Don’t have much time? Read the short version.
With the success of my latest Pinterest Marketing Software, I realized there are so many untapped ways to make money online. Sure, some take a certain amount of tech savvy-ness but for the most part knowing a few basic marketing principles and having an idea is all you need to get started.
In this post I will try to cut through the mesh of running an online business, and uncover the exact steps I took from having an idea to making it into a source of income within two weeks. You’d be surprised at how little I actually had to do, and if at least 10% of you decide to take action on something similar, I’ll be happy. It might run a little long, so.. put on your comfortable pants, disconnect your television, and get ready for the literary ride of your life.
Intro: The Idea
There are many reasons why one doesn’t pursue an idea (financial limitations, lack of proactivity, lack of incentive etc). Usually, however it’s because of the fear of it failing. And that’s okay! As crazy as this sounds, when you’re young, you are allowed to fail, and in fact I’ll go as far as to encourage it. Why? Because unless you’re managing a three million dollar hedge fund, what’s the worst that could happen? No restrictions. No limitations. The world is your oyster. Try as many different things as you can before you ‘grow up’, they will build character and shape you for the future.
Of course. I’m equally young, if not younger than you, so what do I know? I know when I see an idea, which brings me to…
Inspiration For Your Idea (Case study: PinPioneer)
“But Eric! I’ve looked around, all the good ideas have already been done” you might say. And my response would be, “How about inflatable boats with skis attached, or hats that spin on your head while shooting lasers at pedestrians?”.
In all seriousness, an exercise I like to do when brainstorming is to think of a market (i.e. software applications) and think of the craziest idea possible, and then move down the list until I get to something realistic (and legal). After I’ve compiled a small list of potential ideas, I will go online and see if there are similar products available. If so, who are my competitors, what do they charge, is it one time fee or a monthly subscription? More about doing market research here.
Though, this method might be useful to get yourself into the correct mindset, the best ideas come by understanding the market. Live, read and breath it, and you will soon see yourself finding inspiration from the smallest of things. News articles will relate to other topics in your memory, daily experiences will connect with possible solutions and what do you know.. an idea is born!
In my case, back when I started in 2006-2007, I spent the first six months reading and researching everything I could possibly find about internet marketing, making money online etc. An excellent resource for this is YouTube and any of the big online business forums/communities.
Recommended internet marketing communities:
WarriorForum (more conventional, ‘white-hat’ forms of eBusiness)
BlackHatWorld (more outside the box, ‘black-hat’ forms of eBusiness, big on automation)
WickedFire (a combination of the above two)
In fact, get integrated with the appropriate community forum for your chosen niche, and I promise that after a few months of reading discussions, your knowledge of the market would have grown exponentially.
Once you get the fundamental links down, the faster you’ll be able to find gaps in the market which you can work with. In the case of PinPioneer - Pinterest Marketing, I saw that all my competitors focused on trying to ‘mass like, mass follow, mass spam’ any content onto Pinterest which didn’t really add any long term value. Likewise they were flooded with a bunch of unnecessary features. So, instead I found it was more beneficial to both parties to create an application that was much quicker and relatively cheaper than the industry standard. This was possible because I removed all the bells & whistles present in other apps, and focused on the one thing I knew businesses needed to stay alive in the social media world. Content. Engaging content to build user relationships, and brand loyalty. Content that could be generated automatically and instantly link back to the company’s website to convert visitors into sales. All basic marketing stuff, sales funnels etc. Tons of information available on this topic at presentation websites like Slideshare.com and Scribd (along with YouTube).
As an aside, when looking for an idea there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I know it’s been said before, but some of the world’s leading products were just better adaptations of existing items (i.e. Walkman > Zune > iPod). Point is, being creative is good but don’t try to overdo it by going ahead with something that only you think is amazing. Watch your ego!
Prioritizing what idea to proceed with
By nature, I’m a very disorganized man. I used to have hundreds of .txt files filling my desktop with scribblings of potential ideas, to-do lists, action plans etc. It was a mess! There is however, one service that has saved me and helped to make my ’next-step’ decisions far more calculated and comprehensive. Google drive is a cloud service that links in with Google docs, and automatically syncs any documents or files you have online back to your computer (and vice versa).
I use this as a medium through which to create ‘Action Plans’. Plans made with the purpose of making you to take action. Applicable to anything from business to personal life decisions. Here is the basic structure I use:
This is a small (specific) summary of what you want to achieve (i.e. Increase sales by 150% in October, 2012)
Here you list all tasks that need to be completed under each sector of your business (i.e. marketing, development, miscellaneous) in order to achieve your goal. Under every task you list, you then further list all the advantages/disadvantages associated with it. After which you move onto the next task, and repeat. Once you finish your plan you’ll end up with a significantly clearer understanding of how to proceed.
- Release YouTube video to engage with subscribers
Potential for more ‘social spread’ through sharing/liking
A way to turn viewers into website visitors and potentially customers
Requires large view count in short term to attract attention
Subscribers from different demographics, difficult to appeal to everybody
This is just a small example. Ultimately, you would create a tree which would list all tasks, sub-tasks and then the pros/cons involved with each one, and then each one after that. I know some people prefer to think about the ‘big picture’ straight away, the point at which their company is worth $100million, but I personally find it more enjoyable looking at the minutia of building something. Each building block, each stepping stone, because after all, if you miss one, the rest are more prone to cracking when the storm hits (and it always does).
So you have an idea, what next?
Possibly the hardest part in making any business sustainable is finding a good team. You need a team (or an individual) that won’t pitch you a good service to start with, and then fizzle out as you approach tedious tasks. A person who is both skilled and creative, offering ideas based on their own knowledge of the market, rather than just taking development instructions from you. And… at the same time you need somebody cost-effective that won’t cut too deep into your profits.
With the arrival of freelance services, there is so much labour to choose from that it becomes difficult separating who is actually reliable and who will blow through your cash quicker than… [insert reference to Las Vegas, Strippers and Coke). Personally, I had to go through three developers and $1500 for the Torrent Uploader app I was working on last year before I found the guy who could make it happen for $200, in a fraction of the time.
How did I find him?
After discovering a free cloned version of an app I had released, floating around the online marketing communities, I sent a message to the user who had posted it, (let’s call him John), requesting that he change it a little bit as to not infringe on my product. We got to talking, I tested his app and liked it. It was smoother, and lighter than my own. I found out some more about him, his programming experience, what language he programs in etc, and left it that.
A month passed and in the midst of trying to find a reliable developer, I remembered John had prior experience in the type of app I wanted to make, and was a part of the marketing community. So, I sent him another message and offered him some freelance work. He agreed and we decided on $12 an hour, (he’s a 16 y/o whizz kid from Italy). Since then we have worked together to release over three other applications, exceeding the $30,000 profit mark.
Now, I was lucky. You’re not always going to get a person who copied your product to agree to work with you. So, in cases like that I use a range of freelance services:
Elance (tad more expensive, but there is a greater range of labour)
Freelancer.com (more focus on development work)
Odesk (cheaper labour, more focus on consultancy/services rather than development)
Again, if you pick the wrong people these services can drain your resources so here are some tips for finding the best workers:
- Nothing kills the growth of a business like bad communication. Find contractors who can speak English, fluently.
- Don’t get ‘fixed price’ jobs, find and pay workers who charge hourly. The reason for this is that a fixed price job gives the contractor no incentive to work the best. Instead, they rather do less, since they are getting the same money. Typically, this will lead to a contractor cutting corners, and using workarounds which can AND will bite you in the ass later down the line, in the form of bugs and development delays. Instead, paying somebody hourly (though it may cost more in the short-term) will ensure that they do more to make sure things work.
- Ask for the worker’s IM id (preferably Skype) and personal email address. This will help you forward things to them that need to be done quickly, and get in touch on a more personal level. It’s always good to be friends with the people that work with/for you.
- Look for somebody in a timezone close to yours. This is self-explanatory, but if the choice is there, try to find somebody closer to you. Big time differences can really mess up plans for communication, product releases, marketing strategies etc.
- Be clear on what you want. I can’t stress this enough, and I think all the graphic designers out there will agree. Don’t go into a project hoping the designer or developer will be able to read your mind. Make a detailed plan of what you want, how you want it to look, what message you want to convey. Use pictures, similar examples and objective points of reference. For example, don’t say, “I want this design to ‘pop’ and it should be either green, yellow or blue”. You see how that could be annoying?
So you have an idea, you’ve got a team and you’ve built a product. You’ve sat around for hours, nervously tapping away at your keyboard wondering whether or not your business will succeed and whether or not it will give you the irresistible sexual magnetism all the textbooks promised. But to find out, you need to start selling.
First I’ll tell you about how I did it using PinPioneer as a case study, and then a little bit about general selling practices.
When dealing with software products, it’s quite common that after the initial release certain bugs are discovered and if they are major issues this can quickly setback your development, give you a bad rep, and impact your profits.
To remedy this, once the final version (release) version of the product is ready, I hold off for a week before releasing publicly. Instead, I release privately to my existing customer base via an email notifying them of the new app. Between 10%-15% of them end up purchasing within the first week, leading to a cash influx of $1000-$2000.
However, just before sending out this email, I send another email to confirm who is still active on my list and to add value in the form of free content – helps to build trust. This way there is a higher chance of them purchasing once I do send them a product. Furthermore, to incentivize email sales, I include an ‘exclusive discount code’ respective of the group of people I am emailing.
By waiting a week between my private and public launch, this gives me time to fix up any reported bugs or glitches that may have been missed and ensure that the public product launch goes smoothly.
Right, so you’ve waited a week, pre-sold a couple of dozen copies and corrected any reported errors. How do you ‘publicly’ launch? The answer to this question varies from person to person, but the system I use is (pretty much) as follows:
- Create a public sales page with a sales video
- Purposely price your product cheaper (between $10-$20 – if your model allows you to do so) and set up a 100% affiliate program – your affiliates get a 100% commission. Stick up your affiliate program on Clickbank, Commission Junction and send it along to your existing list. Wait a couple of days, and this will start building buzz.
- Go to your community of choice (I use, BHW/WF/WickedFire/BHT) and set up a sales thread (under your real price).
- Reduce the commission on your affiliate program
- Offer a couple of free ‘review copies’ of your product in order to get testimonials.
- Message the respected moderators/admins with a free copy and ask them if they can leave you a testimonial.
- Offer ‘free content’ to the members of the community (i.e. a how-to PDF) with a reference back to your product/website.
- Buy a couple of forum signatures in your niche. Message some respected and/or high posting users and offer them $10-$12 for 2-4 weeks of using their signature space. Place your link or banner there.
- Continue to add value to your product by releasing a complementary video course. This would consist of either ‘how-to’ demonstrations or tips/demos of your product. These videos should be optimized for search/YouTube. Don’t underestimate the power of this, about 20% of my sales come from YouTube alone.
- Set up an in-app advertising deal with another merchant. Go to your respective community or to Clickbank and find other people selling products in your ‘broader’ niche (i.e internet marketing). Offer them a joint venture partnership consisting of trading affiliate links inside your apps or on your websites. These recommendations convert really well.
We’re nearing the end of this attempted ’101′ post, so here are the technical sides you should know that were too boring to discuss above.
- For my sales/squeeze pages I use WordPress with one of these themes (WPSalesEngine, ProfitsTheme, OptimizePress).
- For my support desk, I use WordPress with the SupportPress theme).
- The payment gateway I use is Ejunkie but I would also recommend Plimus (better for managing affiliates) and 2Checkout. These services automatically manage payments and delivering your product.
- To add value to my customer service department, I use live chat (sometimes). I recommend Zopim for this.
And that’s it!
If you’ve enjoyed this post please like or share it using the social bar below. I offer full time consultancy services so if you want get your business online, or are struggling with any of the things mentioned above, let me know.
Keep it tight,