Everyone dreams of quitting their 9 to 5 and becoming their own boss. With the rise of the internet, it seemed easier than ever to turn that dream into a reality. After all, who wouldn’t want to work in their pajamas in the comfort of their own home?
Equipped with little more than a laptop and a cup of coffee, it’s possible to do just that. People do it every day. Some are successful and some aren’t, though. So, what’s the difference between these two groups of people?
Obviously, there are as many circumstances as there are people. No two successful people did everything exactly the same way and two people that failed at their online business probably made different mistakes. Even so, we can still learn from their experiences.
When you start doing case studies, you notice a few common denominators. The people who succeed tend to have certain things in common, even if they followed different paths. The same is true at the other end of the scale.
A lot of people get online, set up a web page and wait for the money to roll in. They are full of energy and willing to give it their all, but then they fail. And that brings us to the point of this article.
10 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Online Business
First, I’ll tell you what those mistakes are, then we’ll dig a little deeper. I’m not listing them in any particular order, because any of them can be a fatal crash, if you’re not careful.
So, here they are:
- Not Having a Game Plan
- Sweating the Small Stuff
- Ignoring the Budget
- Getting Lost In the Social Media Maze
- Skimping When You Shouldn’t
- Believing You Can Buy Off the Rack (One Size Fits All)
- Cookie-Cutter Syndrome
- False Expectations
- Swinging A Hammer Where There Isn’t a Nail
- Being a Career Student
Okay, maybe some of those sound a little silly, but don’t worry. I’ll explain what each one means and how to avoid them.
Not Having a Game Plan
Traditionally, when someone goes to the bank to take out a loan to start a business, one of the first things they want to see is a business plan. If you haven’t done your research and decided how you are going to make money – specifically, not just saying “I’m gonna sell stuff” – good luck getting that loan. No one will take that kind of risk with someone who hasn’t prepared themselves for success.
One of the beauties of starting a web-based business, is that the overhead costs can be extremely low compared to traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. Yes, you’ll have to spend some money, but relatively speaking, it’s not that expensive to get yourself in the game.
The low cost and ease of starting an online business fools a lot of people into thinking they can just wing it. Spend a few bucks, figure out how to set up a website and work out the details as you go isn’t really a plan. I’m not saying you have to have some extensive, master-level business plan drawn up. What I’m saying is that you need to think ahead, set some goals, learn the basics and chart a course. You can, and probably will, makes changes to your plan, but you need to always have one. Just like that bank isn’t going to take a bad risk with their money, you shouldn’t carelessly risk your time and money, either.
Sweating the Small Stuff
I have never started a new job, or venture, where I didn’t encounter things I wasn’t expecting. You never know what all a job consists of until you are actually doing it and that’s just as true with starting your own business as it is with anything else. You probably know about the big things. I need a website, I need to get some traffic to that website and I need to figure out a way to turn those visitors into customers. Makes sense, right? These are important things that you can’t neglect and expect to stay in business.
What about cropping and uploading photos? Are you sure your profile picture looks good enough? What about link placement? What does link placement even mean? Should you read a book about that? And don’t forget the widgets. Yes, widgets. Make sure you’re using the best widgets.
You see, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done. It’s not quite as simple as get website, get traffic, make customers, cash checks. There is a lot of stuff to learn and a lot of tasks to complete, but some are more important than others. Don’t get bogged down with the small stuff. Here’s something that a lot of “experts” won’t tell you. Sometimes you don’t need the best. Sometimes good enough is good enough. If you spend a whole week researching and testing every SEO widget known to man, instead of putting content on your website, you are sweating the small stuff. Spend a little time finding a good one and then move on. People who can’t prioritize, or keep things in perspective, are less likely to be successful.
Ignoring the Budget
I can hear it now. Budget! What budget? One of the reasons you’re starting an online business is because you don’t have a lot of money. I know that’s not true for everyone, but let’s face it. The low entry cost is one of the appeals of an online business.
I’m not saying you need to have a detailed budget, complete with pie charts and spreadsheets. What I am saying is that you should have some idea of not only how much things will cost, but how much you are willing to spend. It’s true that you start an online business on a shoestring business, if you go about it right, but you’ll be surprised at how many ways the internet has to chip away at your bank account. One the surest ways to find out all the ways to spend money online is to start your own web based business. The idea was to make money, but you can easily find yourself spending what you already had.
Come up with some figures that work for you. If you are going to do things right, you should probably count on sinking a couple hundred bucks just to get off the ground. Web start-ups may be low cost, but the kind of foundation you need for long term success isn’t completely free. The costs that may sneak up on you are the ones pop up more unexpectedly. One day you learn that Facebook ads are a thing. Cool…spend a little to get that rolling. That awesome app that will automate your work has a price tag, too. Ten minutes ago, you didn’t know it existed, but now you’ve got to have it. It all adds up and, if you don’t keep track of it all, you can find yourself wondering where all your money went, while your competitors are rising to the next level.
Getting Lost In the Social Media Maze
It seems like social media has taken over the internet. Mobile devices continue to take more and more of the web traffic share, as fewer people spend their personal time on desktop and laptop computers. The latter two are most often used for work, while mobile devices are used for personal activities. I know I don’t need to tell you that a huge chunk of that time is spent on social media.
If everyone is on social media, naturally businesses want to be on social media, as well. How else are you going to get your products and services in front of people? While there is some logic to that, it’s sometimes hard to know where to put your energy when it comes to social media. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and more. Each one a little different and each one skews towards different demographics.
While it might be smart to have a presence on all, or most, of the major social media platforms, it can be a major time drain. You can find yourself wandering the social media maze for hours at a time without any real benefit. If it takes you a full work week to get a few followers, none of whom may actively engage with your business, that’s not time well spent. Use your social media time carefully and if a platform isn’t producing results, focus on the ones that are. Even better, there are a number of programs out there that can automate much of your social media activity. Find one that suits your needs and free up your valuable time for your core business.
Skimping When You Shouldn’t
After talking about not wasting time and money and keeping yourself within a set budget, it may seem like I’m contradicting myself with this one. But I’m not. This one also falls into the same category – planning and spending your money wisely. Being conscious of costs includes not skimping on things you when you shouldn’t. There is a reason people use that old adage about getting what you pay for.
Here are a couple of quick, but important, examples. If you are serious about starting and operating a successful online business, you don’t want a web address like this: johnnyswebbiz.blogspot.com. There are many platforms that offer the means to set up a free site and, yes, sometimes it’s okay to start out that way. I’m not saying you can’t make money by going that route, but it’s harder and it shouldn’t be a permanent solution. If you can at all, you should spend the money on your own domain right from the start. Let’s be honest. How many times have you spent money at a johnnyswebbiz.blogspot.com vs. a thisisaprofessionalbusiness.com?
The second example of something you shouldn’t be cheap about is choosing a theme for website. Now, I’m assuming here that you are building a website with a blog platform framework – something like WordPress. If you don’t already know, that is actually a solid choice and you’d be amazed if you knew how many familiar brand name businesses actually run on such a platform. By this, I mean a paid version, not the freebie package. The theme is what gives the website a particular look and style. There are free ones, but you don’t want that. Professional themes don’t really cost that much. For somewhere around $30-$50 dollars you can get a nice, sharp looking theme that will make your site look like you hired a web designer.
I’m giving you just two examples here, but these are the things that matter. Think of it like you are walking into a business. If you are going to buy some nice clothes, do you want to walk into a place that looks like a mechanic’s shop, or do you want to walk into a showroom that looks like it was meant to be a clothing store. If you want to pinch pennies, better to do it behind the scenes than on the customer-facing side of your business.
Believing You Can Buy Off the Rack (One Size Fits All)
To revisit the clothing store analogy, have you ever bought something that was supposed to be one size fits all? If you have, I’m sure you know that one size does not fit all. Or rather, that one size fits all very poorly. That same shirt may be too small for me and too big for you. Sure, we could both wear it, but wouldn’t it be better to simply buy one that was made for your size?
This applies to all sorts of things in life, as I’m sure you know. It’s true when starting an online business, too. There are a lot of good tools and handy programs out there, but what works for me may not work for you. My business and my website may be doing great, but I may have an entirely different customer base and entirely different needs. Of course, a lot of stuff can be used for a variety of purposes and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Keep in mind, though, that you need to build your business and take care of your audience. Tailor everything to that. If someone tries to sell you something and says you have to do X,Y and Z just like this, don’t buy it. Good tools and good programs should be adaptable to your needs.
Cookie Cutter Syndrome
This one ties in to the last one. Just as there’s no one size fits all solution, you don’t want fall into the cookie cutter syndrome. It’s good to check out your competition and see what they’re up to. It’s also good to see what people in other lines of business are up to. In either case, there are things you can learn that will help you improve your business.
The danger here, especially if you are new to all of this, is to start modeling your business too closely after someone else’s. I’m not even talking about legal issues like infringement, or plagiarism. I’m talking about creating your own brand, developing a unique personality for your business and telling your own story. Amazon.com is really good at being Amazon.com. If you start Nile.com and the only difference in what your doing and what they’re doing is the name of the river you used for the name…well, that’s not enough to make me start shopping on the Nile.
Bring something new to the table. Pick your own niche and do it in a way that no one else can. This is how you compete with big companies and corporations with deep pockets. Do what they can’t. Be uniquely you.
If you’re still sticking with me, kudos to you for reading this far. Remember way up the page when I was talking about working in your pajamas with just a laptop and a cup of coffee? That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Darn right, it does. Here’s a little personal revelation – I’m kicked back in bed with my laptop right now, while I’m writing this. It’s not a bad way to do business.
Here’s another little revelation. Despite being a relatively accessible way to start a business and a flexible way to build a business, online marketing isn’t all that glamorous. Building websites isn’t the most exciting way to spend your time. Writing articles can take a lot of time and even longer if you want to do it well. Not punching the clock for someone else gives me a lot of control over how I spend my time and I don’t miss sitting in rush hour traffic, but working online is still work.
Probably the biggest false expectation I run across is about income. There are a lot of people looking for a get-rich-quick scheme that make them financially independent overnight. Some of them will spend a small fortune buying into programs that make empty promises about easy money. The truth is, life just doesn’t work that way. If you want to build any kind of business, it takes hard work. For that matter, you won’t even rise to the top working for someone else without putting in the work. Success is always earned and, more often than not, it takes a journey to get there. You may make progress sooner rather than later. You may start to see money come in after a couple of months, or it may be several months. Part of it depends on how much effort you give and some things are outside of your control.
Be patient. Be realistic. Set goals and work towards them. Settle in for the long haul.
Swinging A Hammer Where There Isn’t a Nail
To put this one a different way, if there’s not a problem, no one needs your solution. Would you try to sell sand to a guy that lives in middle of the desert? No, me neither.
People get online every day looking for solutions to their problems. Every time someone does a search on Google, that’s really what they’re doing. If I need a certain kind of battery for my camera, I search online and find one. If I don’t feel well, I put my symptoms into Google. Sitting at home bored on a Friday night, maybe I’ll stream a movie, or play a game online. Some problems are more serious than others, but a successful business is one that is offering solutions to real wants and needs.
Being A Career Student
Maybe you’ve heard someone called a career student. You know, that guy who has been in college for ten years, but he still doesn’t have a degree and never really seems to have a job. Instead of going to work, he’s made a career out of learning. If you want to succeed in your own business, don’t be that guy.
Let me clarify a bit. You should never stop learning. If you’re in business for yourself, it’s actually very important that you continue learning about your particular niche. You want to be an authority in your field. This builds trust and wins over customers. Also, there’s a lot to learn about running a business if you’ve never done it before. If you’re not savvy with technology, or website building, that’s something else you’ll need to get up to speed on.
You should absolutely invest time in learning all you need to know to be successful. What you should not do, though, is get so caught up in the learning that you never take action. If you’re only looking for a hobby, maybe this doesn’t matter as much. To build a business, at some point you need to take what you’ve learned and do something with it.
An effective way to build your business, while learning the new skills required, is to take things in stages. Follow a set training path that includes actionable tasks that can be accomplished along the way. This will create a balance between learning and doing, while avoiding the kind of procrastination that keeps you from achieving your goals. By doing things in a steady, deliberate way, you’re also giving your business stability and increasing the chances for its long term success.
Onward to Success!
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, but if there’s one thing I hope you take away from it, it’s this. Starting an online business really is achievable. To be successful, though, you need to treat it like a business. That doesn’t mean you need to be overly rigid, or try to act like you’re running a corporation. An online business is a great way to be your own boss and have some flexibility and independence in your life. By all means, have fun!
Avoid the common pitfalls and keep moving forward.
One Last Thing…
There are many ways to go about creating and marketing your online business. There are also ways to streamline the process and avoid a lot of guesswork, especially if you are new setting up websites and doing online marketing. The program I recommend, if you are starting from scratch, is Wealthy Affiliate.
I joined this program myself, even though I already had experience in this business. Why? Because they provide an efficient and streamlined framework to work within, as well as an incredible amount of training resources. It’s free to give it a try. Just click on the image below and see for yourself – no risk, no financial obligation.