June 10, 2011
Posted in Guest Blogs by SBIers
Leave a Comment
Guest Blogs by SBIers
In my five years as an SBI! business owner, many things have changed. Most of them are for the better!
For one thing, I am no longer a "website owner." I believe getting your brain around the concept of being a business person, not a website owner, is a huge hurdle that many entrepreneurs (including SBIers) never manage to leap over.
There are pros and cons of growing an online business. I now have ten websites/businesses (though I always keep saying I ought to thin out my portfolio), and as you would expect, there are growing pains with developing and managing so many different projects. (Note: When I use the term "site" or "website" in this post, think "business.")
As a SiteSell Services Specialist contracted to build web business sites for SiteSell clients, I now have even more balls in the air, often constructing several client sites simultaneously. Being professional when the pressure gets intense is critical.
Here are the pros and cons of expanding beyond a single website, with some pitfalls you should all aim to avoid.
Provided you are not starting new websites for the sake of appeasing your brain's desire to always seek something fun and shiny to play with - each site should be a rational business decision, not a whim - you will end up with that P-word I mentioned earlier: a portfolio.
Having a portfolio of sites, especially if you are smart enough to keep them more or less related to one another, is a huge advantage. Leveraging your highly trafficked portfolio will help swing the lead when negotiating with webmasters for links, and affiliate programs for commission terms.
What's that? Never asked your affiliate program manager to give you a better deal? If you're sending 100 or more clicks per day to a program and seeing good conversion rates, contact the program. Arm yourself with statistics, such as annual site traffic (annual numbers always sound BIG!), the number of clicks you sent to them in the past three months, the number of sales you have made, etc. Now ask for a better deal than the standard. If you are honest with your stats and can demonstrate good business, the program manager should be happy to improve your terms, rather than lose you to a competitor.
As well as the obvious benefits of linking between your own related sites, when you approach other webmasters, you can command a lot more respect if you have more than one string to your bow. Before you send the same old "Let's trade links" email, think about it from their perspective. Any good site gets plenty of these emails each month. Craft a deal in your head and approach them with the plan laid out. Be specific, and make it easy for them to see the benefit.
Traffic is another big pro. For those following the SBI! Action Guide correctly, the obvious outcome of having more sites is getting more traffic. And it follows that if you get more traffic, you should be able to turn it into income.
Between my work for SiteSell Services (I'm sure being able to demonstrate multiple successes helped with my application), and the income from our sites, my family has a comfortable existence. With the exception of our mortgage, we will be debt-free by September 2011. I work from home full-time and am around whenever my wife and children need me. The lifestyle isn't stress-free, but it's much closer to it than when I was stuck in commuter hell in my last "real" job.
Final pro: I love to write. The technical stuff is a cost of doing business, but ultimately I am doing what I enjoy.
Naturally there are downsides of having a portfolio, and the larger your collection of investments becomes, the harder it is to manage them effectively.
There simply are not enough hours in the day to grow ten sites, alone, with the same focus and enthusiasm you apply to a single site. This is especially hard if your sites, like mine, are not properly focused in a niche range. Beer, poker, board games, T-shirts... all interesting individual choices which do not directly help one another. Learn from my mistakes and always try to lock your next project onto a niche closely related to your first.
Made an error of niche selection? Consider re-targeting your site to a narrower niche. I focused on SuperHero T-shirts for my T-shirt website after struggling to do it all for years.
Bored of your first site? Sell, or put it on autopilot. Tim Ferriss mentions in The 4-Hour Work Week that people need to get over the in-built instinct to finish things. What's worse? Six months of wasted work on a niche you are not enjoying, or six years because you could not bring yourself to admit the mistake?
Remember that job you hated? You dreaded Monday because it meant going back to a poisonous, undemanding, anti-creative, gray, depressing cubicle. (Maybe some of you are still there and dreaming big for your SBI! escape route!) Newsflash: working for yourself can be like that, if you're not self-aware and big enough to admit your errors. As an online business owner, you are effectively your own boss. And if the company you have built is not to your liking, fire yourself, sell the company and start afresh.
Keeping fresh content flowing to three sites, or five, or ten, or more (I know of at least two SBIers with 20 or more sites!) is a real challenge. Building links to that many sites is virtually impossible if you're working alone. Effective outsourcing is a challenge, for sure.
Outsourcing is not as big and scary a topic as you think. Most of us outsource our hair grooming, vehicle maintenance and tax preparation! Like any skill, it takes time to learn, and you will make mistakes, but the nice part about outsourcing is seeing your sites grow without having to make all the effort yourself. The downside is you need to be really organized, and ensure your outsourcers have things to occupy them when they are supposed to be working for you.
There is also an alarming tendency to manage your outsourcers and then consider the project "finished" when they deliver. For example, I have outsourced articles in the past: I know of a couple of dozen still sitting on my hard drive, waiting to be published, years later! That's because I didn't see the project through. You need to think of how much work it took to earn the cash to pay that person, respect the investment you're making in their time, and complete the work you've paid them to help you with.
What if you're working too much?
The key to freeing more time for yourself, so you are not becoming a slave to your business, is to avoid busywork, be efficient and effective, remain focused (don't keep checking Facebook or your inbox when you're supposed to be working), have clear, achievable goals and keep working towards them.
Despite all the technology that makes it obsolete, I still like having a piece of paper with "To Do" at the top. It's very satisfying to cross an item off, and even more so to transfer the last couple to a new sheet and scrunch up those DONE items for the recycling!
Break the stat-checking habit. Seven minutes of "How much did I earn yesterday?" becomes (deep breath!) fifty hours per year. That is a total waste of time. Check your stats once per month, unless you are testing something very specific and need to see how the test is working out. Better still, outsource stat-checking to your spouse or business partner.
If you want my number one tip for growing your business: Do Not Be Too Cheap. Yes, there are often very good free software programs you can do most things with, but if you could be working five times faster for a $300 investment in the best software, invest! That time saved is just like money saved, it adds up over the years to a significant amount.
The same caveat about cheapness applies to other aspects of your online business. If you're too cheap to buy iStock photos, or sign up for e-Junkie for $5 a month to test selling your own digital products, or CafePress to try out T-shirts and gifts, as three simple examples, you are never going to break free from the limits of AdSense and affiliates ("AAA"). Yes, you can make a great living doing just AAA, but there are so many more options to explore.
If you decide to go multiple, keep focused, pick your new topic wisely, and enjoy the new direction your SBI! journey is taking.