20 KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE BUSINESS
The biggest misconception with starting an online business is that you will reach success faster just because it’s online. Many of the feedback loops may be shorter, but building a successful business still takes years.
One of the reasons building a successful business takes years is because there’s no way to consistently make a profit without building a genuine connection to human beings.
The key to online business success is remembering that the person you’re sending emails and shipping products to is “A Real Person, A Lot Like You.”
The possibilities of what technology can do are nearly infinite. We can create new tools that help us communicate more efficiently, make securer/faster payments, deliver goods without gatekeepers, automate menial tasks, and so much more, but none of our technological tools can save us from the following fact: If you want someone to pay you for something, you have to the pay the price of doing the difficult things necessary to build trust.
Working for yourself ≠ Being only accountable to yourself.
Providing your services online ≠ Bypassing the messiness and complexity of dealing with human beings offline.
The advantages of doing business online are accompanied by a significant trade-off: having a narrower margin for error. The more your business model depends on technology, the more your customers will expect you to be efficient, up-to-date, and competitive in your delivery of the product. Your processes for troubleshooting problems, resolving concerns, and creating new forms of value will need to improve fast and regularly. And since you won’t have the intel and intimacy that comes from “being on the ground”, you’ll need to be even better at figuring out where people are coming from and assuring them that you care.
Technology not only increases the speed with which you can sell and scale, but it also increases the speed with which your customers can lose patience, misunderstand your intentions, and feel overlooked. Moreover, technology increases the speed with which your customers can move on to the latest and shiniest new thing.
No matter what platform you use to do business, your business will need to be constructed on a social foundation. So if your goal is to stay away from demanding and challenging people, stay away from online businesses.
Key #1: Choose the Right Market Idea
Find out what people are already looking for online. Then sell it to them. Too many beginners ask the wrong question. They say, “I Have this product, how do I sell it?”
Wrong question! A much better question is, “I have this list of potential of customers I can easily reach, what should I sell them?”
It seems everyone is looking for a market where there isn’t any competition. That may have been possible 10 years ago, but it’s not today. No matter what market you enter, you will have competition. In fact, if I don’t see any competition in a market I get really nervous. It means all the competitors most likely couldn’t build a successful business. The best case scenario is when you find a market with a lot of competitors who all do a poor job. Then you know you have an open market.
Since you’re going to have competition, you have to figure out what your unique advantage is. Why should a customer choose you over all the other options available to them?
Key #2: Prolific Product Development
Don’t build a business on only one product. Develop multiple products and services for your audience. Which one is safer, earning $50,000 a month from one product or earning $5,000 a month from 10 different products?
Go for the base hit instead of the home run on each product. It’s hard to tell which product is going to be the big winner, but if you’ve developed 10 products one or two of them is much more likely to become that big home run winner for you.
But the problem is how do you develop all these products? You have to develop a system to do them quickly. Research your market to find out what they want. Create it quickly. Get it out there and selling. Do it again.
Key #3: High Conversion Made Simple
Traffic eventually ends up at whoever has the highest conversion. They can bid the most on the PPCs. They can afford to hire the most effective team for promoting their site. They’re the ones everyone wants to promote as an affiliate.
That’s why a majority of the business books I end up recommending to clients are copywriting books. If there was one skill you could learn that would almost guarantee the success of your internet business, it would be copywriting.
If you can sell, you can create profitable online business. If you can’t sell your way out of a paper bag, it’s going to be tough making ANYTHING you do profitable. You have to sell yourself. You have to sell traffic on visiting your site. You have to sell people on joining your list. You have to sell people the products or services you’re offering.
If you don’t want to have anything to do with selling, you’re in the wrong business.
Key #4: The Truth About Traffic
Let’s now do a little correct to that big question on every marketer’s mind. “How do I generate more traffic?”
Wrong questions produce wrong answers. And it’s not just traffic you want at your site. A much better question is, “How do I generate more BUYERS at my website?”
It’s not the traffic that’s important. It’s the quality of the traffic. Let’s say one site gets 100,000 visitors a month and another one only gets 500. Who is more successful? You can’t tell from just that stat. What if we add in that 100,000 visitors a month are coming from a site such as Digg which generates traffic quickly that is often quite unresponsive to any offer? And what if the site generating 500 visitors was a real estate agent who focused only on selling million dollar homes to relocating executives?
So that’s why you must quit focusing on “generating traffic” and start focusing on generating more buyers. So how can we send more buyers to our website?
Key #5: Create Systems That Do the Work For You
Your next step in leverage is bringing in team members. As a small Internet Lifestyle business you may never want a single employee. It can all be done by outsourcing. Need someone to manage your own customer support ticket system? Outsource it.
Need someone to do modify your website or do your daily marketing activities, bring on a virtual assistant from anywhere in the world. Need someone to track down experts for your interview products? Create a step-by-step system for it and hand it off to your assistant.
Don’t like writing your own emails? Have a team member do it for you. Absolutely everything in the business can be turned into a system. Some projects are more difficult than others to hand off, but all of them are doable. Right now I have over 70 systems documented in my business, including such activities as writing blog posts, creating press releases, submitting to social sites, setting up new autoresponders, mailing out my print newsletter, handling the customer ticket system, and finding JV partners.
Is every one of these used every day? Definitely not. Mailing out my print newsletter is only done once a month for example. Although other mailings are done at times with the same system.
Key #6: Make a Plan
Start with an online strategy—a roadmap that guides your Internet activities while supporting your overall business goals. “A lot of entrepreneurs just think you can create a website or a Facebook page, and you’re done,” says Ravi Dindayal, Director, Marketing with BDC Advisory Services. “But a lack of planning can lead to wasted money and effort.”
Your online strategy should identify goals for your web presence, your target audience, your content strategy including key messages, and a mobile strategy to ensure your content is accessible on smart phones and tablets.
Finally, you need an action plan, including a timeline, who will do what and a publishing schedule for online content.
Key #7: Build your e-commerce presence
Next, you’ll need a website with an online store that attracts Internet traffic and convinces visitors to buy what you’re selling.
Many options exist depending on your budget. The simplest solution for entrepreneurs with little web experience is to hire a web designer to create an e-commerce enabled site.
If you’re more budget-conscious, you might want to consider various free or low-cost e-commerce services. Examples of free services include OpenCart and PrestaShop, while providers such as Shopify, Volusion and eBay Stores charge a small fee.
These services provide tools to create a basic website that includes an online store with a digital shopping cart, payment via credit cards or other methods such as PayPal. They also allow you to offer an online product catalogue, options for customer reviews and feedback, and data on your sales to help you track performance.
Remember: As you set up your online store, feature attractive product images, clear descriptions and an easily navigable layout so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for.
Key #8: Be ready to fulfill orders
Before you launch your site, be sure your company is ready to handle the new business. You’ll need the infrastructure to handle orders, shipping and returns.
Also make sure to integrate your online efforts with your other operations. For example, sales reps should know about any online promotions.
“Order fulfilment is a huge part of e-commerce, but it’s often an afterthought for businesses,” Dindayal says. “If you have all these orders but can’t fill them or make mistakes and get tons of returns—there goes your investment.”
Key #9: Choose the Right Niche or Industry
Whichever niche or industry your venture falls in, makes sure it’s really in your wheelhouse. You either need to be extremely passionate about it or have specialized expertise — ideally, both.
If you don’t know a serpentine belt from a timing belt, getting into the auto repair industry is going to require too much of a learning curve for you to be successful. Make sure you’re passionate and knowledgeable about your business before pulling the trigger.
Key #10: Get Your Financial House in Order
Once your industry or niche is chosen, get to work on firming up your own finances. Budget your money, work toward eliminating personal credit card debt, get an emergency fund in place and see where you stand on your retirement savings.
You’re about to embark on a serious roller coaster ride, and the more control you have over your personal finances before you take the plunge, the better off you’re going to be.
Key #11: Invest Your Own Money — When it Makes Sense
If your business requires $100,000 in working capital just to get out of the starting gate, you’re probably going to need a small business loan or help from angel investors or venture capitalists. If you don’t need quite so much, try investing your own money.
Don’t cut yourself so short you can’t pay your monthly bills, but by shouldering some startup expenses on your own, you set yourself up for greater financial success down the road.
Key #12: Get Social for Marketing
When it comes to advertising, save some serious money by going social. Social media marketing is a free and powerful tool with unprecedented reach.
Get started with Facebook and Twitter, and explore LinkedIn and YouTube, as well. You should also dip your toe into the Pinterest, Google Plus and Instagram waters. There are a great many platforms with which to advertise your business — explore as many as you can and find the right fit for you.
Key #13: Go Solo If Possible
You’ve got to wear many hats as a small business owner, and you should be careful not to take any of them off too quickly. Only hire additional employees after you can’t keep up with your work. Doing so too early can mean wasting precious dollars.
Be as productive as you can on your own, and consider hiring freelancers as opposed to full-time staff members in the beginning. You can reach profitability in a shorter period of time by doing so.
Key #14: Save Money on Startup Costs
Write off expenses associated with finding a location, incorporating your business and getting market or demographic analyses done. See IRS Publication 535 for more information.
Get your office supplies for free by participating in the rewards program at your preferred retailer. After paying full price for things like pens, pencils, printer paper and more, you receive that money back in the form of a rewards coupon the following quarter. There are plenty of additional ways to save money on startup costs — just research the Internet for help.
Key #15: Make Your Time Count
One overall strategy that can give you a much greater chance of success? Effective time management. Cut back on your Internet surfing, TV watching and any other time-draining activities that are part of your current lifestyle. Work from an organized to-do list every day and save multitasking for minor items only, focusing your efforts on major projects one at a time.
Now that you’re about to be a small business owner, the phrase “time is money” has never been more significant.
Key #16: Organize Your Web Assets
This extends much further than just organizing your business. Your web assets are everything from your website to your social media profiles to your hosting account. These need to be in order.
All relevant assets should be optimized for your brand. For example, your social media and webpages should have the relevant keywords. They should fall into an integrated marketing plan. And they should be completely updated with the latest information about your company.
Key #16: Maintain Customer Records Safely
One problem business owners have is that they need to be able to keep records safely. You have a legal obligation to protect any customer information obtained online. For example, you should store information on separate devices and have a number of secure backups.
Your systems must be kept updated and controls should be implemented and access should be restricted only to specific employees.
You should have a system in place to destroy things like credit card details securely when they’re no longer needed.
Key #17: Do you know your competition?
Any good business will know its competition. You need to know who you’re competing against so that you know why customers choose you over others, or vice versa. Nowhere is this more important than in the online world.
You should be aware of social media channels your competition is using. And you should inspect keyword usage from all your competitors using the variety of tools Google provides.
Key #18: Protect Your Brand’s Online Reputation
Online business is all about reputation. The slightest mistake can taint your brand forever. The key is control. Setup a Google Alerts notification for your brand. That way, you’ll be able to inspect any mention of your brand.
Have a firm set of branding and social media guidelines, so anyone posting on behalf of your brand is aware of what you expect from them. Learn to deal with customer complaints and adopt a mindset of solving problems; even if the customer is wrong.
Key #19: Invest on a good internet connection
If you are online, you need a good internet connection. Sometimes, I’ve sacrificed on a good internet connection, only to realize I couldn’t act fast on important orders. Without a fast internet connection, you could miss out on orders and customer questions. In short, your business could be paralyzed.
Key #20: Stay On Top of the Latest Trends
The online world is one that is constantly changing and evolving. It evolves faster than anything you’ll see in the real world. Furthermore, you’ll see social media trends evolving all the time.
You need to be on top of this so you can be on the cutting edge of online marketing and branding.
Key #20: Be Persistent
Few businesses become overnight success stories. This is something you’ll have to accept if you want to enter the business world. Persistence will pay off in the end if you continue to do all the right things. You need to be consistent and stay focused on your goals.
Did you know most startups take three to five years before they start turning in a profit?
Running a business is inherently risky. Taking the time to learn and evolve is one of the best investments you can make to mitigate these risks.