Sunday, July 11, 2010
Here's an idea if you want to try something new and different. Last year I built Walkathon Guide and Walkathon Shop, which together form a web based micro-business that helps people who are planning walkathons. It gives away lots of advice and encouragement and offers an e-book, lap cards, an inexpensive customizable web site, t shirts, and other supplies. With my job at Ricoh, I don't work on it much any more but it is self sustaining now, continuing to bring in sales and help people.
What did I learn, you ask?
1. You should try it if you like to write. It's fun.
It's cheap and quick to put together your blog or website. There is an infinite number of puzzle pieces now available as free Internet services and many more for $5/month or so. You can pop one into your blog or shop and see what happens. I've listed some of my favorites in #8, below.
It is deeply rewarding to provide a real and useful service where there wasn't one before. I started this effort to learn, have fun and make money, but I pause to note what it feels like to be able to help people world wide. I hear from people in Kuwait, Singapore, South Africa, and next door, working on causes ranging from elementary schools to clean water to medical research.
You need to be in it for the long haul because it is a slow growing business.
But it's not hard. Anyone who likes to write can do this. It doesn't have to take too much time and you can grow it in higher and lower activity periods.
2. Start with a narrow niche and a simple, useful product. Over time you can grow it from there.
By keeping it narrow you become one of the experts and market leaders. I considered broader markets such as nonprofit fundraising in general. However had I chosen that, the search term wouldn't have been as clear and the markets would be much more competitive. It was surprising how much depth there is to even the smallest niche area once you look into it.
By keeping your initial product simple yet useful, such as my $14.95 e-book, you can quickly be of help to the people in your target audience. That way you build a two way relationship where you can learn what they need and they can see that you are doing honest work in their interest. Then you can add new products over time.
3. Take advantage of your tightly focused niche so that people who search for that one topic find you.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, means creating your blog so that people who would benefit, find it via their search engine of choice. To make your blog easy to find, pick the best possible, single word or phrase that you think they would use when searching for your topic. Use it as many times as possible in your headers, first paragraph, and captions. Repeat with every blog post you can. Use as often as possible but just on this side of being obvious.
I hear that WordPress.com is particularly SEO friendly and I have found that to be true. More on WordPress below.
4. Help your customers a lot, with every interaction, blog post, product, service.
There is no shortcut and you'll be happier anyway.
5. Help and be helped by others in your little industry.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the others in my field. We have done podcasts together, shared links, worked together to help our customers, and built nice affiliate relationships, and I see that other bloggers are doing the same in their respective fields. Everyone wins.
6. Like everyone says, connect via social media.
Find where your audience and influencers hang out online and go there too. I get a good amount of traffic from various social networking sites and Twitter. I'm just getting started with a Facebook page so the jury is out on that.
7. Take small, incremental steps. How to get started:
a. Brainstorm first, then narrow your ideas down to one, with a title (such as Walkathon Guide - How to Plan a Walkathon)
b. Start the blog and continue to post frequently throughout the life of the business
c. Hop into the social media circuits to find potential customers and other key players wherever they hang out
d. Start building the email list via the blog
e. Formalize the business plan via a very short slide set and run it by a few smart people to modify
f. Begin making connections with like minded businesses via Twitter, Nings, etc, to share links, become affiliates, do podcasts together, encourage each other.
g. Apply basic SEO to the blog
h. And then, build and launch a simple first product (in my case, the e-book).
8. A few great tools:
WordPress.com or WordPress.org: With WordPress.com you can get started immediately, you don't have to think about hosting, it handles SEO well, and your website with your own url costs $15 per year(!). It has limits to keep your blog a blog, not a website, such as no forms except a contact form. With WordPress.org you get infinite flexibility where you can purchase plugins for all kinds of functionality, so that you can use it to build your own entire website. You need to purchase hosting from any number of services that they list, or available elsewhere.
e-junkie.com: Manages payments for a downloadable e-book for $5/month. It handles downloading the book and keeps records for you. It has a turn key affiliate program for you as well.
PayPal.com and/or Google Checkout: These actually take the payments.
Homestead.com: One of dozens of easy website building tools, if you want to build a more traditional website vs. a blog. It's no harder to use than PowerPoint.
SurveyMonkey.com: Does surveys via web or email.
PollDaddy.com: Does polls - one question surveys that can be right in your WordPress post.
MailChimp.com: Handles sending nice looking, spam law complient email messages and maintains your mail list.
iStockPhoto.com: Little photos to add to your blog for about $3.00 each. Keep an eye on the clock when you go there. It is a great distraction.
Flickr.com: More photos to add to your blog for free, if you credit the source. Be sure to use photos from within the Creative Commons area.
My favorite inspirations: Roger Carr, one of a few others who blog about walkathons, and business bloggers and writers Chris Guillebeau (great free book, called, "279 Days to Overnight Success" ), Pamela Slim, and Naomi Dunford - all three have so many ideas on starting a microbusiness. They focused on tiny businesses and I don't share their ideas that "tiny is better" - all business sizes have pros and cons. Also I think their ideas apply in corporate settings as well. My favorite book is still "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore.