Rescuing a failing online business
Yaneek Page, Contributor
Thank you for the helpful article you penned on the essential steps to business start-up. I thought you hit the nail on the head on all seven steps, especially the last 'Launching'. I started a small business two years ago and had a website with the hope that by having the website in place, by now I would be in the same league as Michael Lee-Chin or Butch Stewart. Well, it has just not happened. At this point, I turn to you for guidance as to what additional steps I could take to change my miscalculations and start climbing the hill of success.
I was happy to receive your email because it gives me an opportunity to address a number of interesting and topical areas in business, namely launching an online business and managing expectations.
Because your business has not yet got off the ground, I think it is important to protect the idea so I decided not to publish the name of your website. For the benefit of the readers, I will say that your business falls in the category of event planning.
I asked online marketing specialist Dayna Wallace to review your website and give her opinion on whether it satisfies the prerequisites for a successful Internet business. I also asked her to provide some suggestions on how you can revive the business and get it on the right track. She fulfilled my request and went even further to review your company's use of social media.
Before I share her observations and advice there are some basic points I need to make.
First, when starting an online business it is important that you follow the same steps as you would a traditional business as detailed in my column of January 27, 2013 titled '7 Essential Steps to Business Start-Up'.
Your business idea is clever but that is not nearly enough to ensure success. I don't know whether you did any research to validate the idea or to establish whether you had the capacity to penetrate the market, but these are critical steps when starting a business.
Based on your industry and the fact that your target market is foreign professionals and company executives, you needed a survey to establish feasibility and guide your decision making.
Second, it is clear that you missed an important part of the business-planning process - preparing a marketing plan. This is a document that outlines how your strategic marketing objectives will be met for a particular period, usually a year. It outlines the actions, advertising, promotions, pricing strategy and so on that will be required to promote your business, attract customers, build and position your brand and drive sales.
The plan should include the cost and resources associated with each action, event or
promotion to ensure that you have the capability and finances to reach your target audience and achieve your marketing goals.
My final point is the issue of realistic expectations. For you to believe that within two years of launching your business you would be a billionaire or in the same league as Jamaica's wealthiest businessmen was impracticable and setting yourself up for major disappointment. Success in business depends in part on setting SMART goals and managing expectations, especially your own.
SMART is an acronym that refers to goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/ Relevant and Time-bound.
Regarding steps you can take now to get your business on track, below I have outlined Ms Wallace's suggestions for improving your website and building the business. These recommendations are useful for anyone considering a service-based Internet business:
- Simplify your site. Complex sites turn off customers. Make your website simple and more user-friendly.
- Add more dynamic content. Users and search engines like fresh content, including articles, photos and videos. Also, if you consistently post new content it should improve the search engine ranking for your business
- Your value is not clear. Your website must clearly outline your services and the value you propose to offer to prospective customers.
- Include testimonials or pictures from past events you have done to demonstrate your credibility as an expert in the business.
- Have an opt-in offer where visitors need to provide their names and email addresses to receive a special offer, such as a discount. This will build your database of potential customers.
- Add a blog where you share useful articles for event planners, specifically those who would relate specifically to your niche.
- Learn where your target customers spend their time and what influences how they buy, that is, where would they 'hang out' online?
- Finally, your social-media activity is not effective in targeting or reaching your customers. Your website refers to serving overseas clients, yet most of your Facebook fans are located in Kingston.
Since your ideal customers are professionals and executives, you may attract more customers by doing promotions on LinkedIn rather than using Facebook only. For example, in LinkedIn there is a group for event planning and event management with over 113,000 members mostly from the United States.
You should join these groups, become actively involved in discussions and promote your services to other members and connections.