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20 Years Online With Business Know-How
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August 8, 2012, marks the 24th year that I've been running online sites to provide practical information about starting, running, marketing and managing small businesses and home based businesses.


To celebrate the event, we've put together this walk down memory lane. (Pun intended)

As you listen to the audio, scroll down this page and you'll see some pictures of some of the computers I've used over the years, (I got my first computer in 1983) as well as other computing images related to the 20 years I've been running online forums. If you weren't online then, I think you'll find it interesting to see how simple and uncolorful computers and the online industry were in the early days.

I got my first computer - a Sanyo CP/M in 1983. I wanted it because I was a writer - and a terrible typist. I was wasting a LOT of time and erasable bond typing paper writing articles and typing up the finished articles in a format I could present to editors.

The computer was a real bargain at $3000 because it came with WordStar, ReportStar, and DataStar and Calcstar , a suite of programming for word processing, databases and spreadsheets. The computer had a 4 Megaherz processor and 64 Kylobytes of memory! floppies.jpgIt had a monitor that displayed dotty-green type on a black background, one floppy drive and no hard drive. To use it, I had to put a floppy disk containing the software into the computer, let the software load, then take out the floppy disk and replace it with a blank disk to save what I was writing.

Floppy disks WERE floppy, and only held a little more than 300 Kilobytes of data. But that was enough to hold about 80 to 100 pages of text. books.jpgIn fact I wrote several short books on that computer.

Learning how to set up and USE the computer was rather difficult. The manual - a bad translation - told me to turn the ON/OFF switch to ON/OFF. I figured out how use most of the computer functions I needed initially by following instructions in the WordStar manual.

I discovered Computer User groups - clubs where people (almost all men) got together to talk about how to use computers, and what was new. I got a lot of help from people in the group I found.

modem-1200b.jpgIn 1985, I started doing freelance work for a medical abstract company. They wanted their writers to send their work over modem to their VAX computer system. So I bought a modem.

Little did I know - until after I got the modem home - that I'd have to take apart the computer, find some kind of tiny switch and change the setting on it to make the computer work with the modem. I also had to find a program that would let the computer send and receive data through the modem. The user group helped me find the right program.

The modem let me dial into bulletin board systems I had heard about through the user group. These bulletin boards were usually run from computer hobbyist basements and- were the only affordable way to communicate online.

Some coupons for the two biggest online services at the time - GEnie and CompuServe - had been packaged with the modem. To use either one, you had to use your computer and modem to dial a telephone number to connect to the service. Once you connected, you had to pay hourly charges for the online service (as much as $35 an hour daytime) plus the cost of your telephone call.

oldbbsmsg.jpgLots of people typed in all capital letters back then, too. And for good reason. Some computers didn't have a lowercase option.

I got hooked on the technology, though, and thought," hey, this is really going to be big some day" and I wanted to get into the industry on the ground floor. I saw online services as a way of starting my own publication, something I had long wanted to do. I also wanted a way to use online services without having to pay so much... So I submitted a proposal and became a "sysop" for General Electric's GEnie service in 1988. Sysops, you see, got free accounts for the online service.

SYSOP was short for systems operator. What sysops did, was to create and/or aggregate resources for people with common interests. such as owning a particular brand of computer, or being a small business owner, or being a writer, or playing games online.

Each sysop had their own forum (special interest area - they were called RoundTables on GEnie.) It usually consisted of a download area (called a file library), a message board, and a chat room.

macnmouse.jpg
Shortly after I got the contract to run the forum on GEnie, I bought a new computer - A Macintosh Plus. One of the reasons I bought the Macintosh was because I wanted to use it for Desktop Publishing. As you can see , this early Macintosh mouse got a lot of use! Software back then came with manuals, too, Printed manuals. Adobe Illustrator 88 - even back then was already a surprisingly powerful program.

Genie, and other online services were text based. You moved around them by choosing numbers on a screen, or, if you were experienced, by typing in commands to go directly where you wanted to go.

Meanwhile other services were evolving. At the end of 1989, Quantum Computer Service launched America Online,, which it initially promoted as the ""Macintosh Telecommunications Research Project." Their rate was only $4 an hour at night and on weekends, and if you signed up then, you became a Charter member, entitled to 20% off all future fees. I still have an AOL account that gets that 20% discount.

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Later on in 1990, Bill Louden, founder and General Manager of GEnie revolutionized online service pricing by introducing flat-rate evening hour pricing. For $4.95 a month, you could use many of the features on GEnie for free after 6pm and on weekends. The pricing was popular - so popular that GEnie couldn't handle the load initially. History repeated itself several years later when AOL switched to flat-rate pricing and attracted more users than it could serve in the first few days, too.

After I had been on Genie for a couple of years, the Air Force office of small business opened up an area on the service, too, to let small businesses know about procurement opportunities. The Air Force contracted out management of the area, and I won the contract to do the work.

My contract with GEnie wasn't exclusive, and by the beginning of 1990, I wanted to syndicate a column to other online services. I called America Online and Prodigy to see if they would be interested in adding a small business column to their services. Prodigy turned me down. Whoever I spoke with at the time said small businesses wouldn't be interested in using their service.

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AOL was interested, but they wanted more than the Business Know-How column I was proposing. They wanted me to create a complete forum - articles, download library, message boards and chats - like I had on GEnie. I told them I didn't want to do that. They suggested I try it for three months. A year into the "three-month trial" we were asked to run the Microsoft Small Business Center on America Online. (How things change!) When Microsoft left AOL, we stayed online. Business Know how remained a content provider to AOL (under various contracts) for 11 years - until June 2001.

Between the two online forums I was running I was starting to see patterns in the types of questions people starting and running home- based and small businesses wanted answers to. So, in 1991, I put together a proposal for The Home Office and Small Business Answer Book.

Since I had a platform along with writing ability and subject expertise, I was able to get an agent. (I found him through the Writers Roundtable on theGEnie service) and the first edition of the book was published simultaneously in hard cover and paperback by Henry Holt and Company in 1993. The book was chosen as a Fortune Book Club main selection and was in the Money Book Club until that book club closed down. A second book I wrote, called Business Know-How: an Operational Guide for Homebased and Micro-sized businesses was pubished at the end of 1999. A second edition of the Home Office and Small Business Answer book was published in 2000.
3books.jpg

All of the book jackets had people on the covers. They all showed how you might imagine a professionally-run home business or home business person to look.
squeaky.jpgBut all of the covers missed one of the elements that's present in a surprisingly large number of home offices -the home office companion. In my home office that companion was always a cat. Sometimes one that was very much in my face.
In other home offices, the "companion" is a dog, or a toddler, or a spouse who also works at home. (Older kids usually find better things to do than hang out in mommy or daddy's home office.)

msndisks.jpgI don't remember the exact date, but after a couple of years, Microsoft departed AOL and made plans to launch their own online service - MSN. I stayed on AOL after the split, running the same area I always had run, and before long added another online service client to my list: Microsoft. When MSN launched in 1995, it had a Business Know-How forum. By 1998, Microsoft decided AOL style forums weren't the way to go for its online service, and eventually Microsoft dropped the contracts with all the forum managers.

aol.jpgBusiness Know-How kept growing on AOL, however. And by 1996, we were yet one more place - on the web. . The development of a web browser made it possible for people with a modem and a dialup connection to bypass commercial online services and use this "new" thing called the Internet to communicate and share information.
laptops.jpg

lbug1.gifPlus, it was relatively simple to get your own address on the web. So, in 1996 I registered BusinessKnowHow.com. We put up a very rudimentary site that featured this lady bug graphic as the main image on the home page. There wasn't much else there, either. Fortunately it has disappeared from the Internet Archive.

airforce2.jpg
About the same time, the Air Force wanted to move their data off of GEnie and onto the Web. Tony DeLuca who headed up the office I worked with and his assistant, Dale McNabb felt that being on the web made it easier and more affordable for small businesses to discover air force procurement opportunities. Like our original Business Know-How site, the Internet Archives have happily lost the early version of the site - the screen shots here are from 1999 and 2003, the last year we were involved with the site.

We expanded our content and our message boards, and by the last year of our contract we were running several complete forums under the Business Know-How name and running at least 50 live online chats a week.

When our AOL contract ended in June 2001, we put all our efforts into developing our own BusinessKnowHow.com website. Although we had registered the domain in 1996, it didn't have nearly as much content on it as our AOL site had. But we did have some web traffic, and in the dot com boom days, some advertisers willing to pay a lot of money to be on the website. Ad revenues on the site pretty much ceased in 2001, a fact that, together with the end of the AOL contract made the next year and a bit difficult.

But our audience never left us. Our traffic grew steadily and eventually advertiers started to return. We also set up an ecommerce site in 2003, selling labor law posters safety posters, and other products for businesses.
So where are we now - 20+ years after our launch on GEnie as the Home Office and Small Business RoundTable?

laborlaw.jpg

Well, for starters, depending on whose figures you look at, BusinessKnowHow.com and BusinessKnowHow.net (our ecommerce side) together reach close to 4 million unique individuals a year. We also have a career website.
Our ecommerce efforts have been pretty successful, and we expect to add to our products, including some products in a slightly different small business niche.

bkhtoday.jpgMost of the content on our site is still text - html articles and blogs. But we're dipping our toes into other media, as well.

view.jpgBusiness Know-How isn't home-based anymore, either. Eight years ago, I moved the business out of the house to a small office 3 miles away. That first office was tiny, but fine, if you ignored the holes in the wall from the previous tenant, the windows that leaked a lot when it rained, and some other problems. We moved to a bigger office in the same building the following year, and then the following year, we moved to a much nicer building - even closer to home. Our new location is only 2 miles from my house. The office is attractive - and according to our network consultant, has the best view in town.

Who makes it all work? Here's a list of the people who make businessknowhow.com one of the most popular small business websites around. Some are employees, and others are independent contractors who run businesses of their own with Business Know-How as one of their clients.
Janet Attard - Founder, CEO, Writer
Lisa Freeman -Web & Newsletter Production
Patricia Schaefer - Writer, Sales Manager
Lori Tamberino - Sales Associate
Catherine Zimmerman - Audio & video production, admin assistant
Bill Silverman - Web programming
A host of other freelancers and editorial contributors.
For ideas, information and resources to start, run, market and grow your business, visit www. Businessknowhow.com today.

Posted by on August 7, 2008 at 4:30 PM | Comments (13)

Comments

CONGRATULATIONS!!!-:)

Posted by: John H Fisher on August 8, 2008 at 12:11 PM

I remember with fondness my Mac Plus, Red Ryder and GEnie. I was so hyped
up to have a computer that I took three weeks off work and stayed inside
playing most of the time. From the Mac literature, the big challenge
seemed to be in writing telecom scripts with Red Ryder. With a great deal
of reserve and feeling-unworthyness, I couldn't resist dabbling with a
programming language, and really having a hard time trying to teach myself
by trying to pull down the concepts from nowhere. I got it to the point
where I could automatically log on, navigate, pull down stuff, and create
simple user interfaces. I think that has to rate nearly as high as the
most fun I've had using computers. I thought Scott Watson and his
Freesoft idea was the coolest shit on the planet.

Posted by: John Daly on August 8, 2008 at 1:21 PM

Janet -

Congratulations!!! Although I haven't had the time to get involved with your site since you left AOL, I have fond memories of our days together on GEnie and AOL.

For those who weren't around in the good ol' days, I was one of Janet's asst. sysops in the early days on GEnie. I think the forum Janet had and that I assisted in was called the "Home Office Small Business" Roundtable (at least that's mt recollection of what it was called). I do remember we certainly had some very active times, both on GEnie and AOL (I think we called them "flame wars"). Sometimes, I felt sorry for Janet because she had as much trouble controlling me as she did the participants. I simply had a very low tolerance for rude and dumb people and I had ever less tolerance for people who attacked me simply because I was an attorney.

And, while there were certain people who seemed to exist solely to "stir the pot" and make everyone miserable, being one of Janet's assistants was a fun and exciting time and I enjoyed the opportunity to assist Janet. I think it was a two-way street for both oj us as well. I learned things from you and you may have learned a few from me.

You have done an excellent job for the small business person and the home-based business person. I have no doubt that your contributions have aided innumerable people in setting up and operating their businesses.

I wish you continued success in your endeavors.

Regards and best wishes,

Your friend,

Kent Seitzinger

Posted by: Kent Seitzinger on August 8, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Congratulations on 20 years! Wow, I've been reading your great advice for quite a while. It's been almost 20 years since my first business magazine, so I can definitely relate to your experiences.

My first computer was a Commodore Colt (IBM compatible). No hard drive, but it was considered cutting edge because it had 640Kb ram.

Luckily, by 1991, they had the speedy 386sx and Pagemaker. With those tools and a few associates, we were able to create an attractive publication that would have taken many thousands of dollars and a good-sized staff to accomplish only a few years before. No matter how often I swear at my computer, it really has been a boon to productivity.

Janet, keep up the good work!

Posted by: John Holsen on August 8, 2008 at 4:32 PM

Janet,

20 Years of helping small businesses. Congratulations!

Posted by: Robert Levin on August 8, 2008 at 8:58 PM

Congratulations on the first twenty years, Janet.

I enjoyed the little walk down memory lane.

Jim Smith

PS: Okay, now let me click the button and see how long it takes for this speedy new 2400 baud modem to send my message to you. [Ha!]

Posted by: Jim Smith on August 9, 2008 at 9:06 AM

I only got music when I played the podcast, how do I get the pictures please?

Posted by: Lorna on August 11, 2008 at 12:02 PM

I'm sorry you had a problem seeing the pictures. The pictures are still pictures in the text transcript of the audio podcast. If you right click on the audio podcast link and choose "open in a new window" you should be able to move the audio window to one side of your screen and then scan down the underlying page to see the images.

We're trying to get audio and pictures rolled together into a video - When we do we'll put a link in or embed the video on the page.

Posted by: Janet Attard Author Profile Page on August 11, 2008 at 10:27 PM

Hey Janet, Happy Anniversary!!

Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com

Posted by: Ramon Ray on August 18, 2008 at 6:42 AM

Janet, Congratulations!

Now you've got me trying to remember when we did our first business planning forum on AOL.com, many years ago -- probably 1995 -- which was just plain fun and kind of amusing because there we were, you and me, waiting for somebody else to show up, talking amongst ourselves ... about halfway through the alloted time, an actual audience (we thought) showed up in the chat, but only to ask if either one of us knew anything about HP printer drivers.

That was one long time ago!

This was a great post, by the way, I really enjoyed reliving the old days, which is a really good way to celebrate an anniversary.

Best regards,

Tim

Posted by: Tim Berry on August 24, 2008 at 12:28 PM

Congratulations on your first 20 years in business. I've also enjoyed the walk down memory lane with this post. Keep up the great work!

Posted by: Jeff Hall on September 9, 2008 at 10:19 PM

Happy 20th

While it was much later in my own online career that I discovered your site, it has been much appreciated none the less.

My own involvement in computing may predate your own, as I was at Chicago Devry in 82-84 with Apple IIs and rare IIIs. About the time that IBM first did their 286 and 386 grey boxes. The very first computer I spent any money on was the very dimunitive T1000 and a Apple IIs and even had a TRS-80, (trash 80) for a while. Those were the days when software was everyones and your public copy no longer was yours if someone got your code, like what happened with the Banner maker Assembler code that I wrote back then for the continuious sheet feeder printers. After I left Devry, I became a DP manager at a small RPG shop at a manufacturing facility. By the time the internet flooded upon the public, I had been toying with BB's and once I saw the potential of web pages, teaching myself html, the rest has become a fantastic history for all of us.

Congratulations again!

Posted by: Mark Hedtke on April 28, 2009 at 6:17 AM

great resource!

Posted by: Chicago Trademark Lawyer on October 21, 2010 at 1:12 PM

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