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Rochester, New York

How to Shortcut Your Way to a Successful Online Business

Some of my experiences over the last few years have really reemphasized the importance of learning from people who are super successful online. Experts have "been there and done that." If you are facing a business challenge or numerous challenges it might be time to approach an expert in your field or a related field.

Learning From the Best
There are two common paths people travel down to engage experts. You can either build a relationship with an expert or pay for their services outright.  Both methods benefit your online endeavors.  The people who I've learned the most from and have helped me excel in business are the best of the best. Part of being the best means many experts charge a premium for their time.

Paying $1,000+ an Hour for a Consultant
Most people balk at high priced consultants, "Their rate is ridiculous, I'd never pay that much!" Let's be honest, there are too many consultants in this world that charge a lot of money and don't deliver any results. But, provided you've taken the time to find the best consultant for your field it might be worth considering an investment in consulting. Most high end consultants come with a proven track record. You should always verify a consultant's track record - CAREFULLY CHECK REFERENCES! Ask to speak with some of a consultant's previous and current clients. 

When considering the price of a high end consult ask yourself, "What is my time worth per hour?" As an example let's say you calculate your hourly time to be worth $35 an hour. If it's more, replace the $35 dollar rate with your rate. Consider the following examples:

  1. You can spend 100 hours of your time (at $35 dollars an hour) researching, implementing, and testing your ideas for a particular business challenge.
  2. Hire a $1,000 an hour consultant for an hour or two and spend the other 99-98 hours of your time implementing their proven suggestions.

I Don't Have $1,000 for a Top End Consultant
Not everyone can afford a high end consultant.  The consultants realize this and provide people a way to get around hiring them for a specific project.  Many consultants have created a systems or information product that anyone can purchase. The prices for some of the information products might not be as much as a consultant's hourly rate, but they can be expensive. These information products allow you to integrate a consultant's mindset or system into your business.  By integrating someone else's expertise you can spend the time focus on your strengths.

Everyone should decide what's best for them. Looking back at my own personal business journey, I would have hired more consultants and purchased more information products earlier in my career instead of spending thousands of hours of my own time to figure out a solution some else had already solved.

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Start Small, Think Big

“I want a better looking web site!”  That is one of top comments I hear when companies look to rebuild or redesign their web site. Far too many companies waste a ridiculous amount of money on web sites that fail to bring a return on investment.  At the same time, companies and individuals with far less money for their web site make the mistake of investing in their wants versus their needs. You’re better off concentrating on your needs first.  You can save a significant amount of money and time by investing a few hours to think through what your web site needs to accomplish before starting any work.  There is no need to build the biggest and best web site right from the beginning. Below are some simple questions and suggestions.

Beyond Visual Design
Don’t make the mistake of over focusing on a web site’s visual appearance.  This isn’t to suggest a web site should be devoid of design.  There needs to be a consistent look and feel that’s easy to navigate.  Too many companies overemphasize a web site’s visual design.  There are individual with simple one and two page web sites that do six and seven figures in revenue annually.  Their web sites are visually bland and they have no programming skills.

All the Eggs In One Basket
A number of companies insist on vesting themselves heavily in web sites.  Web sites offer just one marketing channel.  Yes, web sites are great at automating some tasks but they aren’t a magic bullet.  Do you have an offline process for marketing and doing business?  If all your eggs are on the Internet, you are limit yourself.

Take an Online Field Trip

What does your web site need to accomplish? Get a piece of paper and start to jot down some notes.  Do you have any competitors in your market place?  Visit their web sites and write down your likes and dislikes.  Are they doing something particularly well that you could “re-purpose” on your web site. You can modify something that an existing company is already successfully utilizing. Most web sites build off what others have already done.

Interaction and Conversion Is Key
At a minimum a web site should give your users the ability to interact with you.  Make sure that you can drive traffic to your site and that it has some sort of conversion process in place.  Remember, most people come to a web site never to return.  Is your web site Sticky?

What Is Your Web Site Worth?
A web site’s worth comes down to a number of factors beyond just cost.  In what ways can you use your web site to reduce costs, increase revenue, and save time? With some simple math you can approximate cost and time savings, plus forecast additional revenue.

There are a plethora of additional factors.  Hopefully what’s listed above will get you at least thinking beyond “something that looks better” when you are rebuilding or starting a new web site.

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Getting The Best Info – First!

One of the great things the Internet offers is the ability to share information almost instantaneously.  If you have an RSS (Rich Site Summary / Real Simple Syndication) reader you can get web site updates as soon as they’re published. You can educate yourself quicker and faster, provided the information is legitimate. The topic of online legitimacy was covered in a previous post: How Accurate Is Online Information? One of the largest online information hurdles is determining what information is good and which should be ignored. 

Anyone Can Become an Expert
Today anyone can buy a domain and have a web site up and running within a few minutes.  This allows people to publish worldwide at little or no cost.  Online information can be used to control and create either positive or negative outcomes.  There have been presidential elections impacted by what a person posted on their Blog. In the last US presidential election a Blogger challenged the traditional media when it came to President Bush’s military records.  How many times have you received an email or been given a link to an article that’s supposedly legitimate? A few minutes later someone is trumpeting around the office with the “shocking news” they received. Unfortunately all the junk floating around dilutes the credibility of the legitimate information.   

It’s Online First
Provided the information you find can be legitimized there is some great info to be found online.  Top experts write some of the most up to date information on their Blogs before any information gets published in traditional mediums.  If you’re reading it in a book, chances are the information is at least 6 months to a year old.  Some of the best information I get is directly from Blogs I believe to be highly credible.

There are reasonable steps anyone can take to make sure the information they’re getting is legitimate.  This allows you to be at the forefront of new and helpful information.

Ask yourself the following questions in regards to the information you find online:

  • How long has the web site been operating?
  • What are the author’s credentials and experience?
  • Is the author of the web site or Blog published elsewhere?
  • Is the web site updated on a regular basis?
  • Does the information come from a .gov or .edu extension?
  • Has the author been featured as a keynote speaker?
  • Does the web site provide good contact details?
  • Is the information presented in a balanced and objective manner?
  • With what organizations is the author or web site affiliated?

Be vigilant in making sure you’re getting the best information possible.  Below is a short list of Blogs that I trust and visit on a regular basis:

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Using A Little Sex Appeal

Vincent Flanders, who authored Web Pages That Suck, came up with a quote years ago that sums up what people will wait around for online: “If you've got a picture of a naked body -- hey, people will wait forever.”  This was especially the case in the days of the dial up Internet.  Today a large number of users have high speed access and they are impatient as ever, but they’ll still wait and give you their attention courtesy of a little sex appeal. Sex appeal can’t be applied to every web site, but some companies have found a way to take advantage of it and still stay classy. 

An Unexpected Fortuitous Disaster
We all know that sex appeal can have a significant impact on getting attention to a web site.  One of the first mass web broadcasts in Internet history came courtesy of Victoria’s Secret.  They attempted to do a live online broadcast of one of their fashion shows.  Superbowl advertising was bought to promote the online broadcast.  Most people who tried to log on to watch the live web cast weren’t able to log on. From a technology perspective it was a massive failure. 

At the same time, the technological fiasco turned out to be a stroke of marketing genius.  The Victoria Secret web site was flooded with traffic after people couldn’t access the event.  The show was later posted online driving even more traffic to the Victoria Secret web site.

A Real World Example
Maria_kermit One web site that makes use of sex appeal tastefully presented is Yahoo’s “THE 9.”  Host Maria Sansone strikes a good balance that appeals to both men and women. The video format and interactivity make it an easy winner with users. Somehow I don't think that Barbara Walters would have as much success as Maria enjoys online.  The appeal needs to be a good match for the audience and the medium.

It isn’t for every site, but the benefit of a little sex appeal can send significant traffic to a web site.  There are a number of tasteful choices.  The hard part is finding a good one.

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How Accurate Is Online Information?

How much credence can we give to information found on the Internet?  I know a number of people who read anything online and consider it fact. How many times have you received an email attempting to rewrite history?  You might question the validity of the information, but that isn’t the case with everyone.  The speed of the Internet can be both a virtue and a vice.  Consider the impact of Blogging in the last Presidential campaign.  Some people with their own personal Blogs have become their own news service.  Where does one draw the line between fact and online fiction?

Some educators won’t accept any sources of online information.  They either want it straight from a book or some other accredited organization.  Recently I visited one of my former teachers.  She indicated that their educational standards don't allow students to cite online resources.  If a online citation is provided it needs to be held to the programs standards.  Wikipedia isn't considered an authoritative source.  Wikipedia's validity has been questioned on a number of occasions. Yet it is difficult to search on something without a Wikipedia link appearing near the top of the SERPs.

Several universities and accredited organizations publish their findings online.  Does information found on a .gov or .edu carry with it an acceptable level of validity?

Web users are left with an interesting juxtaposition.  In many cases some of the most innovative ideas can be found online months if not years before appearing in books.  At what point in time do we acknowledge online information as valid or invalid?

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Getting Massive Marketing Insight from The Classic Marketeers

Buried Treasure
A few months ago I uncovered some advertising history at my local library.  A number of recent books on copywriting and marketing make reference to a list of advertising legends. John Caples is usually mentioned as a must read for anyone interested in learning more about copywriting or advertising.  The librarian had to go into the old stacks to find Caples’ books.  After spending time reading Caples you can see where many of today’s authors adopted and modified classic teachings.  Modern internet marketers have adopted many of their time tested techniques and found great success.

Timeless Techniques
Look at some of the timeless techniques the Internet has adopted from the newspaper industry.  One timeless technique is a powerful headline.  Headlines are a time tested chance to grab the reader's attention.  Great advertising headlines have transitioned into compelling email subject lines.  If your subject line isn't compelling, the email probably won't get opened.  The fundamentals haven’t changed in hundreds of years because they work.

Users are still driven by content.  If pictures and multimedia are all the rage, why do so many people still read novels that only contain words?  People still visit the library and take out books.  How many novels have you read in their entirety online? 

Split testing your ads. With the Internet and the ability to track performance via analytics, it has never been easier to split test your ads.  Today’s savvy web entrepreneurs are using the split testing methodology

Learn from the Past
Just like advertising and marketing there are certain techniques that work well for web sites.  Some of the most successful web sites integrate time tested director marketing techniques.  If you get a chance spend some time learning from the classic marketeers, look to David Ogilvy, John Caples, Victor Schwab, and Claude Hopkins.  Many of today's top advertising consultants have mastered and revised the works of legends.  For a more modern viewpoint look to people like Bob Bly, Dan Kennedy, Joe Sugarman, and Gary Halbert.  There is so much you can learn from the past.

What can you learn from marketing history and integrate into your web site?

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Do You Just Have A Web Site?

Greetings from Niagara Falls ARS.  This weekend my time is dedicated to the North East Council of Air shows' Annual Conference.  It is an excellent opportunity to catch up with some of the best pilots and organizers in the air show industry.  If it is air show related it always involves a bar(somewhat responsibly) and socializing.  As with most industries business is usually done at the bar.  You get the drink, engage in conversation, and press forward. 

Being the resident geek it is almost guaranteed that web sites come up in conversation. Through the late 1990s and 2000s people gave a great deal of credence to those with a web site. In today's business world it isn't enough to just have a web site.

People still check if you have a web site.  It is the first step in establishing credibility for a company or service.  After the first step, most businesses don't have a second step.  One of the most common lines said: "We have a web site and it isn't doing anything for us." It is imperative for companies to look beyond just having a web presence.  If you already have a web site, ask the following question: "How is my web site facilitating to acquisition of new business or supporting my current business?" Most people, who have a business web site, don't have a decent answer to that question.

In order to be successful online you need to be able to leverage your web site. Companies have spent millions, possibly billions on ineffective web sites.  Think of ways to use your site to not only build trust and credibility, but to also act as an active way to generate new leads or business.

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Reaching Online Critical Mass

At what point does a web site reach critical mass?  The notion of online critical mass comes up a number of times when you’re building an online presence.  People always ask “what does it take to be successful online?” Your web site needs to reach critical mass. Your site should reach a point where it becomes self perpetuating.  You no longer have to fight for traffic or sales.  It’s the online version of easy street.

In the simplest business sense critical mass is usually achieved when a business meets some predefined threshold.  This is usually profitability or a certain amount of market share. (Source: Netlingo)   When it comes to your web site it becomes a matter of finding enough users to support the goals of your site.  Two critical components to reaching online critical mass are content and leveraging search engine optimization.

On Content
You need enough high quality content to lure users to your site and keep them coming back. Keep your content fresh and up to date. This is a big reason why news web sites and blogs are so popular. Updating your content on a regular basis will help you get new users.  If you establish the trend of regular updates try your best to keep things updated.  The most important part of your content is making sure that you keep it relevant to your users.  Focus on serving their needs and desires.

Search Engine Optimization
SEO is important in getting visitors to your web site.  If you have a significant amount of high quality content you are in a good position to make the most of SEO. A number online success stories can attribute SEO as a large factor to their success. Search Marketing is going to allow you to build a stead stream of targeted traffic to your web site. One thing to keep in mind is that search engine optimization is not a fire and forget tactic.  You need to be constantly working toward improving your search engine traffic.

A Matter of Time

One particular quirk to online critical mass is the notion of time.  Because the web is perceived to be fast, people’s expectations are set accordingly.  This keeps web site owners on their toes in hopes of serving up the latest and greatest.  Too many people expect results in a very short time frame. When they don't reach their goals they give up.  Make sure you aren't this person.  Time is especially important when it comes to implementing an SEO campaign.

Keep Learning and Trying
I have yet to meet a highly successful web site owner who had zero training or experience.  Some people are lucky and others fail miserably.  Those who succeed online are smart enough to learn from their experience and march on! Nobody ever gets it right the first time.  The Internet allows you to fail very quickly.  As long as you're learning from the experience, fail as often as possible.  There are only so many times you can get it wrong before you get it right.

In order to reach critical mass online you need content, traffic from search, and a little bit of time. Always keep your web site moving in the right direction, up!

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Ego: How to Destroy Your Business Web Site

The Quickest Way to Crash Your Own Web Site
Over the last decade there is one consistent vice that has worked against countless web sites. This vice is an egotistical mindset in relation to your web site.  It is specific to how you present your information to your users.  In many cases companies and web developers share a significant amount of responsibility.  Everyone feels the need to flex their online muscle and wisdom. The end result is users getting left out in the cold. Your users are the foundation of your web existence. "No users, no traffic, no income."  You cannot afford to alienate users. You need to start by recognizing the problems associated with an egotistical mindset.  After you've done that the solution is pretty simple.

Web Development Firms
Far too many development studios and ad agencies approach their web projects like art.  It is your best interest to create a web site that strikes a balance between graphics and contentThe most effective web sites have great content supported by a clean and simple design.  In order for most developers to achieve this it only requires a small change in mindset.  Yet, there are very few firms that "get it." Remember it's more important to be useful than cool.

Too Company Centric

Companies who get others to create their web site are not immune from the adverse effects of being egotistical online. Many companies make a mess of their own web sites or a web strategy. These companies hire great web development firms and then insist on dictating how their web site should be built. Web developers across the globe have heard the following numerous times: "We're hiring you to do the work and you'll do it our way."  Companies need to hire web development firms with a proven track record.  After you have established your faith in the development firm of your choice let them leverage their expertise with your online goals.

If you or your company maintains its own web site make sure you are focusing on the needs of your user. Go to almost any web site and find an "about us" or "our services" page. Count how many times you see the following words at a beginning of each sentence: "(The company name), Our, My, or We." You need to let your users know how you are going to help them.  This starts with taking your ego out of the equation.  Smart companies know how to craft their online messaging to connect with the user

The Antidote: Staying Relevant to the User's Needs
The simplest antidote to an online ego is ensuring user relevancy.  In Jakob Nielsen's HOME RUN acronym the "R" stands for "Relevant to the User's needs."  The concept is so simple, yet so difficult for web site owners and companies to comprehend.  You need to make sure you web site stays relevant to your user's needs.  If you make your content easy to use and meaningful to your users it's not as difficult to be successful online. You need to focus on being user centric.  The information should be presented for the user's benefit, not yours.  Dr. Joe Vitale said it best "get out of your ego and focus on your user's ego."

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Starting on the Internet, Slowly

If you are thinking of starting a web site you might want to consider setting up a temporary web page.  A one page site is a great way to get your feet wet without committing large sums of money or time.  Start with a one page site and take a "Baby Steps Approach."  Build as you go and don't over commit. The emphasis should be on keeping things small and simple.  Your site can be used for business or personal use.

Inexpensive Entry
Hosting and domain name registration have become inexpensive.  In most cases you can register a domain and host a web site annually for under $75 USD.  No other form of advertising can offer you the flexibility found on a web site.  It's the "world's most inexpensive printing press."  You can test your concept or ideas online without over committing your time or finances.  You'll find a link below to help you with selecting a domain name.

One advantage of setting up your web site early is getting yourself established with search engines. Ask family or friends with a web site to link to your site.  This will help you get listed and build trust with the search engines.  This simple methodology will help you if you decide to stay online for the long haul.

Get Some Help
Before you start, spend some time researching other web sites, seek out someone in the web industry to help you out. You would be amazed at how many people are willing to pass along great information in trade for buying them lunch.  Go to your local library and check out some books on building web sites.

If you are apprehensive about building your own site, look toward a local university.  You might be able to find a student to assist you in setting up your site.  If you are going to get someone to work on your web site make sure they are trustworthy and reliable.  Ask for work references and call them. Keep some controls in place to make sure you aren't left high and dry. Make sure they provide you with backup copies of all the files, passwords, and all other relevant information.

Present High Quality Information
You can present comprehensive information on your web site, but don't bore people. Setup an email address and take advantage of two way communication.  Make sure your information is relevant to the user.  You would be surprised at all the one and two page web sites that are generating respectable amounts of revenue.

One thing too many people and companies do is neglect what they've started. There are numerous web sites on the Internet that were started, never to be finished. In another scenario too many people wait until they have all their information read before posting anything online.  As long as the information is high quality content, you can post something.  One thing you don't want to do is post an empty page or "under construction" graphic.

At a minimum have some information on what you do and contact information. Below are links to articles that should help you get started.  Gook luck and Enjoy!

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