So you want to start an online business. Maybe you lost your job, want extra income, or aspire to join the ranks of web entrepreneurs getting rich. Maybe the image of Yahoo workers getting called back to their cubicles after working from home has you determined to chart your own course, be your own boss and get rich.
No doubt, the opportunities for building businesses online are unlimited. Recent studies indicate 78% of the US population is now online and virtually all affluent Americans use the Internet. But creating a successful web-based business requires more than a dream, an idea or wishful thinking. How you market yourself online is key.
So you have signed up for all the social media sites, but you are struggling to convert all those fans, friends, followers and subscribers to dedicated customers. You are spending a lot of time and energy on email and social marketing, but sales are flat.
Perhaps, like a lot of business owners online and offline, you wonder if marketing via social media is just a lot of hype. You find yourself asking, is anyone actually reading my posts? Maybe you wonder if you should have started a brick and mortar small business, or, like those Yahoo workers, gone back to a cubicle.
Don’t despair! I teach small business owners to build what I call “audience businesses.” These can be online or offline, but they all have a strong and dedicated following.
Recently I had the privilege of coaching William Cowie, a Denver personal finance expert who has started several companies and worked more than 25 years as a CEO and CFO. We talked about some pitfalls of building a business online and how to avoid them. Some or all of these are likely to surprise you!
1) Pitfall #1: Signing up for the latest social media site
Instead of spreading yourself thin across every social media site you can find, focus all your online communications on one hub: your blog. Think of your blog as your office. It’s where you source all your business communications. Many online business owners spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter (and recently sites like Pinterest or Instagram) but completely neglect to build a blog. Your blog is the place where customers and clients come to get to know you so they can figure out if they want to do business with you. You can see a great example of this on Cowie’s blog.
2) Pitfall #2: Avoiding the competition
Online communities spread like wildfire. Instead of avoiding your competition, like many of us were taught or learned in business school, today you should seek out others in your space and comment on their blogs. In William’s case, I suggested he introduce himself to his industry’s leaders and ask to write guest posts on their blogs. Soon he was recognized as a leader in the industry because of the company he was keeping. You can do the same and keep opportunities and new customers flowing your way.
3) Pitfall #3: Keeping it too professional
There’s the old saying, “In business, keep it professional and leave the personal at home.” Cowie learned that was a mistake online. In the world of online marketing, getting a potential client to give you their email address is the equivalent of a handshake – think of it as a digital handshake! To “shake more hands,” I coached Cowie to share more about his personal life so that potential customers online can get to know him and relate to him. He did a great job in this interview.
When you share a funny story about your weekend or post insights you’re having that can educate others, people are more likely to want to shake your hand. Just like when someone visits your “real” office. Now that William has learned how to “shake hands online,” he’s quickly become recognized as an expert in his field. This will give him a great advantage as he builds his online business.
So how are you doing with digital handshaking? Share your thoughts and ideas by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Audience engagement expert Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, is the co-author (with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, and many others) of Engagement from Scratch! (available on Amazon, or as a free download). He also teaches marketing that works for small business owners and entrepreneurs at Firepole Marketing.