Building an on-line business
I get asked all the time how I built a business on the Internet. I'm flattered when people ask. As much as I'd like to say I have a big "how to" book on how to do that, I don't. But I CAN recommend to you some different ways you can build a drawing or an art business or a parachute packing biz, or selling your own how-to book (or any business for that matter - the principles are exactly the same).
[What follows is part of an evolving page and most certainly isn't an exhaustive list of things you might want to know about - just what I think are most important. It certainly leans towards e-book and information product kinds of business - but again, the essence of business is the same in all businesses. I'll be adding to this page as ideas come so check back from time to time. Or print it out and refer to it when you have more time.]
Your art business
Building your art business - be it built around drawing, drawings, caricatures, original art work, fine art, dollmaking, sculpture, music or filmmaking, accounting, the "bed and breakfast" business, graphic design, multimedia, architectural design - it doesn't matter! The same principles to starting your own business really are the same.
The essence of business
How so? In what way are all businesses alike? It's actually pretty simple. Peter Drucker boiled business down to two things:
"Because it's purpose is to create a customer,
- Peter Drucker
What's an Innovation?
What's an innovation? An innovation is anything that allows you or your customer / client / patient / friend to do something cheaper, faster, stronger, bigger, more compactly, more congenially, more humorously, more carefully, less tediously, higher minded, in an educational manner, nutritiously, with more security, digitally, more efficiently, with more satisfaction, more creatively, with more impact. In a word, if it brings a positive result to your customer or client it can literally be anything! (Since your art work is uniquely you, it's automatically an innovation. Still we'll see below more on gleaning what makes your art work unique.)
What's marketing? All marketing is, is educating the whole world (or whomever may be looking for the solution your innovation provides, i.e. your market) about your innovation and how it can help them.
No need to get into name dropping or MBA school, or anything like that. Have a simple desire to tell people about something you can do for them? Or you have the ability to decorate and beautify a room in their home for them with only minor changes and a minimal amount of money? or make their lives safer? bodies stronger? help learn faster, make furniture more durable, their lives cleaner, car more trustworthy, life more secure, dependable, endearing, funnier, zanier, satisfying, enriching? Could your expertise add value to people's lives even in small but appreciated ways? Then you have a potential business. (Sorry if I'm getting repetitious here, but I'm listing all these benefits to get your brain sparked along the lines of "what's your business's innovation?")
Any piece of art work, sculpture, arts and crafts, (an aesthetic benefit is as valuable as any - all people gravitate towards beautiful things), an invention, a reinvented mousetrap - again if it offers a benefit tangibly or intangibly, you potentially have a business. Can your art work beautify a home? Add humor to a birthday party? Do you want to teach people about animal rights? or thousand year old African traditions? That's the start.
A combination of several of those things motivated me to write and sell my own e-book and web business. Do you need to write an e-book? Only if you want to :-) But writing your own e-book is truly one of the simplest way to begin your own business or compliment an existing business (there's actually about one simpler way to start a business...I'll show you that below too).
The Web - The Planet's Peripheral Brain and a gold mine of information
You already know this, the Internet is the planet's goldmine of interlinked information. If something you do can be converted into an information product (and just about anything can), then you truly have a "business in the wings": build an information product and hook into the web. It has never been easier.
Information products come in all sorts of shapes and forms
Don't forget, info products come in all forms: e-books, regular-in-your-hand-published books ("hard copy"), multimedia DVD's, video, audio CD's and cassettes, hand books, hard cover, magalogs, seminars, recorded seminars and demonstrations and any combination of the above. (My brother has built one of Minneapolis's most respected light concrete businesses and he's developed some pretty unique techniques for getting a perfect finish everytime. I've told him repeatedly I'm sure there are thousands of people out there who might be interested in a video demonstration of his expertise. A local cable TV station even did a story on him complete with a concrete garage-step building demonstration. And he still resists the idea :-) E-books are now the easiest and most accessible place to start.
Feel like you might have a book in you?
What might you write about? I chose what's turned into a monster: a one stop, three-volume-in-one giant book / multimedia extravaganza about drawing faces and caricatures for the rank beginner all the way up to the expert - if you want to check it out, you can click here...not to worry, I won't plug that page with anymore links to it :-).
How I got started
I'll never forget the day. It was May of 1997. About 6 in the morning. I was still in bed in my rented Los Angeles beachtown flat. I'd received one of those big mailers the evening before - it was from an outfit called "www.netrageous.com". At first it seemed a lot like one of those get rich quick schemes but it came with the endorsement of a man I've met and I highly respect (Jay Abraham). So I read it. It was about this new and phenomenal thing called the "Internet". I'd bought a computer some 8 months before, still had no idea how to use it. Had no modem or Internet connection nor any interest in running a "Web Business".
A Limerick-day: 100,000 dollars in 90 days
But something in that 25 page mailer grabbed my attention. I read about a guy who made 100,000 dollars in 90 days doing of all things, writing limericks. You, know "There once was a man from Nantucket, who had a great big red plastic bucket..." those kind of silly rhyming things. ( http://pagebuild.com/limerick/limerick.htm)
He sent out an email, told all the people on the list that for a dollar he'd send them an original limerick a day for a year. All for a buck. So you just put a dollar in an envelope, and snail mailed it to the address at the bottom of the email. And voila, you'd get this kooky, sometimes hilarious, sometimes silly, but always entertaining rhyme in your email box first thing every morning. For a whole year. This guy signed up some 100,000 plus customers in three months. Last thing I heard was that he was on the beach in Hawaii - writing limericks of course. Urban legend or urban fiction what a great idea I thought! It was funny, creative, sounded pretty easy to do, made a hefty sum of money...I'll do it too!
Piggy back and cross-pollinate your ideas
Copy-catting really wasn't my style. I was one of those folks who figured if someone had already done something there was no reason to try to redo it. And "me-too's" are a dime a dozen I found out (which is why you must figure out what your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is - even if three thousand other people in your city do exactly what you do. There's going to be something unique about what you do. You just have to learn how to mine it. See below for more). Plus I'd need an Internet connection, and something even weirder called an "email" program, whatever the heck that was.
Germ of an idea
I chucked the copycat approach, but there was a tempting morsel of an idea of some kind there. I Thought about it for a few minutes, almost slipping back to sleep...ping ponging words like "limericks", "humor", "rhymes", "jokes", anything funny - that sort of thing around in my head.
Funny pictures started popping up. I'd been drawing since I was a kid and started doing caricatures while living in Spain ten years earlier. Is there something in that? Is there a "Limerick-a-day-for-a-year" kind of idea there?
Listen to and "watch" your unconscious
Just before I was totally passed out something jolted me - that moment of realization before you've actually consciously realized it (did that make sense?). Like a deep sea diver muscling his way up from 300 feet down in deep sea silence hooked to a balloon full of air, an idea was bubbling up. Caricatures. Caricatures. A limerick a day. Caricatures! Smack 'em together - why the heck not? "A caricature a day for a year" Why the heck not? And so simple! Thus the idea was born.
[Click here for a free email series brain stimulator: "How to brainstorm, create, produce, and sell your very own infoproduct online Masters Course". Your email program will pop up when you click the "click here" - send a blank email. The address it's going to is "email@example.com".]
I laid there, bit by bit getting more and more excited as I thought of all the other things: "I could maybe even offer lessons - 'how to draw' lessons, then maybe 'how to draw caricatures'. But first start with the "caricature a day" deal". By now I was sitting up, jotting down ideas with a pencil at sixty miles an hour..."hmmm, I'd need a thing called a scanner, and this program called Photoshop...a buddy has CorelDraw maybe that's all I'd need...".
My real motivation
I hate to admit it, but I think a large part of my motivation was for the money. Heck, a hundred thousand dollars in 90 days? Sounded a little far-fetched, a little on the incredible side, but nonetheless awfully intriguing. I wasn't purely greed-motivated, I genuinely loved to draw - and I wasn't doing enough of it. I loved to teach too (at the time I was teaching friends how to draw caricatures), though converting the teaching part to a web program or writing an actual book - that part would have to be a later development.
[And what the heck did I know about publishing a book? See Dan Poynter for all sorts of "hard copy" and Internet self-publishing and marketing methods. An amazing resource - make sure you sign up for his ezine while you're there.]
Still my real motivation? Something in that set of ideas felt right. It would require using skills and gifts in me that were just going fallow or had been neglected - and that sense that I was going through life not using or not sharpening up something I was given just plain hurt.
Plus I wanted a second source of income separate from my day job (I practice urgent and emergency medicine as a Physician Assistant which ironically wasn't a day job at all - it had me working all evenings, nights and weekends. I wanted - no I had to have - more control). "You mean you can actually make money doing the things you love?" Absolutely :-).
Going for it - and a surprising discovery
So I went for it. I dove in. I put together an ad before I had any idea how I would make this thing work. But as I wrote the ad for the "Carciature-a-Day" idea, the one I would send out to a giant email list - once I bought an email program, and figured out how to use that, and then somehow send my caricature-a-day-for-a-year offer to a million people all over the world - with no idea of how to get even one email address - namely my own - big breath...while juggling all that, I made a discovery. As friends read my ad, they curiously and almost invariably said the same thing "Gee Jeff, nice idea about the caricature-a-day thing, but I really like the part about learning to draw them. That's the cool part". DOE! (That was a perplexed Homer Simpson "doe".)
Learning about what people really want
So to make a very long story short, I learned about what people really want may not be what I thought they wanted - but it might be somewhere in the room :-).
The learning curve
I went to town. I learned about chat rooms and how to build your own. I learned about and bought a 1200 dollar Umax scanner, and Macromedia Dreamweaver, and Flash, and Freehand, and Adobe Illustrator, PhotoShop, ImageReady, and Streamline. And then CorelDraw, and Wacom pixelated drawing tablets and literally a dozen or so more. And I learned about hard drives and hard drive crashes (five of them!) I learned about Belkin Uninterrupted Power Sources and surge protectors and how absolutely vital they were to a business's survival.
...and more learning curve...
And I spent oodles of money and time learning about marketing and copywriting. Not copyrighting as in copy "rights" but copywriting as in "writing" - like the letter I received in the mail from Jim and Audry Langford and Netrageous.com that started this whole crazy snowball going in the first place! That, the advertising letter from Audry and Jim, was an example of copywriting. Salesmanship in print - that's all copywriting is about. (Click here for an excellent e-book on copywriting written by copywriter extraordinaire Joe Robson. I used - and still use - this one to fine tune the writing at the YouCanDraw.com site. )
When you write an ad you'll need to learn about thing like headlines, "features versus benefits" - (i.e. the main "copy"), writing guarantees, a call to action, and "unique selling propositions" just to name a few things.
But you don't have to spend months or years learning to use these programs or turn yourself into an expert copywriter or spend thousands of dollars buying any of these high end software / hardware - see Site Build It! (SBI) - truly the top one stop solution for building web sites that sell. Hands down, plain and simple. (In fact this site you're at is built completely through SBI. And don't forget the Joe Robson book for learning how to write a real killer sales letter that actually teaches you to sell with no experience at all: Click here for the Joe Robson book.)
Back to web writing: the real workhorse of the Internet
I learned how to write a letter that sells - and believe me that's an ever-ongoing affair! (Here's another free email mini-course called "Netwriting Masters Course: Want to sell more? Write better." Send an empty email by clicking here.
[This guy named Corey Rudl teamed up with another excellent copywriter, Bob Serling and they've got an excellent cassette and hard copy book with some great web writing advice, though I used to think the info was somewhat dated. I've since gone back and reread a good deal of the program and I think they're actually still quite right on (as long as you remember the multimedia aspect of the web has really taken off.) I bought this too. In fact, I just got immersed in this stuff - which I believe you have to do to get good at anything. Check out Corey's general marketing site and look up "Copywriting" - click here for Cory Rudl's site.]
CD -Burning, Credit card processing, and Internet Fraud
I learned about CD-ROM burning (see http://www.discmakers.com and emedialive.com for more info) and "executable" programs that you could download. I learned about piracy first hand - by getting ideas and CD's and pictures and ideas stolen and resold by others. And I learned how to let go of all that but I was also motivated to learn how to protect what I had.
I learned about credit card processing both the real world kind with the little plastic slider / roller ink pad thing and I learned about setting up forms on a secure socket layer and "https" html (that little "s" at the end of http means "secure"). I learned that even though they say you can get a merchant account for 33 dollars a month, in reality it'll probably cost 3 times that (at least back in 1997). Although I still spend 90 something dollars a month to maintain my own credit card processing you can get these services for a lot cheaper now. [When I get the chance I'll list some other good companies but authorizenet.com is the outfit I have my credit card processing set up with.]
And I learned about credit card fraud and all sorts of headaches you couldn't ever dream up (check out these guys http://www.scambusters.com, who incidentally was built by the folks - Dr. Audry and Jim Langford - who got me rolling on this whole web biz thing in the first place).
The bank inspector
After about six months (maybe it was more like nine months) of setup time, the bank inspector from Wells Fargo actually came to my house to see my little operation - all stuffed into a second rented room in a house with three other people. That was "my new business". And I got the merchant account. That made me legit. (Note: there's so many safe, secure ways to process credit cards these days. The last thing you need to do is dance around for a bank agent. Most Internet hosting services now offer credit card processing as one of their standard options.)
Sound like hard work? Yes it is, but I can tell you first hand the more of yourself you pour into something, the more gratifying it becomes when you start seeing results. When I first started I was on fire! There was no shortage of enthusiasm - at least for the first 9 months. (I figured I'd have the caricature thing rolling in 2-3 months and spend 6-9 months doing the book. I was a little off in my figuring. A lot off in fact :-) Now, as the book and the business are truly starting to mature, it's almost "sit back and look at your baby like a proud poppa" time. I said almost since the web is always changing and to keep a web-based business rolling, well it takes tweaking. Sometimes lots of it. But there is a "runs by itself" level that's very achievable for all willing to do the work.
Back to the task - building an online store
OK, we've talked a little about what kind of product you might have just waiting to be mined within you. If you don't, no problem. We glanced at copywriting - which is nothing more than salesmanship in words. We talked a little about publishing, about scams, mentioned credit cards and hard work. And I mentioned way at the beginning there was even one easier way to start an Online business - and make real money - besides selling your own book or caricatures. So what was that easiest way?
The easiest way to start a business on the net
Ask your self this "what does the local art gallery or the corner hardware store or the beauty shop or the barber shop, or the bookstore - - what do all these folks do? Do they sell all their own products? Heck no! They sell other peoples products. Products they know and trust. And so many folks are building web sites and web reference centers that do nothing but promote other peoples stuff - and making a righteous income doing it. Affiliate programs are ways to compliment your own info site or drawing or painting site. You sell your own product or service at your site and you ask this question too:
"what other products or services might all my visitors benefit from?"
See Allan Gardyne's site for an amazing list of affiliate programs where you get paid to promote other people's products. ( And again, if you jumped down to this section, click here for a free email series brain stimulator: "How to brainstorm, create, produce, and sell your very own infoproduct online Masters Course". (Your email program will pop up when you click the "click here" - send a blank email. The address it's gong to is "firstname.lastname@example.org". )
Marketing 101 - What every successful business does...
In business you must learn to give people what they both want and need. For instance, last Summer I impulsively ran off to Target to buy some garden plants. I was lucky to run into an excellent salesman. He educated me: "you might also need gloves and a wheel barrel and fertilizer and twine, and a shovel, and a 'How to Care for your new Conifers' book". I think he might even have told me about a subcontracted gardening service that would have done all the planting for me but I told him I liked working with my hands.
I was sure happy someone had thought through all this - not to take my money - but to ease the load of fixing up the yard - something I knew/know next to nothing about. I sure appreciated that. I was more than happy to pay the extra money.
The message (you've seen the answer already)? Can you think up a whole list of other related, beneficial products and services that compliment your experience or your future customers expedience?
If you went to a gardening store, what thing would you like to see them sell to help you get your yard looking the best it ever has? Now go to a gardening site (http://www.garden.org or gardenweb.com ). Do they have things that you, (possibly like me - a non gardener), may never have thought up? Apply your imagination like that to the future "caricaturist's dream store" you're going to build...which is what I'll be working on too - and get a hold of me if you like, maybe we can work out a deal :-)
The wrong way (hard sell) versus actually caring
Of course how a product or service is sold to you makes a huge difference. The hard sell, which nobody wants, pales against a salesperson with the legitimate concern you get what you need and want. This "good salesperson" approach is what the so called "portal" sites try to do and any successful off-line business does and that's exactly the model that works like magic on-line too.
Give people everything they ask for - and also tell them about things they ought to avoid. You educate them, show them how others have succeeded at what they're trying to do, actually care about them and what they get from you, and you cannot lose. I'll restate that little secret - you already know it but may not have thought of it in business terms:
When you want to help people succeed rather than take
Again, in Internet marketing terms this means offering all sorts of things at your website, things like educating your customers, showing shortcuts, offering support, showing them all sorts of other products and services that compliment what you're trying to do (plus you can paid for offering other people's products on your site too. Again check out Allan Gardyne's affiliate programs site - scroll through the lists and see what other products your potential customers may want and need.)
Marketing 102 - getting the buzz out
OK, You've built a foundation for your store, or your info site, or your service. You've written a book, you draw the most unique Day-Glo orange caricatures on the planet framed and Fedexed overnight, (see - you've discovered your innovation:-). You know your products features and it's benefits. You have a feel for a great headline that sums up the best benefits for your target market, you have a call to action - in a word you've learned how to ask for the sale.
Now you have to get traffic. Online or off-line, no traffic means no business. And this means you need to market. Online you need to learn search engine optimization, you need to learn how to build affiliate programs (for your products and for products and services that compliment what you do).
You need a plan: a plan of manageable, doable, actionable tasks you put in to place for your business in addition to a business plan. You need to learn how to get the buzz out! It can be overwhelming - but if you take it one puzzle piece at a time, finish that step, go to the next, you can actually have a good time doing it. Let me list three excellent resources right now that can help you accomplish this:
1) Here's a very affordable e-book, It's Ken Evoy M.D.'s monster info book on web marketing. It literally has more information in it than you can shake a stick at. Plus you can start reading it within the next five minutes:
2) Dr. Ralph Wilson's Wilson Web. This man has literally built the granddaddy of small business and small, small business (like mine) marketing information sites: Wilson Internet Services
3) Corey Rudl. Sometimes I think Mr. Rudl tends toward the hyperbolic with a touch of hard sell but his products really are worthwhile. (I own his "London Tapes" and the Rudl/Bob Serling "Writing for the Web" tape and hard copy book set.) Read the story of exactly how this guy makes 6.6 million dollars online every year. Read now...
The web allows you to sell anything. Absolutely anything. Junk won't sell long, but quality products will last a..l - o - n - g ...time. And like I said above, I'll bet you've got something to teach others and if you can describe in words and pictures how to do what you do or teach, you minimally have a potential electronic information product.
If you already have product - if you're a caricaturist or artist of any kind - you've got a product. Now it's time to let the world know about it.
MONICA HARRIS' book
Check out Monica Harris's book for a great "how to" on brainstorming and discovering what gold nuggets you have hidden inside you, then writing, producing, marketing and distributing an information product. I bought her e-book some four years ago when I was at a loss about where to take the next turn with my book. She gave me some great ideas. Her slogan is
"Make Your Knowledge Sell! "Turn knowledge into revenue -- sell your brain on the Net."
I think that sums it up quite well. I recently reviewed some of the online e-book publishing services mentioned in her book - many have since evaporated, been bought up or are just plain out of date. But the gist of the book, how to make your knowledge sell is as relevant as ever. This won't change because people are always looking for new things. Highly recommenced. To check it out click here.
Again you can sign up for this free 5-part brainstorming email series.
RECAP: So what might you write a book about?
Anything you feel like you have some expertise in. Just because you might not be the very top in the world doesn't mean there isn't a whole market out there for your knowledge. In fact your market is anyone who may benefit from what you have to teach them.
Ever seen the Macon Bevis Typing program? Know who Mavis Bevis is? She was a secretary who figured she knew how to make learning to type not just fun, but she knew she could teach people how to type faster in shorter period of time than anyone in the world thought possible and have a blast doing it. She's done quite wonderfully:-)
Again All you really have to have is the desire to show others how you did it, or do it. That's it. The key is acknowledging that you do have have something to offer others.
Ever taught anyone how to do a simple task at work or at home? Well, then you've taught. You've been a teacher. What have you been doing to to beautify your house? What arts and crafts do you practice with some kind of regularity? Gone through the process of navigating all the paperwork and finding a safe and caring place for an aging parent? You better believe people will benefit from what you know.
You make a version of painted Chinese dolls no one has ever seen before? Sculptures? Made of ice? Clay? Claymation? Fruit baskets? Maybe you just have the know how to run a spic and span, miniature, multimedia home artists studio that rolls away in 30 seconds.
It just doesn't matter. If it worked for you, it'll probably work for anyone. Can you imagine other people gaining some kind of advantage, security, peace of mind, or endearment from and for others out of something, anything you already do? Then you almost certainly have a market. People are waiting to be shown the way. People are silently crying to be lead.
Well that's about all I have time for today - come back soon, there'll be more.