Picking A Forum Host

Regular readers know I recently started up The Advisory Panel, a forum to allow Internet Marketers and others looking to make money online a place to network.

This was my first forum launch, and I wanted to share one of the technical bits I’ve discovered that came as a surprise.

Discount web hosts will generally provide you with some number of MySQL databases for your monthly fee. For example, at Site5, you get unlimited MySQL databases. A forum takes up only one database, so I figured I’d host the forum on my Site5 account.

Before I go on, let me say that I run about half a dozen WordPress web sites off my one Site5 $5 a month hosting account. And I’m not even close to hitting the bandwidth and disk space limits on the account. For anyone running multiple blogs, I’d highly recommend Site5.

The server I’m on there has been having some odd MySQL problems now and then, and that’s led me to further investigate some of the database statistics on the account. It turns out that there’s a maximum number of connections any one application (e.g. forum or WordPress blog) can have on the database at one time. For WordPress blogs with caching, this isn’t a big deal…most people are not actually doing anything to need the database at any one time. They go to your site and spend most of their time reading, and only a little time going from post to post. Many don’t even click past the front page where your most recent posts are shown.

But for a forum, there’s quite a bit more clicking around to see different threads. As the number of members online at any one time grows, the limiting factor is the number of database connections the forum can make at one time. Go above that number, and your forum shows MySQL errors instead of content.

At Site5 that maximum is 15. Since most people at a forum still spend a lot of time reading, I’d say that 15 connections could support 100 members online at once. The Advisory Panel hasn’t hit that number yet, so this isn’t an issue, but if you’re planning on building a forum into a large membership, you’d do well to pick a web host that has a higher figure.

Other discount web hosts give you 20, or 30, maximum connections. Better, but still not great. In my research for a place to move The Advisory Panel as it grows, I’ve found only one web host that doesn’t arbitrarily limit the maximum number of connections. Hosting Matters allows a forum to use as many connections as the machine will allow, subject to the fact that these are shared hosting accounts. If your forum starts to use too many connections and adversely affects the other sites on the server, then you’d be expected to upgrade to a dedicated server.

Keep in mind that I haven’t actually used Hosting Matters, so can’t comment on quality of service, uptime, etc. But just from the perspective of supporting a high traffic forum, it seems like a good place to try.

And if you’re planning on running a forum at a different web host, find out what their maximum number of SQL connections is before starting the forum.

Marketing Outside The Lines

What’s holding you back in your online career?

If you’re like me, when you first started out, you knew next to nothing about marketing online. And before you say, “I don’t want to know anything about online marketing, I just want to make money online”, marketing is how you promote a product, promote a blog, promote yourself, etc.

So what I did when I first started out was I joined systems. These systems had a vested interest in me becoming a good marketer, so they provided training. The training told about using email signatures, traffic exchanges, etc. Over time, I realized the basic mistake I’d made.

A system doesn’t need for every member to become a great marketer, they just need a whole lot of members to become mediocre marketers. So that’s all the training you get. Sure, they’d give you better training if they could, but most of the people who create the systems are only mediocre marketers, too.

The absolute best lesson I learned about marketing online is to break away from what everyone else does. Market outside the lines, try something that you’ve thought of, not something that you’ve read about. Break rules and see what happens. It’s through this process that you learn how to do business online effectively.

In short, be yourself, and don’t try to be who everyone else is.

How To Do What You Hate

I don’t know about you, but there are certain things I just hate to do.

Offline, dishes are one of those things. I’ve found that the most effective way to do dishes is to do them as they get dirty. But, I’m also a great procrastinator, so when I just have one dish I’ve dirtied, it’s far easier to put it in the sink than wash it. So I do. The same with the next dish, and the next, and so on. Pretty soon, I’ve procrastinated to the point where the pile of dishes is this insurmountable obstacle that I can’t possibly do anything about.

Online, updating plugins to new versions is one of the things I hate to do. Upgrades are important for security reasons, but you never know when an upgrade will cause some problem with other plugins. It’s hard for me to mess with something that works, even though it might be more secure after I finishing messing with it.

The strategy that I’ve found to get through those tasks I hate, whether it’s dishes or updating plugins, is to start with the easiest single item, and just do it. I don’t think about the huge pile of dishes, or the large number of plugins, I just do the easiest one. My sneaky way of talking myself into this is to tell myself that I’ll just do the one and then quit. I’ll have made my gesture, then I can do something fun.

But when that one item is done, I talk myself into another. And another, and another. And pretty soon, the pile’s almost gone, and I feel pretty good about having done it all.

So the next time you have something to do that you hate, lie to yourself that you’ll do just part of it, and then reward yourself with something fun. It works!

Leap Year

Today is pretty much the only day you can say doesn’t happen every year. Which is appropriate, because it isn’t every year I launch a forum, either.

February has been the month for The Advisory Panel launch for me. I’ve focused most of my time and effort on it. As a way of saying “Thanks!” to the early joiners who’ve been participating, I’ll be sending the ones who posted at least 15 messages during the month $5 via Paypal.

I plan on holding regular contests at the forum. The contest for March will reward the person who is most active in the forum during the month. I’ve installed a plugin to the forum that tracks all sorts of activities and rewards them with credits. The person with the most growth in credits during March wins the contest.

The prize is yet to be decided. One idea was to give away a complete niche blog on a subject of the winner’s choice. I’d do the keyword research to figure out how the blog should be targeted, I’d host it on my hosting account, pay for the domain name, setup WordPress, install plugins, etc. The winner would just need to log in and create content.

I’ll finalize the prize fairly soon, so check at the forum for details.

Have You Ever Wished Spammers Would Get Smarter?

I’ve had the odd thought lately, that I really wish spammers would start getting smarter about their marketing.

I have hundreds of spam comments hit this blog daily (27,500 or so since the blog was launched). They’re all the same technique. Do a search on specific keywords, leave a spam comment on posts with that keyword, and the comment is always just keywords with links. They’re probably using something like Trackback Submitter, or whatever the current version of it is called (and just using the name of the software in this post is nearly guaranteed to make it a target for spam comments).

I’d be embarrassed to run an advertising campaign that way.

I mean seriously, they have no idea how effective any particular post is. Granted, they’re trying for SEO benefit primarily, so they cannot use any link redirection to track traffic through the link. But that’s okay, because they don’t want traffic, they want higher positions in search engine results.

But if I were designing the software these people are using, I’d put in some monitoring portion that would track whether the comments were getting through, and if so how long they lasted before being deleted. After all, you don’t get SEO benefit from links that either don’t appear, or only last for a few days before being deleted.

That sort of feedback would allow spammers to focus their energies on the sites that provide them with benefit, and to leave my site alone.

So, yeah, sometimes I wish spammers would get just a bit smarter.

The Year In Review

At the end of the year, I like to look at what the year brought me, and what I’ve accomplished during the year. I find it helps me to refocus for the next year.

I started Online Opportunity in April of 2007. I’ve stayed true to the original mission of the blog throughout the year, to provide honest reviews of online opportunities and to provide information useful for those just starting out in Internet Marketing. I’ve resisted putting ads on the blog, even though I have enough traffic to profit from them, because I don’t want anyone completely new to Internet Marketing thinking I promote what’s offered in the ads (witness the “Endorsed by John Chow” ad that ran on his site, for a product he did not endorse as an example of this).

For the new year, I think the blog needs to focus a bit, and show more success strategies and less opportunity reviews. I’m not sure what that’ll look like yet, but I’ll be thinking about it in the weeks to come. I also want to provide more support for my readers. Again, I’m not sure what that’ll look like yet, so stay tuned.

Personally, the year was full of huge changes. We moved from a big city to a small village to be close to the college where I teach. My daughter turned two years old in June, and that’s made a huge difference in our daily lives. Keeping up with her is just amazingly enjoyable and incredibly exhausting.

I want to focus more of my time at home on my daughter in the next year, but how that’ll work with maintaining the blog and a handful of niche sites, I don’t know. Lots of things I’d like to do, but never enough time for them all.

I hope you’ve all had a great 2007, and have an even better 2008!

NetPay, A PayPal Alternative

I received an email from a reader who wanted to purchase a product through one of my referral links, but was having trouble with PayPal (the only payment option that product supported).

There are alternatives to PayPal for those wanting to send funds electronically. The closest in functionality is probably Net Pay. It isn’t a particularly good alternative for those in countries not supported by PayPal, but for everyone else, if PayPal is giving you a difficult time you might try NetPay.

Howard, if you’re reading this and didn’t get my last email, you can try sending funds through this link if you’re already a NetPay member.

Thanks for your persistence!

When To Invest, and When Not To

This post has been kicking around in my head for a while now.

There’s a huge market targeted at new Internet marketers, trying to sell them products and services that are supposed to make their work easier. The sales pages for nearly every product says something along the lines of, “you need to invest in your business”.

That’s true. You do need to invest in your business for it to grow.

The problem is that many new Internet marketers are not making any money online. That’s to be expected, there’s a learning curve involved. So when they spend money, they’re not spending profits, but whatever they can spare from their regular income. Often, they spend more than they can spare from their daily income, thinking that this new product or service will be the one that catapults them into profit.

Investing in your business means more than just throwing money at it.

There’s the investment of time to learn the skills you need to succeed. There’s the investment of risk in trying a project to see what happens (e.g. starting a blog, starting a membership site, etc). Many of these investments can be made with just a little money involved.

Until you learn the skills you need, products and services won’t help. You may find a program that makes you some money, but if you aren’t learning the skills you need you’ll never be truly successful. You’ll be dependent on someone else’s program and someone else’s skills. And you won’t make as much money as you could if you were the one creating the program.

So while a certain amount of investment is needed in the beginning, I’d suggest that new Internet marketers not jump on every ebook and service that promises instant riches. Stick to the quietly marketed resources that truly provide value, not the latest flash in the pan.

And don’t overdo it. You don’t need five ebooks on SEO, you only need one. And always see if you can hunt up the information for free on various blogs that give SEO tips.

The key point to this post is that money management is part and parcel of doing business online. If you can’t manage your starting capital to last until you get into profit, you’ll likely give up before you get that far.

Letting Go

Some of you know that I’m moving shortly, about 90 miles east to be closer to where I work. I’ve done the commute for three years, and decided enough was enough.

A big theme that’s come up for me during the whole moving process (which should be over on the 5th, if all goes well) is that of letting go. We love our current house. We live in a city, and found one of the few houses we could afford that had natural woods in the backyard. The neighborhood had a lot of connections for us…we found out after moving in that our neighbor across the street was the childhood friend of my father-in-law, and they hadn’t seen each other for over fifty years.

So leaving our current house has been hard. We’d originally decided to keep it and rent it, so we could come back to it if we needed to. That didn’t work out financially, so we’re going to sell it. But that was a hard decision to make.

We’ve had to let go of the connections, and the attachment to the house (and trees!) We’ve had to let go of knowing what the future will bring (I’m on two-year contracts at work, and have no reason to think I won’t be renewed, but you never know).

How does this apply to making money online?

Letting go is important to online success, too. There are times when you have to realize that what you’re currently doing isn’t working, and you need to let go of it and move on to something else. Sometimes we paralyze ourselves trying to figure out exactly how everything will work, and so never actually get around to doing anything…letting go of having to know how it’ll all work lets us make progress.

Letting go of the need for security allows us to take risks, which can bring not only great rewards, but take us in directions we never could have imagined on our own. Letting go of the need to understand completely lets us experiment and flail around, and perhaps learn from the process.

Take a look at your own online efforts, and see if there’s something you can let go of that may be holding you back.

“Systems Work, People Fail”

I’ve seen that headline on a site that’s making the rounds of traffic exchanges.

The implication is that people can only make money online with the right system, and that with the right system, anyone can do it.

I don’t like the headline, because it’s designed to appeal to people who lack confidence in themselves. The “system” mentioned will invariably turn out to be something that a new member must pay into until they start making a profit. Often the system involves one or more MLM programs.

So you take a person who doesn’t think they can succeed, and ask them to spend money until the “system” gets them into profit.

Well, this post is turning into more of a rant than anything else. But as part of research for the blog, I see so many systems that are thinly disguised ways to make money for the founders of the system. They’re all based on the idea that people can be sucked into the system in ever increasing numbers.

Ultimately, the system fails because people are only getting into it to make money, and it takes longer and longer to get each person into profit (since they’re all based on MLM programs).

How much harder would it be to offer a program that people truly need, and are willing to pay for, and also teach them how to use the program to improve their own Internet marketing efforts? And, as a bonus, help them get into profit faster than they might on their own.

One of these days I’d love to see a headline on a traffic exchange that reads, “Systems Fail, People Empower People”.