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In case you haven’t heard about The Square yet, now’s the time to check it out! Why? Because the scanner itself is now FREE – yes, that’s right – all you pay for is the cost of transactions as you go. I’m tellin’ ya, this little ditty will have you dancin’ on the table if you run a small business (well shoot, any size biz) that ever operates in the field, like an Appraisal fair, Estate Sale, Auction . . . you get the idea.

Square Credit Card Reader for Android iPhone now Free!

And its terrific for a freelancer like me; I am thrilled beyond belief! (caveat: right now, it only works with the free app for iPhone, iPad & Android). And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a paid spokesperson, I just think it’s such a great tool, I wanted to spread the word. Plus my joy is backed up by the dozen or so completely positive reviews of it at the Apple App Store page.

And just think of how useful this is for non-profit org’s – just one that comes to mind is the Salvation Army Holiday bell-ringers. And the list goes on . . . .do you have a story to share about how you have or will use it?

Tucked safely away in eBay’s Lab pages is a very useful tool that helps zero-in on the best combination of words to use in an item’s title. The tool, called “BayEstimator“, enables you to run queries against what people are actually searching for on eBay’s US site.

After you run your queries, be sure to pay attention to the category results too. As a test, I listed a “lot” of LP records, at first placing it in a lesser-used category. Compared to other LP lots I’d sold, page views were not very high, and I received no bids. I then switched to the more-used category, and ~viola~ page views immediately increased, and bids started coming in.

The reason the BayEstimator is still in eBay’s labs section is that it’s really in a kind of “beta” mode and as such, unsupported by eBay. But don’t let that stop you from trying this tool, which has proven to increase my listing’s prominence in search results. I’ve grown accustomed to the impact it has on the quantity of bids I receive.

BTW, take a look here to see what’s hot with eBay buyers. It’s the home page of eBay labs, where they display recent data (about 2 days old) that shows some of the top eBay search-term gainers.

Considering e-commerce? The open-source system known as Magento continues to offer one of the most flexible and socially aware e-commerce systems available. It handily competes with systems offered by much larger sites that enable you to operate a stand-alone e-commerce site. The other day, I was listening to a Sitepoint podcast that featured Roy Rubin, who said he started Magento as an alternative to the other open-source heavyweight, OS Commerce, which Zen Cart is derived from.

Well, the need for a more flexible, modern e-commerce system has proven so great, that Magento has taken-off at a breakneck pace – it has now been downloaded over 1.1 million times! Kudos go to all concerned for a product that just keeps getting better and better; for example, there are now several add-on’s that integrate with Facebook.

Still, by far the most powerful feature of Magento is its ability to manage multiple stores under a single admin panel, yet landing pages, sales and marketing promotions, and of course, inventory, remain separate. In other words, if you own several domains, you can have Magento installed just once, yet operate a separate store under each one. You simply log-in once to your Magento admin panel – perform your updates, then switch to a different store and continue your maintenance.

Listen to the Frog – if you are considering either starting, or growing an existing e-commerce biz, you should seriously consider Magento. It’s an open-source system for which community support has literally taken off. It offers many progressive marketing features, such as news-letters, wish-lists, gift cards and social media integration.

There is a demo store set-up at the Magento site where you can look at the back-end and get a feel for how user-friendly it is.

If you want to try it on your own, you will have to be dedicated. A user guide can be a real time saver. E-commerce can be tricky, and security must be tight. A well planned execution is going to save you time and frustration later. I did a some research, and note that several Magento starter guides have been released, but the best bang-for-the-buck appears to be the Unofficial Magento User Guide.

In any case, if you need marketing advice, want to explore a newsletter campaign, or help in getting your online business up and humming, the Frog and company are here to help!

Crossloop is a marvy tool – it is just about the easiest screen sharing application I’ve encountered in the many I’ve reviewed. The Wall Street Journal reviewed it too – and felt the same way. I’ve used it successfully with many clients over the past year.

Please view my profile which shows details of my skill-set, and years of experience. I’m available on the Crossloop chat much of the time, so please do look me up there – I’m sure I can assist you.

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UPDATE: Here are links to several other Joomla!-based sites the Frog created: King Kitchen, a great family-style place, and the King Antique Mall, both are located in King, North Carolina. I also took all of the images for both of these sites

After working only on static sites, I recently, I created my first, and second commercial “Joomla!”-based web sites. I am happy to confirm that the content management system (CMS) has very much proven to be a system that is highly workable for a small business, as well as being rather fun to work with. I could not be more pleased with the results: the clients noticed an almost immediate increase in unique visitors after we published the sites. Even better, it’s true that a person with basic word-processing skills can perform most every update on the site, from pages, to adding images and links.

It was no accident that I chose “Joomla!”. A few years ago, I heard about this new type of web site building system called a “content management system” or CMS, during course-work on the Linux operating system and interaction with Linux User Groups. Further, it was said that it enabled a non-programmer to easily perform web site updates in a WYSIWYG-style interface. I realized it had the potential to address the needs of many small businesses. As I tend to do, I embarked on a thorough investigation of several of the more mature of these products. And I didn’t stop at online research; I also went right to the source and spoke to a number of developers that work with this type of system every day. “Joomla!” soon leapt ahead as a clear contender.

Unlike many other open-source products of the genre, the Joomla project is very mature. By this, I mean that there are literally thousands of well-written quality add-ons, known as extensions, available for it. These extensions serve to extend Joomla’s base functionality. An example is a product I recently installed and configured that enables a completed form to be e-mailed. Not only that, you can resolve most problems by contacting any one of thousands of developers via the forums at the main Joomla site or any number of other companies.

As you might guess, Joomla! remained as the top two or three contender for a number of reasons. For one, it was paramount that I be able to build sites that offered a high degree of usability and accessibility support, as well as plenty of built-in SEO support. Any which way you turn, Joomla excels at that. What’s more, Joomla offers a high degree of built-in support for search engine bots.

Hence, I became convinced that this turn-key style system would be an excellent solution for the small business that needs content on their site to be updated frequently, and didn’t want to either wait for or pay a professional to get these small tasks done in a timely manner.

As I mentioned, Joomla! is designed out-of-the-box to be search-engine friendly (SEF). In fact, each page on a site has a built-in place for entry of keywords which is easily accessible through the standard WYSIWYG interface. There is a wealth of firms offering great templates to use as a base for a quick turn-around.

Here are links to the two sites I created:

www.wandercontrol.com

www.jameslyle.com

A few shots I took while attending Bar Camp Orlando this past April. I learned a lot and made some awesome contacts.