Sunday
Mar262017

Virtual shopping

MALAYSIANS love shopping. A visit to some of the popular shopping malls, even on a weekday, will confirm that shopping is a popular leisure activity. But its very popularity means that these malls are packed with people and finding a parking space will be a logistical nightmare.

The good news for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving to a mall and spending a lot of time looking for an empty space to park is the emergence of local online shopping malls.

When e-commerce was still at a nascent stage, many Malaysians experienced buying online through blogshops, which are essentially blogs with postings of things for sale.

Purchase was done through depositing money into bank accounts rather than paying through online shopping carts, etc. It was all very primitive but it served its purpose.

Later on, individual online shops emerged but for a long time we didn’t have a Malaysian answer to Amazon.com ­— that is, an online shopping mall which sold all kinds of products.

Of course it’s possible for Malaysians to order some things through Amazon.com but the range of products that could be shipped to Malaysia was limited. The shipping options were also very expensive.

Today, the online scene is very different. There are now many virtual shopping malls.

In some ways, these online malls are more comprehensive than their physical counterparts because they carry a much wider range of items.

Other than not having to search for parking, the other advantage is the potential cost savings. Online prices are almost always cheaper. The return policies are also typically much more generous than those of real life stores (which often have a no-return policy).

I’m going to highlight a few notable home-grown online shopping malls. Because they’re local, the shipping costs will be affordable or sometimes even free. Delivery time is also much shorter than if you were to order from overseas online stores or malls.

Lazada

This is the granddaddy of online shopping malls in Malaysia. It’s the most well-known e-commerce site for a reason. Like Amazon, it sells seemingly everything under the sun. There are electronics, home appliances, travel products, clothing, beauty products — you name it, it has it.

Its strongest categories are in consumer electronics and electrical goods. You can practically get any gadget you want there. All the brands, big and small, are represented. If you have read about a device online and can’t find it in any physical store, try Lazada. It’s probably there.

Its strength in consumer electronics have some people referring to it as an online “digital mall”, but that doesn’t do the site justice.

Its other departments are by no means weak. There’s really a lot of stuff you can find on Lazada in almost any category.

Like Amazon, almost everything on sale in Lazada is priced at a discount to the suggested retail price. Sometimes, they even offer special discounts for customers with specific brands of credit card.

One feature that I really like is its delivery time estimator which tells you how long each product will take to arrive.

Sometimes, certain products are sourced from overseas so they would take a longer time to arrive. I have found this to be useful for times when I wanted to order something as a gift for someone’s birthday. This allows me to know whether I can get it on time.

A site that’s as comprehensive as Lazada is best viewed on a computer laptop. But if you prefer to do your online shopping through a mobile phone, Lazada does have an app version for both Android and iOS. Download those for a better experience when viewing the site on a mobile device.

11street

11street is an online shopping mall operated by Celcom and is a collaboration with SK Planet, a well-known South Korean e-commerce site.

Like the other online malls, it has a wide range of product categories. One differentiating factor is its Korean Street, which it is eminently qualified to offer since its collaborator is Korean. The stuff that can be found there are obviously all from Korea so that should be interesting to fans of K-pop and Korean dramas.

It’s also interesting to note that 11street has a groceries department which is not a common offering among online malls.

There are many specialist grocery sites in Malaysia but grocery items are seldom sold via online malls. Alas, 11street’s grocery section comprises just dry goods. You won’t be able to find any fresh produce or meat there, so it’s not really what you’d expect when you click on the “Groceries” button.

If you want fresh groceries, go to Tesco online or some of the other specialist grocery sites.

pqc

11street has a groceries department.

Superbuy.my

Like Lazada, Superbuy.my aims to offer a wide range of products but seems to be strongest in the area of consumer electronics and electricals. Visit the main page and you’ll see lot of gadgets and devices.

The site fosters a culture of reviews and there are many reviews available on a whole slew of products. In fact, it has a button called “Review” that lists every product that has a review or reviews attached to it.

It can actually make for interesting reading and fittingly, the reviews are presented blog-style with the latest review appearing at the top.The reviews are up-to-date which tells you the site has a legion of fans.

Superbuy offers corporate purchase services such as bulk orders, corporate gifts and employee incentives programmes for corporate clients (who are encouraged to write in and inquire about corporate discounts).

Nile.com.my

This Egyptian river-inspired store name is obviously a play on Amazon, which was named after the mighty Brazilian river.

The site offers many of the categories similar to its rivals Lazada, 11street and Superbuy. The range of products however doesn’t seem to be as wide as some of its competitors.

What differentiates it from the other online shopping malls is its lowest price guarantee which means if an item bought on Nile can be found elsewhere at a lower price, the company will either match that price or beat it — and it will refund the price difference. Now, that’s a pretty good deal!

The site says it is able to offer the lowest price possible because its purchasing team buys or imports items directly from manufacturers and passes on the savings to customers.

This is a strong selling point for Malaysian shoppers. We Malaysians love to bargain but if haggling is not possible, a lowest price guarantee is just as good.

Give online shopping a try

If you have not yet tried online shopping, now is a really good time to try it. The e-commerce eco system in Malaysia is now sufficiently mature that credit card payments are secure and delivery options are both affordable and fast. So, give yourself more choices and save some time and money while you are at it by shopping online.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Mar192017

Taking the leap to freelancing

MANY Malaysians relish the notion of starting their own businesses. We’re a very entrepreneurial society. But starting a business with employees to take care of is very challenging. Perhaps aiming to be self-employed can be the first step towards starting a business.

Being self-employed is fundamentally the same as being a freelancer, basically someone who performs a service for pay. The difference between an employee and a freelancer is that the latter’s obligation is to produce a desired outcome or result, with the client not being in the position to control how the freelancer achieves this. In contrast an employer has the right to control how an employee does his or her job.

The appeal of being a freelancer is the sense of freedom or autonomy that one gets. There’s also the prospect of making more money when you take on multiple clients as opposed to drawing a pay cheque from just one employee.

However, as with all things, there are drawbacks to striking it out on your own, namely the amount of self-discipline that’s needed and the fact that there’ll be dry periods when there’s very little work flowing in.

All in though, successful freelancers will generally tell you they have no regrets leaving full-time employment and would not consider going back to a conventional 9-to-5 working style.

So if you want to try your hand at freelancing either as an end-goal or as a stepping stone towards building a business with employees, here are some things to consider.

STICK TO YOUR STRENGTHS

The first thing to decide upon if you want to become a freelancer is what service(s) you are offering. Do you go into the same line or do you do something different? The temptation to offer something different will be there. But it makes sense to stick to what you’re good at.

Jenny Blake, a former career development programme manager at Google and author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, advises people to “double-down on existing strengths, interests and experience”.

If something is outside of your core expertise, it could be quite a struggle to make a living out of it. In contrast, if it’s something you knew very well, not only do you have the skill sets and the experience to do it well, you’ll also have the reputation and industry contacts to make it work.

GET SOME FREELANCING EXPERIENCE

There is a right time for everything. So when is the right time to quit your job to start a new freelancing career? Unless you’re laid off, in which case the decision is not up to you, the right time to make the move is when you have acquired some experience freelancing.

If you don’t have freelancing experience, it is a good idea to try your hand at it while you’re still gainfully employed. But you should do so ethically. This means avoiding doing any freelance work during office hours and to avoid any conflict of interest situations.

As long as you do your freelance work at your own time (after office hours or during the weekends) and you are not doing work for a competitor, there is no ethical issue. Continue to put in an honest day’s work during office hours and outside those hours, you can do your own thing.

Some companies tolerate their employees doing freelance work on their own time. I know of at least one that actually encouraged it on the notion that doing freelance work (for a non-competitor) gives their employees a chance to gain more experience.

Of course some frown upon it and some explicitly ban it. So understand your company’s policies with regard to freelancing and don’t do anything that violates the rules.

If your company forbids employees from doing any kind of paid outside work, you can gain some freelancing experience doing pro-bono work for charities or work on personal projects for yourself. This is not exactly the same as doing freelancing work for pay but it will give you some useful experience doing work outside of a fixed office environment.

GET BUSY NETWORKING

You should also ratchet up your industry networking to increase your prospective client base. But remember that effective networking can’t be done overnight.

Make a point to attend industry events and mingle with other people in your industry. In this day and age, online networking sites is a resource you should tap on.

LinkedIn, in particular, is a very useful business networking tool to get to know other people in your industry or in similar industries.

If you’re hesitant to ask for a connection with someone whom you don’t know and have never met before, remember that if they are on LinkedIn, it means they want to network with others (otherwise they wouldn’t be on that network in the first place).

So don’t hesitate to reach out to those whom you’d like to network with. It only works to your advantage to know more people.

Once you’ve made up your mind to become a freelancer, start enquiring with existing freelance clients whether they would have additional work for you should you become a full-time freelancer. Many freelancers I’ve spoken to managed to line up many clients before they quit their jobs.

If you have a very good relationship with your existing employer, you could even be frank and upfront with your boss.

Inform him that you have plans to move on and ask whether they would be willing to outsource some of the work to you once you leave. Your current employer could be your first client, assuming the parting of ways is amicable.

BUILD UP YOUR PERSONAL BRAND

When you’re an employee, personal branding is nice to have but not crucial. When you’re a freelancer, it is absolutely necessary.

In the past, personal branding meant good word of mouth or having a solid reputation in the industry.

Today, it also involves what the Internet says about you. Like it or not, prospective clients will Google you if they’re not familiar with your work.

They’ll see your LinkedIn Page, Facebook profile and other things that you post online. And they’ll also get to know what others say about you. Most importantly, they’ll get a sense of past work or projects you’ve been involved in.

If you’ve been busy, samples of your work and comments about them as well as your abilities will inevitably appear in Google searches. If you do good work, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The only people who have to worry about what people may find online are those who have done bad work that others criticise or complain about.

An important thing you must do is to create an official homepage for yourself. In the age of social media, a website may seem like a throwback from the early days of the Internet. Some may even consider it passe but an official homepage still works well as a central hub where people can learn more about you and what you do.

People shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but they do. Similarly, people will form instant impressions based on your online presence and if your website looks shoddy, it will reflect poorly on your reputation.

These days, creating a professional-looking website is easy and affordable through the use of online services like Wix (www.wix.com) which are template-based and do not require any technical or programming capabilities.

If you do all these things, then you’ll be in a better position to build a successful freelancing career. It’s not easy being a freelancer as there’s no steady income to rely on every month. But it can be very fulfilling and potentially more financially rewarding too.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Mar122017

Productivity software

WHENEVER we get a new desktop computer or laptop, we need to install software to make it useful. A computer without software is like a mobile phone without apps.

For sure, a brand new computer does come with some basic software but these are really barely enough for you to get by with if you really want to get things done. To make the most of your computer, you’ll need productivity software.

The word “productivity” can mean different things to different people. To most, it relates to work-related matters. But productivity can also relate to personal projects. Ultimately, whether it’s for work or play, productivity is about getting things done efficiently and effectively. Below is a list of productivity software that I can’t do without. Many of these are paid software which I gladly pay the price for because they’re so useful to me.

Microsoft Office

There are some free downloadable alternatives like OpenOffice as well as online ones like Google Docs. I guess if you’re really broke and can’t afford Microsoft Office, you could do with the free versions but to me, nothing replaces MS Word for documents, MS PowerPoint for presentations and MS Excel for spreadsheets.

The cheapest option is Office 365 University which is software as a service at RM329.99 for a four-year subscription. If you’re somewhat old-fashioned like me and prefer to have the software installed on your computer, the Home & Student edition is RM569.99.

Evernote

MS Word is great for creating documents that you want to send to other people but if you want to do clipping or just take notes for yourself, Evernote is the best application out there. Not only is it great for capturing entire web pages, it syncs across all the computers that has the software installed.

There is a free version that allows you to sync on only two devices and allows only 60Mb of new uploads per month. I find this is not sufficient so I’ve paid for the Plus version which is very affordable at RM49 per year. This allows me to sync my notes across all my devices and gives me 1Gb of new uploads per month.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Photoshop is the favoured software for anyone who’s serious about graphic editing. Whether you want to edit photos for work or for your own collection, Photoshop is the best tool because of ease of use and functionality.

The full Photoshop software is expensive as it can cost thousands of ringgit. Fortunately, there’s a light version called Photoshop Elements. Unless you’re a professional graphics designer or photographer, this version is more than sufficient. The latest version costs RM450.79. If you want to buy a bundle with Premiere Elements, you can get a good deal at RM676.18. Premiere is a video editing software but for video editing, I much prefer Cyberlink PowerDirector.

Cyberlink Power Director

The professionals like to use Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut Pro X but I find for my purposes — basic editing to create videos for Facebook postings —Cyberlink PowerDirector is good enough.

The most basic version, called “Ultra” is very affordable at US$69.99 (RM312). The software is very intuitive and allows you to make cuts, zoom in and crop, adjust the speed, create subtitles and so on. Everything you’d need for home movies or social media postings.

Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio

I like to make podcasts so I need an audio editing software. There are free versions out there like Audacity but I found them hard to use.

Cyberlink offers a bundle for PowerDirector that comes with an audio editing software called AudioDirector and I’ve actually tried this before but found it to be wanting.

Unlike its video cousin, the audio version is not so intuitive to use. The best audio editor I’ve found is Sony Sound Forge. The professional version, Sound Forge Pro, costs well over a thousand ringgit, so that’s not for me.

Instead, I use its light version called Audio Studio which is a much more affordable US$59.95 (RM267).

Aimersoft Video Converter

Sometimes the video clip or audio clip that you are given is not in a standard format that you would like to work on. You’ll need to convert these — usually to a format like MP4 and MP3, respectively.

There are lots of free online and installable software that does this but I find the free versions to be very cumbersome to use.

The best software for this purpose is called Aimersoft Video Converter, which despite its name also converts audio. It costs US$35.95 (RM160) and is well worth it because it can convert practically any video format into any format you like and the same for audio.

Dropbox

If you work across multiple devices (I have two desktop computers, a laptop and an ultrabook), you’ll want to be able to work on your various files regardless of which device you are using at any moment.

To constantly sync so many devices using an external hard drive or even a thumb drive would be too much of a hassle.

Instead, it makes much more sense to use a collaboration software like Dropbox. The free version that many people use give you only 2Gb of space which might seem like a lot until you start syncing video. Then you’ find that 2Gb runs out very quickly.

I subscribe to the most basic paid version which is called “Plus” that costs US$8.25 (RM37) per month. That version gives me 1Tb of space, which is more than enough for me.

Of course there are many more peripheral software that I install on my computer to maximise my productivity but these seven software are what I consider indispensable, given the nature of my work and the personal projects I undertake. They really save me a lot of time and allow me to achieve what I want.

If you do work that involves text documents, images, audio and video and would like your working files to be accessible across all your devices, you really can’t go wrong with the software I’ve listed above. They work wonders for me.

They do amount to quite a bit of money but it’s well worth it for me to achieve what I want to achieve as quickly as possible.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@ gmail.com

Sunday
Mar052017

Lifelong learning online

MOST people associate learning with formal education. And so, learning seems to end once we leave school, college or university. But must it be so? Certainly there are plenty of “how to” books on practically every topic you can think of. And of course, there’s the Internet which is a treasure trove of information.

There are many sources of online learning that you could pay for. A natural question would be why pay for such content when there’s YouTube and other free sources out there? The answer, in a word: Quality. Yes, there’s plenty of content on YouTube and some of it are very good but there are also a lot of amateurish and low-quality material there.

You could waste a lot of time trawling the web trying to find relevant content for you to learn more on a particular topic. Or you could go to a professional online learning site and be assured that there’s a measure of quality to be found there.

KHAN ACADEMY

Not all professional learning sites require payment. Khan Academy (khanacademy.org), for example, is free of charge. Named after its founder Salman Khan, this online learning platform was created in 2006 as a supplementary resource for educators. Most of the topics are academic-based subjects, especially in the areas of math and science, although there are some modules for economics and humanities too. Its core video content is hosted on YouTube but the website includes useful tools such as progress tracking, practice exercises and other teaching tools.

LYNDA.COM

If you are interested in the business, technological and creative side of things, Lynda.com (www.lynda.com) is the site to visit. As with Khan Academy, Lynda.com was named after its founder Lynda Weinman, a special effects animator and multimedia professor. It’s been around since early 2000s and its offerings are basically video tutorials taught by industry experts.

Unlike the Khan Academy, its focus is not on academic subjects but topics related to business, software, technology and creative skills. In 2004, the site offered about 100 courses. At the time of writing, there are 5,522 courses spread across 205,197 video tutorials.

There are two basic monthly subscription models: Basic (US$19.99; RM88.80) and Premium (US$29.99) with the difference being that the latter offers you project files and code practice, the ability to assess your progress and offline viewing. Both options give you unlimited access to all of its video contents online. Crucially, all the videos come with a transcript so you don’t have to take any notes. What’s said on the video is all there typed out for you.

It’s worth mentioning that although offline viewing is possible when you subscribe to its Premium package, this only works on mobile devices. You cannot view the videos offline if you’re using a laptop or desktop computer. So, if you have not-so-fast Internet access, you might find the video constantly buffering. Of course, you could install special software to download or capture the videos but there’s no easy, built-in way to download the videos onto your computer.

Lynda.com has good quality control and the videos are usually top-notch. The instructors are also very carefully selected so there is a strong sense of professionalism about this service. Where it is lacking is the breadth of the subjects offered. Most of its courses fall into the “professional development” category and there are no courses on things like cooking or sewing, etc.

UDEMY

For online modules that are more for personal development, you can go to Udemy (www.udemy.com), which has a massive catalogue of courses. It has already amassed 45,000 courses and is growing at a rate of a few hundred more courses added each month.

Udemy offers many of the types of courses that Lynda.com offers, in the areas of business, software, design, marketing and so on but it also offers other subjects such as lifestyle courses (arts and craft, food and beverage, beauty and makeup, home improvement, pet care and training, etc) and personal development courses (personal finance, parenting and relationships, happiness, etc).

Both quality and costs vary considerably. Every course comes with ratings and reviews by past students, so it’s a good idea to check those out before paying for anything. Unlike Lynda.com which is subscription-based (and which gives you full access to everything on its site), Udemy charges only for the specific course you want. Some courses are actually free but most have a fee attached to them. Prices range from US$10 to US$500. Once you pay for a course however, you have lifetime access (with Lynda.com, once you stop subscribing, you lose access).

LIFELONG LEARNING

Lifelong learning is something we should all engage in, especially in this day and age, where the options are great and readily accessible. You can learn about literally anything you want and pick up any skills you want with just a click of a mouse or a tap on your mobile phone screen. Unlike real life classes where you have to be there at a certain fixed time, with online learning you can view the videos at your own convenience.

Most of you would probably want to engage in lifelong learning for professional reasons — to keep yourself up to date with the latest developments in your field or even to pick up brand new skills to keep yourself marketable in the ever-competitive workforce. It’s certainly wise to invest in yourself.

But some of you might want to do this for personal development reasons too. Learning new skills — at whatever age — keeps you feeling young. If you’re someone who has already retired, there’s all the more reason to engage in online learning as you’ll need something new to do to keep your mind preoccupied and alert. So don’t hesitate. Now is as good a time as any to start learning again.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Feb262017

Why live video is hot


EVERY social media-savvy person I speak to tells me that the hot new trend for this year is live video. Online video has been around for some time now.

It’s easy to record a video and post it on YouTube or Vimeo for others to watch. You’ve probably done it yourself. But until recently, live streaming was not easily achievable and certainly not affordable. Now it’s easy to do and it’s free.

The company that sparked the whole live video trend was Meerkat. After its launch in early 2015, it generated a lot of buzz but is now defunct. It wasn’t that it was ahead of its time. The demand for live video has been growing consistently. It’s just that when the big boys enter the scene, the small players get squashed.

In this case, the big boys are Twitter and Facebook, and to a lesser degree Instagram (which is owned by Facebook). Each has launched its own version of live video.

The appeal of live video, as compared to on-demand video, is that precisely because it’s live that the audience feels more connected, more involved and more emotional about it. There is something about a live broadcast that makes it feel more authentic.

A really big differentiating factor is the fact that the audience can post comments and engage with the broadcaster as well as with each other, making the live stream a truly interactive experience.

For organisations that have long wanted to utilise video for branding or marketing purposes, social media’s live video offerings are like manna from heaven. Not only are these services free of charge, they’re easy and fast to make.

Unlike pre-recorded videos, where there’s an expectation of higher quality, there’s almost no pre-production, no editing and no post-production involved. Live video is a very time- and cost-efficient way to do videos.

Let’s look at three of the top live video services out there which are super easy to use:

TWITTER

Twitter’s live-broadcasting app is called Periscope. It used to be a standalone app but in December last year, it was incorporated directly into Twitter. So you can now live-stream directly on Twitter from your smartphone (there’s no need to download the Periscope app, although if you do, you’ll have more functionalities available).

To launch your live video via your Twitter app on your smart phone, tap the “Compose” icon, tap “Live”, tap “Go Live” and off you go.

Being that this isn’t just live video but live social video, there’s interactivity built into the offering. So, during the live stream, the audience can comment and send hearts. You can (and of course should) respond and interact with your fans. To end the live stream, just tap the “End Video” button.

FACEBOOK

Facebook’s live video is just as easy to get started on. Like Twitter, Facebook’s live video functionality is incorporated into Facebook’s app.

Just open your Facebook Page and click on the “Status” button. There, choose the “Go Live” video icon and you can start broadcasting. It’s as easy as that.

As the video streams out to your audience, you’re able to see who is viewing your video and read their real-time comments. All videos are automatically saved but of course you can delete them if you want to.

INSTAGRAM

Not to be outdone, Instagram also offers a live video option. But unlike its parent company’s (Facebook) offering, its live stream cannot be recorded.

In that sense, it’s truly live video where once the broadcast is over, it’s gone forever. You can of course use a third party app to do the recording if you really need a copy for archival purposes.

To start offering live video via the Instagram app, tap on the camera icon on the top left corner of your screen and tap “Live” followed by “Start Live Video”. That’s it. Your broadcast will appear in your Instagram Story.

Note that Instagram also offers two other video options: “Normal”, which features videos that disappear after 24 hours and “Boomerang”, which offers time-lapse-style videos created from a bunch of photos.

BRANDING AND MARKETING

If you run an organisation or are just someone who wants to bolster your own personal brand, there are many reasons for offering live video.

The social media-savvy generation are all into it, so if you want to tap into this valuable demographic, you’ll need to offer them what they want.

Because it’s live, it naturally creates a sense of urgency in your audience. When a video is available on demand, people have a tendency to procrastinate, telling themselves they’ll watch it later. But that never get around to doing that. This is less likely to happen with a live video because the target audience will know they’ve got to catch it while it is streaming.

While it’s possible to use live video for lead generation or even for creating content that could later be sold (you could save some of these videos and offer them for paid download or paid video-on-demand) but live video is really ideal for branding and marketing purposes.

Here are three live video ideas for you to consider:

• Broadcast a live event. This could be a performance, a demonstration, a product launch, a competition, a speech — anything that your target audience would be keen to watch live can be streamed.

Remember that live social video should be interactive in nature so talk to your audience and get their feedback during the broadcast.

• Show some behind-the-scenes situations. Your audience will naturally want to know more about how you or your organisation does things. They want to see the chatter and the interactions between staff members and so on. This is great for making your audience feel a lot closer to you.

• Have a live Q&A. Take questions in real time and answer them in real time too. This kind of interactive experience makes the brand feel more authentic and down-to-earth.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com