Thursday, August 27, 2009

“Like Pregnancy, A Country Cannot Be Kinda Independent”



Trinidad and Tobago Celebrates Independence 31 August. But Are We?

On the eve of Trinidad and Tobago’s 52nd year of independence from Britain it is important that we reflect and try to understand where we came from, where we are and where we are headed. The experts will once again flood the local media ranting about how proud we should all be. It is important that we all come together to celebrate another year of gaining our independence that we face some of the realities that exist in our nation.

Don’t be misled by the words “gaining our independence”, it was actually “given” to us. We asked and the “Lords in London” collectively came to the conclusion that this country was more of a liability than an asset. At the time over 90% of the population was either former African slaves or Indian indentured workers. A very small percentage, were Anglo Saxon British citizens or their descendants who were primarily the land owners in this country.

Sugar was King and these wise “Lords of London” rightly predicted that in a few years the economic viability of sugar to sustain any country’s GDP was at best tenuous. It has been speculated that the only reason “Independence” was granted was because eventually Trinidad and Tobago would become a thorn in the side of the Crown, at least economically. In other words, we were too poor to keep...more

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are You Always Open For Business?


Why Every Offline Business Must Have An Internet Presence

Find purpose, the means will follow. -Gandhi


Traditional business entrepreneurs globally and especially in developing countries like Trinidad and Tobago, still justify and rationalize not having a website.


Many of these businesses were started by successful entrepreneurs who never used the Internet and cannot see any reason to change. To be sure, many are not computer literate. they would readily admit the importance of a computer to their business but the internet, that’s different basket of flowers. The reality is that without a website many of these businesses will not survive, every business need to have a web presence. Fact is that if they are successful without a site, they have the potential of exponentially increasing their success with a well managed website.

With the downturn in the economy many traditional businesses models are being challenged, they are no longer working. Yet these traditional entrepreneurs still resist establishing a web presence. The real problem is that they do not understand the internet and how it could be used to reinvent their business. It’s the old adage about not being able to think outside of the box. Their business models worked for them before and maybe are still working; so why fix it? The simple answer is that the world was changed by an innovative information reservoir, it's so unlike what existed 20 to 30 years ago. The Internet cannot be ignored.

Granted, it can be challenging for some offline businesses to conceive of a model that will work for them online but there is one thing that every business needs and wants; that is 24/7 advertising. The internet affords businesses the ability to present their products and services to anyone at any time of the day or night. For this reason alone every business should have a web presence, even if it’s a brochure site identifying what the business does or sells. It does not have to be an information product that customers can purchase directly on line and download. It can be any product or service.

For example, in the mid eighties I worked for a large automobile dealership in Boston Massachusetts that did not have a web presence. I suggested building a web site and ended up managing one of the largest automobile dealership’s Internet departments in the Boston metropolitan area. This dealership did not need to sell more cars, they were selling over 200 new and used units every month. The biggest question for the dealers was; How can we sell a car online?

The way the automobile business operated at the time, it really took some thinking outside the box but the business developed. Soon the dealership was selling over $250,000 more in gross revenue in a month. Today, every large car dealer in Metropolitan Boston has a website. A dealership websites provided exposure, information about the dealership, the makes, models and the potential deals available. The result was that the dealership developed its own leads and avoided the usually high cost of third party lead providers like Autobytel.

Although we never changed our business model offline we had to develop another, complete with pricing and operational change to accommodate the internet customers. For example, it was not unusual to accept a $100 profit on a vehicle for an internet customer. If that same customer found an ad in the newspaper normal offline prices and operating procedures applied. The rationale was that the internet customer had all the information on the vehicle at their finger tips. They knew the invoice price the dealer paid and they also had a long list of dealers they could purchase the vehicle from. Price in this case was not the selling factor, location i.e. proximity to their home and the importance of after purchase service were the selling points for internet customers.

The challenge for offline business, therefore, is to develop an online business model that works for the business.

What is important to note here is that the website provided leads that purchased vehicles offline, a web site can only provide information like makes, models, people, process and even a map to the dealership. Truly, there is no other advertising medium that matches the ability of the internet to share detailed information to potential customers. As was said before, access to your business information is the primary reason for your business should be online but there is more:

1.New users come to the net every month by the millions some of them are definitely your customers, if you not online, your chances of getting their business is nil.

2.The investment for a business to get online has been gradually been reduced. In some cases its free, web sites or free blog like blogger or wordpress, Even without site build building abilities user can use drag and drop technology to build their own free site like yola.

3.Because the internet is now one big reservoir of information, whatever you put online stay there. For example take a look at one of the first sites I ever published on the net in March 2000, I am not proud of it and don’t use it anymore but the point is that it still exist on the net on today WayBackMachine see here.

A mentor once said to me, “Boy”, (I didn’t mind, because at the time, I was a boy). He said: “Boy, if you want to be good at anything, it takes time.” He went on to say; “for example, it takes about 1000 hours to know anything really well. That is, you would have to put in at least that amount of time to really know the in and out of a skill, topic, idea or discipline". He went on to say that if I really wanted to become an expert I would need to put at least 10,000 hours into it.

I responded with a loud, “OUCH”, but he was right.

Not everyone can jump in and do it, there is a learning curve. If your business is still not on the internet, any marketer would recommend that you give it serious consideration. This is one case of, not if but when. The longer you take to get there, the longer it will take for your content, your business information to establish a real presence on the net. Remember as an independently owned business, you set the rules, you decide what you will like to present to the public and how you will present it to maximize the potential profits to your offline business. You may even have to tweak your offline business model but the bottom line is to generate more business.

Unfortunately, there are web designers and web developer who quote ridiculous prices for building a simple 3-5 page web site. As a rule most expensive web designers are not internet marketers, they know how to build websites not market them. Consequently, many small businesses become disillusioned when their huge investment in a web site quickly finds itself in the internet cemetery. A lack of internet marketing ability is the main reason why most small businesses shy away from establishing a web presence. To be completely honest, I agree with their rationale. Why spend money to build a site when it generates no significant ROI?

If that’s how it works out, like them, I would just stay offline.

The internet has always been a free medium, the spoils though, go to the entrepreneurs who understand how it works. It is an incomprehensible reservoir of information that astounds the imagination. There is so much information that if your business is not online, someone, somewhere with a business just like yours’; is online. Dominating the online market locally or globally, but put this in your pipe and smoke it, if you have a small business and you are not on the internet you are losing money.

Tony Puckerin is an Internet Marketing Consultant that can help you put your offline business on line, He uses time tested offline Guerilla Marketing strategies and tactics to improve your business performance. Find out more about Tony Puckerin

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

What You Must Know About Telephone Providers In Trinidad and Tobago

In this information age, the truth will always save you money

Without a doubt, many companies in Trinidad and Tobago operate in a market where there seems to be very little concern for consumers. In one of the most progressive island in the Caribbean consumers’ intelligence and common sense is constantly being disrespected and challenged. In our colloquial tongue its said; “they taking anything”.

Customer service is synonymous with lip service, drivel that repetition validates as company policy. Unsupervised customer services representatives with an if-you-don't- like-it-go somewhere-else-with-your-business attitude. Unfortunately, with only one or two providers there is no where else to go. You pay their fee, do what they say and must stay with them or don't have service. Soon you forget and try never to put yourself in the same position. The only thing you can do is tell your friends who sympathizes with you but cannot help.

Cut your losses is all you can really do. You will spend more time and money contesting a charges or outright fund seizure. The sole authority mandated to regulate the telephone industry was founded to minimize conflict in a market where the industry was monopolized. The rights of the Trinidad and Tobago consumers were not, and still are not a priority when this organization was founded. How in the world could the government and the people (same thing) in Trinidad and Tobago allow this to happen?


My unscientific theory is that TnT is a secular society where religious fibers run deep, touching every citizen at some point in their lives. As such, there exist an unquestioning respect and adherence to anything that represents authority. This respect extends itself in the business world where institutions and companies are never questioned. They make the rules and the consumers accept without protest. They may be lobbying behind the scenes to block any regualtion to this industry. Then again, the government is the majority share holder in the largest telephone company. That's just the way it is here.

Therefore, it’s no big surprise that two newcomers to the telecommunication industry are disrespecting consumers' intelligence and common sense. Yes, it’s strong language but when you read what is considered normal business behavior and policy, you may even want to use stronger language. Let's first take a look at the background of telephony in Trinidad and Tobago for the uninitiated and the diaspora around the world.

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The Players In TnT Telecommunication Field
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There are three providers of telecommunication services, the Telephone Service of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT), the largest and moldest company in Trinidad. Flow Cable Company a cable company cum telephone provider and Digicel Trinidad an international cell phone company based in the UK.

TSTT which the TT government owns 51% and Cable and Wireless International owns 49% of the company. This company has monopolized the telephone industry for as long as most Trinidadians wish to remember. It was still the only company in TnT when the tidal wave of cell phone technological swept across the world. Many locals would remember the absorbent rates this company charged citizens for cellular services. But that was the old days and they have been forgiven. That's easy to do when no one else provides the same service.

It was only a few years ago that the Digicel Group, initiated operations in 16 Caribbean countries, covering a total population of 14 million people. Incorporated in Bermuda and operating in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, CuraƧao, The Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

When this company came on the scene it was a blessing for local Trinidadians, it changed the cellular phone market. Competition works and shortly after cell phone rates began to fall; except in cases where calls were made across the two networks. Consumers are still paying for these companies in their market share war. That is the reason why visitors to this country are often astounded when they realize that most locals carry two cell phones. Something about having less and needing more.

And then there is Flow Trinidad, an international digital cable TV provider licensed here to provide a cable TV network to the population. As a very profitable after thought they decided to merge into the telephone business. Now they offer Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone service at what can be considered very exorbitant rates. They are in direct competition with the master, TSTT, for land line service.

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Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago
*****************************************************

Regulating these three telephone companies is a government body known as the Telecommunication Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT). This Authority is an independent regulatory body, established by the Telecommunications Act 2001 Amended by 17 of 2004, with responsibility for the liberalization and regulation of the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors. The Authority became operational on 5th July 2004.

It is this body that should have the power to regulate the abuses that I am about to share with you. What you are about to read are not occurrences that were researched, they are personal experiences. You be the judge check the facts and if I'm wrong I will gladly take it all back.

SIDE BAR Take a look at the Authority's whooping four most frequently asked questions (FAQ). The last question asks “What if I’m not happy with my mobile provider?. The response; first complain to the provider, then if not satisfied, complain to the authority. End of answer to that question. Is there something missing? Yes, wait for a couple years.

OK here is what I learned from actual experience with these providers:

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TSTT (The Gran Daddy)
*********************

For land line service TSTT offers a service package they call “Smart Choice”. Join that program and you get a specified number of free minutes on local land lines, cell phones and international calls. For that you pay a flat fee (about $250TTD a month), any call above the specified minutes results in an additional charge. The company provides no way for you to determine minutes used leaving you guessing as to whether you are over the limit or not. Guaranteed, you will go over the stipulated minutes and there will be an additional charge for your "Smart Choice".

Got me. their smart choice is smarter for them than it was for me. After a few months of being out smarted I had enough. I decided to end the service. That's when I realized just how smart they were, there was a $25 fee to disconnect that service. That was their policy, their rules.

According to a friend I was lucky because at one time once you signed up the company would not allow you to cancel. Plus, if your phone was disconnected for any reason you would still have to pay the Smart Choice fees for the month. Talk about insulting intelligence.

Of course I could complain to the TATT or the Public Utilities Commission but it was easier and quicker to pay for the lesson. I’m sure it was in the fine print somewhere when I signed the agreement, they are right, why should I have a none penalized right to disconnect their service? Where else in the world would you have to pay when you get smart?

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FLOW CABLE (TTD$ are flowing out)
*********************************

Now here is my problem with Flow, well I have more than one but this one that peeves me the most. Here is a company that is raking in millions of dollars monthly from the sweat and tears of Trinbagonians while dispensing services that leaves so much to be desired.

I can only attest to the office where I pay my bill in Tagarigua, that place is deplorable. Stained patched up ceilings with not enough people to handle the flow of clients resulting in endlessly long lines. The lines are like the banks but in this case nothing can be withdrawn, only payments.

Very customer unfriendly, where you can be entertained by a small 13” color television mounted on the wall. But that’s not all, if you dare make an inquiry you are subjected to an antiquated queuing system. In brief, the security guard hands you a small card board cut out with a hand written number, instructs you to take a seat and wait your turn. There are no quick questions or inquiries you either look at the small TV or at people go by paying their bills. Geez, we are not expecting pool and ping pong tables to pass the time but at least spend the money to fix the place where you are collecting millions of dollars.

Somehow this company was able to secure the rights to operate like a phone company. With little or no customer service infrastructure in place they are becoming a thorn in the side of TSTT land line business and a trickster to TnT consumers.

The unregulated advertising industry allows FLOW Trinidad to publish misleading advertising that promises clients free talk with only a small fee for calls to TSTT phones and an extravagant per minute charge for cell phone calls. Its free if you call another FLOW Trinidad customers. What they neglect to say is that there are only a limited number of FLOW Trinidad land lines and if TSTT has it's way, there will be less.

The result is that you end up paying for each call you make, fees add up quickly and soon you are paying for that free ride you thought was free. The bad news is that Flow should never have been given permission to provide phone services if they were unwilling or unable to provide the facilities and the infrastructure for their clients. You can easily get the service they provide if you sign up with a VOIP company like Telespire Package8 which can be used internationally. OK, so buyers beware but is that not one of the reasons we have the TATT?

**************************************************
DIGICEL GROUP (We Expected More Than Skulduggery)
**************************************************

Now here is a stranger that is quickly wearing out its welcome. This company was initially welcomed in Trinidad and Tobago because it existence forced TSTT to lower their high per minute rates but here is what we found out, again from personal experience.

Digicel has an unwritten policy that if your cell is not used in 30 days all funds on the phone expires. Does that surprise you? Plus, if it is not used in 90 days the sim card expires. At a cost of $50 to replace, it's what is called back end profit in marketing.

I have yet to find in the company's literature any mention of this policy. Their employees seem to be quite conversant with that policy. Take a look at their terms and conditions for prepaid accounts, it mentions nothing about funds or sim card expiration.

Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem, phones are used every day but with the use of accessories like GPS devices in automobiles it becomes a major problem. There is no need to call the device every month. It happened to me,

My vehicle is equipped with a Tramigo T22 which came with a Digicel SIM card. One day I sent an SMS message to the GPS number and did not receive a response. I knew there was money on the card because I distinctly remember going to the Digicel office to top. At the time, I needed the service so to resolve the issue quickly, I decided to top it up again. To my surprise, I was unable to so do, the SIM card was expired.

Another call to the Digicel call center confirmed my fears, I would spend more time waiting for a refund and a SIM card than it takes to turn a big ship around. This pratice should certainly be looked at by the relevant authority. What am I saying there is none but...

Nobody, company or person should be allowed to seize your funds because you neglected to use their services. If that's not total disrespect for the citizens of this country, then what is?

OK, now you see why the language was so strong. Share your experience, you may have to pay but you still have an opportunity to say. Share your experience so that the world may know. I may be all wrong but I’m willing to bet that if you live in Trinidad you have had similar experience. Over to you for quick comments.




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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Have you heard of Web 3.0?



The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine when I realized something. There are a lot of people who don’t have the slightest clue as to what is meant by Web 2.0. Does that amaze you?

I found myself explaining it to my friend suddenly realizing that this was the umpteenth time that I was explaining this to someone. Now these are not dummies but people with facebook accounts who are on the web for a significant portion of the day. So I decided to document what I have been sharing with them. its really just the way I understand it. I would usually start my explanation like this...

Can you remember how when you first started using the internet that the only way you communicated with your friends and family was by email? They would usually say yes. Then I would say something to the affect that email was a very big improvement over snail mail. Unfortunately, in both cases even thought email was almost instant the sender still had to wait for a response. Fortunately, unlike snail mail the response to an email was much faster. Well we can call using traditional email Web 1.0, you were using the web but had to wait for a response.

Well now with social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, Pluse, Twitter and over 20 other sites you can now congregate online with your friends and family. You can still send email but now you can also chat, post pictures, videos comments and play with the various applications and gadgets on the site. This expansion of the capability of the internet is what is referred to as Web 2.0 but there is more.

Now there is what can be consider Web 3.0 and this has further revolutionized the web by modifying some of the old features and making it them more dynamic. For example, did you know that developers have come up with a site with totally different internet tools like{

o Email: You can now get emails with the following features: self destruct,
recallable, trackable and can include

o Video Email you can now send video emails to anyone using the tools on the
site.

o Make Money, You get a $50 referral free when you invite your friends. Plus
other ways to make money on the site.

o Instant Messenger: You can use instant messaging like Yahoo IM and Gtalk
to instantly chat with your friends online.

o Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are also being
included.

You would think that something like this will cost you hundreds of dollars to use. Just having the ability to send video email along could include a substantial monthly fee. But the site offers everything for free, zero, nadas nothing. Of course there is an upgrade option but you can do that whenever you feel like it. Well there is a cost to getting all the tools. You must become a member of the site. Trust me, go there and you will not be disappointed.

Go here to sign up for PeopleString a brand new innovation. Visit PeopleString find the new registration link and sign up today.

Thanks for reading.

Be well

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