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What Makes an Online Business Succeed? by Darren Strudwick
At the time of typing this blog entry, I have a little bit of money in the bank (won't say how much!), nearly 1000 clients and a long established business, or I guess I should say a long established "Online" business (touch wood may things continue how they are).
Everything I have, my income, client-base etc, is all derived from my website which has thousands of visits and brings in the business day-after-day and it's all been achieved using a single lap top computer and a half decent internet connection. Sounds so easy doesn't it? All you need is a website which costs a few hundred pounds, then sit back and let the profits roll in.
As any one with a little bit of common sense will realise, perhaps there is a little bit more to it, perhaps I am simplifying the process a little; and yet to my constant surprise, a large percentage of people who ask me to make a website for them really believe that all you need for a successful online business is a website - literally just a website and nothing more.
My own website, if I had paid someone else to make it for me, would at the least have cost possibly £4000. In order to reach a page 1 ranking in Google, I embarked on a 2 year "link building" process which involved emailing thousands of other website owners (I must at this point admit a couple years ago my rankings fell and were recovered with the help of Andre Douglas, see my SEO page for details); I have spent about £15000 on Yellow pages advertising, and to reach a point where I was earning not even a comfortable living but just enough to pay the bills took about 5 years, In the early days I remember printing leaflets and walking round the streets of London posting them through people's letter boxes as well as cold calling hundreds of businesses. I almost forgot ..... before doing any of that I spent hundreds maybe thousands of hours reading books about how Google works, and studying website design in order to build up a real knowledge of the industry.
On an almost a daily basis, I will get people coming to me asking for the greatest website of all time along with top search engine rankings. In some cases I will even be asked to write the text for their website and all of this is usually requested to be done on a budget of less than £500. In return, they expect their website to be live and on the first page of Google a week later and perhaps the first sale to be made an hour after that - in other words they want a business like mine.
So, in essence, what cost me thousands of pounds and took years to achieve, they want me to deliver to them for £500 and in under one week. As the saying goes - Rome was not built in a day. There is not one successful business operating today which was created for £500 and was making money one week later. A classic sign that I am dealing with a client whose business is going to fail is when they tell me their main means of spreading the word or marketing will be to tell friends and family about their new website. As a first intance, friends and family are unlikely ever to buy from your website (don't ask why, it's just a fact!) and second, if they were to buy, you would need to have a lot of family and friends to tell as statistically a single sale is made for every 100 visits to a website. So just to make 10 sales would require 1000 visitors.
Having almost zero budget and no patience is a recipe for failure. However much you spend on having a website designed, be prepared to spend at least 10 times that amount on marketing and promotion. Also don't expect to be on page one of Google instantly. To get to page one can sometimes take years. It is essential to take a long term view - in year one spend all your money on a website, perhaps year two spend more on advertising, year three break even and in year four that is when you start to make a profit.
My most successful customers are the ones how have followed this path. Often, having a website made is the final part of their plan as opposed to being the first part or only part. Prior to having a website made, they would have spent years learning a trade, building up a reputation, they will have a proper budget for marketing, they will have a long term business plan. Their website is just the final piece of a very big puzzle they have already put together.
So in summary, spend as much as you can (not as little as you can) on not just your website but ALSO on marketing and promotion. If you don't have the budget, make sacrifices. I made sacrifices for my business. Too many people I speak to will not pay the money required to get things done right, but they have no problem spending £2000 on a holiday to Ibiza or £100 every Saturday night. I had one particular client who was not happy about setting aside a budget of £4 per day for a Google Adwords campaign until I pointed out that she was spending more than that every day on Sandwiches and lipstick. Choose your priorities! Lastly, have patience and be in it for the long term. Your website needs thousands of visitor if it is to make you sales, this won't happen over night, it took me over a year to get my first customer.