Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yay! I'm In 30x500!

Yes, I'm one of the 75 students in the winter 2012 30x500 course.

What Is 30x500?

30x500 is a four-month "product creation" course by Amy Hoy, the creator of Freckle and Charm. "Product creation", because you don't exit the course with a ready made product.

Instead, you're going to learn (in addition to other things):

  • how to have only profitable ideas
  • how to secure customers for your product before you ever commit a line of code, or write a single page
  • how to build a product by yourself, without making yourself miserable
  • how to find your customers
  • how to get your customers to come to you
  • how to write sales copy so your customers will listen — with no previous copywriting experience
  • how to launch your product to immediate sales

This course has propelled several success stories, including Bootstrapping Design and Planscope, actually, Planscope twice.

Why I Chose 30x500?

For 13 years I was a designer and developer in a large multinational company. I worked in research and development. That means we made brand new products. Most of those projects failed in a way or another.

At least two times in my career we worked for over two years to create a product that was discontinued almost immediately when it came out. I loved both of those products but they just didn't sell well enough.

Looking back, I can't name any telltale sign of a product that's going to fail. The failing products are not always bad products... And there are some awful products that just thrive.

The only common nominator to all failing products is that they don't sell well enough. I think this course offers an unique viewpoint to that program - getting the customers first.

I want to create my own SaaS-application. And I want to be successful. I don't want to bury another product.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

American Tourist, Are You Being Impolite?

This is continuation from Traveling Beliefs: Human Unity and Hospitality. This is the third and the last part of the European Travel Series. After this one I'll get back to passive income topics.

The content of this article is based on my observations and if you represent some of the nationalities mentioned here and you feel that I misinterpreted your culture, let me know.

As you travel, you may find yourself getting a cold welcome from the locals in some countries. It could it be that you do something wrong?

Should You Learn New Languages?

Some guides suggest that you learn a bit of local language. Whether or not that affects your travel experience depends on the country.

I almost always try to do that if I spend more than 3 nights at some country. Being able to say at least "hello", "please" and "thank you" is nice.

You don't do that to survive. It is a mean to make your host feel more appreciated and thus treat you better. In addition, it helps you to connect with the local people and learn more about their culture.

For Scandinavian countries, you don't need to do that. Most people speak English just fine and they are not bothered that you don't know their language. You don't earn extra cookie points by learning to say "hello" and "thank you". You do get an extra smile, but that's about it.

For East-European countries it is not necessary either. People there don't speak English as commonly as Scandinavians, but those who do are happy to practise their skills. They don't really expect you to know their language. So no cookie points here either. Besides, those languages are so damn hard that you'd have problems pronounce them anyway. Try "köszönöm" or "dziekuje" (Ukranian and Polish for thank you).

On the other hand, in the real "old-world" countries just learning some language is not enough. You also need to learn some social customs.

Being You, You Are Being Impolite

People in France, Italy and Spain are polite and formal. If you talk to them like you are used to, you are being rude from the start.

Most people forgive this for tourists, the French being the exception. Spanish and Italian are easy-going enough not to mention it to you - but it affects how they treat you. In general, people are surprisingly nice for rude tourists.

Anyway, learning to be polite when you speak does earn you cookie points in these countries.

The problem is, you cannot use the polite language forms as English does not have them! And even if you know the local language, it is sometimes more safe to speak English if you have problems with the polite forms. Especially in France, where you find people addressing even their lovers with the formal pronouns.

But there is something you can do.

Learn To Greet People Correctly

Learn to greet people politely and they'll treat you decently - even in France.

The magic words are the ones added after "Hello".
Instead of saying just "Hello", you'd say "Hello, madam".
If I would know you better, you'd go "Hello, Jaana" - except if I was older than you or we had a business relationship.
In that case you'd say "Hello, madam Kulmala".

I know it sounds stupid, but it pays off.

Bonjour monsieur. Buongiorno signor. Buenos dias senor.

You might get fooled by listening to the local people. You'll be most probably listening to situations where people already know each other, thus using mostly names and omitting titles. Also, in all of these countries younger people are more relaxed with the language.

I should mention that Germans are super-polite and formal too, but the stuff is baked even deeper into the language. They have a lot of titles, but they are not often used in greetings, so you don't have a similar problem there unless you try to speak German.

Another thing to mention is that all these countries love handshaking. So when you have a chance, offer your hand!

If you got interested, here is a nice article of polite social customs in France. The greetings are just for survival.

You Are Weird Anyway

Sorry to disappoint you, but even if you do the greetings right, you'll be still behaving weirdly by the local standards.

You'll want food at strange times. You'll order wrong type of coffee and then complain that you don't like it. You don't take your shoes off when you come in. You don't look people in the eyes when you should - and you do that when you shouldn't. You don't follow the "Alles Verboten" signs or do something obscene.

In short, local people expect something from you - and you just cannot deliver.

And if you love personal growth, you'll enjoy every moment. I especially love the moments when I realize that something that I previously thought was part of my personality is just a learned social habit. I also enjoy encountering habits that would not be allowed in my culture but are perfectly fine somewhere else.

I wish you happy travels!

Lots of problems and anxiety with traveling is caused by people have too little time. For most people, the lack of time is a direct consequence for being an employee to someone. The solution? Let's get some passive income!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Traveling Beliefs: Human Unity and Hospitality

We are all the same when you dig deep enough.
You depend on the local network of people and their resources when traveling.
Most people are honest, helpful, friendly and hospitable. 
People care for each other. 
The world will provide you what you need.

So relax and enjoy the ride.

How do the above beliefs show in your actions?

You don't have to bring everything with you

You know, we have shops selling clothes, shampoo and nailpolish here. We do laundry too. Do bring your presciption medicine.

I do carry my pink mini-laptop on my every trip. Its nice for working, checking weather reports and doing hotel reservations for the rainy days.
The best free site to see weather in European countries is Norway's weather service

You don't have to read the travel guides beforehand

Locals have the best knowledge of the best places anyway, just trust them. Lots of great places are not listed in guides. For example, most guides of Italy miss the holy mountains in the north. People go to Asia for mountain retreats while we have great places for meditation and working right here. In both cases you'll be budget bunking in spectacular places.

I used to read Lonely Planet guides. But doing that was a chore! And then when I was traveling, I found myself in a queue with others carrying the same book. Often the best things have nothing to do with sights listed in guides - like learning new skills from local experts. Or seeing local plays or concerts. Meeting local people.

Also, in many European countries tourist offices have excellent services. If you have not made a schedule too tight, you'll have time to read their condensed brochures in some place nice.

You don't have to book everything beforehand

It is quite easy to find a place to stay on the fly. Having pre-made reservations just forces you to follow some pre-made plan.

Of course, if you want to go to some specific event and that is important to you, do make the reservations beforehand. But for general travel, it is not needed. Also, you may well find more interesting places to stay and they are often much cheaper than you'd find online.

We have not made any reservations for a long time. Based on our experience, we have not been able to stay where we wanted only 1% of the time. In those few cases we have tried to get an accommodation on the fly during some major local event. What happened then? We just continued to another town.

There is something to see everywhere

Where there are people, there is something to see and learn.

You don't have to carry everything all the time

Just trust the locals - and smile (they may be afraid of you). Check out what locals do in general and then follow the example.

In most European countries we feel quite safe leaving most of our stuff to the "hotel". Smaller the place, more you can trust them. Not needing to carry everything makes it so much easier to go around. Admittedly, we are minimalists and don't carry much luggage anyway. There isn't much to rob from us - and we always judge the situation case by case.

To this day, we have not been robbed. If we get too trusty, the locals will warn us. Just a couple of days ago we were approached by an Italian gentleman who told us that we were fine leaving our motorcycle helmets laying on the bike in their town. But he warned us that the bigger cities are full of immigrants who will not hesitate to steal our stuff. Lovely. We took the advice.

You'll entertain the locals with your act

Remember how we all are the same? You may not feel like that when you travel. But keep your mind open. You'll soon see how much of your beliefs of what is proper behaviour is just that - beliefs.

As you often don't know how to behave "normally" in the target culture, the best thing is to laugh at it (unless you really hurt someone with your behaviour). Let the locals have their fun on your account.

Above the friendly common core, people come in all flavors. Some cultures you'll connect immediately with, some not. For an American coming to Scandinavia, I'd assume the behaviour there feels cold to him. It always depends on what you expect.

Like, coming from Finland, I don't expect parents to kiss their children to the mouth. It took me by a surprise when I saw that first time. But in general, Europe is lame on that account. You'll not find old ladies munching on their grandson's genitals. (The Fearful Adventurer is a lovely blog, check it out)  

When I go to Germany from Finland, germans feel overly friendly and polite. When I go to Germany after staying in Italy, germans feel tacky and remote. Always when I go to Poland, it feels like home - no extra superficial smiles wasted ;)

Does the above sound awkward?

Do you feel that you could not enjoy traveling like that? No problem. There are no requirements here. Pick the stuff that you feel comfortable with.

The above beliefs are just what I've found compatible with traveling. You are free to sport your own.

This is Part II of the Travel Series, you might also want to read the Part I.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How To Get Banned By Google And Amazon

Yes. I've got my lily white newbie butt kicked by the big boys. I've got both my Blogger site banned from AdSense and my Amazon AskVille account suspended.

After making a ton of changes and appealing twice, I've finally got the AdSense ban lifted by Google. But as far as I know, there is no way I can appeal in AskVille, so I guess I can say goodbye to my account there.

Here are my tips on how to get yourself into trouble:

Violate Google's Strict Content Limits

It is obvious that you are not allowed to show ads in pages that contain adult content. But it depends on culture what is considered appropriate and what not.

Google's generic guideline is that you may put ads to every page that you could easily show to your colleagues or your kids.

As an ex-dancer it never occurred to me that dance and clubbing costumes could be considered bad... If I had kids, I'd be happy to show them samba-wear and leather clothing. Sure, those clothes are sexy and sometimes revealing, but I don't think they are obscene unless presented that way.

Well, Google disagrees. I do understand that. They are probably selling ads to countries where women still have to cover their hair.

So you have to be very careful about your site content if you want to have ads there. Don't think what you could show to your colleagues and kids. Think of the most conservative person you know. Now think what he could easily show to his grandmother!

I think this is quite obvious. It just never occurred to me that I should judge my content by world-wide standards. Sure, I can do that, but I do have to pay attention. In the future I will.

An interesting detail here is that the page that got me banned has been online almost a year now. But last month I noticed from my stats that a lot of people came to that page looking to buy some clubbing wear. As the pics were a digital remake of real-world clothing, I added an affiliate link to the page. The affiliate shop sells fetish clothing - including pieces that you really cannot show to your kids. And right after that I got banned. I cannot but assume the affiliate link had something to do with this ban...

Advertize Your Site In Amazon AskVille

I was pointed to AskVille by SBI search tool. It shows that my competitor site has plenty of backlinks there. I looked at those entries and thought: "Gee! That is an easy way to get people to notice me. I can do just what they have done!" But I soon found out I could not.

I gave a clear and valuable answer to a recent question and pointed people to my new site for more information. I got my account banned after my very first answer. The reason was advertising and my account is totally banned for undeterminate time.

I should have read their rules instead of assuming that I can do what others have done.

Did I report my competitor to Amazon? No, I didn't. If they got links in, good for them. The links were part of real answers, just like mine. I don't want those answers get removed.

I did get a bit mad when I found out that I cannot appeal. The mail I got gives a link to a page where I am supposed to do that, but I cannot access it without a valid account. Creating a duplicate account to appeal would violate their rules too.

That's too bad and I'm angry for that. It was my very first answer/mistake and they did not give me any warnings or anything. Hardly fair, I'd say.

The good thing is that my regular Amazon account does not seem to be directly connected to this AskVille thingy. So I hope I'm not blacklisted anywhere else now...

Stupid Mistakes, Valuable Lessons

I got the bans for not reading the small print carefully enough. Just plain stupid mistakes!

You are allowed to laugh now. Well, I am laughing. I'm also glad I've got the lessons now when I don't have much to lose yet.

In any case, I felt miserable getting banned. Ah, that feeling of not being approved. It hurts.

I've never been banned before. But then, I have not had any affiliate business before. It just seems to me that I now need to work with a stricter set of rules. What has never got me any problems before, is suddenly forbidden behaviour. That's just how it goes.

That's just fine to me. I'll learn.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Travel Series - How To Spend Your Passive Income

I just noticed Steve's tweet about a meetup in Oslo, Norway. I was in Norway this June and we passed Oslo by less than a hundred kilometers, so that hit me. Then I found out that Steve has an interest in traveling. How fun!

I got an instant inspiration to share my travel experience and some things I've learned on the way.

And... I ended up writing a lot, so I just had to split it into several blog posts. I also found myself writing about attitudes and beliefs needed in traveling - a subject I assume Steve don't have much problems with.

Not Your Regular Travel Guide

I'm definitely not going to deliver regular travel tips. You'll find plenty of bible-sized travel guides telling their truth on what to see and where to go.

What everybody likes is so personal!

I feel that sometimes guides and pre-planning distract you from what is important. It makes you concentrate on places instead of people and life.

Yes, you'll be sporting off nice travel photos of places your friends know, but... did you get the experience you came for - or did you just stand in different queues waiting to check out the places?

I don't think this applies for Steve, but lots of people start by doing just that and for a while they'll be happy with that. That's fine. Everything goes.

Even though the first tips article is quite general, I wrote them both from the viewpoint of traveling in Europe.

My Greetings From Piemonte, Italy

I love traveling. I started in my mid-twenties and during the last 10 years I've visited over 30 countries with my husband Kari. In fact, my first eBook is going to be a specialty travel guide. Thanks to Cindy and her tips on eBooks, its going to be out quite soon.

We started with ready-made tours and handicapped by our beliefs. Traveling forces you to grow. That, or you grow to hate traveling.

With time, we found our own traveling style. And we changed. In the last 4-5 years we have been extensively traveling in Europe. No reservations, we just go.

Lately, we have been returning to Italy over and over again. Actually, we are in Piemonte right now. We rode here on our motorcycle, starting from Finland (we stay there most of the year) and going through Sweden, Germany and Switzerland on the way. Below is a picture I snapped yesterday.

Why Italy? Well, we love the food. Also, the people here have a wonderful attitude and they are naturally in line with the beliefs that we want to establish at the moment.

What have beliefs to do with traveling? Well, everything.

Stay tuned for the Part II - Traveling Beliefs: Human Unity and Hospitality.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

August 2012 Status Report (Week 16)

Hi there! I'm still on vacation, but I wanted to give you the August status anyway.

Freckle says I've spent 63 hours on my passive income project in August. That is almost as much as in previous month, even though I've worked only couple of hours during the last 2 weeks.

Passive Income In August 2012:

Income is mostly coming from affiliate sales and AdFly.

This was a happy surprise to me, since my last month's income included a $10 donation. I was also expecting my vacation to show a bit, but it looks like this income really is passive.

Granted, I messed up and accidentally had my own affiliate cookie on when I bought new products for trying them out. I did report that, but they said I can just keep those pennies.

Costs In August 2012:

Costs include the monthly payment to Getting Rich With eBooks 3.0 and SiteBuildIt!

It also includes $100 worth of products that I wanted to test. As said, I messed up with the purchase. I had my own affiliate cookie on. Even though I got to keep the money, I saw that the payment for those products was much lower than the main product. I also did not check the tax limit and ended up paying some taxes, which made the products even more expensive.

I could have easily avoided this cost, but I wanted to try out those products.


Even though my passive income grew again, I also saw the dark side of the project this month.

My SBI site have been up for over a month already and I've not yet earned a penny from it. That was expected as the monetization is not plugged in yet. I've written a handful of nice articles that I'm proud of, but I'm impatient right now. I'd like to monetize, but the next thing to do will be to start getting some backlinks to my site. I hate the tortoise speed of SBI!

I bought $100 worth of products, but I did not like them enough to recommend them. That was really sad, since the main product is excellent. Another downside is that the experience on these products varies from person to person. They were not suitable for me, but someone might still like them a lot. However, as things are, I cannot recommend them myself. So I practically just lost the money to try them out. I could get some of it back though.

I've also got some negative feedback on my project. I've got it from my friends and relatives offline and online, by getting banned. I'll be telling you more about that later. 


Even though I've seen some drawbacks this months, they have all been mental. I'm glad to see that my passive income is still going up.

I've have great fun with my project and I'm not going to stop just because there have been some obstacles in the road.

I'll continue enjoying my vacation about two weeks or so. But after that I'll be back in business!