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The Truth About Starting an Online Business
What happens when your Internet marketing empire doesn’t take off that quickly or isn’t that profitable? Yyou feel like a miserable failure. So, then you invest more time and money to get more information, with similar results. Who really gets rich here? The people selling the information on how to get rich. It begins to feel like a hamster wheel in which you run and run and run but never get anywhere.
I’ve had a virtual online business since 1999, and it’s neither quick nor easy. What I’ve discovered is that some people can exploit a particular strategy for a short time until someone or something shuts them down, and then they’re on to exploiting the next newest strategy until it no longer works, and then they move to yet another new strategy. It’s tiring just to write about this process!
As I reflect on my 7 years in business, I really wish I’d known then what I know now. Since I get a number of questions and inquiries every week from “newbies”, or business owners new to the Internet marketing world, about how to get started in an online business, here’s my list of 10 things I wish I’d known about Internet marketing when I started my online business:
1. Niche your way to riches. Finding the exact market that needs what you have to offer is one of the primary keys to success in any business, but especially when you’re trying to do business online. Taking a shotgun approach and foolishly believing that “everyone” needs your product or service is the quickest way to failure. You need to be able to identify and describe your niche market, from determining what problem the niche market is actively trying to solve and what they’ll pay for (as well as how much they will pay) to what publications they read, what groups/associations do they belong to, and where they hang out both on- and off-line. The more narrowly focused your niche, the better. So, owners of Golden Retrievers is a better defined niche than dog lovers, and executive female golfers is better than women athletes.
2. Acknowledge your expertise. One of the great difficulties of online business owners is their inability to acknowledge their expertise in an area. It took me years to realize that while others did have a higher level of expertise than me, there was a very large group of people who knew less than me — and it was to those people I could become an expert! And, better yet, they would pay me to learn it so they didn’t have to go through the same trial-and-error method I did.
3. Create a content-packed web site. Content relevant and useful to your target market, embedded with keywords that your target market might use to find you, are the magic wands that enable you to be found on search engines. For years, my web site was simply an online brochure with details of my service offerings. It was not until I regularly started writing articles for my target market and posting those to my web site and blog did I see a noticeable increase in both the amount of traffic to my web site as well as in my number of newsletter subscribers. If you’ve been in business for awhile, you’ve got a good idea of the problems that your customers face. Your articles can serve as the solution to the common problems and questions of your target market.
4. Build relationships online. Even though an online business is virtual and you meet few of your clients and prospective clients face-to-face, it is still possible to build trusting relationships online. The most important thing to remember is that your personality needs to shine throughout all of your online ventures. So whether you share personal stories about your life or business (these will be very popular with your visitors), or write articles or web site text in the same way you speak, you need to give visitors an experience of what it means to do business with you. You can also use audio and video on your web site as well as photos of you in action in your business. Remember, most people need to get to know, like and respect you before they’ll decide to buy what you have to offer.
5. Discover reputable sources of technical and Internet marketing “how-to” information. Online technology and Internet marketing strategies change from moment to moment, and it’s tough to keep up with the latest and greatest innovation. You’ll need to read lots of ezines and visit lots of web sites each week just to stay on top of things.
6. Create several “stay in touch” devices. An ezine (email newsletter), blog (web log), and autoresponders (series of automated follow up emails) are the quickest and easiest ways to stay in touch with your current clients and to bring prospective clients into the fold. I think the most effective ezines are published weekly — it gives you one excuse every week to reach out to your contact database. Blogs tend to be attention hogs, so they are most effective as a marketing strategy when you post to them 3-4 times per week. Once you’ve written the content for a series of autoresponders, they can serve as a personal marketing arm for you, as they can be personalized and give prospective clients the impression that you’re writing a personal email just to them. The more “stay in touch” strategies you use, the quicker your prospective client base will get to know you and expect to regularly hear from you.
7. Provide a clear call to action. Web site visitors generally want some direction in what action they should take next. Whether they visit your web site, attend your speaking engagement, read an article you’ve written, or listen to one of your podcasts, they want to know what to do next to stay in touch with you. The call to action I always recommend is to get people subscribe to one of your “stay in touch” devices, whether that’s your ezine, an autoresponder series, or your blog. In most businesses, your contact database is the asset with the greatest value. It’s no different in an online businesses, where the the name and email address of your visitor is gold. Make it simple for someone to decide to initiate a business relationship with you — have your call to action in your brochure, on your business card, on every page of your web site or blog, and in the audio of your podcasts.
8. Immediately create information products. Creating information products, like ecourses, ebooks, CD or DVD series, workbooks, or audio downloads will help you immediately establish your expertise, create multiple revenue streams for your business, as well as give you a good understanding of the problems faced by your niche market. I’ve been quite slow to jump on the info product bandwagon, as I’ve just been unwilling to carve out the necessary time to create them. The creation process is time-consuming, but once something has been created, it can be a revenue stream for many years. In my early business years, I didn’t think I had any useful info to share with anyone, and now I realize that all the stuff I attributed to “common sense” should have been packaged and sold as information products. So, what info do you think is common-sense in your industry? What format will be most attractive to your target market?
9. Develop a marketing funnel. Creating a marketing funnel of products and services priced from free to expensive, as well as a way to get visitors through that funnel via a marketing plan will give many more people access to your expertise at different price points. Many business owners make the mistake of offering just one thing — their service — and miss out on other ways to sell to and educate prospective customers. Brainstorm on other ways you might deliver your expertise to prospective clients — an ecourse, ebooks, teaching workshops, holding teleclasses, sponsoring mentor groups, etc.
10. Don’t expect overnight success. Despite what the television ads might state or what the information products might claim, success in the online world doesn’t happen overnight. There will be a few who will spot a profitable trend before anyone else does, but eventually the income will fizzle and they’ll have to find another profitable trend. Just like any other business, an online business takes a great deal of time and attention. Some of the tasks can be automated, but you still have to pay attention to what’s happening so that you can effectively create your marketing and promotion strategy.
It is possible to make a decent living from online sources. However, to be successful, you’ll need to do your research, be willing to invest your time, and persevere when the going gets tough.
Copyright 2006 Donna Gunter
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