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It is better
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John Sumser

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(December 06, 2002) - Strong September, Flat October, Solid November, Great December...That's our simple summary of the last four months. The later half of 2002 will be remembered as the time we spent trying to build a foundation for recovery. While there are going to be few end of year bonuses, businesses are finishing the year in better than expected cash positions.

While the market as a whole is improving slowly, some companies are introducing powerful new innovations, having dealt with the terror and converted it into an asset. Certainly, you've followed Niche Boards as they've advertised on our site. Developed, financed and conceived by Don Firth (the proprietor of Jobs In Logistics) the operation is a cooperative professional network that shares trench level experience and advertising. 

At a time when most businesses were conservatively reducing advertising expense, and in the middle of a cash flow drought for small operations, Don was able to convince nearly a dozen partners that the time was right for an investment of money and energy. The result is an interesting windfall of publicity and impending opportunity for some businesses that might have gone under otherwise. Often, as you know, advertising sends a signal of financial health and in these days, that's an important signal to send.

The solution is a smart one. Purchasing internet traffic is a complex chore (though it is getting simpler by the day). Joint advertising expands the reach of all of the players. They all are courting the same customers while trying to sift through candidates on their behalf. We expect that the organization will succeed beyond the wildest beliefs of the members. Technology, that wallet burner, is best viewed as a shared expense and, assuming that membership involves the introduction of a real network, is simply cheaper when the costs are shared. Collective buying power and distribution leverage also appear to be benefits of the deal.

We hope that the folks at NicheBoards take the time to look at other cooperative networks. Their success is always most powerful when driven by an extremely narrow mandate. Far too often, the grandiose dream converts into a reality of pure technical administration.

NicheBoards is capable of becoming a major force in the market if it sticks to its knitting. Job Boards have to advertise so that their distribution arms meet less resistance. Distribution, as it is in most industries, requires patience and investment on the part of the end suppliers. Although few of us understood this dynamic at the beginning of the downturn, almost all of us get it now. In the final analysis, more salespeople is a good thing and that's what you get from an investment in a distribution system.

The boot-strapping entrepreneurs who compose the heart and soul of the NicheBoards crew are a remarkable lot of savvy survivors. Eric Shannon has been making LatPro into an overnight success for five years that we know of. Matt Casey, the CEO of Campus Career Center has molded a team of rapid product generators and marketers in the poorer corners of Cambridge and on tons of college campuses. Ted Elliot of JobScience is another veteran of BrassRing funding who is at the helm of a network of his own. With strong business people at the core, we're certain that Firth's job is somewhat like herding cats.

Modest negatives aside, the emergence of NicheBoards is one of the high points of this dismal year. As the uptick continues, we're certain of two things. One is that others will rapidly understand that advertising is the way out of the downturn, thanks to the good example provided by NicheBoards. Another is that the group has benefited mightily from being ahead of the advertising curve. Finally, it looks like the operation is staged for real growth. Hopefully, we'll get to report on that in the coming years.

- John Sumser

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