Category Archives: Business

Ready To Start An Honest Online Business?

Congratulations! Many people are finding amazing success on the Internet. There are many opportunities available now and they will continue to expand for many years to come. We are in the early, pioneer days of online commerce. Just like those early homesteaders that settled the west, there is still plenty of room to roam.

Many pioneers pulled up roots and unsettled their families because they saw there was no place to grow if they stayed put. Just like the early settlers you may feel your job is going nowhere. Like many homesteaders who headed west for the chance to own their own land — you may hope to build a ranch with acres and acres for your prized heard to roam.

If you’re feeling like there’s no room to grow; think of Google, how it started out with its own little parcel and now it owns some of the most prime real estate on the web.

The problem is, you know you must head west to engage in these new opportunities — but really haven’t a clue what or how to take advantage of them. Well, just like those early settler days, they needed help from hundreds and hundreds of talented people. The internet is the same. Think about it; the west needed outfitters, Calvary to protect the innocent, trappers, scouts, cooks and explorers, to get started.

From Wild West To Early Pioneers

The Internet has seen the Lewis & Clarke expedition. The scouts have mapped out the trail west. AOL brought the first wave of explores to the wild frontier, and now phone and cable companies have laid the ‘railroad tracks’ for the migration. It’s time for the easterners to start the journey.

It’s easy to navigate the web and easier than ever to use a personal computer. So, the time is right for people with a little business savvy to start opening the general stores, offer services, and continue to build the infrastructure necessary for continued growth.

You are ready to start heading west — after all, you’ve heard “there’s gold in them there hills….” So, let’s talk about where to begin. The possibilities are limitless.

Step one — personal inventory

There really are many ways to earn a decent income on the internet. So many that it is hard to settle down and just pick one. You can sell your wares on a number of sites, or have your own web-store, you can offer a service on eLance.com, if you like to write you can take up blogging. If you have a specialized interest or knowledge you might find a membership site a great way to earn income. It all depends on your financial expectations and interests.

Many people will insist that the first step in starting a business is creating a business plan — and I agree a business plan is important — but there is a step that goes even before that. It’s a personal inventory.

Sit down with a piece of paper or with a word document and type out all the things you’re interested in and know about.

This may take awhile, but try some free form thinking — what are your hobbies, what do you like to read, what do you do for a living, where do you like to go on vacation — are there patterns in your interests?

Do you like working with people? Or are you hoping to do business online to avoid ever having to face another human being again? These are important questions. If you don’t like people, a retail or service job might not be your best choice. On the other hand, if you enjoy people and are worried you might become isolated by sitting in front of a computer, a service, or customer centric job, like retailing might be perfect.

Do you enjoy bargain hunting and garage sales or have an interest in collectibles? eBay is a natural fit.

Do you prefer spending hours curled up with a good book? Perhaps writing a blog featuring reviews would be a natural fit.

Like to travel, see exotic places, and hate to be tied down? Write a travel blog, learn photography and shoot ‘stock photos’ for travel guides or open a travel accessory store. Amazon makes it easy to have a store up and running in no time. It will even provide the inventory if you have gaps.

Are you an artist who loves to create drawings or play with photographs? You can design graphics for the growing web design industry. Or, if you like design and want to learn a little coding, your web design services should see a thriving business for years to come.

Are you an inventor? Love to create products, or never run out of ideas? If you can create them yourself, and if they answer a need — the internet is a great place to showcase it. If you have more ideas than the talent to make them, hire a partner to work with you — there’s lots of infrastructure to be created on the web.

Really, there are many, many ways to build wealth on the net. And, yes in these early days, there is still lots of room for the regular person to become the next Internet superstar. If that’s what you want. It really is up to you.

Your first step is to look inside yourself and ask — what do you know and what can you offer to others. The one thing we know about the net is that people use it when they are seeking solutions to their problems and answers to their questions.

Once you have a few ideas down on paper, it’s time to start mapping out your journey west….and start clearing the land and building the homestead. On the net, it’s called choosing and creating a niche.

To be continued……

How To Buy A New Computer – Step 1

I’ve helped several clients pick out new computers recently and I found that many of the same questions pop up from person to person. Since there are great bargains on new computers right now, this will be the first in a series of posts explaining what to look for when you buy a computer.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Memory

Like people, computers have many different types of memory. This can be especially confusing to non-tech buyers, since the same word can refer to drastically different components. However, as a rough rule, whatever type of memory you’re buying, more is always better and faster is always desirable.

DATA AND MEMORY

Computers have something very analogous to human short term and long term memory. If I told you I work for a company called Ghost Leg Media, and then, five minutes from now asked you the name of my company, you might very well say “Ghost Leg Media.” However, tomorrow or next week, you will probably have forgotten.

However, if we were old high school friends who put out an underground paper called “Ghost Leg News,” you would probably still recall the rollicking good times we had back in the day, working at good old Ghost Leg.

In the first case, Ghost Leg Media was lodged in your short term memory, but – since it had no importance to you – it was quickly forgotten. In the second case, a memory with great emotional resonance stayed in your long term memory and you might recall it long after you forget the names of your teachers or classmates.

Computers have a similar trick.

A computer’s short term memory is called RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory.

RAM is very fast, but it is also temporary. When you turn off your computer, data stored in RAM is lost.

When you are working on a document and your computer crashes and the document is lost – that document was stored in RAM.

On the other hand, if you had clicked “Save,” the data was written to disk. This is the computer’s long term memory. Data that is stored on the hard drive – written to disk – is safe for the long haul, barring catastrophic failure. Turning the computer off and on will have no effect on your data.

MEASURING MEMORY

RAM is now measured in Gigabytes. A new computer will usually come with anywhere from 1 GB to 4 GB of RAM pre-installed.

On a standard Windows computer, don’t settle for anything less than 2 GB of RAM for Windows XP and 4 GB of RAM for Windows Vista.

If you can afford to upgrade only one component, upgrade the amount of RAM installed.

In Part 2, we’ll look at Hard Drives, Storage, and Memory

Find Customers By Understanding How They Use The Internet

Study shows you how to target your ideal customer

A new online study byMcKinney and Media Metrix at http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=44955breaks internet users into 6 groups, based on their online habits.

This study can help you zero in on your group or tribe in a way that raw analytics can’t. Site stats and Google Analytics can give you lots of good information about visitors, such as where they came from, unique visits and even demographic information. While all that information is useful, there’s another static they can’t give you; the users motivation for coming to your site.

This new study breaks down the reason people come to the Internet. It segments the users based on time online, pages and domains accessed and the amount of time spent per web page. The study broke users into six segments. They are:

* Simplifiers * Surfers * Connectors * Bargainers * Routiners * Sportsters

Let’s take a look at what the study found out about each of these segments and consider where and how to reach your market.

The first one is: Simplifiers

Simplifiers use the Internet to make their lives easier. They come online with a specific purpose in mind. Buying a book for example, they just want to purchase it quick and easy. Simplifiers spend less time online that most — about 7 hours a month. On the flip side they have the longest tenure on the net 49% have been using the Internet for 5 years or longer.

OK — but here is the real take away about Simplifiers — they account for over half the total transactions online! If you are in the retail sector you must provide these users with an easy to use platform, or “end to end convince.”

Simplifiers generally don’t care about coupons or comparison sites, they don’t want to read long sales copy, and are not likely to spend time socializing online. If you want to target this group, don’t expect a banner ad on Facebook to work. You may need to use social media sites to build your links, and create an authority ranking with the Search Engines, but don’t expect to engage with this group via Twitter. Simplifiers will be the ones most likely to do a Google/Yahoo/MSN search and choose the top results. Once you have a Simplifier make sure you provide them with clean navigation tools and an easy to use check-out system or they’ll leave. To build their loyalty make sure these users don’t have to jump through hoops to buy from you. Amazon.com accommodates to this group beautifully with their ‘one click check out.’

Surfers — the activity of browsing the Internet is often called ‘surfing’ and this group certainly lives up to that name. Surfers account for 32% of online time, far more than any other group. However, Surfers only make up about 8% of the online population. This group visits many more pages than the average user in the hunt for what’s new. To attract this group to your site you’ll need to offer cutting-edge design and features, or content. These users are the ones who expect fresh blog posts, or a new assortment of products or services regularly. The thrill of ‘new’ keeps the Surfer moving on in the search. While these users are less likely than Simplifiers to purchase — don’t shut the door on them. Its human nature to want to share and Surfers are very likely to be your evangelists. If you provide them with new products and fresh content they are very likely to tell their friends about their find and send buyers or users to your site.

ConnectorsThis group of newbie users are looking for a reason to use the Internet. Connectors account for 36% of the active Internet user population; however 40% of them have been using the Internet for two years or less. Of this group only 42% have made a purchase online (compared to the average 61% of other groups). Connectors often use the Internet to ‘connect’ with other people through email, chat rooms and social sites. With the popularity of Facebook for women who are 55 and older — I’d guess many Connectors can be found on Facebook. While connectors may not be ready to purchase online now, this big segment of Internet users shouldn’t be ignored. As they become more comfortable with the Internet they may soon learn how simple it is to buy online. Getting the Connector to your site may be harder if you don’t have an ‘off-line’ presence. This group is very likely to come to the Internet on recommendation of a trusted brand. However, you can build your own loyal group from this segment if you can befriend the Connector on a social site. Although banner ads are not always effective, if I purchased any banner ads it would be on Facebook to start building brand confidence with the Connector.

Bargainers Bargainers are fiercely devoted to one aspect of the Internet: the quest for deals! Think you can sell high quality products for a regular retail mark-up on eBay? These hard facts may take your breath away….. Taking up only 8% of active online users this group represents 52% of eBay visitors. If your business plan includes selling on eBay and you do not offer a unique or collectible product your best strategy will be to either offer the lowest price (including shipping) for the product or to market your eBay business to other segments of users. In the latter case, you’d downplay the fact that your products are sold on eBay and consider eBay’s service simply a shopping cart/inventory management tool. If you have a supply of products you can offer these bargainers, selling to them will be simple. EBay offers the community and the price they seek. Your main duty will be to keep the products in stock and shipped out quickly.

Routiners This group of Internet users goes online for content. Only about half of the group has made a purchase online. Routiners tend to spend much less time on the net and visit fewer domains than most. They routinely go to specific sites and check for new information; typically Routiners visit new and financial sites. To market to this group is a challenge because Routiners are on the hunt for quality content and looking for the sense that they are getting ‘something special.’ This type of user is more likely to respond to a special ‘members only’ group or a paid subscription if the quality of the content is better than average. The challenge is to find the sweet spot this group will respond to and open their wallets. Membership sites are a perfect fit for Routiners. If you can find a target segment (niche market) and offer valuable information, members of this group will be your most loyal followers.

Sportsters Like Routiners, Sportsers go online primarily for content. Unlike the Rountiner though this group of online users visits primarily sports and entertainment sites. They spend just 7.1 hours a month online. That’s far below the 9.8 hour average. The more interactive and flashy your site the more likely you’ll be to grab and keep this group. This group will also respond to the feelings that they are getting something special. If you are targeting this these users try having contests, use video and audio. Unlike the serious Routiners, who want a membership site for access to useful information this group would respond more to a membership area that was geared toward fun and entertainment. A successful membership site might cater to both these groups — and be highly successful. An example of targeting both the Rountiner and the Sportser is group of fishermen. People who enjoy fishing , would look online for more information about their sport. They’d come looking for latest tips on better bass fishing as well as celebrity interviews with the latest trophy winner.

How Will the Recovery Act Help Your Business?

We’ve all felt the pinch. It’s no secret that consumers are spending less. Everyone fells the pressure. The problem really started snowballing when banks stopped lending businesses money. When we don’t have access to capital we can’t keep inventory flowing or employees running the cash registers.

You may have hoped to start an online businesses, but with the current financial belt tightening – may have decided to wait.

The new administration understands the importance of keeping small business running and have included money in the stimulus package for us.“The tax incentives and credit stimulus elements of the Recovery Act will truly help small business owners affected by the credit crunch, and will provide financing opportunities to help them create new jobs in their communities,” said Acting SBA Administrator Darryl K. Hairston.

The bill provides $730 million to SBA (Small Business Administration) and makes changes to the agency’s lending and investment programs so that they can reach more small businesses that need help.

The funding includes:

  • $375 million for temporary fee reductions or eliminations on SBA loans and increased SBA guaranteed shares, up to 90 percent for certain loans
  • $255 million for a new loan program to help small businesses meet existing debt payments
  • $30 million for expanding SBA’s Microloan program, enough to finance up to $50 million in new lending and $24 million in technical assistance grants to microlenders
  • $20 million for technology systems to streamline SBA’s lending and oversight processes
  • $15 million for expanding SBA’s Surety Bond Guarantee program
  • $25 million for staffing up to meet demands for new programs
  • $10 million for the Office of Inspector General

Of special interest to small home based business owner, is the expansion of the ‘micro-loan’ program. This program provides small loans (up to $35,000). It includes technical assistance to start-ups, newly established or businesses who are starting to grow and need a capital infusion to fund the momentum.

The bill provides funding to increase loans from SBA to participating Microlenders by $50 million through September 30, 2010, and adds $24 million in grants. Expanding this program through the stimulus bill will help ensure these entrepreneurs are not left behind in the credit crunch.

This is great news for anyone who is looking to start-up an online business in the near future. Because our general start-up capital needs are smaller, we’ll benifit from these smaller loans. Included as part of these loans are training programs to help the new start-up business.

ABout Micro-Loans:

The maximum term allowed for a microloan is six years. However, loan terms vary according to the size of the loan, the planned use of funds, the requirements of the intermediary lender, and the needs of the small business borrower. The maximum loan amount is $35,000, however, the average loan amount is around $13,000. Interest rates vary, depending upon the intermediary lender and costs to the intermediary from the U.S. Treasury. Generally these rates will be between 8 eight percent and thirteen percent. Which will beat starting up your business using Credit Card loans with Rates anywhere from 11 percent to 24 percent.

More about the Small Business Adminstrations Micro Loan Program:http://www.sba.gov/services/financialassistance/sbaloantopics/microloans/index.html

Save Customers Time, Make More Money!

A new survey* revealed that the average amount of leisure time Americans had fell 20% in 2008. Workers report their leisure time per week is now 16 hours – down from 2007 when the average was 20 hours. Our leisure time, instead of expanding with new technology seems to be eroding. The 2008 number is ten hours less than we had in 1973, at 26 hours.

What has this have to do with selling your products? Everything! If you can figure out ways to make it faster and easier to purchase from you, your customers will return. Think of Amazon.com simple ‘one-click checkout’ feature. I love it. The few seconds it saves me from looking for my charge card, typing in the numbers and retyping if I missed typed can be used getting on to other tasks at hand.

What are some simple, even low tech, time saving techniques you can employ? Here are a few – please share your tips in the comments.

  • If you sell on your own website offer Amazon, Google and PayPal checkout features. Chances are buyers have a preferred method set-up
  • Don’t pester them for feedback – they had time enough to pay, that’s all they may have to spare
  • Send customers email follow-ups with tracking and delivery confirmation numbers
  • Have a Skype account (or 800 number) so customers can call instead of typing an email (many still consider it faster).
  • Be sure and answer email questions as quickly as possible and have a FAQ page easily accessible for those questions you receive over and over.
  • Send newsletters when you receive new products, that way customers know they don’t have to spend time combing your listings.
  • If your margins afford it, ship priority mail for quick delivery

*Marketing Charts – Leasure Time Plummets

2009 The End Of Shopping Malls?

The other night, when I tuned in the national news I heard an alarming statistic. In a piece about the downturn in retail spending the anchor announced that analysts are estimating that between two to three thousand malls across America will either shut down or go out of business by June 2009.

Wow, now that’s some gloomy news if you are a small retailer. If the malls can’t stay open, well … it makes me (again for about the ten thousandth time), thank goodness that I’ve moved my retailing onto the Internet. If you are an Internet retailer, you probably feel the same way too. If you’re not, it’s time that you expand into the internet retail world.

As for those many malls that will shut down. I have a suggestion. Visit to the Puget Sound. We have two malls that faced the same fate during the last economic downturn. The traffic to these malls dwindled; they lost their anchor stores to more popular — larger malls. The outlook for these neighborhood destinations looked pretty bleak.

Maybe it’s because of the rain here in Seattle but we sure love a place to hang out and drink coffee. All that caffeine helps us make it through the short, dark rainy winter days. And, if there are books or newspapers to read or things to do, we love it even more. One local developer understood that. This developer changed the shopping malls atmosphere from a place where the main focus was to shop — to a place where people could gather — hang out, enjoy a meal, play a game of chess or watch a local band play music, or artist recite poetry. One store front was converted into a play area with a ball room for children. Parents can book the room for birthday parties and celebrations.

These malls now include space for the public library, with free Wi-Fi access. One shopping center features ongoing chess games — with a monster chess set with pieces almost life size, where challengers can face their opponents, and senior citizens play teenagers on sets brought from home. The food booths are not the normal mall fare, cooked fresh by local restaurants instead of chains.

The result — busy malls — yes, busy malls full of eager buyers who come to purchase their products in a familiar place. Someplace where the customer may have won their first game of chess — or watched their child in a local performance. Our local eBay group has our regular monthly meeting and lunch in the food court afterwards. Many of us detour into the malls bookstore for a quick tour down the aisles before we return to work, and few of us leave without a purchase.

If the B&M retailer hopes to stay in business — they too will have to learn what we Internet retailers are learning. We must provide our customers a place to engage, play and learn before they will open up their wallets.

How To Sell More Copies Of Your Self Published Books

Do you want to sell more of your self-published books?

Then you need to be listed on Amazon. Until recently, that meant you had to use a service like Lightning Source to slip in through the side door via Ingram or you had to pay for the privilege by buying a “distribution package” from one of the subsidy presses or you had to list your books in Amazon Marketplace through Amazon Advantage or one of the other Amazon seller programs.

Now, there’s a simple, low cost way available to any author or self-publisher: use Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing/printing service. CreateSpace, Amazon’s answer to Lulu, isn’t a subsidy publisher in the same way that BookSurge, Amazon’s other publishing venture, is.

CreateSpace requires no upfront expense – even for an ISBN number. No books are printed until they are ordered, saving you – the publisher – the expense of shipping, stocking, and warehousing in advance of sales. The flip side to this is that CreateSpace also offers very little in the way of handholding or guidance for novices. They state their submission guidelines for the book block and the cover, and then leave you to figure out how to meet those guidelines.

And let’s be clear – the guidelines are technical, not editorial. CreateSpace will make you a published writer – they don’t even try to make you a good writer. You can submit a manuscript rife with spelling errors, howlingly bad word choices, and the sorts of grammatical mistakes that will make your 7th grade English teacher disavow all knowledge of your existence. As long as the margins are OK and the fonts are embedded in the PDF, CreateSpace will print your book.

AMAZON LISTINGS MAKE MONEY

Here’s the profitable part – CreateSpace will give your book automatic entre into Amazon’s main catalog. Whether you use your own ISBN under your own imprint or list CreateSpace itself as the publisher, you book will be listed and sold by Amazon, eligible for free shipping and all the other Amazon perks.

Amazon’s reach will make you money – but first they’ll make some for themselves. Under the Pro Plan upgrade (free until the end of the year), each book with 110 pages or more will have a base price of $0.85 plus $0.012 per page. You set the cover price for any amount you wish – and Amazon will keep 40%

So – for a 150 page book the costs would look like this:

  • $0.85 base price
  • $1.80 for 150 pages ( at $0.012 per page)
  • $2.65 per book – total printing cost

You decide to sell the book for $14.95. Amazon keeps 40% of that – or $5.98

You make a $6.32 royalty on each book sold.

Now you may be tempted to subtract $2.65 (the printing cost) from $14.95 (the cover price) and say, I’ll sell it myself on my own web site and keep $12.30 per book! I’ll sell it in the back of the room after my seminars! I’ll sell it on eBay! And so you should. You should sell your book everywhere and anywhere you can. But understand this – Amazon is where buyers, who do not yet know that they want your book, will discover your book and buy it.

It All Starts With A Plan

Congratulations, you’ve found a product, or discovered an idea that answers a problem that people have come to the internet to solve. You’ve found a niche that has room for you. While the excitement of your new discovery still has a warm glow this is the perfect time to sit down and pencil out the details.

It’s time to create a business plan or map that will guide you through the process. It doesn’t matter if you are just looking for a little pocket money or want to earn enough to feed the family; a business plan is an important part of the process.

For those day dreamers a business plan will help keep your feet on the ground and for those of us who need encouragement to go forward — a business plan will guide you.

You have some raw data from Wordtracker.com which will help you build your plan. It’s time to pencil it out to see if your idea will meet your expectations. By the time you are finished you’ll know the kind of financial and time investment this business will take.

Unless you plan on going to the bank for a loan, you probably don’t need a full blown business plan, just a basic guide to help you explore your new niche and mine it for gold. Here are a few considerations when putting your plan down on paper (or computer).
Describe your business.

Decide what your goal is for this business. Do you want to sell a single product or products, a service or exclusive access to a membership site? Who are your customers and how will you solve the problem they are searching for. Write down anything unique that may set your product or service apart.

Form of business

Are you going to run this website on your own or will you have a partner? Will it be a smaller part or a larger business plan? Should you create a separate company or corporation?

What Is Your Current Situation

How much time do you plan on spending creating and maintaining the business? Is this a full time business or a sideline? If it’s going to be a full time business, how long can you survive without an income while the business grows? If it is a sideline business, how will you balance your life with the businesses needs as it grows?

The Future and Goals Put down your goals for the business. Do you intend on starting this as a part time business — is your long term goal to become a full time income? You should not only think about the short term but long term as well. Consider how you’d like to conclude the business.
Take a look at the Industry and traffic you can expect

You’ve done your research with wordtracker. Look at the numbers. How many potential visitors can you expect to your site. Keyword tracker has a prediction tool on how many potential searches will be done in the near future — if you can get top placement on the search engines — how many visitors can you expect? How many other sites are out there already?

Check Out Your Major Competitors

What are you competitors and how are they doing business. How will you break into the field? What do you plan on doing different? What is your ‘unique selling proposition?’
Marketing Strategy

How will you draw in customers to your site? Are you planning to market your business by using a blog? Will you partner with an Internet marketer? Will you rely solely on the Internet? Will you use SEO building tactics or will you use pay per click advertising? How much do you plan on spending?
What are the start-up costs How much will this business cost to start and run? Do you need a new computer, a website, a shopping cart or will you need to start an eBay store. What are all the costs associated with this new business.

If you are looking for start up capital, you should create a complete business plan. But, even just filling out the questions above will help you focus on your goals and give you a clearer understanding of what it will take to get your business going.

Pencil out an exit route next. Ask yourself, what would be the perfect conclusion to this business?

And, last but not least, consider adding a marketing strategy to your business plan. How much will you pay to get traffic? How much is a qualified lead worth to you if you are going to use a pay per click campaign? If not, how will you drive traffic to your site, and much can you afford to spend.

Once you have these elements in place you are ready to start putting your online business together.

Is Your Dream Computer A Notebook?

PERFECT FOR YOU

There is no such thing as The Perfect Computer – but there is a perfect computer for you.

Now that you understand the hardware specs, it is time to find the right combination of speed, memory, power, and price that will make your working life a dream.

This is Part 6 in the How To Buy A New Computer Series

LAPTOP OR DESKPTOP

The first, obvious choice is between a notebook computer and a desktop computer.

Do you need a computer that let’s you be online any time and everywhere? If your idea of an office is the local Starbucks, then a notebook is a must.

There are two essential questions to ask about a notebook:

  • Is it light enough to lug around with me?
  • Is it powerful enough to do the work I need to do every day?

Notebook computers necessitate a series of compromises.

  • A big screen adds weight, but a small screen makes multitasking impractical.
  • A processor powerful enough to run applications like Photoshop drains the battery quickly.
  • A computer light enough to carry for any length of time is going to be either under-powered or over-priced.

So you need to seriously think about how you will use your notebook before you fall in love with it. If you don’t plan ahead, the divorce can be costly.

Notebook computers fall into roughly three classes, each heavier and more powerful than the previous one:

  • Lightweight and super-portable
  • Every day use
  • Desktop replacements

THE DESKTOP REPLACEMENT

If a notebook will be your only computer, even if you travel with it, you may need a larger, heavy desktop replacement style notebook. These computers usually have 15 – 17: screens and can weigh over 8 pounds. They will probably run for less than 2 hours on a fully charged battery.

But a powerful laptop can run video or photo editing software without choking. It will have a hard drive roomy enough to store your documents without the added weight and space of an extra external hard drive. And it will be able to handle all your business tasks as well as playing a DVD to pass the time in airports or on the plane.

Just make sure to buy a rolling case for your new computer.

THE FEATHER WEIGHT

Until this year, a super-lightweight computer (under 3 lbs.) cost over $2,000.00. The only market for such devices was assumed to be salesmen and business executives who would gladly pay any premium for small and light.

Then the ASUS Eee PC changed everything.

A real computer that runs Windows XP, weighs less than 3 lbs, fits in a bookbag, and costs less than $400.00 – the EEE PC shook up the notebook market.

Now everyone from Lenovo to Dell to HP is selling a netbook, and prices keep dropping.

It can be hard to resist the “grab and go” appeal of the netbook – but before you buy one, make sure you understand: a netbook cannot be your primary computer.

The netbook excels at one thing: it is the perfect companion PC for reading email or surfing the web when you can’t or don’t want to use your regular computer.

At least as they are currently configured, netbooks are too underpowered to use for much serious work.

THE EVERY DAY NOTEBOOK

In between these two extremes is the every day notebook.

A good laptop will have a good (but not super) processor – usually Core2 Dual instead of Core2 Quad. Most online sellers, like Dell, will allow you to beef up the specs, so that you can buy a large enough hard drive and enough RAM to run several applications at once.

Expect to pay anywhere from $800.00 to$1,000.00 for a laptop with a 15 1/2? display, a Core2 Duo 2 GHz processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB (5400 RPM hard) drive. Increasing the size of the hard drive or the speed of the procesor will, of course, increase the price.

Such a notebook will be able to replace your desktop computer when you travel without breaking the bank. You may find you often use it in the evenings, when you are away from your desk, as well when you are away from the office.

If you decide to settle for less power, a smaller hard drive, or less RAM, you can probably save $150.00.

PLAN A YEAR OR TWO AHEAD

Keep in mind – it is harder to upgrade components on a notebook. You can’t add a second hard drive or buy a new monitor. Even swapping out the RAM can be tricky, since many notebooks have only one user-accessible memory slot. So you often have to discard the installed RAM, rather than just add to it.

Many business users replace notebook computers just as they do cell phones. They buy a cheap model, expecting it to only last a year or two. When it slows down, breaks down, or gets stolen – they just buy a new one.

If this sounds like you – invest in good back up and encryption programs.

If you want your computer to last for 3, 4, or 5 years – don’t shop bottom of the line. The dollars you save up front will melt away with wasted time and lost productivity.

How To Choose The Right Monitor

IT’S IN THE CARDS

As you decide what monitor you want, don’t forget the video card (sometimes called the graphics card) on your new computer.

There will be two options:

Less expensive computers will have “onboard ” video. This means the video is build right into the motherboard. To draw images on the monitor, onboard video will borrow memory from RAM, reducing the amount of memory available for running applications.

This is Part 5 in the How To Buy A New Computer Series

This is fine if all you do is surf the web and read email.

However, if you want to edit photos, watch movies (or even lots of You Tube), edit video, use drawing programs, play games – in short, if you want to do anything that is at all video intensive – onboard video will frustrate you.

The second, better option is a dedicated video card. These cards will have their own memory chips, ranging from 128 MB to 512 MB. If you use Photoshop, play video games, or edit movies, get the dedicated video card. It can add over $100.00 to the price of the computer, but it will be well worth it.

ANALOG vs DIGITAL – VGA vs DVI

The video card will have color-coded plugs for attaching the monitor.

There will be at least one plug, and there may be up to three. Some video cards allow you to attach more than one monitor to your computer. Others allow you to attach either an analog or a digital monitor.

A blue plug is for an analog monitor. This monitor can be either a CRT (big, boxy, TV-like) or an LCD (sleek, flat screen) monitor. You must attach an analog monitor to an analog plug.

There may also be a larger, white plug on your video card. This is a DVI plug for a digital monitor. Just as TV is going digital, so too are computer monitors. Digital monitors will have crisper, clearer displays. You must attached a digital monitor to a digital plug.

Be sure you select a video card that will work with your monitor.

RECOMMENDATION:

If your budget permits, get a stand alone video card with at least 256 MB of memory and a DVI plug.

LOOKING GOOD

If you spend much time at the computer, you’ll want the best monitor you can afford. Most monitors are now widescreen LCD, flat panel monitors – so that choice is easy.

However, just because a monitor is widescreen and flat panel does not mean it is digital. Digital monitors will all be labeled “digital,” and they will always have a white DVI plug. They will also cost more, but again, the extra expense will be a good investment. You’ll be able to use a new digital monitor for years to come. It will have a sharper picture and it will be easier on your eyes.

Computer monitor resolution is a tricky thing. A bigger monitor doesn’t mean a bigger picture.

Instead, the higher the resolution, the smaller the type. It’s like the difference between writing with a very sharp pencil and a Magic Marker. You can get a lot more words on the paper with a fine point, but they will be smaller and harder for some people to read. If you have poor eyesight, try going to a store where you can see different size monitors in action before you buy a 24? widescreen monitor with a 1920 x 1080 resolution.

MINIMUM RECOMMENDATION:

19″ widescreen, digital, flat panel monitor