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Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality 75

prostoalex writes "When you read a news item about a company buyout or a two-person research project hitting big, how many times have you thought "I wonder if I could run a software company." Apparently, quite a few of software developers are discovering the entrepreneur within, which explains the ever-increasing number of threads on the Business of Software, Software CEO and other similar forums. However, most of the software entrepreneurs are coders, and not business majors. For them the business side of running a company constitutes that grey area that people with suits, expensive glasses and knowledge of word "synergy" learn in business schools. What will be the market for your product? What should you charge for a software app? Should you go freeware, ad-ware, shareware, trialware or open source? How will you accept payments? What are the laws for incorporating a company in the state of Nebraska, and will the IRS go after you, if you don't hire an accountant, and incorporate in Moms basement, which is zoned for residential area? How about marketing - will you be able to reach all the left-handed accountants in the Eastern United States, or should you buy a highway billboard advertising your image editing application?" Read the rest of Alex's review.
Micro-ISV: from Vision to Reality
author Bob Walsh
pages 376
publisher Apress
rating 8/10
reviewer Alex Moskalyuk
ISBN 1590596013
summary Step-by-step guide to building a software empire


The questions are all valid and so are the suspicions. As young entrepreneur travels around the Web forums and self-help sites, he, perhaps, becomes discouraged, overwhelmed by the amount of information and by the obvious risk factor of the software business. There are just so many things involved in running a software company, that someone ought to write a book. A book that wouldn't talk about C++ vs. Java, or object-oriented vs. procedural languages. But a book about running a small, one-person software company. Bob Walsh's Micro-ISV: from Vision to Reality introduces an aspiring software enthusiast to all aspects of running a software company. Whats a micro-ISV, you ask? The term ISV or independent software vendor, was coined by Microsoft to describe the set of software companies that were
  • not yet killed by Microsoft
  • not yet bought by Microsoft
  • too small and insignificant to present any interest to Microsoft, except for selling them developer tools and MSDN subscriptions


The term micro-ISV was coined by SourceGears Eric Sink, who was writing a "Business of Software" series of columns for Microsoft Developer Network, and relates to one- (seldom, two- or more-) person software development company.

Micro-ISV: from Vision to Reality is a handbook for independent software developers interested in generating a side or main income on their own. A quick glance at the table of contents will be a bit deceptive, as there are only 7 chapters. But they are surely packed with lots of useful information and references. Bob Walsh takes the reader from coming up with a good idea for a software product (Chapter 1) to establishing a development environment for a successful software startup (Chapter 2), where the reader learns that CVS servers are not optional. Chapter 3 - "Presenting the Product", is 60 pages long, and talks about appealing presentation and promotion of the product mainly through the product or company Web site. A spoiler: Bob Walsh chose BlogJet Web site as an ideal candidate for a case study on how to design customer-friendly and at the same time income-generating Web sites for a software product.

Chapter 4 - "Business is Business", focuses on what a developer from US, UK or Australia need to know about their local incorporation laws, and what should be done come April 15th. Throughout the book the author assumes that the reader is on a very tight budget (sorry, venture-funded startups), and thus prefers to do most of the stuff himself or get the best quality for the money. "Focusing on the customer" (Chapter 5) deals with marketing (and offers some practical advice instead of general sentences about "solving the customers problem") and establishing support business. Chapter 6 - "Welcome to the industry", discusses potential promotions and partnerships that are useful for software developers and their companies, and finally Chapter 7 - "What Happens Next?", offers some perspective on micro-ISVs who made it big.

The book is sprinkled with illustrations, references to existing micro-ISV practices, and interviews with owners and managers of successful software companies. Interviews are essential part of the book, and they help the reader to gain the perspective on the software industry from someone else than the author.

Throughout the book Bob Walsh recommends numerous services, but at the same time they never feel like a plug. His suggestions include glyfx for icons, GoDaddy for domain names, 2checkout and PayPal for payment processing, InvisionPower for customer support message boards, DemoCharge for producing those walk-through tutorial movies, and are generally motivated by personal experience or recommendations from the others in the industry. He also pays a great deal of attention into available free sources, if the software developer is on a really tight budget.

The book itself is Windows-centric, which is hardly authors fault - this is the single largest market for independent software vendors, defined by hundreds of millions of users who are online, and thus marketable via Download.com, Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing or Windows Marketplace. Mac OS market is never really discussed in the book, although some chapters, which are not market-specific, might be interesting to independent software vendors for Mac OS. Commercial market for Linux software applications is close to non-existent, unless answering telephone support calls or selling service contracts excites you.

The language of the book is approachable and makes the title an easy read. I found it a bit over-packed with Web site screenshots - after all, do we really need a screenshot of www.businesslink.gov.uk to get the point that this site offers entrepreneurial advice for those in the UK?

The appendix includes all the referenced URLs, books and articles for each chapter, which makes it a useful resource. Its also available online on the companion site for the book, that also contains authors blog. The question of whether to blog or not to blog is also discussed in Chapter 3, together with a review of available blogging platforms and downloadable packages that might be suitable for a software company. The interviews in the last chapter also seem to be presented in a haphazard manner, as if the author collected some content, did not find an appropriate place in the book for a sidebar, and then decided to dump everything left over into a single chapter. However, for someone starting a software company some of the interviews might be invaluable.

Bob Walsh's book is not a good material when your next startup involves creating a social bookmarking Web site, a highly popular blog, Linux consultancy or a scientific application that would be interesting to 5 big clients on this planet. However, for the use case when you think you can write a usable and popular Windows application and also sell it online to hundreds, thousands and (hopefully) millions of users, this book will be indispensable. If you're just thinking on whether or not you should start a software company, perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the writings of Paul Graham first. If you think, however, that the software industry is dominated by major players like Microsoft, Adobe, Google or Symantec, consider the top downloads list on Download.com and then see how many of popular products in that list are made by the companies that you might have never heard of.

In his spare time Alex likes to read good technical books."


You can purchase Micro-ISV: from Vision to Reality from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality

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  • Har (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Slashdotters discussing business is like accountants trying to discuss Linux... Like it or not, it is the truth...
    • Re:Har (Score:3, Interesting)

      by qwijibo ( 101731 )
      I like that analogy, it's funny. The truth in that statement probably hit a nerve in someone and that's why you got modded Troll.

      I work with a bunch of business people and have learned a lot about business from them. I'm a Unix sysadmin and programmer, but have learned enough from them to do ok with the business side as well. I think the fundamental problem technical people have with business is that technology is demonstratable. You can always say "show me" if someone tells you something you don't beli
      • The most useful business skill a technical person can develop is the ability to look someone in the eye and lie to them with a straight face. As far as I can tell, that's what separates the good business people from the ones who will work 25 years in the same job and never make more than $40k.

        Depending on your definition of "good," apparently. "Proficient," yes.
      • The most useful business skill a technical person can develop is the ability to look someone in the eye and lie to them with a straight face. As far as I can tell, that's what separates the good business people from the ones who will work 25 years in the same job and never make more than $40k.

        Sorry, gotta disagree here. That's what separates "good" (more accurately effective) sales people from bad ones, not good business people from bad ones. If the people responsible for managing the business

        • In large companies, I've noticed a clear tendency to overcommit and underdeliver. I will concede that what you say is certainly true of small companies. I should have qualified my earlier statement to that effect. Large companies do not have to relate income with expenses, as is critical to a small business, so this type of trend can go unnoticed for quite some time.

          In most companies I've worked for, I've been tasked with making good on the overcommitments of the sales people. I've been fortunate enough
  • by Slicebo ( 221580 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @02:59PM (#14943762)
    "When you read a news item about a company buyout or a two-person research project hitting big, how many times have you thought "I wonder if I could run a software company." "

    Never.

    Not even once. Thanks for asking.
    • I've thought about it, done it, and I am thinking about it again. My guess is, like all references, this might give you a few pointers, and help you to avoid some common pitfalls, but you are probably better off doing something to help your business than spending a lot of time reading how to help your business. No one book's solution is going to fit your situation. That said, it is probably worth a quick skim.

      One question about the review. Alex says two different people/corporations/entities coined the
      • by hedronist ( 233240 ) * on Friday March 17, 2006 @04:22PM (#14944434)
        Ansonmont said, "but you are probably better off doing something to help your business than spending a lot of time reading how to help your business."

        I can't comment on the value of the book being reviewed, but I can say that techies have a tendency to blowoff "the other 80%" of the business of being in business. In particular, techies are notoriously weak at marketing. I am speaking from direct, personal, and expensive experience here.

        There is a book, "Crossing the Chasm". Had I read and understood it when it first came out 1991(?), I might still have a company. My company made the error described in paragraph 3, page 40 (first edition numbering). I did not understand (and claimed I didn't need to) the difference between Early Adopters and Visionaires (early part of the adoption curve) and the Early Majority.

        Was I a smart guy? Absolutely! Did I need anyone telling me how my product was only a piece of the solution to the customer's problem? Hell no! This is hubris before the fall. It's bad enough when you are doing it with Other People's Money, but it's a lot worse when you are funding product 2 with the profits from product 1. Can you say crater? I knew you could.

        My point is that no matter how high your IQ is, or how uber-geek you are, you don't know everything. Reading business books at home won't tend to impact your productivity on the project and it just might prevent you driving a good idea off a cliff you never even knew was there.
  • by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:01PM (#14943777)
    never hire someone just because they are your friend.

    And the book is good IMHO.
    • I disagree (Score:1, Interesting)

      I work at a company started by a close bunch of college friends. We basically just did exactly what you say not to do, because we all wanted to do something together. It's worked out really well because we all know each other so well. For one thing I was given 6 months of paid leave off when I had my daughter.
    • never hire someone just because they are your friend

      Yes, you are taking big chances if you do. There's an implied assumption that you all want the same thing. This is the root of a lot of bad surprises. There's nothing wrong with hiring a friend, but if we are talking startup, you better be certain the friend (as well as any other new hire) understands the business plan and knows what their role in the company is, what their responsibilities are, and how they will be compensated.

      In other words, forget abo

    • never hire someone just because they are your friend.

      Yea, isn't this why our current government is so f@#$&d up?
  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) * <tom&thomasleecopeland,com> on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:05PM (#14943802) Homepage
    There's an interesting post on Dharmesh Shah's blog [onstartups.com] about how startups may not want to give away their software for free. One of the points he makes is that in order to charge for something you've got to set up an infrastructure - credit card validation/debiting, SSL cert, and so on - and it's good to get that in place so you can start bringing in some money right away. It's a good read.

    I suppose a middle ground might be a free, but invitation-only beta. This seems to be working well for indi [getindi.com], at least so far...
    • There's an interesting post on Dharmesh Shah's blog about how startups may not want to give away their software for free.

      People often code out of passion, but rarely want to work for free.

      • You mean, rarely can *afford* to work for free. There's a difference.
        • You mean, rarely can *afford* to work for free. There's a difference.

          No, I mean rarely *want* to work for free. Very few people, even those who can afford it, choose to give away their labor.

          • I guess you haven't been around very long. I was a frequent poster to alt.sources back before the web - there's lots and lots of folks around the world who chose to give their stuff away for free.

            Currently, there's sourceforge and freshmeat, just to name two, where you can browse hundreds of software projects with source - all for free.

            So, where does that fit into your idea of "few people want to give away their labor for free"?
            • So, where does that fit into your idea of "few people want to give away their labor for free"?I don't care what newsgroup you where part of back in to day, or how many projects you have at Sourceforge, it's irrelevant. Out of all developers, almost certainly all *good* developers, the number that wish to work for free (beer if you wish, or whatever), is small. I'm sorry it doesn't fit with you political views, and honestly, if more people leaned in a Socialist direction, the world might be a better place. B
              • Haha, you're kidding, right? No *good* developers want to do OSS? I'm sure that guys like Alan Cox, Remy Card, and a host of others would laugh in your face...
                • I didn't say no good developers want to do OSS. I said very few good developers want to work for free. That includes OSS, which is not synonymous with working for free. The guys at IBM and RedHat (and many many other less "high profile" shops) are certainly not working on OSS for free, and I seriously question if they would give up their generally upper-middle class life-style to do so. Alan Cox does not work for free, and though I don't know for sure, I'll bet Mr. Card is paid for his work as well. Even th
                  • You're dancing around the issue, sir. First you say that no good developer would work for free. I started with that. And yes, Alan Cox and Remy Card worked on Linux for years (as did we all), as a labor of love, before some were fortunate enough to be able to be in a position to be paid for their work. Most are not, and that's a fact.
                  • Errr...not sure about Alan Cox or Remy Card or any of the other excellent OSS developers out there but certainly RMS feels that he would rather earn a living as a waiter and develop Free software in his spare time than earn a living developing proprietary software. So yes, it seems he would be willing to code for free. Plus he spends more time now giving speeches on Free software advocacy. (I've also been led to believe by interviews with him that he lives pretty frugally.)

                    Who do you think was paying Lin
              • Out of all developers, almost certainly all *good* developers, the number that wish to work for free (beer if you wish, or whatever), is small.

                You are, perhaps deliberately, confusing proportion with raw numbers. You may be right (or you may not; I really have no idea) that the proportion of developers (good or otherwise) who want to let others benefit from their work without demanding payment is small -- but there are a hell of a lot of developers in the world, and obviously enough of them are willing to
    • So what's the model for paying the rent and feeding you if you give the software away for free? presumably consultancy and post "sales" support, installation support, etc. You might avoid having to deal with online financial transactions but you're still going to have to learn to deal with the technical aspects of ensuring cashflow in the right direction. And just as importantly the social aspect. Make sure you think about how you will do this. Maybe sign up for some small business courses. It's a business,
  • by kclittle ( 625128 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:21PM (#14943906)
    How will you accept payments?

    Uh, this is /. We've all taken a vow of poverty. We conceive, design, code, debug and distribute all our work for free, as Saint Stallman has decreed we should. At night we stab our tender parts 100 times with those cheap ballpoint pens given out at every Linuxworld, and chant "Down with the evil money-grubbing Microserf infidels!"

    • "At night we stab our tender parts 100 times with those cheap ballpoint pens given out at every Linuxworld, and chant 'Down with the evil money-grubbing Microserf infidels!'"

      I don't think I'm alone when I say I do that in the morning. I (and most other /.'ers) do other things to our tender parts at night during my coding breaks :)

    • Yes, Stallman wants us all to be poor. Thats his point. Good job. You must have been great at those reading comprehension exams.

      Its not like the F/OSS model helps clear the patent minefield and limits how much "reinventing the wheel" happens in a software company. Its not like this added efficiency would cause growth in the industry, providing more jobs for all.

      But keep towing the party line for those .com billionaires who agree with you.
    • Down with the evil money-grubbing Microserf infidels!

      Oh, you work for McAfee.

    • got webcam? (Score:4, Funny)

      by alizard ( 107678 ) <alizard.ecis@com> on Friday March 17, 2006 @10:40PM (#14946390) Homepage
      At night we stab our tender parts 100 times with those cheap ballpoint pens


      You know, there's a commercial market for that sort of thing.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:34PM (#14943997)
    "If you think, however, that the software industry is dominated by major players like Microsoft, Adobe, Google or Symantec, consider the top downloads list on Download.com and then see how many of popular products in that list are made by the companies that you might have never heard of."

    4 of the top 10 downloads (including #1) are anti-spy applications. In other words, automatic ways to clean out all the other crap you've caught from surfing download.com are download.com's biggest application.

  • by davidsyes ( 765062 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:35PM (#14944014) Homepage Journal
    ... because the area you live in is zoned as residential. Then, you try to explain you're ONLY doing business via the web and on your computer. There's no noise, light, vibration, fumes, em-emissions... no customers coming to the house, and even if there IS an OCCASIONAL business meeting, the neighbors won't know the visitors from regular visitors.

    Then, the clerk tells you need to get a neighborhood review, you need to disclose in drawing, almost architecturally, you layout of your business area in relation to the home area, you need to list and describe ALL your equipment used for the business, and so forth. ALL neighbors within 250 or 300 feet of your house are entitled to shoot down your getting a permit. ALL THEY HAVE TO DO is oppose you. Slow you down. Discourage you. Waste your time and money. Force you out of the neighborhood or make you return to corporate America (whether or not they have an agenda to do so) outside of YOUR terms... You can appeal, fight, and win, but...

    It will take weeks. You have a zillion and one things to do: deal with the IRS, BOE, FTB, county registrar, find a newspaper to advertise in for 4 or 6 weeks, decide if you're REALLY ready to commit in spite of all the legal and procedural and code crap thrown at you.

    Because you mention you're ONLY doing business via the internet and from home, you're assumed to be a perv, or a thief, or an ID grabber. You then are told you have to visit with the local police department: be photographed, thumb printed, and registered. And you're trying to run a SOFTWARE and art company and not doing anything related to anatomy or adult entertainment. Nevermind, that city doesn't want to become a haven for ID thieves and high tech criminals. It's not personal... so they say

    You try to explain your neighborhood has more noise from the cars zooming up an down the street, that there is a 45-foot moving van owned by a homeowner who brings it home EVERYday... you try to convey your concerns that the pseudo ganger-banger kid next door might decide to burgle your home and fence your shit...

    The city and county officials tell you to go to a city council meeting to express your concerns. They then tell you you must be a city resident, and must prove it by giving your name, address, and such before and to the committee/council and those present. It will be televised.

    Talk about running a MODERN entrepreneur out of town (a town win piss-ant, archaic codes that do more harm to small, quiet, budding businesses).

    Yes, that happened to me. IN CALIFORNIA. Fortunately, the timing of that bullshit coincided with my selling my home before any foreclosure happend. Talk about having your entrepreneurial spirit smashed by close-minded, myopic city planners looking out for money more than sensibility.
    • by qwijibo ( 101731 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @04:01PM (#14944247)
      A little bitter? I'm not surprised that happened in California. I left 5 years ago because I got tired of the inmates running the asylum. The whole world isn't the earthenware vessel of excrement you'd think it was from dealing with those kinds of people.

      I opened my own home based company here in Arizona and it was amazingly simple. Probably took a total of 4 hours of my time. Most of that was time to go back and forth to the Corporation Commission office downtown to file and pick up my papers. I had to publish notice in a newspaper, but that took about 15 minutes with a phone, credit card and fax. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with the IRS to get my EIN.

      Then again, I did have a business license(home based business) around 10 years ago in Sunnyvale and it was nowhere nearly as onerous as your story either. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you lived in SF with all the problems you noted. If you don't like the way things are run where you live, you could consider moving.

      Someone once said nobody can walk all over you without your consent. Someone who can get their spirit crushed by a little bureaocracy isn't going to be able to run their own business. There's a lot of BS you have to do, but how's that different from any other part of life? It may have been easier for me because I didn't ask for permission from anyone. I figured out what I needed to do and did it. Some minimum wage functionary could complain that I didn't fill out their form, but I don't think we have as many of those local government jobs for people with no skills or education here. I'm also not deeply concerned with whether or not the Chamber of Commerce puts a gold star next to my name. The IRS and state aren't going to come after me for some major problem, so I think I'm fine.
      • My ordeal was in 2002 in Kalifornia.

        I can deal with a few skirmishes here and there. What I DON'T like is the (local) government inviting the public into my HOME when I am not even running or trying to run an open-shop/open-to-public business. It's not THEIR place to publish non-commercial entities' private areas if a city planner can visit and verify the premises is run according to the filings. Would they do this to an EMBASSY or consulate? (Oh, no that's "foreign property" (anyone remember bugged embassi
    • by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @04:02PM (#14944251)
      What is it that you were trying to do? Did you make the fatal mistake of asking permission to do something before doing it? Never do that. Never. Just do it and if they question it, then that is when you fight. The first rule of citizenship is to never ask permission from your government, unless you need something from them or unless there is no ambiguity about what you want to do and what permit you need to do it and that there is no way they can turn you down.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You need to relocate to a business-friendly state like Idaho ( http://business.idaho.gov/ [idaho.gov] they will even pay you to move here (http://www.idahoworks.com/Incentives/tabid/426/De fault.aspx [idahoworks.com])

      The personal property laws are amazing compared to states like California. Many construction contractors in Idaho legally run their business out of their home and keep all of there equipment in their garage.
    • ... but you're obviously not bitter!
    • Next time tell them you are going to do bookeeping for small businesses.

      It's quiet, involves computers and would justify a T1 line but is less mysterious to politicians and old-timers than "software" or "internet".
    • It is not like this everywhere in California. 2 of the 4 places I have lived have been in unincorporated areas of a county. The county regulations are usually less severe than city regulations. For example, where I live now, I only had to make a statement that I would not have customers coming to the house. Other than that, they didn't care as long as I paid $100 for the business permit. Same thing with the other unincorporated area.

      In one of the cities (pop 140,000) I lived, I also had to make a statement
    • Have you ever heard the truism "It's easier to be forgiven than to get permission"

      I know many people who've started small business, even one who sells software on-line. In every case, they started producing and selling first, then went on to find out what documents and licenses they were supposed to have gotten. I know of one person who went for an entire year before learning that he even needed a business license in Los Angeles.

      But guess what- the city, the county, the state, the national government, t

      • Wow, this should be modded up. Several of the replies to me were worthy of mods up.

        Thanks for the criticism... constructive or otherwise. I'll be able to use some of the things here.

        To the other poster: Canada is nice. I've been there. Made some friends their years ago. Back in 2002 when I was trying to start a business plan for an Internet Cafe/diner, I accidentally ran into business codes and health care and compliance documents on the net and found some of it extremely interesting in that it gave me a di
    • Damn. Wow. I'll admit I used some terse language. But, there is NOTHING flamebait about recounting my PERSONAL experience. It's amazing how our experiences are colored by the filters through which we see things, and someone decides I'm flamebaiting. Why the hell would a flamebaiter spend an hour crafting and spell-checking and grammar-checking a tome such as mine? Aren't most flamebaiters firing off one-liners and obvious stuff. Who reading what I wrote could say it is an utter non-truth. You can't even pro

    • Try Canada, if you really want a micro-ISV-friendly environment. The health care system will ensure you get the same mediocre standard of care as everyone else while you start your business, you can easily site your business in the same time zone as your major (American) customers, and you can incorporate both federally and provincially in your pyjamas. I did.

      Because the law governing incorporation is mostly federal, Canada doesn't have the same patchwork of incompatible nonsense as the various states. A
  • With the world as your audience, it's quite possible to carve out a good living by servicing a niche market. The economics of a Microsoft vs. Joe Developer pursuing an end market are entirely different. A few millions may not mean anything to MS, while its quite sustaining from a small business's perspective.
    -- Jim http://www.runfatboy.net/ [runfatboy.net]
  • by neveragain4181 ( 800519 ) on Friday March 17, 2006 @03:54PM (#14944190)
    I have this book and quite like it, it's something that fills a need and has moments of usefulness. With everything else to do in starting up a new software business this is nice to grasp and think 'that will do for my lack of experience'. The market it serves is desperate for 'silver bullet' info, and a lot of it is common sense - Use a Search Engine to Find Things! Pay Tax if you Need To! Don't Draw Your Own Icons! Its very readable though, kind of like business-porn for startup types.

    My problem is a lot of the content is tips that consist of links to websites. I think a couple of years down the line this book will be basically the 'Micro-ISV's Guide to 404 Not Found', either that or the authors personal recommendations will have changed radically.

    N/A

    • Its very readable though, kind of like business-porn for startup types.

      Ah...yeah....riggggghhhhhht...

      I don't have a problem with porn, but something about your description just plain disturbs me...

      And I am reminded how thankful I am that I went into engineering...where we don't have 'engineering-porn'.

  • Judging by the criteria, are you sure that isn't Insignificant Software Vendor?
  • I started my one man company about 10 years ago. Started by consulting to pay the bills and wrote code when not employed. It is certainly possible. In my case, I no longer consult as the products generate enough revenue. My experiences say you must keep updating the product, provide good service to your customers, and not get too discouraged when a prospect says your product sucks. Oh, and be ready for wide variations in your income.

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