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. 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.
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.
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! It 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. In 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.
In 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.
Lots of people typed in all capital letters back then, too. And for good reason. Some computers didn't have a lowercase option.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Business 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.
Plus, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of the content on our site is still text - html articles and blogs. But we're dipping our toes into other media, as well.
Business 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.
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