Why You Should Own Your Website

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on December 19, 2012.

Big WWWA professional website is the most crucial marketing tool that a small business owner has at his or her disposal. Establishing and retaining full ownership and control of your website is equally important in the rapidly shifting online world.

There are scores of “out-of-the-box” options out there from large, well-known companies that offer an easy and (seemingly) low-cost gateway towards establishing their own website. Such options can be very attractive to those who have little or no experience with websites because they often including editing tools where business owners can create their site. However, beware of some potent fine print that accompanies these “great” deals.

The first common issue is a lack of control over updating content or expanding the site. When a site is new, it is also small. The handful of pages and/or features you get with these “out-of-the-box” deals is usually sufficient for a start-up, but inevitably a business’s needs will change or grow (or both). This is where the large, well-known company makes their real money, often charging exorbitant amounts for additions or simple changes. For those old enough to remember, think about the old “12 records for a penny” deals. These club memberships were great upfront, but you were committed to buy each month for a couple years at whatever “regular club prices” they decided to charge you.

The second typical issue is ownership. Depending on which company you’re dealing with, these issues could range from simple challenges like being unable to control the Twitter handle that appears when a reader selects the “share” button to more complex difficulties such as site copyright. I had a client who ultimately didn’t own anything on his existing site even though the images were of him and his staff and the words described his business. Lack of ownership can also have an adverse effect on search engine optimization (SEO) as limits are placed on how pages are constructed and the types of tools available to help improve your SEO.

As a website designer who specializes in creating custom websites, I obviously have an interest in promoting well-built websites. I have several clients who were entangled in these “out-of-the-box” schemes and the limitations were so severe that we were forced to rebuild the entire site to make even basic enhancements. Building your site organically may be a slower and (initially) more costly option but you will reap the rewards in the long run by maintaining ownership and control.

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The Uphill Battle Facing Small Business

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on November 19, 2012.

Uphill Battle Facing Small BusinessNext Saturday, November 24th has been deemed Small Business Saturday, positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the post-Thanksgiving shopping spurt. On the surface, this is a very good thing. It brings widespread awareness to small business in general and should cause consumers to think of the little noticed shops they may routinely pass on their way to the big box store.

I must admit, however, that I have some skepticism about this initiative. First, it was launched by American Express, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national, corporation that may be about as far from “small” as one can get. AMEX has also registered the terms “Shop Small” and “Small Business Saturday,” which means that an actual small business may get into trouble if they used these terms in this context without permission or sanction from AMEX. I don’t mean to dump too much on American Express as I still think this is a great awareness campaign for small businesses, but let’s be frank; it is a big advertisement for their financial services.

There is also a bit of cynicism with the term “small business” itself. It has been volleyed around the political world in recent times as a mere catch phrase, well focus-tested and positive. In a way, saying you’re in favor of small business is like saying you’re for “world peace,” a great sounding concept, but totally meaningless unless you’re willing to look at the finer details needed to achieve such a lofty goal.

In the past political season, we’ve heard both sides speak how they were in favor of “small businesses” or the “middle class.” But when you look at some of the finer details, you see that the opposite is true. When the IRS audits a large corporation, they receive an average of $9,173 per man hour in recovered tax revenue. When small and medium size business are audited, that figure is only $702 per hour, a ratio difference of about 13 to 1 in actual dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Yet small-and-medium-sized-businesses are audited about 30% MORE than large corporations. Why?

The answer is that small businesses are easier targets. They don’t have the resources to properly fight these audits, so they are “low hanging fruit” for bureaucrats who are more concerned with their own success rates than actual dollars recovered for the taxpayers and, of course, this proves devastating for many small business owners. This stat alone should make you furious but there are many more examples of the deck being stacked against small business.

The point is, small business is a great attribute in a free society but there are many unnecessary burdens that inhibit our growth and survival. Most people agree that they want small business to thrive and it is time we all take some responsibility in challenging these burdens.

Clear and Unfiltered

This article was orginally published at Big Blue Bullfrog on October 3, 2012.

First Presidential Debate in DenverYesterday was the final day of the regular season in Major League baseball, and what a regular season it was. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the triple crown (finished first in home runs, RBIs, and batting average) a feat accomplished for the first time in my lifetime, the Oakland A’s won their division on the final day, the Washington Nationals became the first team from DC to make the postseason in merely 80 years, and the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But the baseball regular season wasn’t the only thing that ended last night.

With the first presidential debate last night in Denver, the fog of deception that was fabricated to make Mitt Romney look like he is an unacceptable choice for the highest office in the land has been permanently dispensed. In fact, some of the more enjoyable moments of the debate were those when President Obama appeared absolutely lost because Mitt Romney refused to accept the caricature of his positions created by the left. But Mitt Romney is not a caricature and his legitimacy shone brightly in contrast with the president last night in this debate which focused exclusively on domestic policy.

Without the filter of campaign commercials or slanted media analysis, the candidates were presented bare (without teleprompters) and had to rely on their own knowledge and wits. In this setting, it was clear who had command of the issues of the day and that was the challenger. A long running CNN poll, which has been taken after every Presidential debate since 1980 had Romney winning by an astonishing 67% to 25%, shattering all previous margins.

A lot of the initial analysis of the debate claimed that Romney won because he was more “aggressive” and one analyst actually said Romney got the edge in time using a football analogy. Actually, President Obama clocked in with nearly five more minutes than Governor Romney and it only felt like Romney spoke longer because his words had so much more substance than Obama’s well used platitudes and stereotyped preconceptions.

There are still two presidential debates remaining this month along with one vice presidential debate, so this race is far from over with 33 days until the election. However, anyone who paid close attention last night has got to like Romney’s chances at this point.

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Am I Really a God?


GhostbustersYears ago (I believe it was the mid 1980s) I had a business in New York City with a few partners. Although I am prohibited by pending litigation from disclosing the finer details about this company, I can say that we were a startup which used cutting edge technology and set up shop in an old municipal building. Anyway, we were out on a service call one night when one of my partners said to me “Ray…” (they called me ‘Ray’ back then, long story) anyway, he said;

Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘YES’!”

Although this was some sound advice which I’ve never forgotten, I really hadn’t given it much thought through the years as, surprisingly, no one has really asked me if I’m a god in the past 30 years or so. But lately I’ve been considering it.

About a year ago, my son Jacob and I were driving home from visiting my eldest son in New York City. When we passed the exit for Annandale (New Jersey) I was naturally moved to exclaim;

California tumbles into the sea, that will be the day I go back to Annandale…”

At first Jacob looked at me strangely, not getting the reference but just then “My Old School” by Steely Dan (the very song I had just quoted) came on the satellite radio. Was this a coincidence? I think not!

Angry BirdsJust this morning, a new Walmart commercial came on the television in which they advertised all the brand name clothing that they are offering this back-to-school season. At the end of the commercial they showed the logos for all these brands and I noticed an “Angry Birds” logo. “Angry Birds?” I asked out loud, “Since when do they make clothing?” “What was that, dear?” my wife asked. “Angry birds!” I shouted, just as a large bird flew into our bay window with a loud “thump!” Now would someone please explain just what supernatural forces I conjured up to compel that bird to risk life and wing at the very moment when I shouted?

This is something that will need much more exploration.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes


SmokeToday is the 20th anniversary of my giving up cigarettes once and forever. I smoked for ten years during my younger days from ages 13 until 23, but only ever really “enjoyed” it during the first few years when I was youngest and dumbest.

I started because I wanted to look cool – really no other reason. I had friends who smoked and friends who didn’t and I never really made a distinction between the groups morally, but liked the rebellious and “grown-up” image of having a smoke between my fingers or lips. In the earliest days it was all a kind of an adventure, a certain kind of mischievous fun. I didn’t smoke all that much in those days, just during strategic social moments. In fact, I remember there was a group of seven of us who walked to school together and we would each chip in a dime to buy a pack each morning at the corner store (that’s right, cigarettes were only about $0.69 a pack at the time!) Of course, there was the rebellious sense of getting away with something that grown-ups would not approve of, and my friends and I would constantly share new and creative ways of hiding the evidence from parents and teachers.

However, within a few years smoking was no longer as much fun. I was now able to do it more openly and stopped enjoying a cigarette as a symbolic indulgence but more as a necessary crutch to get me through the day. For several years before July 13, 1992, I had wanted to quit as I became more and more aware of the dangers and really started to loath the side effects of the habit itself. In spite of this, I had never once actually tried to quit because I wasn’t only physically addicted, but more so psychologically addicted. I could not get to sleep at night if I had less than a few smokes in my pack because I had a fear that I might wake up several times during the night and need a cigarette. Think about how crazy that is – I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid that I might wake up and not be able to sleep! Further, I had seen many friends try to quit, struggle, and ultimately fail after a few days, weeks, or even months and couldn’t justify going through the “ritual” if I was ultimately going to fail anyway.

My dear ol' Mom during her smoking daysIt was ultimately my concern for a loved one which moved me into action. My mother, who had also been a smoker since her teen years, was now about 50 and I was really becoming concerned for her health. I implored her to quit and she would always comeback with,”I’ll quit when you do.” I was in a box. I had no comeback other than I was a lot younger and had “much more time” to quit. It was a weak argument and I knew it, so I reluctantly agreed to a pact with her that we each give it up for Lent that year (1992). To my mother’s credit, she kept her word. To my shame, I did not and I just kept on smoking, not even making a token effort to give it up. My mother quit a 30-something year habit, not just for Lent, but for good and for the next months between the spring and summer, I lived with a heavy guilt that I had not kept my word (and I HATE to break my word). Finally, I decided I would make a legitimate effort to kick the habit.

There was nothing remarkable about the date July 13th other than it was a Monday and Mondays always seem like a good day to start things like resolutions and diets and such (although I’m not really quite sure why). I woke up that day, took my shower, and headed off to work as normal, except on this day I left my pack of cigarettes at home. I remember struggling quite a bit through the morning and having some serious doubts whether I could really do this. But then came lunchtime, and I was in a convenience store buying an iced tea and found myself in line when the guy in front of me requested a pack of Marlboro Lights (my favorite brand). At that very moment, something inside me just clicked and I thought to myself, “that will never again be me” and I felt an overwhelming great feeling of relief. It was only Noon of the very first day that I had ever attempted to quit smoking and I knew I had it licked for life. Sure, I did go through the physical withdrawals from nicotine over the coming weeks, but my psychological outlook had totally changed and there was rarely a fleeting moment of doubt from that day forward.

I had done it with no patch, no gum, no hypnotism or support group, just cold turkey and success on the very first attempt. Now, I’m not claiming that my method is for everyone and I know a tobacco habit comes with a serious physical addition. But the lesson I learned was that when you’re sure something is the right thing to do, you just need to do it, even when the odds seem ludicrously against success. You may surprise yourself and discover abilities or resolve that you did not know you had.

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R.A.


Pinocchio Lives!


PinocchioSo it is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate within Obamacare is a tax after all. This contradicts what the president himself said when selling the policy to the American people in 2009 and 2010. It also contradicts Obama’s repeated promise that taxes would be raised “not a single dime” on the “middle class” making less than $250k per year. For obvious reasons, Pinocchio comes to mind when I think of this situation.

Beyond the nose-growing bold-faced liar aspect of this issue, there is also a less than obvious, yet more profound allegory which brings the Pinocchio story to mind. It is the dramatic sequence involving Toyland.

Pinocchio turning into donkeyIn this sequence Pinocchio is lulled away from his responsibilities by Lampwick, who leads him to a place called Toyland where everyone plays all day and never works. At first, they have a wonderful time until one morning Pinocchio awakes with donkey ears. It turns out that Playland was just a trap entice little boys into a life of servitude as donkeys. Aside from the great irony that the donkey is the official symbol of the Democratic Party, this is perfectly symbolic. Those who actually believe the promise of all this “free” stuff in Obamacare without regard for the crippling debt which awaits on the other end may someday wake up and find their donkey ears and tail are permanent.

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Father’s Day

Pat AlbanoI’ve been twice told that this day would never come.

My father has a whole assortment of chronic conditions including heart disease, kidney failure, and diabetes. In March 2010, I got a call from his physician (the first such call I had ever received) and was told bluntly that the convergence of all my father’s conditions left him no more than 3 months to live. During those subsequent months my father lost his right leg as well as one his best friends, circumstances which may have broken most people, but somehow he persevered. This past April, my father suffered his fifth heart attack and my wife, children, and I went to his bedside late at night because we were told there was a chance that would be his last night on Earth. But somehow he pulled through and he’s still here with us.

Although still in dire shape (he was brought to the emergency room just last night), I am going to cherish the time I spend with my father this weekend. Through the years he has offered me little tidbits of potent wisdom at times when I had least expected it. I believe he is still here for a purpose and, perhaps, he has one more lesson to teach me.

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Update – Pat Albano passed away on August 15, 2012. An online memorial has been set up at Albano-USA.org

The Beatles First Abbey Road Session

At the end of the Beatles last ever live performance (on a London rooftop) John Lennon jokingly said “I hope we passed the audition”. Well, there was actually a time when the band had to pass auditions and the last of these instances happened on June 6, 1962, 50 years ago today, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios for the first time.

Although the actual recordings made that day were nothing spectacular, several events happened that day which would change the course of rock history…

Read entire article at Classic Rock Review

2012 Is a Great Year for New Albums

We are excited by the quality of new albums being released so far this year. Just yesterday, we reviewed the excellent debut by the “supergroup” Flying Colors, which followed our previous review of Jack White’s debut solo effort, Blunderbuss. Earlier in the year, a reunited Van Halen put out A Different Kind of Truth – their first album with David Lee Roth in nearly 3 decades. Jethro Tull released Thick As a Brick 2, a follow-up to the original concept album from 1972, 40 years ago.

Within the next week or so Joe Walsh will release his first album in 20 solid years and Rush will finally put out Clockwork Angels, which has been in the works for about 3 years now. Due out later in the year are new albums by Smashing Pumpkins, Aerosmith, Dream Theater, and The Badlees.

Of course, there are many more not mentioned here, which will further add to this quality year in music. Please reply with any I have failed to mention.

Shifting Into Summer Mode


June is here, the kids are just about out of school, the weather is fine, and the days are long. Many people (rightfully) think of this time as a time of leisure and vacation. But this is not the case for me.

2012 is a crucial, probably THE most crucial year in the growth of my business 33 Dimensions, and I gratefully embrace the opportunity to shift into overdrive growing this business and providing service to my great clients in Pennsylvania and beyond. Despite the fact that these are econmically uncertain times, these are very exciting times for people in my business. The new tools and services that are being constantly developed give businesses like mine ever greater opportunities to offer outstanding value to our customers and work more efficiently in the process.

So enjoy the summer everyone, spend quality time with your loved ones and soak in some sun. I will be right here plugging away at the 33 Dimensions mission (ok, I do have a nice yard with a pool right outside my door, so I will survive).

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R.A.