Category Archives: Internet

Looking for the Perfect Website

Penny Swift, in search of the perfect website

Penny_SWordPress is a powerful free tool that tens of millions of people use every day of their lives. Some people use it for self-hosted blogging (which is what it was originally intended for), while others have adapted it for more general web sites, including those that offer goods and services for sale, and attract business for affiliates. Since WordPress can be easily customized, it is incredible versatile.

I have used it to build my own Penny Swift website [www.pennyswift.com] as well as a number of other family-owned websites – and was delighted to discover how easy it was to master.

Launched in 2003, WordPress has changed the way people think, and it has made web sites more accessible to everybody. Okay so you do need some computer knowledge and technical savvy, but you don’t have to hire expensive professionals to design a good-looking web site, or pay exorbitant licensing and software fees.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we don’t need professionals, we do. I’m the first to shake my head in horror when a client tells me he or she has no need for a professional photographer because his MD has an expensive new camera. I also hang my head in shame when I see what some people produce in the name of a book (since now anybody can publish books themselves and sell them on the Internet).

What I am saying is that there are a whole lot of people – like me (Penny Swift) – who simply don’t have the resources or need for an expensive, professional team of people to create a walking, talking web site worthy of a Fortune 500 company. But I do want a good-looking web site that works for me! And the world of WordPress affords me the opportunity to create one.

The Changing World of Web Sites

I’ve been dabbling with web sites (small time) for more than a decade, and am fascinated by the way they have changed during this time. The funny thing is that my interest was generated by books – which isn’t surprising since I’ve been writing and producing books since 1987.

In 1996 I published an author interview with Amazon Books; one of those ready-made question and answer – you fill in the spaces – things. I also surfed the site to see what some of the other authors had said… which is when I came across David Siegel (a hugely successful Internet site design entrepreneur who lives in New York). He had just had his first book Creating Killer Web Sites published, and I contacted him in the hope that we could swap books, since at that stage I could offer him a choice of 18 to choose from! Clearly he wasn’t interested in home orientated or DIY books, and gave my suggestion a scathing miss, stating it was against his principles – or something similar.

I bought the book anyway, simply because it sounded awesome. And I wasn’t sorry. The sticker, which is still on it, reminds me that I bought it from a book shop at Cape Town’s Waterfront in 1997, and that I paid R291 for it (about US$35 at today’s exchange rate).

David called himself the “master of third-generation site design” – a third generation site being one that uses visual and typographical layout principles in a totally  structured way. Until then, web sites were driven more by technology, and you could be sure that if you looked at one using three different browsers, it would be visibly different in each.

David Siegel’s primary aim was to show web site designers, in practical terms, how to apply the fundamentals of design to the world wide web. At the time my primary focus was words, and I had done relatively little design work, other than lay out magazine pages for the now defunct South African Sunday Express (which in its day was a real gem of a newspaper and a joy to work for). Since I had zero clue about the workings of computers and the thought of tackling html – which was an essential element of succeeding in the design of these third-generation sites – sent shivers down my spine, I read and admired the book, but didn’t really use it.

Instead, we bought an early generation build-your-own web site package, and hired someone to put up web sites for our small publishing business. Soon afterwards I tried building a web site for a client who owned a swimming pool company. It wasn’t too bad, but it clearly lacked the pizzazz and simple excitement of a David Siegel web site. Not surprising, since he really was the first “master” and his book (which was translated into ten languages) became a best seller on the Internet within a year.

I followed his diary posts for quite a long time, without realizing that he was, in fact the world’s first blogger! He’d started this process way back in 1994, long before the term was even invented. Sadly, when I went onto his site the other day (after more than 12 years), it’s a completely different experience, and it didn’t excite me too much. But he’s worth watching and following – the first good one always is.

 

Entrepreneurial Development in SA

The Impact of International Entrepreneurship Training on South African Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Development

Teaching entrepreneurship, along with various forms of entrepreneurship education and training are subjects that those involved in enterprise development and entrepreneurial development believe are critical.

entrepreneurship development
http://led.co.za/

One South African organisation that shares information about entrepreneurship education is the South African LED (Local Economic Development) Network, a project that is hosted by SALGA (the South African Local Government Association).

The South African LED Network

The South African Association for Local Economic Development is dedicated to promoting good practice and dialogue locally, as well as connecting and enabling practitioners to network and so grow their businesses. The organisation also promotes discussion and exchange between LED practitioners in an endeavour to build a general body of knowledge in this country. That, of course is exactly what South African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship development needs.

At the same time, LED in South Africa follows an international approach which South African entrepreneurs can learn from, and from which entrepreneurship can develop from. And at the end of the day, it encourages entrepreneurship education, helping to develop successful South African entrepreneurs.

In generic terms, LED is an ongoing process that allows key stakeholders and institutions from all spheres of life, as well as the public and private sector and civil society, to work together so they can create a unique advantage for everybody concerned. This means that these groups can more easily tackle market failures head on and do whatever is necessary to remove bureaucratic obstacles for local businesses. It is in this way that this initiative can strengthen the competitiveness of local firms.

The LED process also allows individuals, business and NGOs to build up “the economic capacity” of any local area so that it becomes possible to improve its economic future and basically improve the quality of life for everyone.

But hear it from some of the leaders in world entrepreneurship.

According to the World Bank, it is “a process by which public, business and non-governmental sector partners work collectively to create better conditions for economic growth and employment generation”.

The International Labour Organisation describes it as “a participatory process” that encourages social dialogue and public-private partnerships in a defined geographical area. This international organisation also states that LED (generically) enables local stakeholders to jointly design and implement a development strategy that is able to fully exploit local resources and capacities, and makes best use of the advantages of any particular area.

So there is no doubt that LED plays a huge role when it comes to South African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship development.

Teaching Entrepreneurship Internationally

According to the South African LED network, most academic and development policy discussions concerning micro-entrepreneurs focus on credit constraints. That means that little businesses generally don’t have enough money to work with. They also assume that subject to these constraints, the entrepreneurs are able to manage their businesses in the best possible way – which is good.

But in reality, a huge problem is that people who are poor and self-employed poor very seldom have any formal training in business skills. With no money and no skills, it is pretty difficult to get anywhere at all.

With this in mind two researchers, Dean Karlan from Yale University and Martin Valdivia, used a random-control trial to measure the “marginal impact” of adding business training to a group of micro-entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs – just like many South African entrepreneurs – were from Peru and were trying to improve the lives of people who were totally poverty stricken. More specifically, the Peruvian group were all women and then were involved in a lending programme for micro-entrepreneurs.

Karlan and Valdivia’s study is entitled Teaching Entrepreneurship: Impact of business training on micro-finance clients and institutions. It a valuable contribution in the field of entrepreneurship education and training and can be used by those people who are interested in South African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship development.

Entrepreneurship Education and Training Materials Used

When people do studies, there are many approaches. For this one, Karlan and Valdivia used entrepreneurial training materials that were adapted from a US-based non-profit organisation called Freedom from Hunger.

Whilst not directly related to South African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship development this international study does have a direct impact on entrepreneurship in South Africa, which is why the SA LED Network has published the report on their website.

Basically similar entrepreneurship training has been used worldwide by other organisations, including the International Labour Organisation mentioned earlier.

The goal of the programme is to teach entrepreneurial skills.  But if the so-called entrepreneurial spirit is more about personality than skills, teaching somebody to engage in activities that are similar to those that a successful entrepreneur may engage in, may not in fact lead to improved business outcomes.

According to the study: “Training aims to improve basic business practices such as how to treat clients, how to use profits, where to sell, the use of special discounts, credit sales, and the goods and services produced. These improvements should lead to more sales, more workers, and could eventually provide incentives to join the formal sector.”

Without a doubt that is good news – and very helpful for South African entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship development.