Expectations are funny things. I don’t know of any other medium that can be compared to the web for it’s ability to set false expectations of free or easy or instant success. Whereas virtually no one would expect to create, stock, open, advertise and promote a brick and mortar store on a thin dime, I continue to hear from hopeful small business people on a weekly basis who have unrealistic expectations regarding both the time and money they will need to invest to make a serious stab at earning a living on the web.
Is it the cheap-o web design template companies that are giving them these unhelpful expectations? Are they getting spam mass emailings telling them that they’ll have it made with just $99/month worth of reciprocal linking? Is it some type of hold over from those make-money-at-home-licking-envelopes deals?
I’m not sure, but I’ve heard the sound of shock and disappointment one too many times during my years of serving small businesses not to know that too many of them believe that making a living on the web will somehow be cheap and fast. While in so many cases, taking the web path will be less costly than the brick-and-mortar road, it requires a real investment from the business owner, just the same. It’s serious business and necessitates that the business owner has either one of the following things to contribute to the effort…or, in the best of circumstances, both of them:
When you can hire pros, you not only benefit from what they know how to do for you, but what they know not to do for you. The time and money they save you guiding you away from the numerous pitfalls of lousy, ineffective website design, poor SEO practices and useless marketing efforts is the unwritten benefit you receive when you have the budget to hire experts. It’s possible for a small business owner to make literally hundreds of wrong turns and false steps when they are trying to do it all on their own, and every one of these errors represents a loss. There are no short cuts on the web, but when you have money to hire pros your chances of success are immeasurably increased by the simple fact that you will be making wise moves instead of rookie mistakes.
Citizen of a capitalist civilization though I am, my heart is always with humble folks and I truly, truly understand that very few humble people are rolling in dough. We aren’t. If you’re not, it’s no shame, but it is the signal that you’re going to have to contribute something else to your endeavor and that thing is time.
Any dedicated person can learn everything they need to know about market research, consumer demand, domain names, hosting, website design, SEO, Usability, Search Marketing, Social Media, Local Search Marketing and etc. I truly believe this. Because the selling of Internet-related services like these developed as the web developed, the whole evolution happened in public, online and people working to become experts shared what they were learning with the world. The documents, tutorials, blogs, fora, message boards that have been created on these topics are all out there for you to read. All you have to do is search for them and all you need is the time to study, practice and apply the advice you read.
In the end, if you can become an expert, that’s only going to empower you and strengthen your chances of succeeding on the web. We’ll return to this topic in just a moment.
Time and Money
Even if you’ve got money, you’re going to need time, too. It may not be time for learning if you’ve decided to hire experts, but it will be the time you’ll be putting in to allow the efforts of pros to begin to take effect. It will also be the time put in to discover how the public interacts with your website or marketing efforts. It will be investing more time to responding to those reactions in new and more effective ways. Nothing is instantaneous.
In my opinion, the very best combination happens when the business owner has a reasonable amount of funding set aside to work with pros and no expectations of instant success, and he is also set on learning about how the web works so that he starts making smart business decisions. This enables him to determine where future investments of time and money need to be spent to keep up with the changing times and the needs of his customers. Throw creativity into the mix and you’ve got a very good chance of earning an income online.
Okay, So You Don’t Have Much Money
I said we’d return to this. Remember what I wrote a couple of paragraphs back:
When you can hire pros, you not only benefit from what they know how to do for you, but what they know not to do for you.
I’m highlighting this statement again because I need to give you one all-important warning if budget has dictated that your efforts are going to need to be time-based rather than money-based. I’m going to give you the expert tip that should save you a boatload of trouble in your pursuit of education. Here’s the tip:
Much of what you’ll read will be garbage, not gold, and if you’re a novice, you won’t know the difference.
You could develop a study plan for yourself entailing 2 hours of reading about web-related disciplines every day, and at the end of a month, you could have wasted 60 precious hours and amassed all kinds of faulty knowledge that could actually ruin your chances for succeeding…if you’re not reading the right sources.
I can’t solve your money problems, but I can solve this educational problem for you, and that’s what I’m going to do right here. Here is the list of sites and documents I would advise you to bookmark or put in your feedreader. These are the publications I, personally, read and trust for consistently accurate and helpful news and information.
To get started, please read 3 documents on our own site. These will introduce you to the concepts of how search engines work, why that should matter to you and the first steps you need to take to present your business on the web. Don’t skip this step!
The Simple SEO Guide For The Small Business
I Want A Top 10 Google Ranking
Seeing With Web Designer Eyes – 9 Evident Errors
Read and re-read those three documents and you’ll have started your first day of school on the right foot. Once you feel comfortable with the information covered, you’re ready to start your daily study of all things web related and these are the resources I want to share with you.
Excellent General Reading
Search Engine Land is our industry’s premier search engine news publication. The contributing authors are experts in their fields. SEL covers news about the actual search engine companies as well as SEO and marketing news. It is written for professionals. The content you will find there is the equivalent to, say, The Wall Street Journal. These folks are at the top of the game and by reading this publication on a daily basis, you will be gaining awareness of the big picture of business promotion on the web.
Search Engine Guide is a publication for which I write. It has a very strong set of authors and the content is written more for a small business owner audience than for an industry professional audience. There is a strong focus there on Social Media and SEO.
Cre8asite Forums is Usability Expert Kim Krause Berg’s highly respected forum. You can become a member for free there and I believe that the level of discussion present there on such topics as SEO, marketing, Usability and Design is superior to that of any other forum on the web. Because I’m a moderator at Cre8asite, my opinion may be biased, but it’s the quality of discussion there that I have heard so many members cite at the reason they are loyal to this forum. Cre8asite’s motto is, There Are No Stupid Questions and the forum is peopled by members who are at all levels of expertise and who are very happy to talk with you. There is even a section of Cre8asite called Website Hospital which enables you to submit your website for public review and very helpful advice.
Small Business SEM is our friend, Matt McGee’s blog. It’s small-business-owner friendly and Matt writes all kinds of neat pieces about various ways to promote your business on the web. He does a good job of helping you see opportunities. Highly recommended for all small business owners.
SEOmoz is one of the best-known SEO companies in the US. Their CEO is Rand Fishkin. Their blog is updated daily with articles about SEO and social media. Every Friday, they post a video tutorial on some aspect of Search Marketing. Originally, SEOmoz was really professional-focused, but over the past 2 years, they have turned more of their attention towards getting business owners to read their publication. They have a whole paid membership section of their site now (which is cool, but expensive). They also have a section of very good tutorials, some of which are paid and some of which are free: http://www.seomoz.org/articles
Exceptional Niche Topic Reading
If your business serves your local community, learning about Local Search is going to be essential for you. In addition to reading about Local here on the SEOigloo blog, I recommend that you bookmark and religiously read the following blogs:
Understanding Google Maps And Local Search
Local SEO Guide
How would you like to become the local news for your industry and your town? That’s what Hyperlocal Blogging is all about and it’s a powerful way to increase your visibility within your local community. I have 2 suggestions to make to get you started learning about this very exciting topic:
Read my 5 part series on Hyperlocal Blogging as your crash course.
Then, start following Matt McGee’s very fun Hyperlocal Blogger blog.
CopyBlogger is Brian Clark’s blog that is all about the art of writing great copy for the web. It’s very motivational and will help you to see just how important your writing skills are going to be to the success of your business.
A Final Word
There are many excellent publications I haven’t listed, above, but these are my picks for your beginning education. If budget dictates that you need to do-it-yourself, these resources will help you to make smart steps instead of false ones and I can’t think of a more powerful set of tools to put in your hands.
Just remember, every single expert on my list got to where they are because they put in those study hours over the months and years. This is the value they have to offer to people who read their writing and people who hire them. When you consider the vast amounts of time these folks have invested, it should become very clear to you why they are worth the fees they charge for their paid services. Looking down the long hall of the study plan ahead of you, you will realize that your time is very valuable.
If you were undertaking this study and work for someone else’s company, you’d definitely need to paid, but as the do-it-yourself small business owner, the arrangement is a little different. You aren’t going to study for an hourly wage – rather, the goal of your education is to gain the skills you need to take your business online and towards success in a truly educated manner.
Today is a good day to decide if you’ve got the time it will take. If you determine that you can commit to this course of action, there is nothing to stop you from achieving success.
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