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!

I was recently asked, how much can you make by selling online. You don’t often find someone who has the b— (I mean, guts) to actually answer this question. It helps if you’re actually making money online, I suppose. I mean, if you’re not raking in income, why talk about it?

Anyway, John Saddington answered this question on his Tentblogger blog (www.tentblogger.com). This site is a gold mine when it comes to creating and marketing a blog. John also sells products online, so his e-commerce strategy is pretty diversified.

In this post, John projected that his income from blogging and online sales of products like WordPress themes would come to $44,000. He is able to support a wife and child just from blogging. Now, this was just a projection. I asked him for an update as to the real figure. I’ll report back on what he says.

When I think about this, I can’t help but wonder, having written 40-odd books, where I would be if I had started blogging in earnest five or ten years ago–when my agent was telling me to do just that. But there’s no point in going there. What are the takeaways I get from Tentblogger’s example?

  1. Diversify. Don’t just do one thing. John sells ads, products, consults, is an affiliate, etc.
  2. Make Connections. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I know. But blogging, and connecting with vendors, sellers, and colleagues, is the way to build a platform. And that platform leads to revenue. In Saddington’s case, it leads to a lot of ad revenue.
  3. Be open. Don’t keep secrets. Let people know about yourself and what you do. Get personal. That’s what keeps people coming back to this guy’s blog. Share, and you’ll get back in the form of comments, visits, RSS subscriptions, and hopefully purchases.
  4. Make an every-day commitment. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s what gives your blog, your website, and your store value. Not only does it help your SEO, but it gives people a reason to keep visiting you.

This fellow also obviously has fun with his site. He has nice cartoons of himself, and funny photos. You should do the same, even if you only sell products in a single online storefront. Talk about yourself; get a little personal; use humor; you’ll grab people and keep them coming back to you in the future. Stay with it for a long period of time. If you are blogging, Saddington suggests waiting at least six months before you even attempt to take out ads. (He had the requisite number of unique visitors, 250 per day, at only three months, however. I’m nearly there and I’ve only really been blogging in earnest for less than one month.) Eventually, you’ll start to generate sales.

In my recent list of ways to sell online without a website, I neglected to mention Payvment. This is a full-fledged e-commerce platform designed especially to work on Facebook.

ECommerceBytes has an article today on Payvment and a new feature called polling. Polls enable sellers to instantly create polls about the kinds of products they’re selling. There’s also a “Want” button that shoppers can add to an item listed for sale. If a friend sees that you want the item, hopefully, that friend will end up buying it for you. It’s another way of integrating social media and selling–and that doesn’t involve setting up a website.

My short news article on The Workshop at Macy’s is online at ECommerceBytes. You can apply for this program until Jan. 22. You need to be a female or minority designer of fashion, accessories, or other household items that can be sold in a retail environment like Macy’s.

We were hoping this would be something that mom-and-pop entrepreneurs could apply for. Winners get to go to New York for a few days of intensive business consulting and training. I was assured by Macy’s itself that it isn’t like that.

Apparently you already have to have a business of some sort, and possibly even a small boutique, to be chosen for the program. I found Nyla Simone, who was selected for the program last year. She designs custom furniture in Tempe, Arizona.

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!

I neglected to mention one more way to make money without a website. It’s something I wrote a whole book called Affiliate Millions about it with Anthony Borelli, who is the guru in this field. It’s placing very cleverly written Google AdWords ads, and other affiliate ads, that get people to click on them–a lot. With each referral, you make money.

Tony has made a lot of money this way. It’s not for the fainthearted though. It can be a little like day trading: you can lose a lot of money if people click and click on your ad and never take an action that generates an affiliate fee for you (in other words, they never make a purchase, they never take out a subscription, etc.). When it works, though, it can be very exciting. You can find out more about it on his website.

Update: I thought of one more option for making money without a website. How could I forget that I co-wrote a whole book about this?

Amazon.com,Facebook, WordPress, storefronts, and e-commerce marketplaces: These are all potential “home bases” for you online. I used to write that you had to have a website in order to make money online. And websites are still important, don’t get me wrong. But there are a lot more options available these days. Here are some examples:

eBay

This is sort of the obvious place to start an online business. You can create an eBay Store, or you can simply list dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of products on this venerable marketplace without having a formal store. eBay is great as a starting point for anyone wanting to learn how to do business online. But more and more people, turned off by its fees and cumbersome rules for sellers, are turning to other venues to find customers.

Add on to Amazon.com

Some people–booksellers in particular–sell their books by adding them to Amazon.com marketplace listings. Their products show up here:

I wrote an article on ECommerceBytes about several sellers who, to my knowledge, don’t sell through a website, but primarily through Amazon, Alibris, and ABEBooks.
Marketplaces

If you open a storefront on eCrater, Bonanza, or Webstore.com, you don’t need to create your own full-fledged website from scratch. The marketplace gives you a head start

WordPress or Another Blogging Platform

A blog can take the centerpiece of your online presence. A platform as robust as WordPress can host a blog and lots of web pages. essentially, it is a website, but one that you can update by posting on a regular basis. My Buddhist meditation group, Jewel Heart, uses WordPress for all of its website content. In fact, if there is a blog on this site it’s a very minor part of the content.

A Facebook Kiosk

Facebook is good for marketing and networking and just having fun. Some people use it for e-commerce, too. You can sell on Facebook through an online kiosk. I’ve written about her before, but Kharisma Ryantori uses her Facebook page to advertise, and sell, her jewelry designs, as shown  below.

Twitter: Sell Simp.ly

You can do more and more with Twitter. Some dedicated Tweeters advertise and sell products through the site in short and sweet sales listings. Read about it in this article on the site called Sell Simply.

The bottom line: you need a “home base”, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a website from scratch. You can grow into a website, but you don’t have to start there. Start by piggybacking onto someone else’s site, whether it’s eBay, eCrater, Facebook, or Twitter. Get used to creating sales listings and handling a few transactions. Then you can create a website with confidence–and link to your various marketplaces from it, so can you boost your SEO.

Pricing merchandise is one of the key functions for anyone who sells online, whether you have a few items for sale on eBay or Amazon, or whether you operate a full-featured store with a 1000-item catalog.

Assigning the right prices and staying competitive with those prices can be a frustrating and time-consuming proposition. You want to make a profit, so your price has to be higher than what you paid for the item you’re selling (unless, of course, you’re unloading inventory that never sold in the first place). But it needs to be either the lowest available or at least very close to the lowest when compared to your competitors.

The difference is often a matter of a few cents–or even one cent. Take a look at one of my own books, which you can find on Half.com. It’s kind of painful to look at the prices being offered when you consider that the book sold for about $24.99 retail when new. But this is an old edition and out of print.

If you can’t read this, I’ll tell you that the four prices for this brand new book are (sigh) $1.89, $1.00, $0.99, and $0.97. (You wonder why I don’t write books for a living any more?) Let’s suppose that, for some reason, you wanted to buy this particular edition of this book. Would you pay $1.89 when you can pay $1.00? Would you pay $0.99 when you can pay $0.97?

That’s the problem lots of businesses face, but on a much larger scale. I just spoke to the owner of a company in Wisconsin who has hundreds of items in his product catalog and who sells on eBay. He and his employees used to scan through listings manually and adjust prices so they were the lowest. But the manual route is extremely time-consuming.

“Even if you factor only 2 minutes per product with 200 products you’re talking about over 13 hours a day of work if you do it twice a day,” says the businessperson, who asked to remain anonymous. “Never mind the fact if you tried to pay someone to do that all day every day they would be burnt out before the first week is over.”

Once you get past 100 items in your catalog, it pays to pay a little money for a pricing tool. This sort of tool can be configured to search for items similar to yours and make sure you have the prices you want. You can tell the tool you want to be the lowest, second lowest, or third lowest. You can tell the tool to make sure your items are one cent lower in price than those of your competitors. Here are two such tools:

  • In ECommerceBytes recently, editor Ina Steiner wrote about a pricing tool for Amazon.com sellers, Teikametrics.
  • I just interviewed the developer of a pricing product for eBay called PriceSpectre.

I’ll be writing about PriceSpectre in more detail after that article comes out. The point is, no matter how much you sell, once you put your items online, keep checking prices against the competition to make sure you’re positioned correctly–especially if you are in a super competitive field like electronics, digital media, or books. Whether you do it manually or use an automated software program, you’ll end up with more sales. Even if your profit margin is a little lower than it would be otherwise, you’ll be better in the long run because you’ll have more loyal customers and hopefully more repeat business.