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What do Chevys, Paula Deen and Walmart have in common?

From time-to-time I write about what customers want. I’ve written about the 3 Key Things Customers Want and I’ve written about having enthusiasm for your own product – are you aware that there are small and home-based business owners out there trying to peddle products and/or services about which they are not excited nor passionate?  How can you give a personal testimony about something you don’t like or use yourself?  But I digress.

[picapp src=”3/a/f/c/Salad_with_a_e0d9.jpg?adImageId=7117953&imageId=5067630″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]I’m a customer and today I’m writing about three new-to-me products that I find have – for me – quality, value and give me a reason to go back:

1.  Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant – a new salad, the “Grilled Wedge Salad.”  I couldn’t find a description on the website’s menu so I phoned my town’s location.  The price in my area is $8.99 and if you want chicken with it, it’s one dollar more.  A fellow named Bruce helped me and said this is a special that’s only been out a week or two.  We happened to stop in our Chevys this past Saturday and I was intrigued enough to try it…it was delicious!  I very seldom brag on the products of other businesses unless they happen to greatly impress me.  For whatever reason this salad did…so much so, I went back on Monday and had it again.  I didn’t have chicken with it; rather, I asked for a side of 4 ounces of grilled shrimp.  OMG – it was very good.  The idea seems to be to take two hearts of romaine and lay them on the grill then top them with various condiments and put the whole thing on a light pond of Ranch dressing.  That plus some chips, salsa and iced tea made for a great lunch.

For me this salad met my definition for quality – the salad ingredients were fresh and very tasty; value – what I received for the money I paid was reasonable; and as you can already see, I did return.

2.  Paula Deen 5 qt. Covered Saute – The story here is twofold: (1) I’m of an age that my kitchen cupboards are filled with an archeology lesson’s worth of old pots and pans; and (2) I’ve just re-discovered my love of cooking.  I’ve been cooking since age 8 when I began helping my mom in the kitchen and have gone through periods of both loving and loathing my kitchen.  There have been days when the very thought of having to think up one more menu was more than I could take and I phoned for pizza delivery.  However, something this past year has reawakened my culinary creativeness and I’ve been having rather a lot of fun trying new recipes.  But there is something sad about trying a new recipe using beat-up pitiful pots and pans.

I regularly used this old, dented quite large wok-type pan for just about everything.  But last week I took a good look at it and realized it was probably doing more harm than good to my cooking efforts so off to the store I went to find a replacement.  Because I was also in the market for a new slow cooker – mine went on the fritz and would only cook on high – I went to my local Walmart.  Found the slow cooker I wanted at a good price.  Then I began to peruse the cookware.  I haven’t purchased any new cookware in a great many years.  I may want to get a cast iron fry pan one of these days and Walmart had some already seasoned, but not this visit.  There were several brands of cookware and in prices ranging from the very economical to a range of $30 to $50 per piece.  And then I saw it: a large, covered pan in a really pretty blue color.  The brand was “Paula Deen,” one of the many famous cooks I’ve seen on cookbook covers at the bookstore.  I saw that Walmart offered a selection of single items as well as boxed sets of this brand.  My budget this week only allowed one item so I chose the 5 qt. covered saute in a pretty blue.  I’ve already used it three times since Saturday.  It meets my qualifications for quality and value and I will go back and get more Paula Deen-branded cookware.

I did do some research on the internet about this cookware and the only negative comment I found was someone’s displeasure that the cookware is made in Thailand.  And, yes, right on the cardboard sleeve for the piece I purchased it says: “Manufactured in Thailand for Meyer Corporation One Meyer Plaza, Vallejo, CA 94590.” [Meyer Corp. also manufactures the Rachael Ray brand cookware.] I’m all for things made in the USA, but I also believe we live in a global economy.  One of my next door neighbors was born and raised in Thailand.  She goes back every summer to visit her family and has told me wonderful stories about her country.  Her mother came out one year, she speaks only Thai, but she and I managed to connect over the fact that we’re both grandmothers.  So, I don’t have a problem with the fact that the Paula Deen cookware is manufactured in Thailand.

3.  Puritan brand solid twill shirt –  Coincidentally, my third product of mention that is new-to-me I also found at Walmart.  Funny, my dad used to say “We’re going to The Wahl Mart.”  For dad this was a trip right up there with visiting the tool section at Sears.  I have certain items I purchase at certain places and, like any other consumer, I comparison shop and I look for bargains.

On this particular day I was just wandering around in the store.  I’ve never previously visited the men’s clothing section of Walmart as I purchase my husband’s clothing at other retailers.  But this day I was drawn into the department because I caught a glimpse of a striking color shirt…a deep reddish burgundy.  I like to wear a man’s long-sleeve shirt as a light jacket or overshirt and thought this might be a great color for my own wardrobe if the quality was okay.  I’m not going to disparage Walmart and its brands here, but I don’t go into a discount store expecting high quality in clothing.  Having said that I was very surprised at the quality of this shirt.  The brand is Puritan, which I learned on Wikipedia, is one of the brands that Walmart carries.  The shirt is made of solid [cotton] twill – a heavy-duty fabric that holds up well to wear.  I liked the look of the shirt, it appeared to be well made and came in several colors.  I tried one on and the fit was good for my needs.  I bought two.  That evening I had my husband try on one and he liked it so I returned the next day and bought three more.  This item met my definitions of quality – in manufacture and materials; in value – the shirt was $9 – I almost ignored it because the price was so low; and I had a reason to return – to purchase more.  I’ve already washed these shirts and they came out just fine.

Their purchases notwithstanding, customers want for their money quality, value and a reason to return.  Give your customers those three things…as well as the added value of good customer service and your business will be ahead of the curve.




The value of having a blog on your business website

I think the time has come for home business owners to consider having an internet presence if they don’t already; and at the very least -but most important – should be a webpageSimply put a webpage “…is a document connected to the World Wide Web and viewable by anyone connected to the internet who has a web browser….”

Couldn’t be simpler, right? It’s akin to putting up a roadside sign promoting your business.  In the real world the roadside sign lets people who don’t normally travel in your neighborhood know your business exists.  If the sign is a good one, the sign will tell you what the business’ name is, what the business is about [produce, auto parts, tax preparation], where the business is located [address, phone number],  and when the business is open [times/days of operation].

Your webpage roadside sign can tell passersby the same information plus much more.  It is the signage that introduces your business and it is the front door.  The web traveler who finds your business webpage will be able to see on the “home page” all the pertinent information much as the roadside sign does, but it also invites the person into the business.  Your site could be informational only, such as the example of the company for which my brother works – Delegata, or it can be its own storefront, such as the Oakland Chocolate Company.

I think one good addition to a business webpage is a blog. Again simply put, a blog is an ongoing, chronological conversation between the author and the reader.  Simply put.  So why have a blog on your business webpage?  Some of the value points include:

  • Interaction with customers and prospective customers – if you allow the comments feature on the blog posts, you can get feedback from your readers; be aware some of it might be negative, but all feedback has value.
  • Staying engaged with your business – having a blog on your business website brings you to your site on a regular basis; I think the value to that is (a) it allows you to keep the page(s) updated and (b) lets you see what your customers and readers see…over time you may want to tweak the site for better accessibility – always remember that there is global competition out there.
  • Product info and product/customer stories – you can use your blog to give customers/users helpful information about the products in a fuller way than simple catalog-like listings can give.  You can also relate helpful stories (the positive ones) that customers send you – sometimes a customer comes up with a unique use for a product that is worth sharing.
  • History of your business – people like to know the origins of a business – who started it, why and where; also, perhaps the history of the products or aspects of the products themselves.  Two really good examples of this are an interesting website I found while researching ancient mosaic art, Mosaics in Greece that has a page giving the history of mosaics…it’s short and sweet; and one at the Winsor & Newton website which has quite a bit of historical information.
  • Added value: a blog is a great place to give your customers and prospective customers added value such as: a) ideas for use of products – this could include recipes or hints and tips; b) industry trends and other information.

There is one caution about writing a blog – be careful of making unsubstantiated claims about your products or services.  A silly example: you have a home-based business selling vitamins.  You are an independent distributor and have a webpage to which you added a blog.  In a post you make claims for your vitamins, like they “cure” disease.  Unless you can provide research data and other “official” proof, making this kind of claim can get you in hot water.  My advice is to stick with the warm fuzzies about your products.  Rather than making claims, tell your readers why vitamins are important.  Give your readers information about nutrition and the benefits of taking care of yourself.

If you don’t have a website, you can get one at online sites such as GoDaddy.com – which by the way, has its own blog.  You can design your own site or hire it done.  Learning to blog just takes a bit of work.  One good resource is ProBlogger.com.

A tip: once you get your business webpage established and start your blog, “Twitter” each post…it will drive more traffic to your blog and more people will learn of your business.



Making the case that Artists are Direct Sellers

Or: I’m making the case that I am an Artist [specifically a visual artist: mosaic and painting] and see my business as a direct selling business.  First, a couple definitions to help this conversation along:

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

  • Artist: first some quotes: “…What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit….  ~John Updike”  and my personal favorite: “…I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for….  ~Georgia O’Keeffe” – my personal definition of “artist” is someone who translates what they see either outside themselves or from within themselves through artistic media – could be paint, pencil, mosaic tiles, dance, music, poetry, prose, photography and more.  I think being an artist is something you have to do…like having no choice.
  • Direct Selling: the best definition comes from DirectSelling411 : “…Direct selling is the sale of a consumer product or service, person-to-person, away from a fixed retail location, marketed through independent sales representatives who are sometimes also referred to as consultants, distributors or other titles….”

Taking these two definitions then, you could say that the artist creates a consumer product and then sells that product person-to-person through shows, festivals, physical galleries and online galleries.  I consider a gallery to be a direct selling situation rather than a fixed retail location as purchasing a work of art is nothing like purchasing a gallon of milk.  In a gallery setting it takes person-to-person interaction between the gallery personnel and the prospective purchaser.  There are quite a few artist-owned galleries, so this is even more the case.

Having stated my case it’s my contention, as a business person, that it would benefit artists if they did a bit of learning as regards direct selling.

(1) How to do direct marketing: “…Direct marketing is a method used to distribute advertising and marketing materials such as catalogs, brochures or other items to consumers through mail, e-mail, telemarketing or other methods. Direct selling is NOT direct marketing.…”[again from DS411].  This is an important distinction and often the two get confused.  The key word is “marketing.”  Marketing is giving people information so that they can make an informed buying decision.  Once you’ve given someone information about your product [marketing materials] you still have to engage them in a buying situation [selling].

(2) How to be an effective direct seller: I found at the DirectSelling 411 site, in the FAQs for selling, a list of points that I think would be valuable for anyone to adopt [this list is copied and has my annotations in italics]:

  • Tell your potential customers who you are, why you’re approaching them and what products you are selling.believe it or not, I’ve seen artists at outdoor shows who stand in their booths with their artwork and never engage the people who come to look…these are prospective art buyers who need to know who you are, why they need your work and what you have available.
  • Explain how to return a product or cancel an order.this is as valid in an art transaction as for any other type of consumer product.  Sometimes an art buyer will get a work home then discover it just doesn’t “work” for them…art is “subjective” and human emotion has much to do with the initial purchase and the purchase retention.
  • Respect the privacy of your customers by calling at a time that is convenient for them.- this is good, basic business advice.
  • Promptly end a demonstration or presentation at the request of your customers.- some artists will take a selection of works to a prospective buyer’s home and do a “presentation;” this is good business advice.
  • Provide accurate and truthful information regarding the price, quality, quantity, performance, and availability of your product or service.- in the art world, consistency of pricing is often a difficult animal to master; sometimes a buyer will be interested in a work you have displayed, but wish it were in another color combination – as the art business person, you have to know what you will and won’t do for a client…and if you do it for one, you’ll have to offer it for others.
  • Offer a written receipt in language your customers can understand.this may, or may not, be an issue in an artist’s business; having said that, if you are an English speaker and are doing shows in a community where another language is predominant, you might want to offer materials in that language.  Some American artists travel to Italy, for instance, for shows…this might be good business in this case.
  • Provide your name and contact information, as well as the contact information of the company you represent.- you would be amazed at the number of artists who do not provide this valuable information to buyers of their work…referral sales are as important for artists’ “products” as for any other consumer products.
  • Offer a complete description of any warranty or guarantee.as an artist, do you offer services after the purchase such as fixing damage?  Everything needs to be clearly outlined and understood between the artist and the buyer.

It’s difficult for some artists to put aside the fuzzy feel goods of getting their hands paint splattered and exchanging that for the cold realities of doing business.  However if an artist has decided to make a business of their work and efforts, then the two hats must be worn.  The business hat needs to fit as well as the creative one.  There is much more that goes into a discussion of art plus business; but for me, it helped to define my home-based business as a direct selling enterprise.  I could then further define what I needed to know and what skills I needed to learn to have a balanced business: creating work on one side and marketing and selling it on the other.

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Good business needs consistently good quality

Consistency is one of those things not always easy to maintain.  As a business person are you able to give good customer service on a consistent basis?  Is every product you sell of a consistent quality?  Can your product or service be counted upon to be of the same [or better] quality from one purchase or use to another?

There is a business in my community that delivers on two things consistently, every single time.  This is a restaurant that offers a dual cuisine of Chinese and Vietnamese.  We’ve been ordering home delivery for months now and I have to report that this establishment consistently:

  1. provides timely, friendly delivery – the food arrives within the timeframe of when they say it will arrive and the food is always still warm and is freshly prepared [believe me, there are some dishes you can tell if they’ve been sitting around in a warming tray]
  2. the food is delicious…every single time. We have a couple of favorites: one of mine is their “dry cooked green beans,” and one of my husband’s is their “beef with eggplant.”  The eggplant dish is significant to mention as my husband is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to eggplant dishes [does not matter the cuisine, could be Italian or Chinese] and he’s hard to please.  He has found this dish from this restaurant to be very good each and every time we’ve ordered it.  I simply adore their recipe for “dry cooked green beans,” and again, it is delicious each and every time.

Consistency is one of the keys to a business’ success.  Your customers have to know they can count on, with every encounter with your business:

  • receiving friendly, helpful service
  • quick and helpful answers to questions and concerns
  • products that deliver what they are supposed to deliver – whether that is flavor, nutritional content, freshness…whatever the elements may be
  • follow-through on delivery times and dates

Quality is one of those golden elements that every business would like stamped upon it.  This restaurant from which we order home delivery offers excellent quality.  I believe that my direct selling home-based business offers quality products, consistently, or I wouldn’t offer them.  They have never let me down in either taste or availability or content.  My customers can rest assured that their deliveries will always arrive on time…there has never been a back order.  Consistency is one of the things I love about my business.

Another benefit of offering consistently good quality?  Repeat business.  This restaurant about which I’ve written will continue to receive our business; and, because of their good record of consistent good quality, we will continue to order something new and different as well as our favorites, because there will be a good chance the new dishes [new to us] will be as high a quality as we’ve come to expect.

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Companies with ideals

Ideals are principles and values that we pursue as goals in and of themselves.  I believe that the company with which I’m associated is one of high principles and values.  But what I’d like to talk about today are two other products I purchase…the companies who produce them also hold themselves to high ideals.

The first is a food energy bar, Clif Bar.  I eat one a day at mid-day, to keep my blood sugar from plunging and to keep me from eating unhealthy foods in the afternoons…one Clif Bar really fills you up!  I find the packaging interesting as it has a short story by Gary, Founder and Owner:

  • “…While trekking in Nepal, I met up with an expedition about to climb Dhaligiri, one of the world’s highest peaks. I figured that with more than 200 porters the expedition must have been traveling with at least 20,000 pounds of stuff. Expeditionary climbing takes an enormous amount of energy, equipment, and people, to put just a handful of individuals on top of a mountain. My friends and I prefer to climb alpine style; we move quickly, carry light packs, and leave no waste behind. Each campsite is a beautiful destination in itself; not simply a means to an end. I don’t believe in reaching the top at any cost – in climbing or in business. Clif Bar’s journey resembles alpine climbing. We try to travel light and are committed to keeping our company, products, people, community, and the earth healthy….” – from the back of an individual package of Oatmeal Raisin Walnut.

Just in that one little paragraph I find a principle that I admire – “…don’t believe in reaching the top at any cost….”  I share this belief and am building my own home-based direct selling business at a “slow and steady wins the race” pace.  My customer is the person who is looking for a home-based business.  I introduce my company and its product then leave the decision to them. 

I like on the Clif Bar website the main menu headings, one of which is “Soul.”  They talk about working to reduce the company’s ecological footprint and they [both the company corporate and its employees] give back to their communities.  This is another value, ideal, that I admire.  It is shared by my company and my business.  Personally, I still have a ways to go in learning to be a good ecological citizen, but I’ve come a long way…I even rinse out and clean my recylables before tossing them in the bin.

There are income opportunities that come into my email inbox that are only about money.  Money is not an ideal. It is a tool, a resource.  My business has to mean more than the tools that it is made of.

The other product I want to talk about is my breakfast cereal: Bear Naked  all natural granola, the fruit and nut variety.  Again my health is my original reason for choosing this cereal…this cereal keeps my blood sugar up until lunch time…I have no need for a mid-morning snack.  This cereal, along with the juice I drink each morning [my product] provide me with energy and good nutrition. 

I specifically chose Bear Naked/fruit and nut because (1) it is loaded with fruit and nuts, (2) it’s not overly processed and has a whole lot of things NOT in it like preservatives, trans fat and other stuff, and (3) the company’s principles of giving back: they are partnered with The National Arbor Day Foundation – I’m a huge proponent of saving and planting trees.  The company with which I’m associated helps to preserve the rainforest [email and ask me how].   My package of cereal also has a great paragraph written by the developers, Brendan and Kelly:

  • “….We both love great-tasting and nutritious food, active lifestyles and working together. So, Bear Naked was born. As simple as it may sound, we believe food should be minimally processed and made from natural ingredients you can actually pronounce…To us, it’s more than just the wholesome food we put in our bodies. It’s about the inspiration to seek adventure, the energy for hard work, and the motivation to find true relaxation…and doing good along the way….” – taken from the bag I have in my cupboard right now that I purchased at Target

I like about Bear Naked that they use the very best ingredients…yes, I have to pay for it [although the price does differ depending upon which retailer you purchase from], but high quality is worth paying for.  I like on their FAQ page their answer to the question of price:    

  • “….Why is your product priced at a premium level?  Our product is priced at a premium level, because we source the best-tasting, highest quality ingredients we can find. For example, we use whole almonds and walnut halves, not almond and walnut pieces. In addition, our granola is still made by hand, which is labor intensive….”

I’m proud to say that the product I represent in my direct selling business is one that uses the highest quality ingredients processed to maximize their flavor and nutritional value…and worth every dime spent.  Some things really are worth the asking price…after all, do you want to pay the doctor or use that same money to be well by eating well?

Principles and values…Ideals.  What are your company’s ideals?

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Do you love the product you represent?

I recently received an unsolicited email from someone claiming to want to interest me in an internet-based business that (supposedly) generated $3,000 for him in less than a week.  Nowhere in his email letter did he mention a product or benefit of his company…all that was mentioned was quick money.  Well now.

As with many people who start a business from their home, my goal was indeed to generate more income.  Like most of you my budget needs a boost that can only come from another income source.  However, where that unsolicited emailer and I diverge is that money alone is not enough of an end result to make me put out time and resources to start a business. 

I need to believe in the company behind the business.  I need to know that my value system and the company’s value system are in sync.  I refuse to be a hypocrite.  I refuse to put my good name [and that of my ancestry] to shame by linking it to something not of value.  The company needs to reflect sound business and financial management.  It needs to reflect a sincere desire to stand behind its employees and – in the case of a direct selling company – its independent distributors.  I need the company that I’m representing to have a desire to make this world a better place.

Another element I require in a home business, is a product that I can be proud of .  Not only that, but it must be a product that I actually use and benefit from and love to talk about.  It has to be a product that I’m my own customer for.  If I can’t honestly say that I use, like, appreciate and benefit from my product then why would I want to share it with anyone else?

For me, to build a sustainable, healthy and growing business, I have to have:

  • a product worthy of my time and effort
  • a product that I use and enjoy using and benefit from
  • a product that I am comfortable and excited to recommend to my family and friends – these are the people I care about after all
  • a product produced and backed by a company of high values

So, to all who would send me unsolicited emails about a “money making” opportunity, be aware that I’m just not interested.  In my business efforts I lead with my product.  I only lead with the business opportunity if the person I’m talking with has that as a priority…however I follow with my product.  If this person can’t use and appreciate the product, then the business opportunity is a waste of their time.

My dad was very proud of his heritage and his name.  He always taught us kids to protect our family name and to never do anything that would cause us shame or to let ourselves be linked by name to anything undesirable.  My dad and his people [and my mother’s] were not people of wealth and means…they were decent, hardworking people.  I like to think that my dad would approve of my choice of business.  He passed away years before the beginning of this company with whom I’m an independent distributor, and I think he would like the product.  I raise a toast to my parents.

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A network marketing biz is a no-collar biz

In our industrial age world, which is now morphing into a knowledge age world, levels of the working class have been categorized by the color of their collars: blue and white.  A blue collar worker generally is someone who works for an hourly wage, punches a time clock, literally works with their hands and often, wears a blue shirt.

A white collar worker signifies those working in offices…those who must wear dress shirts, usually white, those who attend meetings, push papers and talk on phones, punch pda’s and pound keyboards.  One change has been the computer age…many of these people…my husband [a senior software engineer] included, wouldn’t wear a dress shirt and suit to work if you paid him to.  The computer age brought workplaces where jeans and tee’s are the norm for work attire…I’ll call them the round collar.

So we have the blue collar, mostly hourly wage workers; the white collar, both hourly wage and salaried; and the round collar, both hourly wage and salaried.

I’d like to introduce a new collar: no collar.  The owner of a home-based business.  A network marketer who has built their business to a point where they now have residual passive income and enjoy time freedom.  They don’t wear a collar anymore because they don’t “work” anymore. 

Residual passive income is money you enjoy as a result of work you’ve already done.  A network marketing [or direct selling]  business can give you that.  In a good direct selling compensation plan, for instance, you earn income from:

  1. retail profit through the direct sale of product
  2. commissions and bonuses based on the sales volume of the people in your downline

The passive income will come when your organization is large enough to be self-sustaining.  If you’ve chosen a great product, a good and solid company with potential for financial freedom, then working until you don’t have to anymore is attainable.

Let’s say you join a company upon the recommendation of a friend.  You try the product and discover that you truly like it and can get passionate about it.  You’ve done your due diligence on the corporation and found it to be sound.  The company and your upline sponsor have all the tools necessary to help you get started.  [all of this is real and true right now with many different direct selling companies.]

Now you begin to market your product.  You begin to have retail customers.  You tell people who are interested in a business of their own about yours and you begin to sponsor them.  They begin to retail the product and they begin to sponsor people into a business of their own.  Over time, as your downline organization grows, those sales volume numbers will grow and you’ll begin to earn bonuses and commissions.  At some point, the organization will grow to a point where you will continue to receive bonuses and commissions regardless of whether you spend 10 hours a week or 1 hour a week on your own business efforts.   Why?  Because in a network marketing/direct selling income opportunity, each and every person is their own businessperson…each one has their own business and they, too, desire to grow their business.  So each person will retail and sponsor…those people will retail and sponsor and so on.

It’s a great business model.  There are good, sound network marketing/direct selling companies out there offering good, competitive products with good, sound compensation plans.  If you like the idea of a no collar lifestyle, this type of business could be just what you need.

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