Running a home business is nothing as simple as buying a magic e-book or joining the latest network marketing craze.

 
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By Nick Balgowan

Contrary to popular belief nothing is as simple as buying a magic e-book or joining the latest network marketing craze, to suddenly owning a healthy low maintenance online business. It just doesn't happen.

It a nut shell, it takes LOTS of time, money, effort, dedication and a lot of skill and planning. If you are looking for a quick $25 fix, then I am afraid that I simply can't help you. Oh, I forgot that the most important skill of all is juggling.

That's right, juggling. You need to prepare yourself for the long haul. My first online business, took nearly 6 months before it even covered my startup costs (business name, legal fees, bank accounts, web hosting etc.) So I needed some way to eat, sleep and be happy for 6 months while building this business.

I chose to continue with my day job and put away as much money as I could to live on for the following 6 months, when I would take the switch from running the"home based business" while I was still actually working full time, to spending the following 6 months dedicated to growing my own business. I needed cash in the bank to do this.

I'd wake at 6:00am and respond to emails and process my online orders. I'd leave home at 8:00am to arrive at work by 9:00am. I had a special relationship with our international courier to pickup deliveries from our garage (without being present personally.) Fortunately I was able to use my ISP's web mail facility from my "day desk" to response to my personal clients during the day.

It was great. I could respond to my personal customers quickly, answer questions and let them know their orders had been received and would be processed later that day. And I mean, speak with them personally by email.

Auto-Responders are great, but they always look like an auto-responder. In exchange for this fringe benefit from my employer, I gave up 1/2 my lunch break and offered to be available by telephone for emergency after hours support (I worked in IT if you hadn't guessed.)

When I arrived home at 6:00pm, I'd spend usually another hour processing orders received during the day, have dinner, watch the nightly news, have a quick 30min bike ride if possible, and slip into bed around 10pm after doing some web page marketing.

I had designed a system that allowed be to slowly build an online business, while saving money to make the jump to full time, self employed, work at home. Which inevitable comes with an initial salary sacrifice. Something like 3 out of every 4 small business's fail. It is simply because they have large startup over heads, with little or no immediate income.

You don't need an accounting degree to work out if your expenses are larger than your net income, the business is not in good shape. Hence, so many people end up closing their small business and going back to their "day job." I was determined that this would NOT happen to me.

There was lots to learn, and learn fast. Accounting, advertising, marketing, business practices, web page design, web page optimization, web page promotion, email marketing, web page statistics... the list goes on. Oh, and customer relations.

So many articles I see focus so much on meta tags, keywords etc, not paying much attention to the customers, and people actually
looking at your web page.

I dabbled for months, years probably, in optimizing my web pages, using submission software, swapping web page links. NOTHING has worked better than following up with my customers, offering affiliate and referral commissions, providing an online post-sales customer followup / satisfaction survey.

I've since noticed customers of mine writing nice reviews about their experience with us on industry forums, I can track the click throughs from these reviews and they do generate sales for us.

The best advertising is simply the advertising that works, not necessarily that is the most expensive. From this I can see more and more incoming web page links and I haven't even needed to ask for them!

I try to update or add content to our web page EVERY DAY. I spend at least 1 hour every morning improving the content, changing the content, looking at ways to stream line the HTML code, checking what our competition is doing, looking for the latest innovations in our industry.

This constant tinkering with my web page seemed to interest search engine spiders like Google to return more often. I'd see google crawlers in my site stats maybe 1-2 times a month, its not nearly 100 times a month. So changes to my web page are quickly indexed.

Another misconception with home businesses is that they run themselves. This might be the case for electronic products, such as e-books and web templates that don't involved actual product handling. But this market is saturated beyond comprehension, and from my understanding, charge backs from credit card providers are rampant as customers aren't happy with their purchase and demand refunds.

In order to convince a real person to order from your online business, they must be convinced that you are, in fact, also a real person. You need to speak with them. This can be via content on your web page, PERSONALIZED email replies (e.g. Dear John or Dear Mary, not Dear Client or Dear Customer.)

Your need to answer their emails fully, honestly, promptly and also follow up on your emails. If a customer on Monday asks you to confirm a price, availability and TOTAL order cost. Email the information ASAP, address the customer by name, and sign the email with your name.

If you don't hear back from the customer, follow-up with THEM (don't forget to print this policy in your online privacy policy to keep everybody happy.) Who knows, if you don't follow up with the potential client, they could already have their wallet open, credit card out, and ordering from your biggest competitor.

Best you get back to them before somebody else does. And it will happen! I started this policy after the exact same thing happened to me. I learn quickly and make sure that I will never lose a sale to a competitor again by not following up with
EVERY potential customer.

SPEED is also important. You need to respond to emails ASAP. If you consider that most people still access the internet by dial up modem, they login the internet, do a bit of web surfing, send some emails and then logoff. Their home computer is switched off, and may not be turned on again sometimes for days.

So if you take a day to respond to emails, there is every likely hood that your potential client may not actually receive your response for some time - maybe a week. The best way to grab this potential client's attention is to response to their email IMMEDIATELY. They will receive your reply during their same internet session.

It also sets their expectation on your high service levels and responsiveness. Answering their first question, which must be "how good is this company anyway" and "do I trust them with my money?"

Hmmm, so I have to sit at my computer 24 hours a day and respond to emails? Doesn't sound like much of an existence does it? Sadly, I admit I went through a period actually doing this. About 1 or 2 months I think. Yes, I am sad I know.

This was the largest recordable growth period for my first online business. Then I learnt about Outlook mail rules (I actually knew about them all along, I just hadn't thought to use them!) I could setup Microsoft Outlook to screen my emails looking for orders from my web page, send them to a specific folder, and then play a sound file when an order or customer question arrived from my web page.

Now, at last, I was finally free from the computer and home office, just listening out for my incoming order / customer question sound. Actually, it became a motivation factor. My wife and I picked some of the sound clips from Comedy Central Inc, which make receiving an order even more fun (yes I know, simple things.) But it is good to know when I hear "I've got mail" sung by Special Ed, we've got an order.

Basically, you need to build a strong loyalty with your customers. You can do this by responding to them fast, giving them accurate information, and delivering their products fast. You need to spell out explicitly why they should buy your widget and chose your company, over the 1,000 other similar firms. To start a successful home business, you need to prepare for an initial dry spell. Remember, nothing just happens over night.

You need to pick a product or niche market. You need to make yourself known as an expert in this field, you need to get your name out there and you need to convince potential customers to become real customers. This all involves the evil W-word; WORK.

Now without sound too like a cliché, we own our own house, work about 2 hours a day (early morning) have a little boy crawling around, another on the way, and building a brand new dream house for ourselves - all with cash without any bank loans, fees, guarantees or interest. We didn't get here by paying $25 for a"guaranteed successful online business design" that simply involved selling $25"guaranteed successful online business designs."

We have daily regular and scheduled collections from our local and international couriers, and if we aren't home, we leave them at the front door. So the rest of the day, is all free time now.

About the Author:

Nick Balgowan is the winner of several Australian sponsored small business and entrepreneur awards. Since 1995 he has build and sold several successful online businesses.

His current online businesses include www.beatpsoriasis.com offering medical product worldwide and www.veryownweb.com offering unique and cut price web hosting to the Australian market. He can be contacted at nick@beatpsoriasis.com


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