It’s time for another edition of “Letters to Steve.” In this series, I answer questions about Internet marketing, lifestyle design or anything else on your mind. Today, I’m going to cover something William asked in the comments section of a recent post. Specifically he wanted to know what mistakes to avoid with an online business.
This is a great question because I’ve learned more from my mistakes than anything else. Here’s what William wrote…
Got a great idea for a high value post, not sure if I have to email you for your letters to Steve, but this way is easier anyway.
I would really like an exhaustive list of the mistakes to avoid as an internet marketer/online business owner. The don’ts of IM to help everyone here to not end up like 95% of the people attempting to create a profitable online business.
However, I am also talking about more than just mistakes to avoid as we progress to build businesses, but also the necessary things to ensure we build a lasting profitable business. The kind of things that are MUSTS when in the starting stages of an online business to ensure a solid infrastructure and to ensure it does not consume us and allows us to “remove” ourselves to enjoy life outside of the business while still growing it and managing it of course.
To kind of lead your thoughts on the post for these two things that I am looking to know ALL about, here are some examples: not understanding your TARGET audience and speaking TO them, failing to keeping track of revenue, profit/loss, for financial management/tax purposes, constantly analyzing/testing and tweaking, and creating automated systems. These seem pretty basic as I am not experienced, but I am sure your experience gives you way more insight and understanding.
Thanks for taking the time to provide a very detailed set of questions. To be honest, I’ve made countless mistakes with my online business. The good news is I’ve learned a valuable lesson from each misstep. All have helped me build a solid foundation of Internet marketing expertise.
To answer your question, I’ll list a whole bunch of mistakes I see a lot of Internet marketers making:
Mistake #1- Not Picking the Right Niche
I’d consider niche selection to be the most important step of the entire Internet marketing process. The wrong choice means a lot of wasted effort, time, and money.
Before 2006, I started a few sites that died a miserable death because I didn’t pick the right topic. The only smart thing I did was cut the cord when I knew they were doomed to failure. What I learned is the importance of picking the right niche before starting a web business.
In my opinion, you can be a lousy marketer and still make some money if you’re in a good niche. But the reverse is also true. The wrong topic means you’ll probably fail – Even if you’re the best marketer in the world.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of selecting a quality niche. That’s why I highly recommend downloading my free report on 41 Hot Internet Marketing Niches. I wrote this guide with the intention of helping people take the first step towards building a successful Internet marketing career. So be sure to check it out if you’re struggling to find a profitable market.
In addition, I recommend reading up on niche and keyword research. Below I’ve listed a few videos and posts that discuss these topics. I didn’t create the videos myself, but I feel they do a great job of describing what it’s like to a find a great niche:
- The FOUR best niche categories
- Free tool for doing niche research
- Doing niche research on Clickbank and Commission Junction
- How to research keywords using Google Adwords
- Long-tail keyword research
Mistake #2- Having a Short-Term Mindset
It’s easy to think only about the short-term. We all have bills to pay and dreams to support. The problem is this mindset affects what you do on a daily basis. I know most “make money online” courses promise instant results. The truth is I’ve never heard of a single Internet marketer who achieved success overnight – It really doesn’t happen!
Take a long-term approach to Internet marketing. This means spending time researching a niche and then single-mindedly working on this business. You don’t give up when things get difficult. And you don’t buy into that hot, new product everyone’s promoting.
The best comment I’ve ever heard about Internet marketing came from a $1200 affiliate marketing product I purchased from Ewen Chia in 2006. In this course he said something like – “Be prepared to invest 2 to 3 years in a niche.”
This is great advice because it forced me to take a long-term approach with my online business. Instead of worrying about making money instantly, I developed the attitude that all my efforts will lead to success down the road. Start adopting this mindset NOW!
Mindset #3- Not Having Passion for your Niche
The following might contradict what you’ve heard about Internet marketing – You can create a successful web business around a niche that’s not personally interesting. I’ve seen many examples of people who make lots of money from a niche they don’t like. Currently I’m in a niche that was initially interesting. Now it’s not a lot of fun for me. But, I’m still making money from it.
With all that said, I think you can be a lot more successful (and find more enjoyment) by building a business around your passion. Again, take a long-term approach to your niche. Find something that’ll inspire you for years to come. Even better – Find a way to blend what you do for fun with a solid business idea. Kind of like my friend Jay who paints surf art while interacting with people who share his love of this sport.
For me, it’s easy to write content for this blog because it’s what I think about on a daily basis. I love this stuff and I hope readers feel the same way.
Mistake #4- Paralysis by Over Analysis
Yes, it’s important to do research and know the facts. However, I’ve found many people make excuses about “needing more information” before getting started. At a certain point, you need to stop reading and start doing. You’re going to make some mistakes. But don’t let a fear of failure prevent you from taking action.
My advice is to find the best online business model for making money and start right away. If you encounter an obstacle, do more research and learn how to overcome it. Keep doing this till you achieve success.
A common element in super-achievers is they’re not afraid to take risks. They probably screw up more than you and I. But they also learn from each experience which brings them to the next level. Personally, I’d rather make a bunch of mistakes if it helps me improve my life.
Mistake #5- Not Taking a Total-Business Approach
Like I said before, it’s important to find a business model then get started right away. With that said, I think it’s important to build a total online business. This is a plan that incorporates all aspects of Internet marketing.
As an example, a total business makes money through:
- Email marketing
- Information products
- Affiliate marketing
- Private consultation
Furthermore, this business model is supported by a number of different traffic generation activities like:
- Writing ezine articles
- Building an email list
- Creating blog content
- Utilizing social media
- Search engine optimization
- Networking with other Internet marketers
It’s important to focus on one business model (even a single traffic generation tactic) at first. Once you get results, take it to the next level. You’ll find that having a total-business mindset is the secret to reaching the next plateau in Internet marketing.
For instance, let’s say you have success with affiliate marketing. Instead of resting on your laurels, find a popular topic in your niche and create an information product. Once that’s done, move on to a blog…or write another eBook. Keep doing this till you dominate a niche.
Mistake #5- A Failure to Create Systems
All successful businesses have a plan – Even if it’s written down on a small piece of paper. This blueprint should have a detailed description of all the processes involved. It answers simple “how” questions like:
- How do you attract attention among all the Internet noise?
- How do you generate leads for your business?
- How do you re-attract people who were initially interested , but left without taking an action?
- How do you build authority and credibility with subscribers?
- How do you turn prospects into paying customers?
- How do you make somebody into a loyal, life-long customer?
A plan doesn’t have to be overly elaborate. Nor does it have to be written in stone. The key is to have something written down. Then it’ll be adjusted as you get feedback from your marketing efforts.
Mistake #6- Not Testing and Tracking
It’s incredibly important to know your stats. The funny thing is most people don’t have a clue where their web traffic comes from or how they make money. Let me give you an incredibly simplistic key to success with Internet marketing:
“Success with an online business comes from finding what works and doing more of that.”
Seriously, following this statement will lead to a highly successful Internet marketing business. I suggest tracking everything, then tweak what’s working and ditch what’s not.
What do I mean by tracking? Well, here are a few things you can measure:
- The open rates of your autoresponders
- The click-thru ratio of your email messages
- Which affiliate products produce the best income
- Different traffic generation strategies
- Your landing page opt-in rates
- Split-tests that measure different actions readers take
What I suggest won’t be easy. I recommend putting a separate tracking code for every single factor in your online business.
For instance, at one point I tracked every single ezine article promoting my affiliate site. I’m talking over 500 articles with the same number of tracking codes. Yes it’s a little obsessive. However this technique helped me know what articles got the best response from readers. Then all I had to do was write more of that type of content. Makes sense, right?
Another example is I used Clickbank’s tracking code to monitor every single affiliate offer. At the end of each month, I compiled what promotional efforts were making the most money. As a result, I produced more income because I knew what methods brought the greatest level of income.
To get started with testing and tracking, I recommend the AdTrackZ program. This software helps monitor every type of tracking you’ll need to do. In addition, it’s great for doing split-tests which is another great way to improve a web business.
Mistake #7- Ignoring the Importance of Web Traffic
Web. Traffic. These two words should be burned into your head. Without web traffic an online business will die. The best Internet site in the world won’t make a single dime unless it has a large amount of traffic.
One of the most important skills in Internet marketing is traffic generation. While writing is important, I feel you can be a bad writer and still make money. (To this day I wonder how I was able to make money as a newbie because my writing was horrendous.)
Right now, make a commitment to learn everything you can about traffic generation. Furthermore, be sure to check out my weekly series on blog traffic. Even if you don’t manage a blog, I feel this course teaches a lot about different techniques for driving traffic to any online business.
Mistake #8- Allowing the “Inner Sleazy Marketer” to Take Control
We all want to make a lot of money. But don’t let this impulse to control how you run a business. Most people have developed an acute bullshit detector when it comes to online marketing. Ultimately, allowing your “inner sleazy marketer” to take control will be destructive to your business.
It’s really easy to get people to hit the “unsubscribe” button. All you have to do is turn your list/blog into a constant pitch-fest of every product under the sun.
I know this from personal experience.
For the longest time, I promoted a lot of products to my affiliate marketing list and didn’t give much value in return. I do think the products were high quality. But I forgot about the cardinal rule of Internet marketing – Give value before asking anything in return.
Right now, I’m making a big transition with my affiliate list. I now give a lot of content before asking subscribers to spend money. The result is I have higher retention rates and I’ve increased my overall profits.
Bottom line is you can easily burn a list by doing too many promotions.
Mistake #9- Having the “Must Beat the Competition” Mindset
Internet marketing isn’t about winning at all costs. You don’t need to crush your competition in order to achieve success. In fact, I’ve learned it’s wiser to form alliances with people in your niche and find ways to work together.
Every major niche has more than enough room for multiple marketers. In fact, as more people use the Internet, it’s going to be easier to carve out your own slice of the pie.
For example, my information product is in a very competitive niche. Instead of trying to beat my competition, I’ve developed a relationship with a number of eBook authors. We promote each other’s products. Sometimes we recommend people’s affiliate programs. And we stay on top of what we’re all doing. The end result is we’ve built a pretty strong coalition that looks for the win-win in every situation.
Mistake #10- Not Enjoying Life
It’s easy to get wrapped up in an online business – Especially when you’re getting results and making money. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dedicate a lot of time to an online business. But this shouldn’t go on indefinitely. Ultimately it’s important to create a work/life balance.
I make a pretty good income from Internet marketing. But this would be worthless if I wasn’t able to enjoy things like: Relationships, traveling, running, and simply enjoying the freedom that an online business provides.
I truly love Internet marketing. But I also enjoy life. Sometimes you need to disconnect from the Internet and do what makes you happy. We only have a limited time on this earth. Don’t get caught in the trap of continuously saying, “I’ll have fun tomorrow.” One day you won’t have a tomorrow.
Final Thoughts on Online Business Mistakes
We all make mistakes. I’ve made a ton with Internet marketing. Hopefully this post will help you avoid some of the major missteps I’ve taken in the last seven years. Some of these lessons were pretty hard to learn. So please do me a favor and avoid what I’ve just discussed.
As we close this article, I’d like to hear what you’ve gone through. In the comment section below, please list a few mistakes that you’ve made and what they taught you…To Your "Internet Lifestyle",