Every business needs an online presence. The nature of your business doesn't matter much. You can be a Freelancer, a Consultant, an Entrepreneur. You may sell services, digital products, physical products... it doesn't make any difference: people need to be able to find you on the web.
In this article, I share the model I teach in my lectures to entrepreneurs and start-ups.
I call it "The Grand Model of Online-Business Development".
Your business, no matter if big or small, needs to have a place on the web where people can - at the very least - learn who you are and what you do.
Yes, a web page is enough to do this job... although it won't be easy to find unless people know the exact URL (more on this down in the article).
BUT... if you want to use that online presence to sell, things become a little bit more complicated than just having a page on the internet.
As the number of online businesses increases, selling online becomes harder and harder. You need to have a very good plan, a model to follow to build up your small online empire.
The Grand Model of Online Business Development is something I developed over the years and it comes from studying hundreds of successful cases and from my personal wins and failures.
It starts like this...
The Start-up misconception
They say you have to be lean, they say you have to execute fast, they say you have to fail fast.
You listen and learn.
They say you have to focus on the needs of your target customers and they say you have to solve their problems.
You listen and learn.
Then you start thinking and you come up with a brilliant business model:
- you spot a need
- you think: people need this thing to be fixed
- you think: Okay! I can develop something that will fix it and I can sell it to them
- it solves the problem... this will be my "product"
It looks like a neat business model... they say you have to keep things simple, so this must work.
Except that it doesn't.
This model is doomed to fail (big time) because it misses vital components.
No one is listening
You cannot contain the excitement: after months of testing, user interviews, redesigns, changes, failures, tears and not much sleep... it is ready.
Your product is finally ready for prime time.
You are ready to shout the benefits and the numerous features... except that no one is listening.
Your ambitious plan to conquer the world with your unique solution is rapidly vaporizing in front of your eyes.
Your plan: you wanted to charge a premium price for your creation.
The reality? ...no one wants it even for free.
It hurts. Been there, done that.
Something is missing
You soon realize this model of yours is not enough to bring your product in front of people.
NEED > PRODUCT > SALES is not a formula that wins.
So, as soon as you are ready with this product, you realize that you don't have any marketing channel.
You also realize that this product appeals to a niche, which is a subset of the entire World and reaching these people is not so easy.
On top of that, your initial estimate for the demand of the product might have been greatly overestimated.
Usually, it is at this point that people start worrying about marketing and target market.
A little too late in my opinion.
You spend some more time on adjusting your website to reflect the needs of your niche and you craft a proper marketing message.
Then you launch the website again...
Nothing happens because you have ZERO traffic.
At this point, you understand the importance of creating traffic to your website.
You wish you've done that sooner.
The importance of research
Let me tell you a personal story.
It was 2003 (yes, we are talking about 16 years ago). I was just graduating from University and, for my thesis, I created a physical product: an educational mini-robot.
While today this kind of product is pretty popular and can be bought in shops for about $100, back in 2003 there was nothing like that on the market.
At the time there was no Arduino, no Raspberry Pi, all the electronics in that little thing was designed from scratch and it had the same functionalities of the earliest models of those two very popular platform.
Did I become rich because of that?
Not really. We did not sell even one unit.
For sure we didn't have the right marketing skills but mostly... there was no Google or Facebook to help back then.
Marketing was VERY expensive and it was a very big effort.
Would have we sold more if there was Google?
I don't think so.
We were ahead of the market needs, way ahead of the curve... so there was no "search" for this kind of product.
You see, probably the need was there because today people buy these things, but nobody was looking for this stuff.
So, maybe you are freelancing, consulting, or you are on an entrepreneurial venture... I suggest that - BEFORE embarking on any kind of business - you do proper market research (believe me, most people think they did proper research but most of the times turns out it was a quite biased one).
Researching your niche is a very important step and your findings shall be vital to the course of our project.
The research should give you the insights you need to understand if the market has a need for your product, if people are searching for a solution to the problem you solve.
If you want to be successful from the start, you should also invest in keyword research.
Today keyword research is the quickest way to see if people are searching about the thing you want to build or some aspects of the problems that you want to solve.
I personally have been using several keyword research tools and the one I feel like recommending is SEMrush (7 days trial here).
It packs a lot of features and it is fairly easy to use, although it is one of the most powerful SEO all-in-one tool you can find.
It is a subscription software and the basic package will cost you $99. You can cancel any time.
Definitely worth to try their 7 days trial for free.
Keep in mind:
- If people are not actively searching for a solution to the problem you solve, they are never going to find you with organic search, they are never going to land on your website. Then you should change your course.
- It is way more difficult to convince people they need something than to offer them something they already want.
The "paid traffic" fix
So what happens next to your brand new website?
You understand that organic traffic is not gonna come any time soon... because your website has no content at all.
Remember, you are trying to sell on a landing page and the chance of ranking with just a landing page is pretty remote.
You cannot possibly have search traffic.
So which is your best next move?
YES! ...paid traffic.
You start sending paid traffic to your sales page.
Facebook, Google AdWords, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, ...
Visitors are now coming to your website.
You are pretty excited about that, although you are burning money like there is no tomorrow.
But your excitement quickly turns into fear once you see those visitors aren't buying.
Why is that?
People buy offers
People buy offers, not products.
There are countless books stating this fact and the sooner you start believing it, the sooner you can unlock your sales.
An offer is characterized by:
- package (physical or digital)
The offer is nothing more than a way to present your product highlighting some specific benefits or features you offer for a given price.
Note that you can offer the very same product in different offers (or packages).
It is all about creating the illusion of "choice" and framing the product in a way that visitors can perceive its value.
How may offers should you have?
For starting, not more than 3.
When you package your product into offers, people start to see its value and they start to buy.
Congratulations, your selling machine is now working.
Organic traffic is your best friend
You are selling... but you have a problem.
You are still driving traffic using paid advertising.
Depending on your service or product, you might spend more on advertising than you make in revenues.
So, this model usually is not sustainable, UNLESS your product is very expensive (and with a high margin) or you're selling a service to high-ticket clients.
In that case, you can effectively use paid strategies otherwise, it just won't work.
You need to switch back to search. You need to invest in creating organic traffic.
So how do you do that? ...how do you generate organic traffic?
You need to make content, writing articles.
Writing good articles is challenging and it is something you probably want to outsource.
Also, writing is not enough.
You need to make sure your articles are optimized for search engines, otherwise, they'll never rank on page one and you'll get no traffic our of them.
SEO is another thing you should invest in. More specifically: SEO copywriting.
If you do this right, organic traffic will soon be the primary channel of acquisition for your website.
IMPORTANT: talking about SEO and good content writing is out of the scope of this article.
I warmly recommend you outsource these activities to experts.
However, if you are good at writing, I can recommend my Organic Traffic Generation Course.
Congratulations, your product is now selling and you are free from the paid traffic slavery!
At this point, I invite you to compare your initial 3 steps plan with the current set up.
The difference is striking.
And it is not over yet.
Customer retention and the social-proof loop
Once your sales pick up thanks to the renewable source of free traffic, you need to start working about keeping clients.
You need to start dealing with customer retention.
Customer retention is one of the biggest differentiators between thriving businesses and struggling ones.
In fact, if you manage to build up a system where your current clients will buy from you again, you'll never be short of clients.
That is easier said than done and it will require considerable effort.
Anyway, you'll work on it and - assuming you'll succeed - you'll have loyal customers who love your product and your brand.
They'll talk about it with their friends and online, in forums, groups, communities... they'll become your advocates and they'll be your social-proof.
Social proof is something you need to take very seriously.
People follow what other people do... so make sure you collect testimonials and showcase them where and when appropriate.
If you do this correctly, soon your brand will start becoming strong and if one googles your industry, your name will show up... resulting in more organic traffic.
Congratulations, you've closed the social-proof loop.
The retargeting loop
At this point, we have to talk about the money you are leaving on the table.
According to Google Analytics, 70-90% of visitors leave a website to never come back.
That means most of your efforts are going to waste and you are monetizing only a small part of your audience.
Is there a way to come back in front of the people who leave?
Yes, there is. It is called retargeting.
Retargeting is the practice of showing paid Ads (Facebook, AdWords, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, ...) to users that have visited your website at least once.
As that particular user knows your Brand and product already, it is very likely that, if he has a real need for what you do, he'll come back to the website.
Retargeting works leveraging the following principles:
- it acts as a reminder for those who decided to purchase but postponed the action of buying
- it creates top-of-mind awareness for your brand
- if the Ads are well crafted, it can sparkle the curiosity to come back to check the website to learn more about you or your product
Users that know you already are most likely to click on your Ads, therefore remarketing is cheaper than other forms of paid advertising.
Not taking advantage of this is pure foolishness.
In my opinion, you don't own a serious business if you do not do any remarketing.
The lead-gen and remarketing loop
At this point, your website is attracting visitors.
You have several thousands of new humans landing on your pages each month.
One of your priorities should be to capitalize on this opportunity and create an organic audience.
Basically, all you need to do is to get their email and keep in touch with them.
In this article, I am not going to go into the details of how to generate Leads (convince a visitor to leave you an email) but that is something you have to get really good at.
It is called Lead Generation.
Once you have a number of emails, you have to use them!
Don't make the mistake of collecting them and not using them cause you are afraid that people will unsubscribe.
That is a lame way of thinking. Whoever unsubscribes was not a valuable lead in the first place. So let them go!
Ideally, you want people to unsubscribe as much as possible. You want to keep your list clean... and to get it clean, you have to send a good number of emails so that you can filter out who resonates with your message.
It is called remarketing (same as retargeting but via email).
There is a lot of technical work and automation involved in this part and you definitely MUST have an email automation software.
My warm suggestion is to stay at large of MailChimp as it is has been long abused by a number of amateurs and its delivery rate sucks.
Personally, I have been using a number of softwares and the one I feel like recommending is GetResponse.
GetResponse is affordable (39 EUR/month for 5000 contacts) and it comes with a LOT of features:
- world-class email automation
- webforms (easy integration to your website)
- email templates or pure HTML
- conditional message blocks
- sending emails in contact's timezone
- sending emails at the "perfect time"
The reporting feature of GetResponse is really useful to make sense of who are your most engaged users. This is something where most email automation software falls short.
...and webinars... YES, it has a webinar function with even automated recording!
Whether you are starting or you have a considerable amount of leads, GetResponse is your best option.
Getting good with email marketing will take a lot of practice.
You want to have your open rates above 40% and your click rate above 10%... then you can say your audience is fairly engaged.
To get this kind of results, segmentation is very important. You cannot send the same message to everyone.
People have different interests, they respond to different triggers, they are in different stages of their buying journey... so you have to collect data and profile them correctly to be able to go back to them with the exact message they need to hear.
Yes, it is a lot of work... but if you do it right, your audience will love you and you'll have tons of loyal customers.
Wrapping up the model
At this point, you should have a pretty good picture of all the moving parts involved in growing and running a successful online business.
Seen from here, your initial 3-items plan looks a bit silly... doesn't it?
I want you to have a look at the image below and notice the green items.
In each one of them, you need to invest time, resources, money.
In your first plan, you were investing only in product development.
No wonder why it wasn't working!
To summarize, on top of product development you need:
- to create and maintain a good and professional looking website
- to create world-class search engine optimized content (remember my course for that)
- to do proper SEO and keyword research in order to maximize your organic traffic (remember SEMrush)
- to create one or more offers for your product
- to retarget your visitors with paid Ads
- to create an audience through lead generation
- to collect data and segment the audience
- to send automated emails to your audience in order to keep them engaged and interested in what you do (remember GetResponse)
- to encourage, collect and display social proof
I know, when you look at this list it is overwhelming.
But look at the bright side: at least now you have a sound plan!
It doesn't take one week to build this thing. It takes like months... years perhaps.
But you can start taking the first step and assessing where you are right now.
The Online-Business Assessment
I have an assessment tool you can use to get a better grasp of where you are and what you can do to improve.
The assessment covers several aspects of Marketing & Sales, according to the model I just explained.
There are 21 questions in total.
The assessment is FREE... I am not even asking your email, so you have no excuses not to do it.
You'll get your score on 4 important components for successful selling, along with practical recommendations tailored to your need.
IMPORTANT: at the end of the assessment, you can save your result to read it later (you get a permalink).
I warmly recommend you do that since the suggestions are quite lengthy.
Over time, I received a bunch of comments about this questionnaire: somebody said that this is great, somebody said that this is just a list of best practices... as a matter of fact, it IS a list of best practices ...but the point of this questionnaire is to put in your head the idea that you could be doing these things but probably you are not.
So, just go through these 21 questions and be honest with yourself: don't answer what you wish you were doing... just say what is that you are doing right now.
That's it for this very long article. Now you know everything there is to know about The Grand Model of Online Business Development.
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