A poster in a popular webmaster s discussion forum recently said that he is on-track to reach and even exceed — seven-figures in revenues this year. That’s a million dollar, folks, from a year-old website that does not even get a tremendous amount of traffic. According to the poster, the revenues are mostly from a combination of contextual advertising, affiliate programs and banner advertising. Just ads and no products!
Whether the poster is bluffing or not, the Web has truly revolutionized the way business is done. It is the most dramatic economic phenomenon of the decade. More importantly, it has opened doors to those seeking to start or grow their businesses. By creating websites, many have realized their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs; where the Web now provides either their full-time or part-time additional income. And yes, the Web has created many millionaires.
While the Web has brought fortune to some, there are many more people who can’t seem to make the Web work for them. They join various programs, buy every possible business opportunities they can find, and create sites on a wide variety of topics all to no avail. All they earn is a couple of hundred a month, if at all.
So what are the ways to succeed online? Below is a list of some of ways you can ensure the success of your online business. Use and apply them to your own online businesses:
1. Give Value to Customers
Despite the Web being the “new economy,” the old fashion business rule still applies: the most successful businesses are those able to create value for their customers. The website exists first and foremost to fill customers needs whether for information, a product or a service. You will only succeed if you give customers something that they want.
The success of your website depends on the value that you give them. The more your site is able to make your clients lives easier or help them save money, the more your business will be valuable to them. It means not just creating an online brochure but guiding visitors how using your website can actually help them. Your site must have enough information for the visitors to make a decision and take the action you want them to take. If you are selling a product, provide a clear description of each product along with its features and benefits. If you are selling a service, the prospect must be able to get a price on the site or at least be given a phone number to call for an estimate. Your prospective customer must be able to get most of his or her questions answered on your site. Collect your client s questions and put them together in a FAQ page, or Frequently Asked Questions. This way, your visitors will get the answers to the most common questions asked on your site.
Many webmasters make the mistake of creating a website primarily to pull off the fast buck. Instead of creating a site where users could actually get value , they create useless spam pages in the hope of tricking users and search engines alike. This strategy, while it may bring short-term financial windfall to the owner, is not likely to be sustainable (search engines could punish the site and their revenue source could kick them out of their programs).
2. Focus on Win-Win Situations
The Web has shown that working alone is the fastest way to fall on your face. Search engines reward sites that are linked and recommended by quality sites. Successful online businesses enlist the help of other websites to promote their products through affiliate programs.
On the Net, you win if you are able to find ways to let others share in the wealth your innovations created. Use social media to find like-minded individuals and groups as well as reach out to your target market.
3. Focus on Customer Service
The challenge facing every small business owner on the ‘Net is how to keep customer service alive and well in a medium where personal interaction is inherently limited.
One way would be to keep your web site functional and personal. But how do you actually make a site personal, when your customers never get to see you or shake your hand, much less touch or see your product up close? Well, it all starts with your design and content, which should be based on a deep understanding of what your customers are, what they expect and why they actually need your product.
If you are selling quilts and handcrafted items, your site may be designed to have a very homey feel. Detailed text can explain the inspiration of the design of a particular quilt. If you are selling pillows made from balsam firs on the Web, your site may be designed to evoke memories of mountain forests and scents of pine trees. It is important that your overall look and feel must set the tone of your entire business. There is no need to go for the technological overkill and aim to become the trendiest site. Instead, your web site should be an integral part of your business plan.
4. Under-promise, Over-deliver
Customers love it when you deliver way more than their expectations. There is a lot of hype on the Web, particularly among the small Web entrepreneurs (ever seen one of those websites with extremely loooooong sales letters that are full of hype?). While those sites may be effective in drawing out the sales from the customers, many customers are left wanting given that their expectations were raised to the stratosphere by the sales copy. As a result, they are left with many unhappy customers. But if you underpromise to your customers (whether you are using short or long sales copy), and then beat out their expectations, customers will be pleasantly surprised and love your site all the more for it!
5. Tighten the Belt, but not the Service
Contrary to the dot-com s excessive and free-wheeling spending, you can run an Internet business on a tight ship. You don t have to hire a brassy consulting company to develop your Web strategy or to create your site (you can t afford them anyway). If you have limited resources, the key is to start small then slowly grow your way up. In fact, many online entrepreneurs launch their Web sites while keeping their daytime jobs.
Whatever your site may lack in terms of technological features, you can compensate for the quality of your service. While you may not have live customer service applications, you can answer customer queries through email quickly. Show your customers that you are willing to go the extra mile for them, even referring them to your competitors if you cannot provide their needs. Good personal service is the core that makes a company, and customers always appreciate that.
6. Design the Web Site for Your Customers
Although a well-written, well-designed Web site with great content can make a positive impression on your prospects, the design should focus around getting the visitor to take the action you want.
Think of your site as the Yellow Pages. Users checking the Yellow Pages are looking for a solution to an immediate need. Your site visitors may not have an immediate need, but he or she definitely has some interest in your site (or otherwise, the person will not click on it.) Now, notice why the Yellow Pages have remained popular with its users: it is heavy on content (the ads) but it uses minimal design. Adopting this strategy, your focus should be on improving copy and content that sell. Remember, the Web site is a means to an end — and that end is making more sales. It’s a waste of money to put up a site unless the site is designed to increase revenues or achieve some other marketing goal.
In creating your web site, your best resource is your customers. Seek the feedback of your customers and ask them if the site is working for them or not. Are they turned off by the requirement to register before using the site? Is the site confusing and hard to use? Are the graphics too slow to load? Is your search engine not flexible enough? Listen carefully to their comments, and adjust your site accordingly. See what works, and what doesn’t.
If you are technically savvy, you can also establish a personalization option. Customers often want to feel like they belong in a community a feature that Internet has fostered tremendously. You can allow shoppers to set up a customized page and receive recommendations and gift services from your store.
7. Team Up with the Right Partners
Try as you might, you may not be able to provide everything that your customers may want and need. You may want to be THE destination of all Web users for your topic, but it may be tough to achieve your goals if you have limited resources – limited manpower, technical capabilities, not enough writers, and too little time. As such you may want to team up with complementary websites (not direct competition) to boost your content, provide additional resources, and offer more tools for your visitors. Partnering with the right groups or individuals can help increase the exposure of your website, build its reputation in your industry, and move on to become the industry authority.
8. Focus on Creating a Brand
The most successful businesses have created strong brands for their products, such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Disney, McDonald’s, Mercedes, and others.
On the Web, Google, eBay and Amazon also have built strong businesses based in part on great branding. These big businesses understand that an integral part of success is building strong brands – yet many small or home-based Web business owners feel that creating a good brand is way out of their reach. Effective online branding does not require big budgets, just an understanding of what brand attributes you are trying to build. By making every Web transaction brand-relevant and providing your customers with brand-based value, you will increase the depth and stickiness of your customer relationships.
9. Put on a Face!
Automation is the name of the game on the Web, but it does not mean that personal touches that will assure your customers that they are dealing with humans have gone out of style. In fact, customers are more likely to trust, use and patronize a Web site repeatedly if they know that they can communicate with a person easily. They want assurance that their orders will come through, their complaints will be addressed and their feedback will be heard. Many successful e-tailers are generating sales through click-and-buy (e-commerce) but a hefty percentage also comes from telephone calls after customers found the number on the websites. If your sales are done without the assistance of a live person, send out personal “thank you” emails, including a real name and phone number of their personal customer service representative so if there are any questions, they can call or email a real person!
Google has even introduced Google authorship where you can link content you publish on a specific domain to your Google+ profile — and your Google+ profile photo will appear in the search results. Having a photo next to your result helps call the attention of the searcher and increase the likelihood that they will click on your result. Having a photo next to your search result also helps increase your trustworthiness and authoritativeness in the eyes of the searcher.
10. Don’t Predict the Future
One important lesson of the Web is that you cannot predict the future. What is hot today may be gone tomorrow. Take search engines for example: only about five years ago, Yahoo was the buzzword, then Altavista, and now Google. Who knows what will be the reigning search engine five years from now?
On the Web, it is simply hard to predict the next hot product or the next big use of an existing technology. The key is to be vigilant and flexible in the creation of your site and products. Take the long view of your business. Observe carefully if new uses of your products emerge. Get customer feedback on your site and monitor what the competition is doing. Forums and chatrooms are some of the easiest ways to check out what is happening on your industry and on the Web in general.
Recommended Books on How to Succeed Online:
- The Laptop Millionaire: How Anyone Can Escape the 9 to 5 and Make Money Online
- The Web Startup Success Guide (Books for Professionals by Professionals)
- Out of The Box: Strategies for Achieving Profits Today and Growth Tomorrow Through Web Services
- The Six-Figure Second Income: How To Start and Grow A Successful Online Business Without Quitting Your Day Job
- Web Business Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Web Sites That Work
- How to Provide Online Customer Service
- Usability: One Key to Web Site Success
- How to Develop an Online Community for Your Web Business
- How to Foster Loyalty and Get Repeat Customers for Your Online Business
- How to Succeed Online
a WordPress rating system
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