Running an Online Business: The Stuff They Didn’t Put in the Brochure

I’ve been running an online business for about 2.5 years now – not long enough to identify any serious trends, but long enough to have messed up plenty of things.  Thinking about the 1,000 Blog Challenge, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve found that weren’t in that “make money online” brochure.
 

Overnight Success?

Here’s the deal: blogs are just like any kind of business in that you don’t open the door and have people throwing fists full of bills at you.  Hard work results in that, but it takes time to get the traction and get the attention you need.

The latest buzzword on this topic has been the idea of overnight success.  Many of the world’s millionaires, such as Richard Branson, have noted that at one point in their career they were considered an overnight success.  That’s because you didn’t notice all the stuff they did to get there.

Someone mentioned this to me at a conference I was speaking at this year, and it was all I could do not to roll my eyes. I’d encourage you to read up on three gentlemen who certainly know a thing or two more about overnight success (and the lack thereof):

  • Chris Brogan: What it Takes to be an overnight success http://www.chrisbrogan.com/what-it-takes-to-be-an-overnight-success/
  • Seth Godin: Overnight Success?  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/05/overnight_succe.html
  • Chris Guillebeau: 279 Days to Overnight Success http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/overnight-success/

[Todd here, couldn’t agree more with all these picks. A big thanks to Chris who also shared his ideas on the recent article here 16 Money Making Tips from Some of the World’s Most Popular Bloggers]

Most Important Skill to Running an Online Business?

This is a question I get a lot. What’s the key to success online?  It’s a loaded question, because you can’t succeed with just one skill – you need passion, blood, sweat, and probably a few tears as well.

I think the one skill, though, that everyone needs and that we all could do better is marketing.  You need marketing to know who your target audience is.  You need marketing to know what kind of website design will appeal to your target audience.  You need marketing to know what kinds of problems your target audience has, and how you can fix them.

If marketing is your weak point, go to the library.  Seth Godin is a personal favourite on marketing, as well as Dan Kennedy, but make sure you expand your scope to books that talk about persuasion, advertising, and psychology, not just books about Adwords and Facebook.

Old School Business Rules Apply?

Sometimes, us virtual folks start thinking that old school business rules don’t apply. There are lots of those, but the one I’d like to talk about is CASH.  You know, the stuff you use to pay your bills.

I don’t have the latest statistics handy, but pretty much the number one reason any business fails isn’t knowledge, or talent, or effort.  It is running out of money.No matter how good your stuff is, if you aren’t able to last long enough to get it in front of paying customers and convince enough of them to buy, you’re done.

There is lots of talk in the blogosphere about monetization and how you should monetize and when you should monetize.   Everyone’s situation is different so I’m not going to get into that here, but be sure that you do think about this from the beginning.  If it doesn’t make money, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.

Get Some Fresh Air Sometimes

Lastly, I’d like to encourage you to shut that laptop lid, put away your smart phone, and go outside.  Get some fresh air.  I say this for two reasons:  one, because when you focus too hard sometimes it is easy to lose your focus on what’s important.  And two, because you need to go out and meet some people in the flesh.  Network with your peers.  Talk to people who would be ideal customers and find out their pains, their wants, their needs.  Life online is great, but the real world these days seems to be underrated.

16 Money Making Tips from Some of the World’s Most Popular Bloggers

I asked some of the internet’s top bloggers to share their most creative tips for making money through blogging. While I knew some of them already, I was blown away by their willingness to help out and share their experiences. Some of these folks get over 100,000 unique visitors a month. And Gary from Everything Everywhere was one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 Blogs of 2010. These are people you want to listen to. Stay tuned for the next post in this series where they also share tips on building traffic.

1. Travel bloggers often have a hard time monetizing their blogs because they haven’t figured out what problem they can provide a solution for. There’s nothing wrong with roaming the world and writing about it (I do that too), but ultimately, you won’t get paid for that. So instead of thinking about the travel, think about problem-solving. If you orient your perspective — and your blog — around that, monetization becomes much easier.

2. Monetization is putting the cart before the horse. You don’t monetize a blog, you monetize an audience and a following. If you don’t have that, you will pretty much just be selling links.

3. By far, the easiest and most useful way to start monetizing a website is through affiliate marketing. That simply means selling other people’s products (that will be useful to your audience) in exchange for a commission. This is how I recommend people start because you can learn what your audience wants and how to sell things to them without having to create and support a full product.

4. I don’t think that bloggers should try to be too creative in their monetization methods – especially at first. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The first and easiest way to monetize is by offering services. Find something you are good at and learn how to offer it in a way where it is a valuable investment to others. Coaching, consulting, editing, copywriting, etc… – this is by far the fastest source of income.

But my favorite – and more long-term strategy – is to create premium products based on your expertise, journey, or travels. I build a community by giving away valuable free content and primarily provide for my family by spending months crafting even more impactful products that I sell.

Both of these are extremely common – and there’s good reason for that!  🙂

5. Build your own products sooner rather than later

My most regular and instant income is from my own product. It is an eBook with cycling routes. The book took nearly a month to put together but since then I’ve sat back and watched the cash roll in every day. Your audience is building up trust with you and they want to see your own personal products more than something from someone else. Take the plunge and start writing your own eBook or creating your own product now. You won’t regret it.

6. A creative and unique way? Well, I don’t think there is one special way.

Simply provide products and services that match your niche. If you give the people what they want, they will buy it. If you want to make money right away, the simplest and easiest way is to sell a bunch of text link ads.

7. I think being unique is very, very difficult and perhaps a little stupid. The best thing to do is look at sites that are making money and follow their example. In travel, take a look at Lonely Planet and Rough Guides for information sites; take a look at Digital Photography School for your photo posts; look at niche sites like Art of Solo Travel where they sell digital resources based around a theme. Have a look at successful online publishing businesses and model yourself after them.

8. In order to monetize your blog, you’re going to have tobuild a following – a community of loyal fans. Worry about providing tremendous value to your readers first, and monetization will happen naturally later. Then and only then will you have the ability to create something that you know your audience wants and needs (instead of guessing what they want beforehand), and at that point no selling will be necessary, because they’ll be eager to pay you back by purchasing the products you create and/or the affiliate products you recommend.

9. Sell products (e.g. ebooks, consulting, etc.) that solve problems your readers are likely to come across. Be useful and make their lives easier.

10.  It depends upon what kind of stuff you blog about, but I’d really like to see a move towards paying for valuable content that only travel/lifestyle bloggers can provide. For example, foodie travel bloggers provide really useful information when they review restaurants & places to eat in specific destinations which can save other travelers the cost (and unpleasant experience) of going to the wrong places…wouldn’t it be cool if they got paid to provide that information in some kind of format?

11. It all starts with your reader.  Who is that ideal reader? You need to understand them and then decide what things you can offer them of a premium value.  There are a number of different web monetization models out there (advertising, affiliate marketing, etc.) but none of them work if you’re pitching things your audience doesn’t need, doesn’t want or isn’t interested in.  Once you figure out things that would help them, then work on your approach.  Website design is important, but classic marketing advice still applies here – the web may have changed the medium, but the foundations are the same, so if marketing is your weak point, go to your library and start reading.

12. Yes, blogs can get by with selling text link ads but these should be a supplement to an additional revenue stream. Google is fickle. What will you do if you get de-indexed or you are stripped of your page rank?

You’ll notice a growing trend in professional travel bloggers offering products and services. I am not saying go write an ebook for the sake of it, there are quite a few weak ones out there. If you look at the most successful bloggers you will notice one thing; unique selling point. You’ve also got to think of first mover advantage, some topics have just been done to death. If I asked you about how to monetize a travel blog you’d direct me to Nomadic Matt. Frequent Flier Miles? Chris Guillebeau, of course. You need a specialism.

Now this isn’t restricted to ebooks. For example, Hop and Jaunt are a successful graphic design duo. Christine Gilbert and Nomadic Matt recently set up a consulting service. Do you have a unique skill set or knowledge others don’t? Is this widely available on the net? Can you successfully develop and distribute a product or service at a profit?

My final tip: Strongly consider iPhones applications. The explosion in sales and growth in the market is a strong contender for monetization possibilities.

13. The best advice, and it’s the advice I followed from my mentor, is to not worry about the money. The first thing you need to focus on is design and content. If you nail this, then the traffic will come and when the traffic comes the money opportunities will start opening up. From the moment you start your blog, you need to be focused on building your brand, and your authoritative voice, and you must start building relationships with people. It is from these things that opportunities will arise, such as partnerships with travel companies, which you never would have thought of in the beginning.

14. Content is king.I think the first thing to start monetizing is to write a lot and give it a creative spin. Do some research and see what sort of sites are in the market and which ones are doing well. Steer clear from convention and find a particular style or market you like – specialize in a country or a field of travel/lifestyle that not many engage in.

15. This may sound superfluous but the first step to monetizing your blog is to treat your blog like a business. This entails thinking about:
A)  A blog name and getting your own domain name (if you haven’t done so already).

B) The brand you’d like to create – from your writing style to topics and the look-and-feel of your blog. Think about what would differentiate your blog from the rest.

C)  A business plan – your objective(s) with the blog, target audience and how to reach them, traffic-building and monetizing strategies, identifying your peers, medium- to long-term goals, etc…

D) Products and pricing – be it ads, ebooks or services, define your products and your rates.

E) Networking – join discussion forums, network via Twitter or facebook and attend blog events. Invest time in building your network as this will be your source of inspiration, information and opportunities. Have your business card ready at events!

:-)

Then pour your ‘heart and soul’ into your blog (by this, I mean dedication and discipline) without any high, short-term expectations. Last but not least, don’t forget to have FUN blogging! 

16. Travel and lifestyle blogs are in a great position to take advantage of affiliate marketing, because there are so many travel affiliate programs like Expedia or Travelocity as well as niche affiliate programs that could fit into any type of lifestyle blog. Consider something like a Top 10 Extreme Travel Challenge Contest if there were 10 bloggers involved.

You could have each travel writer put together their most extreme travel itinerary and post about it, and then you could have a contest for readers to vote on the best trip, and this contest could be posted across all of the different blogs involved, with links back to each others extreme travel itinerary.

Each reader votes and maybe one reader is chosen for a special prize, like a weekend getaway or something, or even the actual winning itinerary, if that could be afforded. The trick is then that for each itinerary, you incorporate travel affiliate programs to market airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, or whatever other types of travel services you use along the way to save money.

It would probably create good SEO for everybody around the terms Extreme Travel or whatever else you wanted to use, plus everybody would benefit from the affiliate marketing because of the extra traffic driven by reader exposure from each others blog.

What are your strategies for making money with your blog? Looking for more advice? Post comments, questions below.