Starting an Online Business – How to position yourself for success

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Starting an Online Business - How to position yourself for success

People always ask me. “What kind of revenue are your clients making?” or “How many clients are successful?” “How do I know your software will help me succeed?” The honest answer is, “I don’t know.” We do have successful clients, most of whom have the white labeled version of our software which serves as a confidentiality agreement, so we can’t share their site info.

We do have successful clients, but they don’t disclose their revenue to us. Does Microsoft call up everyone that buys Office and ask “How many deals did you close using PowerPoint for your sales presentations? “The truth of the matter is that we don’t provide software that will make you money.

We provide software to create sites that we KNOW can be profitable, and that software makes it significantly easier for people to develop said sites, and make money accordingly. We’re not the answer to everyone’s prayers, but I assure you, we’re working on that, too.

We’re right in the middle of a really exciting time to start on online business. It’s quite possible that someone has said that nearly every day since the dawn of the internet, but it seems as though the best is still very much ahead of us. Whether you’re thinking about starting a blog, a directory, an e-commerce site, or a media outlet, there are lots of  pportunities to be successful. Why? A few critical things are happening that are opening up huge opportunities to get started online:

Media is moving from print to online as the preferred medium for media, but the advertising
dollars are still slow to follow.

When moving from print to online, many publications are morphing into several, more focused, niche sites, some of which haven’t even been developed yet.

Marketers don’t yet realize how spoiled they’re about to become. The mediums for which we are viewing content now—social networking sites, blogs, news aggregators, directories are offering such a hyper-targeted profiled platform for advertisers to market to that wasn’t remotely available in print.

Web 2.0 and social networking is allowing people to connect to others in ways that are not otherwise possible.

Accessing these social networking sites and developing blogs is easier than ever. Technology is no longer a barrier to entry.

These are all components that make developing an online business easier. You have the platform, you have the ears and eyes, and best of all, you have the megaphone to connect your product to the people who would be most interested in seeing it. Fifteen years ago, platforms that would allow you to connect to tens of thousands of people who are passionate about Door Knockers as you are didn’t exist.

We are changing the way we access and view information. With this, there are a few things I always tell our clients are a must when it comes to being successful with their online directories.

Be passionate about what you’re pursuing

Some of the most successful clients we have took something they were passionate about and ran with it. When you’re passionate about something, it’s not seen as work, and when it’s not work, you can spend all day doing it. (Some of this is pulled from Web 2.0 Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, “Crush It.” In addition to this brief whitepaper, I highly recommend you pick this book up if you’re looking to start an online business. The guy has a proven track record at making his sites takeoff.) The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is the small, quirky things that you may be extremely knowledgeable or passionate about is shared by thousands, or potentially millions of other people.

Twenty years ago, you had no way of knowing exactly how many people were out there reading up on the same things you were, or collecting the same type of novelties that you were. Now, I can guarantee you that when someone is looking for the best selection and reviews of Lion Head door knockers, they’re going to your site over Elle Décor magazine any day of the week.

Why? Because you’re focused, you’re niche and you’re the most passionate and knowledgeable person on the web and that focus is the mentality of the web over the next few years. These are the opportunities that are out there in starting an online business, and while it may not be the precident now, over the next few years, marketers will rely on niche focused, detailed profile sites to spend their marketing dollars.

Real world example — eDirectory clients will express concern to me when they’re developing a local search site. They fear that Yelp will overshadow their site and that with sites such as Yelp out there, local search directories are obsolete. This is far from the truth, and there are a few reasons why.

While Yelp has been at the fore front of driving local search, there are a few things well designed local search sites offer that Yelp doesn’t and it’s rooted in the passion of that local search site owner.

Local search and city site owners are passionate about their community, excited about what it offers and even more excited to share that information with others. Sadly, to Yelp, your city is just another datapoint in a database full of millions of businesses, and your city
is just another source of revenue for the behemoth site. Here’s what I mean: Go to Yelp and search for businesses in your local area. You’ll find that while Yelp covers most of the businesses in any given area, there are a good chunk of them that go under the radar and aren’t included. After all, Yelp can’t keep up when one businesses closes its’ doors and another one opens.

A good local search directory is the pulse of that community. It keeps up to date on what businesses are doing, promotions they’re running, restaurant specials, happy hours, drink specials, all things that Yelp doesn’t cover. What about events or breaking news happening in your community, festivals, and events?

These are all elements people look for in a true local search site that aren’t offered on portals like Yelp. If you pursue your passion with your site, the opportunities are endless.

Know your space

A lot of people develop a site without scoping out their competitors well enough. This seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people develop a product that’s a few years late on the market, over priced and lacks half the features as the blockbuster. While there is room in almost every market for similar businesses, it’s important to leverage what your competition doesn’t do well into your value proposition (This is detailed a little more in “Selling a Directory”).

This goes hand in hand with the section above. If you’re not familiar with what you’re getting into, and you’re not passionate about the subject matter, it’s difficult to have the knowledge and energy to drive your business forward.

Know what you’re getting into, and make a name for yourself in that space. Much of developing an online business is learning, but it’s vitally important to go in with a strategy, continually test that strategy, and refine it based on what you find.

You’d be surprised how many people buy software, load listings, or get a blog started, make posts, and wait for the money to roll in, and wonder why they aren’t successful. It’s a constant hustle. Taking any business off the ground, especially one whose success depends on a strong online presence is extremely difficult. If you’re getting into a market where your competitors have already established a presence, you probably see an opportunity to make a business that is stronger than those around you, which should be built into your value proposition.

Why are you doing it better than the next person? What makes your site better than the next? These seem like empty questions, but there will come a day when you’ve built your site up to a point where you’re negotiating with an advertiser, or they’re evaluating multiple products and they’re going to ask you, “What makes your site more valuable than XYZ.com?

Why shouldn’t we buy his product, or advertise on her site?” When that time comes, its importable to be able to distinguish the differences eloquently and smoothly. Those differences are what drove you to start your online business, they drove you to continue when you wanted to throw in the towel, and when all is said and done, will make you as successful as the next guy.

The best recommendation I give eDirectory users when they’re developing their site is to conduct extensive amounts of competitive intelligence. Know who your primary competitors are in the space, and additionally, those whose focus may overlap with yours, even if it’s only a little bit. Make a chart with each of your competitors in a column at the top, and a feature on each row. What do your competitors offer that you don’t? What do you plan to offer that they don’t? At the end of the day, you’ll have a chart with a series of X’s and O’s and it will paint the picture of what you need to do more effectively, and what can potentially put you ahead of the person next to you.

Competitive Intelligence is an ongoing practice. Just as it’s important to develop fresh new content, it’s equally as important to keep track of what others are doing to get ahead. That foresight, the ability to read the battle field and move around the way the market is shifting is extremely critical to achieving growth. Look at the AT&T / Verizon battle. Verizon knew that while it didn’t have progressive technology like the iPhone with elaborate apps, its approach was “What good is fancy phone when you can’t use it” and went after AT&T on their spotty cell phone coverage.

Verizon forced AT&T’s hand and accordingly, Verizon was able to turn the tables, and to an extent, and control what issues were at the forefront for consumers. Nearly all AT&T and Verizon commercials are all about “Coverage” and “There’s a map for that,” which was a battle in which Verizon instigated, and seemingly is winning.

Never stop working

Field of Dreams left out a few good pieces of advice in, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s more like “If you build it, and work really hard to refine it, and hustle every day to find people who would benefit from accessing it, and develop content that isn’t available elsewhere, then they will come.”

The biggest hardship we experience as a company is handling clients who think once they buy our software, traffic will flood in and money will start growing on trees. Not going to happen. It takes aninordinate amount of work to be successful in the world of online media, but luckily, social media has made the “hustle” significantly easier. Fifteen years ago, there weren’t social networking or media sites that allowed you to connect with millions of people around the world.

Social networking and web 2.0 technologies have given you the opportunity to easily connect to people who share similar interests that you do. Let’s go back to the example of Door Knockers, because if I can get away with using this example, it’s hard not to think that these principles can’t be applied to nearly anything across the board?

Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Myspace —- these are tools right at your fingertips to connect to the millions of people that share your passions. In a simple Google Search, I found a Flickr group with 746 members who have posted 6,504 pictures of door knockers, a facebook group, a facebook ap, twitter chatter and more. Your audience is there for the taking. Not only can you find your audience through a simple search, making connections through people who share the same passion as you is simple. On facebook, you can advertise within a 10 mile radius of your targeted demographic, or prompt advertisements based on keywords, activities or hobbies in peoples profile.

These are people who will compose your active readership, help drive your content and help shape your business. With such easy access to your audience, you should set quantitative goals each and every day.

An example:

• 20 new facebook fans everyday
• 10 new twitter followers
• 5 new back links a week

If these goals become too easy, push yourself and increase them to a point where they become difficult to achieve. Goals like these help grow your audience, increase search traffic, and it’s your obligation to keep them engaged. An audience, whether it be an e-newsletter circulation, web traffic or twitter followers, is hands down the most vital component of an online business.

Without an audience, your business is worthless to advertisers. It’s hard to develop an audience, but if you work hard to pursue the audience, and provide them with top notch content, it will come along the way. There’s no cruise control in most online businesses, and once you have developed an audience, it’s equally as important that you continuously deliver fresh information.

If you’re not constantly enhancing your content, aggressively pursuing potential audience members or out there on the ground level shaking hands and meeting people, you’re not working hard enough.Success in this space requires hard work, not investors, expensive equipment or money out of your own pocket.

 Develop a valuable resource

Think of your top 5 favorite sites. Think of the several ones you go to in the morning and check out when you get your day going, or as the day goes on. What about these sites brings you crawling back to them every day? What about them makes you tick? What is their focus? Who do they appeal to and why?

Some of the most successful and upcoming sites are so niche focused, but push content that is so unique, it’s easy to see how open the game is to everyone out there.

When you get the opportunity, take a look at some of the following sites and take a moment to think why they’re as successful as they are.

They’re focus is so thin, but their content is so rich, it’s no wonder why they’ve grown into a 1,000,000 + page views a month sites.

• Peopleofwalmart.com
• AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com
• ThereIfixedit.com
• PassiveAggressiveNotes.com

Your online business should be put through the same fire. Aside from comedic value in some cases, what content will you offer that I can’t find elsewhere? How are you going to consistently connect that content with your audience? Across what mediums?

Learning from others who took the plunge

While I wasn’t there to frivolously follow each of the sites I’m about to highlight, all of them have one thing in common. Much of their successes have one thing in common; they followed most, if not all of the sections above and crushed it. They’ve taken their passions to the web, leveraged web 2.0 applications, developed a quality resource for others, and found success in doing so. Many people get into what they do purely for passion, and success often comes years later. Derek Rocco and Adam Caldwell started ThePensBlog.com several years ago, recapping and previewing each and every
Pittsburgh Penguins game over the course of the year.

At the start, they didn’t have many readers, and that didn’t matter to them because they were covering a subject they lived and breathed –Penguins hockey. As their writing skills developed, and the Penguins saw increased success with the draft of Sidney Crosby among others, and their blog slowly became the go-to source for Penguins coverage.

While they aren’t reputable journalist, their appeal is mostly rooted in their unique content, otherwise not available in city papers. With a touch of vulgarity, off topic Photoshop exposés, embedded media clips and a slew of mid 80s wrestling references, the site has developed a cult like following that is unparalleled in other sports blogs in the city. They are averaging 640,000 page views a month, and roughly 20,000 unique visitors to the site.

They’ve recently crowned ThePensblog into a Limited Liability Corporation ,and only years after spending each and every day pursuing a lifelong passion, they’re about to cash in on the site traffic they’ve cultivated recently. Derek and Adam are crushing it doing something they love and money became only a secondary appeal to them.

The last story was covered in Vaynerchuk’s book, “Crushing It.” Midtownlunch.com is owned by Zach Brooks. Zach is passionate about street food and turned his passion into a lucrative website. He covers six blocks of street food in Manhattan. A directory of vendor food, Zach avidly covers what is going on in the world of street food in midtown. He’s constantly visiting vendors, reviewing new food, documenting changes, highlighting new options, and he’s crushing it. Vaynerchuk claims Brooks is bringing in $70,000 + in this site. 6 Blocks, $70,000…. I don’t think any one story can document the success to be had in an online business than midtownlunch.com.

The fact of the matter is, these are a few steps and a few stories to the development of a successful online business.

As I mentioned in the beginning, no one has the single key to developing a successful site, but in a world carried by social media, there have come to surface a series of distinct, formulaic approaches to getting your site off the ground. If you’re not willing to put the work in it takes to grow your business, it’s going to flop.

Take a look at some of the cases and sites mentioned throughout this whitepaper and continue to reflect on the sites that get you through your day. Pick them apart, peel back their covers and think like an online guru. What makes them tick? What is their appeal? What about these sites keep bringing you back for more? There is nothing standing between you and the ability to funnel your passion into a successful online business.

Interested in talking about your business ideas? Have an idea and want to talk strategy? Walking away with questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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