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Can you succeed on the web?

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
First of all, we want to wish everybody a happy new year. Our clients are all gearing up for new plans for new ways to promote and improve their small web businesses in 2007. I was speaking to one of my very favorite clients the other day, and she joyfully let me know that our endeavours with her site this year resulted in an increase in sales for her of more than 100%! Holy cow, eh?
And then, her next words were, “So, what can we do this year to see another increase?”.
This is, in my opinion, exactly what makes a good business person. She isn’t content to rest on her laurels. She’s always eager to move ahead to continue finding new ways to expand her business and see more profit.
The reason I’m thinking about all this today is due to a conversation currently going on over at the Cre8asite Forum in the thread entitled What Online Businesses Have the Best Chance of Success. The fellow who started the post was, I believe, looking for some tips about how to pick an online venture that would result in profits for him. The responses from other members were extremely interesting, and 2 points in this discussion stood out to me as especially important.
The first, from a very intelligent member whose handle is AbleReach, basically suggests that going into a business without any fire in your belly is a poor plan. I can relate to this. In other words, if you discovered you could make some dough selling paper clips on the web, you could certainly pursue this as your life’s work. However, how much enthusiasm, creativity and brilliance will this plan really spark in you?
I would have to say that the best business people care about their products and their services. But, in saying this, I want to qualify that by ‘best’ I mean best for the public good. Companies like Walmart make huge profits, but do they honestly care about the plastic bins and cheap clothing their stores are stuffed with? I doubt it. Quality appears to be the very last concern of their executives or their customers.
Compare this to what you can buy at a business like Sage Creek Naturals. They sell organic cotton clothing for babies, and I have a feeling that the original thought behind this business was that it will be best for babies to wear natural fibers that aren’t laced with toxins. To me, at least, this indicates a concern for ethics that makes a good first impression on me. To be sure, this company wants to see profits, but they are striving to make a living from something that’s good for babies and good for the environment. Though I’ve never purchased anything from them, or tested the quality of their products, a careful consumer like me makes a preliminary judgement call that I’d be in better hands with Sage Creek Naturals than I would with Walmart if I was shopping for baby clothes.
And, I’d bet 10 bucks that the people behind this organic clothing company feel some fire about what they do for a living. They are probably creative and driven. What does this translate to me on the consumer end? I’ll bet 10 more bucks that if I bought something from them, washed it once and it shrank down to the size of a peanut, they’d refund my money or replace my item when told about it. Their reputation and their ability to earn a living doing what is important to them would be on the line when it came to customer satisfaction. Good businesses should believe in what they are selling, and stand behind the quality of their products.
So, if you are considering going into an online business venture, now’s a good time to ask yourself whether you are excited about what the business is going to offer, and whether you will be able to feel good about the products. Believing in the merit of what you sell can mean the difference between a happy work life and a totally blah one. I would also suggest that it can mean the difference between success and failure.
And that brings us to a second point brought up by Ammon Johns in the forum discussion. As he says, 95% of all Internet businesses fail. So how do you do your best to be within that 5% of companies that succeed? According to Johns, you should look at what has failed, figure out why it has failed, and then figure out how to make a profit where others have failed to do so.
For example, let’s say that you saw an on-line company that sold gemology supplies go out of business last year. Let’s say you had noted that they never replied to the several emails you sent them asking how to use rock tumblers, cut stones or judge the quality of gems and minerals. Their prices were low, but their site was so badly built, you could never figure out how to get from one page to the next, and the fact that they only accepted Paypal really put you off because you don’t like Paypal. Additionally, you ordered a rock tumbler from them and when it arrived, it was the wrong model, and when you tried to get it exchanged, it took 3 weeks to hear back from the company, and when you finally did hear from them, they insinuated that you were at fault and generally grumbled at you for what was, in fact, their mistake.
Bearing in mind that this is all hypothetical, let’s say that you are an absolute nut about rocks. You love every aspect of gemology. You build a site that offers decent pricing, like the site that failed, but your website offers a blog where your customers can talk to you. Maybe it even has a forum on it so that your customers can talk to each other. Your customer service department is prompt, courteous, and always willing to make the customer happy. When you ship out an order, you include a thank you gift of a $5 coupon for a future purchase. You set up a section on your site for customers to review your products and you genuinely listen to suggestions from the public about ways in which you can improve your business. You continue to brainstorm and test out neat ideas that will get the right folks excited about what your company is doing.
I would say that a business being started in this second scenario has a pretty fair chance of meeting demand for good prices, great products and super service. Obviously, I’m not getting into what it will take to compete with others in the same field, but starting out with the concept that you care about sharing something great with others, rather than that you just want to make some money any which way, is definitely going to result in running a website where I would want to shop.
Because we work mostly with small businesses, we’ve become true believers in finding the niche, whether it be better prices, better products, or simply a happier shopping atmosphere for customers than what other sites are offering. Perhaps it can best be summed up in historian Joseph Campbell’s mantra: Follow Your Bliss. I would add to this, create the kind of business that you would feel excited and good about having dealings with, and you’re starting out on the right foot.
That 5% figure is genuinely daunting. You are going to be the best judge here as to whether your new business plan is one that strives to become the source for something, or whether you’re just sorta hopin’ to do okay.