years ago. I found it absolutely awful; the signal strength just wasn't there and I can vouch for the robust build of its modems as mine was thrown against the wall more than once when I was thoroughly frustrated with it constantly dropping out. Since then I understand Unwired has improved its product and service (it needed to!). I chose Unwired because I could, in theory, use it at my home office and at my clients'. If you're with me on No NBN, speak up! Write to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Media, Senator Stephen Conroy, at

On the road with the iPad

Posted by | Lifestyle, News | No Comments
Before Christmas I set out on a road trip to Melbourne armed with my iPad rather than my laptop. I'd intended to blog about the iPad's mobile wonders while I was there, and I did. Except the apparently trusty WordPress app froze when I tried to save my post and my blog post was consigned to the great beyond. At that point I couldn't bring myself to slowly tap the whole thing out again on the touchscreen keyboard. Which was one of the little problems I had taking this admirable device away from home territory. The other was that my email failed halfway through the trip. After a day and a half in Melbourne I could receive, but not send. At home our broadband is with Telstra, but I have an Optus prepaid card for the iPad as Optus offered the better deal. I checked the configuration of my outgoing mail server and ensured it pointed to my own domain rather than Bigpond. Still no joy. Even my Gmail account stood me up. I resorted to using webmail on my iPhone ( problems), using my webhost server on the iPad using Safari, and the email program on my husband's MacBook Air (which also had sending problems for a day or two but mysteriously righted itself. It has Vodafone for travelling). I could have phoned Optus but realistically, I was on holiday and trying very hard NOT to respond to emails. The only button I hadn't pressed was the one that uses Optus as the outward mail server, because I didn't have my username and password with me. Had I phoned Optus after all I would have learned that I didn't need the password and all would have been well. One to remember for next time. Now I *know* this, the 3G capability works a treat for mail. There are limitations to travelling with the iPad if you're in my line of business. There were quite a few things I couldn't do for clients on the back ends of their websites; I needed a computer. I'm sure apps will appear in the future giving us a very similar capability on the iPad as on the Mac I'm typing this on; I could have done with them while I was away. As a travelling companion the iPad was great. I'd loaded the Smart Maps app for Melbourne so we didn't need a street directory. We don't have a GPS in the car as we have Luddite tendencies in that department and both love poring over maps, atlases and street directories. My husband has started to collect compasses. Smart Maps is a hefty app and takes up a few MBs, but doesn't need to use your 3G allocation to work. It simply loads the maps onto your device. Getting around Melbourne was a breeze with Smart Maps. I also have it on my iPhone. Catching up with news and weather was easy on both the iPad and iPhone. I haven't yet bought a newspaper app for the iPad but simply browsing the newspaper sites over breakfast was easy. I missed doing the crossword and word wheel though! I'm a voracious reader and usually find time to relax with a book no matter how busy the holiday or business trip. I'd loaded some free books from the iBooks store onto the iPad and saved myself luggage space to bring back Christmas presents. Reading on the iPad is easy; I use three readers, iBooks, Kindle and Kobo, and have found many free book downloads that look interesting. Yes, you can read books on the iPhone too but with the big screen it's much easier on the iPad. Likewise the big screen made it easier to research some of the towns we visited or passed through. Interested in the history of Kyneton, Victoria? We stopped there for a pie and I can recommend the bakery in the high street; their pies are excellent (The other great meat pies on the journey are at the Holbrook Bakery on the Hume Highway in Holbrook - do try them if you're driving that way). Kyneton didn't look like a typical gold rush town compared to nearby Castlemaine and Bendigo, and two minutes later the iPad and Wikipedia gave us its history so we explored briefly before heading on - it's a lovely place to visit as are the other two. Despite the email issues travelling with the iPad rather than the laptop was a liberating and positive experience. I actually felt like I had a holiday without having to take my mobile desk with me, even though I did have to do some client work on the trip. This is usual; I haven't had a proper holiday where I can simply switch off and pass the buck to someone else in ten years. As a small business owner I don't think I'm alone here. The iPad can't replace a desktop or a laptop, but it is powerful enough to keep you in touch, let you communicate, and give you the ability to make the most of your leisure time away from the desk. It will certainly be my 'holiday computer' in the future.