Author Topic: Advice on starting an e-business  (Read 5092 times)

Kowalski

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Advice on starting an e-business
« on: March 17, 2013, 07:31:51 AM »
Hello everyone,

I've joined the forum recently (Iíve been lurking for some time though) and one of reasons was that I have some questions that might be answered here, if someone has the time to offer help.

Long story short, I need advice on starting a small service-based online business, or more specifically Ė I need advice on attracting customers/advertising.

I donít know much about online advertising and I donít know where to begin, thatís the problem. Iíve researched a bit, but from what I can see the advice is usually ďpay someone to do it for youĒ or something like that. I donít want to do paid internet ads or anything like that for two reasons:

(1) my business is small and specialized so I only need to reach my niche audience, and I donít need that much customers at the beginning (Iím starting slowly since this is my first business)
(2) I donít have any money to spend on advertising, and even if I did Iím sure there are better, more Mustachian ways to do it without spending a lot of money!

But, like Iíve said, Iím at a loss here. Except for some general ideas like advertising on forums etc. and the usual word of mouth I donít know where to start. Buying ad space is a bad call for sure, and I have limited experience with SEO strategies.

I would appreciate if someone would offer some advice and/or point me to some articles, books or anything that could help in any way.

I already have the service part handled, the startup costs are really low, Iíll soon design the webpage through which Iíll be conducting business and I think the idea is going to work out (and it's quite simple) but without paying customers I obviously canít start anything.

So, there it is, so if anyone can offer some advice or discuss things I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2013, 07:33:32 AM by Kowalski »

Kriegsspiel

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2013, 07:44:57 AM »
If you read the Four Hour Workweek and What Would Google Do, you will have your answer.

arebelspy

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2013, 09:49:28 AM »
I only need to reach my niche audience

Perfect. There's the solution.

Now you just need to figure out how to reach that niche audience.  It will depend on what they have in common.  If it's a certain geographic or demographic commonality, targeted Facebook ads are great.

If you can get them to opt in to an email subscription, you can send an email blast when you have a new product/feature/whatever that's directly targeted to them - some sort of squeeze page to get this information, or a free giveaway (ebook, etc.) if they sign up for the newsletter are common tactics.

It all really depends on your product, your target audience, etc., and you'll need to go on that.
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tylerherman

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2013, 08:34:27 PM »
What is your service? If you don't give more specific info people can't really help you.

Also, why does it have to be an online business?

Easiest small businesses to start are within your local community where you can drum up business for free just by talking to friends and family and your extended network. 

Yes there is no cost of entry online but the competition is far tougher. If you're planning on advertising against other businesses who actually know what they're doing you're going to waste your money. 

Reading books and doing the research to do it yourself doesn't make you money. Working makes you money. So instead of making elaborate plans, just find a way to make that first dollar, and go from there. Worry about promoting your business when you have money to do it with.

cosmie

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2013, 10:04:16 PM »
I donít know much about online advertising and I donít know where to begin, thatís the problem. Iíve researched a bit, but from what I can see the advice is usually ďpay someone to do it for youĒ or something like that. I donít want to do paid internet ads or anything like that for two reasons:

As the other posts have mentioned, more details would be useful to give tailored advice.

However, you have a slight misconception of online advertising. Although in some cases you buy "space", similar to a billboard, generally you don't. Instead, you buy "clicks", regardless how many times your ad has actually shown. Having a specific niche is actually perfect for online advertising. You can generally tailor who even sees your ad based on the characteristics of your niche, and can tailor the text/content of the ad to only appeal to your niche.

In such a case, you can have a extremely good cost per acquisition, although maturing the campaign (finding the correct settings and text to filter out the "noise" clicks) can make your first month or so more expensive than after.

It's this initial start up and fine tuning phase that is generally what people recommend having hired out. Google and other advertising mediums can get really, really expensive if you leave it at the default "buckshot" mode or let Google do the optimizing itself (the house always wins). Once that's done, agencies will then go into a maintenance mode where they review and curate your ads once every month (or week, depending), which may not be necessary if you're willing to learn to interpret the results yourself.

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(1) my business is small and specialized so I only need to reach my niche audience, and I donít need that much customers at the beginning (Iím starting slowly since this is my first business)
Depending on the niche, the actual cost of the clicks can be as low as $0.05 - $0.15 each, or up to several dollars. The former is quite a small price to pay considering the only people seeing your ad are those that fit your demographics, and those clicking your ad and triggering a cost are those that not only fit your demographic and search terms, but also agreed with your ad's text. By the time you've paid and they've visited your site they're already a high potential customer.

As well, you can turn off the ads at any point if you acquire enough customers; you don't keep paying after you don't need them.

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(2) I donít have any money to spend on advertising, and even if I did Iím sure there are better, more Mustachian ways to do it without spending a lot of money!
The internet is a tough place to start. You can try pushing your existing network towards your new site/business, but without existing credibility it takes a very long time to accrue relevant site visitors organically.

Quote
But, like Iíve said, Iím at a loss here. Except for some general ideas like advertising on forums etc. and the usual word of mouth I donít know where to start. Buying ad space is a bad call for sure, and I have limited experience with SEO strategies.
Those general ideas are about it; but also keep in mind a lot of forums and communities have issues with "spamming" your business if you're not a known member (again, without an existing network, it's hard).

Be careful with anything SEO: most of the content out there is very parasitic; based around trying to "game" the search engines to increase your rankings. If it costs money, don't do it. If someone uses questionable methods in regards to your website, you run the risk of Google detecting it and delisting  you (e.g. your site disappears entirely from Google search results).

SEO is a complete topic unto itself, but there are a few top things to remember about it:
1. Good, clear, semantic web coding. Google sees your site entirely based on the code within it, so make sure it's done in line with standard web practices.
2. Original content. The more original content on a site, the better regarded by Google. This generally means to create a blog and talk about topics within your niche.
3. Links. Google uses links as proxies to rate the worth of your site. If something like CNN (a well regarded, highly cited site) links to you, some of CNN's reputation rubs off on you. This is the cause for a lot of spam in comments, forums, etc. This is also what most "SEO"people sell (links), and is also what will get you banned from Google. If Google decides that the proliferation of links to your site is unnatural or paid, they will ban you with little recourse.

Kierun

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2013, 02:40:11 AM »
Have you considered social media?

Vilx-

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2013, 05:33:17 AM »
If you're just going to build your website, then it's a good thing to think about SEO early on. It'll be easier to build it right at the first pass, rather than remake it later. SEO isn't something you can just bolt on as an afterthought. It has to be built in the core. That said, here are some excellent guides from Google on how to do SEO the right way (and without paying anyone extra either!)

The first and foremost resource: Google's SEO starter guide. It contains both technical and non-technical advice. Golden stuff. Also - a one page summary, although I really advise to read the whole thing. It's not that lengthy.

If you think about hiring someone for doing your SEO, Google has some advice on that too.

And last, there's also more information in the Google's webmaster tools help. Mostly the same stuff, but maybe it helps something "click". :)

Now, getting the SEO in order won't guarantee you any customers yet, but not having your site indexable by Google will definitely hurt you. To get customers themselves... well... it's hard to say.

First thing I'd advise is to watch the TED videos by Seth Godin. There's also another one at Business of Software. Seth talks mostly about selling software, but a lot of the principles are the same for most digital businesses today, I think. You might get some ideas there.

Then I'd advise the same as others here - start cultivating a community. Set up a blog and write interesting stuff there about your field. Participate in relevant forum threads and direct people to your blog where relevant (but don't start necromancy and dig up long dead forum threads just for the sake of adding your link there). Set up your own forum (try Discourse if you're brave enough). Etc.

Maybe you can make a funny/interesting video to put up on youtube? It's a long shot, but things sometimes do go viral for no reason.

Also - that reminds me about "trendsetters" - are there other people with established communities that you could sell your service to? Someone that you could maybe give a free try in return for a post on their blog? Not everyone will agree of course, but some might. Any community needs to reach a "critical mass" of participants before it becomes self-sustaining. This could be a way to get that first spark of ignition.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 05:36:04 AM by Vilx- »

Kowalski

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2013, 08:59:44 AM »
Thanks for the responses so far guys!

I think it would be confusing to answer everyone specifically so I'm going to do it in broader strokes.

I'm always a bit reluctant when talking about business ideas to strangers but as people have mentioned, maybe I didn't give enough info so here it is:

In short, I'll be offering e-book formatting and conversion services. That's why I'm starting everything online  -obviously, it's the only way to go. People email me their manuscripts and I edit them and convert them into appropriate formats and send them back.

I've got the software and the skills, and once I set up the website the only thing I'll need are customers; that's why I'm looking into ways to attract them. The payment will be done through PayPal at first since the amounts are not that big. One day I plan to actually register a business if things go as planned( I noticed that most of the similar service providers are doing the same thing). Also, I didn't mentioned that I'm from Croatia (Europe, but non-EU yet) so doing things over the Internet with foreign (USA, UK mostly I guess) customers is the only way to go. And that's why advertising over the internet is the only way for me to attract foreign, English-speaking customers.

I'll also start doing things on the local end - basic stuff like talking about it to friends and people I know and advertising ( for free) on local blogs and websites, but it's the global stuff that I have little experience with (actually I have little experience overall since I'm still a student and this is my first business idea heh). I'm not aiming at getting rich from this idea for now, but I'm serious about it and I'm planning to get a nice income out of it and one day convert into a proper business if all goes well.

Thanks for the feedback so far, I'm going to check out those recommendations.

cosmie

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2013, 04:03:08 PM »
Hey Kowalski, that sounds like a great idea! When I was a student assistant I actually had to help a professor I worked for find such a service.

Based off of my search (and the professor's comments, who was the actual customer), here are a few points you may find useful (or may already know):

Authors are quite protective of their work. Make sure your website instills trust and confidence. The main way to do this is to reassure the author explicitly that that work remains secure and confidential at all times, and is not shared with any unauthorized third parties.
Make sure that you detail which ebook publishing platforms your work will be tailored towards. When researching the ebook publication process, there are a lot of mentions that formatting isn't one-size-fits-all, and each platform has it's own quirks. So by explicitly stating what platforms you'll be formatting for, you'll reassure the author.

Many authors are looking for one-stop-shops. This is generally formatting, conversions, cover art, ISBN, and possibly other services I'm forgetting. Even if you don't offer some of these, provide information on all of them. Maybe create a partnership with someone for the cover art that you can subcontract it to or refer the customer to. Or even just  having a page that talks about what is needed and recommend a few possible firms you can send them to (this can even generate revenue if they're affiliate links).

Many ebook authors aren't familiar with the process, so providing information is a great way to build credibility, good will, and viewers for your site. This would make great content for a blog, and a blog/content is great for SEO purposes.


Good luck!

MountainMan

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 10:31:56 PM »
It would seem to me (I could be wrong) that an e-book editing and formatting business would benefit from word-of-mouth.  You need satisfied customers referring more business to you.

I'm not sure ads at this point would be that useful, as customers would want assurance that you, a stranger on the web, will deliver the product they want. 

I'd go with SEO'ing your website, writing a blog on the importance of formatting/editing e-books (some authors might not be convinced) and how that benefits authors. 

I'd also go with using Twitter and possibly a Facebook page (not group, a page) to help build community and word-of-mouth.

Also make sure you have a facility for collecting e-mail addresses on your website.  Offer to e-mail them a special report on how to best prepare e-books or something, in exchange for them giving you their email address.  And e-mail monthly newsletters with information useful to your customers.  That way you stay in their minds.

You could also offer your paying clients referral codes, so if they refer someone, the original paying client gets 10% off their next ebook, or something like that.

I suppose I might also go where the e-book authors or would-be authors are.  There are probably forums where they congregate, hatching their evil e-book plans. ;)

Sounds like a great business idea.  Have fun! :)
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 10:39:26 PM by MountainMan »

StudentofFreedom

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2015, 01:24:02 PM »
I have two ideas - take them with a grain of salt.

1. Make friends in your industry and really get to know them.  Get to know bloggers and writers, and don't just try to sell to them.  Most likely they know other writers who are looking for your services. In the beginning, your goal is to find your first 3 clients.  Once you have some customers you can work on website, blog marketing, social media etc... but in the beginning, talk to real people.  Read their writings and get to know them.  Meet local writers in your community.  Get a coffee/beer with them.

2. It's possible somebody may be looking for these services on elance dot com or some other freelance/contract worker websites.  I started my tutoring business by using a site that helps people find tutors - maybe there is something similar for the services you're offering?

Hope those help!

Proud Foot

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #11 on: April 28, 2015, 09:52:05 AM »
Read through this and most of his blog posts.

http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/passive-income-101/

It doesn't sound like your business will be a passive item by his definition but you can use a lot of what he outlines to help grow your business and get your name out. He has a lot of information on SEO and how to improve your Google rank.

Jeremy E.

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Re: Advice on starting an e-business
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2015, 11:37:43 AM »
niche pursuits also has a lot of good information on his blog that might help, keyword research is something you might look into, I'm trying to learn a lot of this stuff myself and it's really mind boggling trying to take it all in.  Good luck!