I am currently preparing to give a public talk, “The Three-Step Profit Plan: How you can make money online using websites, social media and storefronts” at Waubonsee Community College Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Find out more on the college’s website.

A discussion at the recent Shop.org conference brought together executives from Facebook, Google, and ShopRunner. The three gave their views on how merchants can keep up with new technological trends, while getting in a few barbs about their recent ups and downs. My ECommerceBytes article is here.

My most recent article on ECommerceBytes focuses on ChannelGrabber, a UK company that helps businesses manage multiple sales channels. One store, site, and venue is not enough. You need to make your sites, social media comments, and storefronts all work together to drive customers to your products and services.

Whatever you do online, you have to do wholeheartedly. Following something you are passionate about and know something about already gives you a good base from which to operate.

In the previous post, the budding entrepreneur, a former physician, wanted to start a website having to do with art. She hoped to learn more about art in the course of working on the site. It’s hard to sell art online. You have to have some kind of background or authority in the field already in order to succeed. How else will you compete with all the other sites selling reproductions or original art out there?

My advice to the writer: consider starting a blog about your experience as a physician. Invite basic questions about health issues from readers. Provide some “inside stories” about what it’s like to be a doctor. Perhaps describe things that need to be improved with the insurance or health care system in the U.S. This kind of blog could be really compelling. The blog could then link to an art site. Having developed a steady stream of visitors to the “Ask the M.D.” blog, the art site would have a chance of generating some traffic rather than starting from zero. One of the basic principles of e-commerce is to sell your knowledge and build on your background. That applies in this case, too.

Starting a Second Career Online

September 4th, 2012

A reader of Starting an Online Business for Dummies wrote me over the weekend. She is a former physician who is now an empty nester. Having just sent two young women to college, this had an impact on me. She is thinking about creating a website. She wrote:

“The more I read [your book], the more work seemed involved in doing an online business right. This is a second career for me and I really don’t want to put so much time into it right now. Can you recommmend a good quality consultant that I could hire to do most of the work to realize my business concept?”

In my book, I do profile a business planner, but he’s not really a consultant. It’s not something you can farm out to someone else. You have to be very involved and committed enough to test and revise your business to improve performance. On the other hand, there are businesses to help you. My response:

“Some of the e-commerce hosting services do provide customers with advice on their business. I’ve written about a number of these in ECommerceBytes (go there and search for my name, ecommercebytes.com). Try 3DCart (www.3dcart.com). Look up that article on ECommerceBytes. They are open to answering all sorts of questions from customers and they have lots of experience with online businesses. I don’t know anyone who will tell you if your idea is “good” or not. I am worried about your comment about not wanting to put time into it. I am not sure I would even get started if you aren’t prepared to put time and effort into it. Online businesses don’t run on their own and you need to keep up with them. Think about it, and then look into 3DCart.”

In other words, find a shopping cart/e-commerce hosting service that will answer questions and give you advice. More tomorrow.

Moments of beauty

April 24th, 2012

 

In the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the protagonist talks about moments of beauty when time is suspended. This is a lupine in our front yard after morning watering. It seems to fit this category.

image

I’ve been having trouble with Firefox. The problem has to do with Gmail. Without warning, Firefox will hang up and become virtually unresponsive. I get an error message saying that there is an Unresponsive Script on the page. It has to do with Flash running on Gmail. (Why do they do this?)

I tried to use a plug-in called Yes Script that is supposed to block scripts from running on websites. But this doesn’t work on Gmail. So I have chucked Firefox altogether.

Google Chrome is even worse on my old IBM ThinkPad. The program freezes up and just doesn’t work at all, without warning. The problem is the computer, which dates back to about 2006 and is low on memory.

After looking around the web–quite a bit, to my surprise–I found a browser called K-Meleon. It uses the same Mozilla code that Firefox uses. But it consumes far fewer resources. It runs great on this old machine. It’s far from perfect. On some sites, like Talking Heads Memo, the layout is totally scrambled. And other sites don’t recognize this browser and throw up warning messages when you connect. But 90 percent of the time, it’s lightning fast. It seems to be perfect for old computers that are low on RAM. Why haven’t I heard about K-Meleon before? Has anyone else used it?

I particularly like the search button next to the address bar. Type a search keyword or phrase in the address box, press the Search button, and you search Google instantly, no matter what site you’re on.

It’s free, it’s open source, and I like it. Spread the word!

A while back, a reader of my book Starting an Online Business for Dummies asked how much money she could expect to make online. I said there’s no good answer, but don’t expect to make a living at it, at least not off the bat. Think about your online business helping with expenses, at least initially.

I’m looking around the web for people who are “coming out” and being upfront about exactly how much they are really making. So here’s another perspective. Traffic Generation Cafe has been online for 18 months. In December, the site reports that it received 15K plus worth of visits, so it is living up to its name. The proprietor, Ana Hoffman, reports that her husband lost his job in December, so now she has to depend on her blog for real. She reports that the blog and related writing (guest blogging) and consulting generated about $3700 that month. But more than half of that came from a one-time source so she feels she really has to start working in earnest.You can read the breakdown here.

This is pretty good success in my book. It’s also a realistic picture of how to make money on the Web. She’s been at it for 18 months and now, when the pressure is on, is able to help her family big time. Good luck to her!

Marketing is a constantly evolving thing. Just a few years ago, the Chicago chapter of the nonprofit Buddhist organization I belong to, Jewel Heart, could spread the word with an ad in the Chicago Tribune or the weekly Chicago reader.

Now, things are totally different. Advertising in publications is less and less effective. The Reader and the Tribune are a fraction of the size they once were. Craigslist has been of no use to us. How can we publicize our nonprofit organization? Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way from my own experience, and from a real professional, Stacey Recht of Hubbard Street Dance.

1. Word of Mouth.

This is the number one most successful way of attracting people who will visit us and stick around for our classes. People want to meet someone who has been to your facility/group and they want a personal recommendation. Simply telling members to tell their friends and acquaintances, on Facebook and in the “real world,” is the single best marketing strategy you can pursue.

2. Yelp.

Yelp performs some of the same functions I mentioned above–you get real people recommending a real cause, business, group, or other entity. Create a Yelp page for your group. Then “claim” it by clicking on the small link prompting you to claim it as your business. Fill out the form asking for some basic information, and prompting you to verify your phone number. Then, upload photos and information. Finally, you should tell your members to post reviews. Our page is still a work in progress, but you can check it out here.

3. Facebook

You probably do this already: You have a Facebook page. But flesh it out as much as possible with basic information. And encourage members to post information on a periodic basis.

4. Facebook ads

Facebook’s pay-per-click ads are affordable and highly customizable. By affordable, I mean you set a budget that specifies the maximum amount you are willing to spend in a given month. Even $10 or $20 per month can get a cash-strapped nonprofit a lot of clicks. You can also target your ad to your local geographic area, which is probably where most of your visitors come from.

Tip: Make sure all your ads have a call to action. Include a verb such as “explore” or “join.” It makes your ad more inviting and more likely to get a response.

5. Direct marketing with complementary businesses

You probably have businesses in your local area that are not direct competitors but that provide goods and services roughly complementary to your own. Put together a simple flyer and knock on their door; ask to post your flyer, and offer to publicize their facility at your own.

6. Do a Groupon or other daily deal

If you are looking for members or customers, consider offering your services or products at Groupon or one of the other daily deal sites. The big three are Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers. But there are plenty of other options. This is not a moneymaking prospect. But it can get you return visits and build loyalty for the future. I say it’s not moneymaking because any one of the daily deal sites will want you to offer at 50 percent of the regular price. Then, they’ll take at least 50 percent of the proceeds. So you don’t end up with much money, but since you’re a nonprofit, this can still work out as a plus.

So far, our efforts are paying off. I’ll keep you posted on how our own marketing campaign is going. If you have any more tips on ways to spread the word either online or off, please pass them along.

Banks have been getting a bad rap. They’ve also (happily) been having a lot of their ability to charge excessive fees taken from them.

At least one is looking for new opportunities by getting into e-commerce. Not by opening an eBay Store, but rather, by helping other people open online stores. Chase Bank has launched an Instant Storefront Solution, and I write about it on ECommerceBytes. If you’re looking for a merchant account that enables you to accept credit cards, this is a good way to get it. It’s based on the popular Miva merchant platform. BTW, check out the killer graphic by David Steiner that accompanies this article: “Just Add Inventory”!

Maxine Durkee, owner of the Heavy Weight Collections online store, says Chase Instant Storefront gives her site’s shopping experience a sense of security.

“Our banker was visiting our retail store during our beginning months and he mentioned that they had developed a relationship with Miva Merchant and I should take a look,” she told me. “When I checked them out, I saw that I would have lots of freedom with design and a basic starting point had already been developed if needed. They gave you a choice of a free template upon signing up and didn’t lock me into some long contract if I decided the solution wasn’t what I needed. We already had a design idea so I selected a template that was close to what we wanted to start with and we gave it a try.”

As you might expect, there are fees associated with opening a Chase storefront. The $100 setup fee is sometimes waived during promotions. And there’s a $39.95 fee for hosting. Then there are transaction fees. Sounds like Chase Bank, all right!

You may also have seen commercials for Chase offering a QuickPay product in which one person can transfer money to another person. To my surprise, there’s no fee being charged for this. It also sounds a little like the InspirePay service I wrote about recently, in which artists can get paid for their work by people who want to pay them online. InspirePayj, though, lets you set up a “Pay Me” or similar button on your website, so it’s not quite the same thing.