The 'building a business' scrapbook.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002  

In today's I-Sales, there was an interesting word of warning against using contests, freebies, giveaways and other mass market appeal mechanisms to generate more traffic for your website. Jeff Smith said, "What you really want to do is build your list with prospects that have a high probability of purchasing your product or service. Will a contest or freebie give you that? I would argue that it will not unless the giveway is directly related to your target market and is complimentary with your product."

So the advice seems to be that one should focus on "joint ventures, partnerships, article swapping and other cross-marketing techniques [that] will give you the control to target exactly the types of prospects you want."

Jeff himself has an interesting website - "How To Generate Profits from Your Ideas" - http://www.infoproductcreator.com

posted by James | 9:36 PM

Thursday, May 23, 2002  

Another excellent Adventive.com newsletter is I-Sales, which apparently goes back to year dot (com?). On Tuesday Barry Mills of Netstep Corporate Communications (based in the UK) gave one of the most informative responses I've seen to the question of how to research website feasibility - a subject of great relevance to all us Internet wannabe entrepreneurs.

I personally seem to have a new idea for a website venture about once a month but how many of them should I pursue and how many should I run a mile from? Barry has kindly given me permission to reprint his full submission to help us shed some light on this question -

"We could probably do with a bit more information about the concept and the target market to offer you much specific advice, but here's a few starter points -- apologies if they are *too* obvious.

1. Don't think of your project as a web site. Web sites never make money, businesses do. You have to think of the whole package, the offer, the customer service, the pricing, and the route to market. If you are in the fortunate position of having a clean sheet of paper, make sure you plan how you will market your service before you finalise plans for the development of your site. Sometimes it can be cheaper overall to invest (much) more in the web site and reduce advertising and promotion, because the best web sites get a lot of traffic from referrals once they've had a kick-start.

2. The most obvious research to see if your idea could make money is to see if anyone else is doing it. Think of all the ways you might promote the service, and all the ways a customer who wanted it might look for it -- then pretend to be a customer and go looking. You've probably done this, but as it's back to basics week .... Google is probably the best place to start, but look at all the major search engines and directories, look at industry portals, search Google Groups as well as the web, and look in trade publications for advertised or referenced urls.

3. Overture.com is a very important place to look if you can think of obvious and specific search terms that relate to your service, because the current bids for the top ranks will tell you much about the level of competition out there. If top spot can be bought for a few cents and/or there are only a few positions with bids against them at all, there probably aren't a lot of people that want that search term.

4. If it's an information service, you have to look at what is available free. Sometimes there are fantastic resources that are available free of charge and may always be so, because companies selling other products & services to the same audience find it economical to give an on-line service away as bait to promote their other offers (back to point 1). If there is a rival service that's free, think hard about how/if you can differentiate. If it's being done well as a loss leader, it may be best to look for another project.

5. Having identified competitors, see how long they have been around. Read their sites. If possible get their accounts, especially if the web site appears to be their only business. Also look them up at http://www.archive.org/, a marvelous resource which for reasons I don't fully understand is storing and publishing old versions for just about every web site known to man. Useful because you can see how long sites have been around (and selling). Also quite amusing because you can see people's embarrassing old sites -- but newbies please bear in mind that you couldn't do much with HTML 1.

6. To start evaluating your best route to making sales I would first brainstorm all the options you can think of (or get others to suggest), then set about evaluating each. The key metrics are cost of customer acquisition and total number of customers that can be acquired. With search engines, you can get a good idea of the available market by brainstorming terms your buyers might use, then putting them into http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/. Likewise keyword bids. You then need to look at the competition for search terms. A good way of doing a quick benchmark is to run searches in Google with the Google toolbar installed, then click through the third ranked site to see it's pagerank score. If it's 4 or less, the term is pretty easy to get a top rank for, 5 takes some work but isn't too hard, 6 is quite a lot of work and 7+ is a major campaign that you shouldn't think about unless you've got a great deal of money.

I'm generalising, please everyone bear in mind I'm talking about how to do initial research for business planning, not how to implement SEO. Based on some groundwork you can, with the aid of a bit of experience, get a fairly good approximation of the likely cost per acquisition from different routes. An approximation is all it will be though, and once you're up and running trial and error is a great tool. It's much cheaper to try things out and monitor the results on the internet than it is in the bricks and mortar world, so don't be ashamed of learning as you go along or feel your research should tell you everything. You've got to balance the cost and unreliability of research against the level of investment it would take to just go for it. No research is not usually the right amount, but people can get too hung up on it sometimes too.

Thats my 2p for today, I'll let someone else take it from here. Hope that helps a little bit.

Best regards

Barry S Mills
Managing Director,
Netstep Corporate Communications

posted by James | 10:20 PM

Monday, May 20, 2002  

I've been quiet on the blogging front the last few weeks - sorry. My time has been taken up with getting a new 'virtual community' project off the ground - http://westlimerick.infopop.cc

InfoPop recently announced a FREE (with paid hosting) version of their high-end OpenTopic product called UBB.x. The reason they can supply it for free is that they ported OpenTopic over from an Oracle backend to a MySQL one. We've been using OpenTopic now for 18 months to power GlobalGreyhounds.com but will evaulating UBB.x with a view to porting GlobalGreyhounds.com over to it.

Essentially it's the very same as OpenTopic and looks like an equally excellent product. Anyone who's been considering running a web community but was put of by the cost or complexity should take a look at this software. It's XML based and hosted by InfoPop on their own servers (ASP).

OpenTopic is also an excellent product but a little pricey for most needs. Features like subscriptions to topics with SMS notifications are a knockout!

posted by James | 10:14 PM

Saturday, May 11, 2002  

Hands up who thought Gerry McGovern had dissappeared of the face of the earth after www.nua.com appeared to crash and burn during the dotcom implosion? [I'm holding mine up anway ;)]. Not so! In fact Gerry seems to be doing quite nicely for himself as a website design 'guru'. He now writes on Site Design for Click-Z and has his own usability site at www.GerryMcGovern.com

posted by James | 10:38 AM

Saturday, May 04, 2002  

I'm one of those people who doesn't pay a jot of notice to worries about radation levels emitted by mobile phones. Well not usually anyway. But this article by New Scientist is inclined to make me think twice about taking the train up to Dublin again! 3 and half hours in a radiation tank?

posted by James | 6:48 PM

Time to help the folks at Textism create a Google Bomb to publicise the terrible cock-ups being made by Verisign lately in the area of domain hosting and transfer. Google bombing by the way is tremendously fun stuff for the nerdish among us ;)

posted by James | 6:41 PM