Online Business Start-Ups: The Agony & The Ecstasy
by Michele Schermerhorn
Any business start-up can be difficult but the online business start-up is more so. Both business owners have the same problems of financing, product selection and marketing. However, the “brick and mortar” business owner has one major advantage over the online business start-up. The conventional business owner can see their potential customers. Their potential customers walk by the windows every day. They may even walk into the store and ask questions. With an online business, other than some hard to decipher website statistics, the only time you know you have a potential customer is when they contact you or order from you. This creates many sleepless nights.
At 2:00 a.m., an online business owner wakes up in a cold sweat. Where are the customers? Have I chosen the right online marketing strategy from the millions that are available? How do I know? Will a sale come in tomorrow or never? There are literally hundreds of concerns made more difficult by the invisibility of the potential customer. The agony of the online business start-up is in full swing. Will there be any ecstasy at the end of the road? What will it take?
Ecstasy will occur once the owner knows the business is successful. The elements of success are actually the same for the “brick and mortar” business as they are for the online business. The difference resides in the feedback mechanisms. The online business owner can’t count on that face-to-face meeting with potential customers when they enter the store or that fleeting glimpse of a customer as they walk by the window. An online business owner must create feedback mechanisms on their website which encourage customers to interact and let him/her know they were there.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get your potential customers to leave you their email addresses? Not only would this help you understand that people are actually visiting your site but it would also be helpful for future marketing efforts. As online business owners, how can we do this?
First, add a simple guest book to your site. Some people will voluntarily sign your guest book, but many will not. So, let’s add a little incentive for the potential customer. How about associating their signature in your guest book with a free drawing for one of your products (like www.sweet-vibrations.com, a one-of-a-kind jewelry site) or a free newsletter on an interesting topic (like www.aaronzwebworkz.com)? In this way, you offer something of value in exchange for their email address. And, it doesn’t have to cost you anything.
There are many free website guest books available online. We use a free guest book from www.htmlgear.com on our website www.obinstitute.com. Check it out!
Secondly, an online business owner can also add a refer-a-friend link on their website. Why not offer potential customers the ability to easily market for you? They may know a friend who would really be interested in your product. That friend might buy something from you, or sign your guest book. The website mentioned above, www.htmlgear.com also offers a free refer-a-friend link for your website. And, again, you can check out an example at www.obinstitute.com. Is there anything else we can add to a website to make our potential customer more visible before a sale? Yes, an online survey.
Thirdly, add an ongoing survey form regarding issues of importance to your potential customers? Most of us find it’s interesting to cast a ballot on an issue and then see what position others are taking. Remember, you have two purposes in mind for this strategy. The first is to make the potential customer and their visits to your website more visible to you. This will help maintain your sanity until someone actually orders. But, secondly, you are developing a website that people will return to in the future. This will increase the potential for sales.
Each time the potential customer interacts with the website, using a guest book, a survey or a refer-a-friend link, the online business owner is building a relationship with that potential customer. The more they like using your site, the more likely they are to return. The more often they return to your site, or tell others, the better your chances of the sale.
Michele Schermerhorn has over 30 years experience in the business world and over 12 years running her own successful online businesses. She is President of Online Business Institute Inc. (www.obinstitute.com). Online Business Institute Inc. exists to “Create Successful Online Business Owners One Person At A Time”.
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