Hello and a very warm welcome to my E-Business Hosting site. I originally built this site as the commercial interface for my Web Hosting business back in 2002 and made a great deal of money out of the internet boom. Today I am back to show you how you can capitalise on the learning from my trading days which when combined with today’s technological opportunities and your own brand of creativity, could enable you to make a tidy income.
To give this initiative some structure, we will do some reflections, then pull out some analysis and from that set our strategy. Lets get on with it…
My Internet education began at the Live 95 Exhibition at Earls Court in London, where I spent the day looking at ways to access the internet and the potential experiences once I got in – it was amazing. I popped off home with my bag full of literature and CDs and had my first experiences of the internet via my 28.8k modem – dialling into MSN and Demon.
I was so inspired by the potential commercial opportunities offered by the internet, that in 1997 I foolishly put myself under pressure – committing to build a web server as a part of the project which ultimately enabled successful completion of my Engineering Degree.
In 2000 I saw a commercial opportunity to develop a niche product and roll it out in the form of a service which could be sold for profit and started the research and development which would enable me to build it using Macromedia Coldfusion . In 2002 I was contacted by someone who turned out be a long-term customer of this web-based service.
So in 2002 to enable trading – E-Business Hosting – was born, but due to the then bespoke nature of the service platform to be provided, Coldfusion servers needed to be built and colocated, maintenance and business processes setup and when the systems went live the real learning began.
Fast Forward >> Having created and managed a web services business for just over 12 years I can safely say that it was extremely hard work and caused much stress and many late nights.
Anyway, today the internet is fully mature and developing all the time, anything is possible and you don’t need to build network hungry, power guzzling web servers to enable you to realise your dream business.
Lets have a look at some of the critical success factors:-
Issue – Following several years of research and learning – “I saw a commercial opportunity in developing a product to use in delivery of a service in a niche way – which I wanted to pursue”. As opposed to – “I realised I had the capability to build/manage a web server and build square websites in Dreamweaver, therefore I will become a commercial web site and hosting provider”….
If you do some stalking on the UK companies house website archives, you will find literally thousands of liquidated web services and e-business type companies which during the late 90s and early millennium were setup and died not too long after.
It seems to have been common place – to build a web server, rent an office with a leased line, a phone and a drinking fountain, then advertise web hosting services in Netmag. In direct competition with – Host Europe and the company that went on to be 123-Reg, my primary commercial risk assessment suggested that this business format and scale could be a recipe for disaster
The key message is – you need a sensible commercial strategy and a business plan. Delivery of the business vision via well thought out market research, sales and commercial processes is what drives the revenue. This is where the key competency is required to run even a web hosting business, not Linux and Dreamweaver.
So what – Don’t try to compete with the big boys/girls until you are ready. If you can identify a niche product/service or find a niche in the way a product/service is delivered then this will set you apart, this is what I did.
Issue – As an individual I am driven, but if it is not clear from the reflection I was passionate and got a real kick out of every part of the success. I crafted the first invoice to my long term customer with great pride and passion and it was good to see the funds growing in the bank as it was this that kept me focused when faced with the technical and commercial challenges of keeping the business running.
So what – There are many ways to earn revenue by creating an E-Business, but to be sustainable and successful for the long term my strong recommendation is that it needs to be doing something you find engaging and are passionate about.
Issue – Whether a late invoice needs to be chased with a client or when things go wrong with systems sat in racks on the other side of the planet or when you need to get something setup quickly to respond to a commercial opportunity – it is really critical to have people on your side, prioritising and reminding you that you are not on your own. Developing and maintaining outstanding relationships is critically important.
So what – Engagement with those in your client or support network is absolutely crucial. updates, newsletters, webinars, forums, regular structured meetings and those coffee catch-ups are essential.
Issue – Running a business takes dedication and can take a great deal of time. What can go wrong will go wrong.
So what – you need to make sure that your operational risk assessment considers the effort required to deliver and that you are able to dedicate significant time sometimes at short notice.
So when I was thinking about how we could develop a strategy which went off in a few different business directions to give the web site a bit of volume working through a decision analysis table, I found that having spent a day transposing the above from my notes I am emotionally engaged with the reflection and analysis, therefore my mind is in a good place and already generating ideas and cautions. So another key learning to capture from this is the pure benefit of going through this analytical process. So lets follow the thought process and capture…
- Pick a product/service theme you are passionate about which will hold your interest and enable credible discussion/engagement. This is top of the list as it is absolutely critical that you have the knowledge and capability to put your own spin on the theme – It doesn’t have to be complicated but your spin could be the key to finding a niche
- Take time to research the market for your target theme, it will not only give you ideas about gaps in the market, I guarantee you will learn a great deal more about your target theme as you go along
- Research options to combine other peoples products which relate to or support your E-Business theme, at a reasonable profit. If you are commercially sensible some real business volume can be added here
- If applicable – establish a delivery method which does not involve complex logistics and cumbersome processes in delivery of your product or service as this risks delays which will lead to unhappy customers and a soiled reputation. Information based products/services would be absolutely ideal for an E-Business but it is going to be very challenging to penetrate an existing market unless uniquely specialised
Business Plan Development:-
Before we list the outputs of the above as real actions for the business plan, we will have a look at the results of some of the simple research from the above because its kind of changed the thought process slightly. I knew of google adwords as a means to what they call monetising a website and I thought that this would be a perfect feature addition as this provides the opportunity for you to earn income when someone clicks a google adwords link on the website and subsequently makes a purchase. However, did you know that the two arguably biggest online retailers have affiliate programs? <rhetorical question>
The Amazon Associates Program and the Ebay Partner Network enable their products to be sold via affiliate links which can be included in website text. This is extremely powerful and the ability to earn commission on products you link to from your website text, listed on Amazon and Ebay is a bit of a game changer I think. So I am thinking to myself – ‘One day, someone is going to capitalise on this and develop a whole shopping cart solution so as website owners can sell products listed by other people on Amazon and Ebay without even touching them’. So you can imagine my excitement when a bit more research revealed that this is already available!! Wow – I am ready to have a crack at a revised strategy.
Lets take our time here as it has occurred to me that others will be acutely aware of this, so the rules about adding your own creativity to find a niche still apply, but the scale of what we can do has just multiplied. So implementing our fresh top level – strategic thinking, here is the revised shopping list:-
- Research and establish a theme you are passionate about to enable the addition of your own creativity to make it unique
- Setup an Amazon Associates and Ebay Partner Accounts and maybe even Google Adwords
- Setup a WordPress Website – you don’t have to but you may want to buy a template to enable you to create a ready made website which includes pages a blog and maybe a Woo-commerce shop
- If you are thinking shop, you will need to buy the Amazon Associates and Ebay Partner plugins – the ones I have reviewed are designed for WordPress
- Promote your website on the social networks
- Develop and maintain your website in a way which enables engagement with its visitors
Now you are ready to build your Business Plan for which the thought processes should naturally flow through the commercial setup and implementation capturing all operational aspects as you go along. There are many Business Planning guides/tools available from organisations such as Banks and these contain crucial check lists which are designed to enable coverage of all points the Bank Manager will need to cover to setup your banking services. This should also articulate any analysis and a clear business case to justify any loans etc. Although, given the learning from the above – a core benefit of our e-business strategy is that it will be delivered via your home computer hence no requirement for premises, it will be a nice size chunk of work for you alone and hence no manpower/resourcing requirements and no payment processing will be required hence capital expenditure/investment and the horrible facets of asset depreciation should not be required.
However, these business planning tools will not provide the analytical process and strategic development of your niche product or service hence should be used as required in conjunction with our work here. You should make sure that your business plan covers:-
- Market Research and Product/Service Development – find that niche which you are passionate about. Take your time and after the light bulb moment research the competition, look at what they are doing and add your own creativity to put your mark on the niche affiliate markets
- Business Platform – an affiliate marketing e-business naturally lends itself to being web based and we will help you confirm what you need and get this in place. You will also need to be clear on the affiliate networks you will need to sign-up to – eg. Amazon Associates, Ebay Partner Network, Commission Junction are obvious ones, but analyse and check that if what you are writing about has affiliate other network opportinuties such as Text Broker.
- Sales/Business Development – this will primarily cover website content in terms of contextual information and blog articles, also methods to keep them fresh and up to date, but it also needs to cover promotion of your website to drive product buyers in. Possibilities will include Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC), Social Networks, Pinterest, Youtube etc etc.
- Commercial Process – you need to be clear on the business workflow, from getting a potential customer from your content page through to the point of sale site. Also, do not forget about the process of getting your affiliate earnings from point of sale to your bank account.
- Communication – establish clear communication protocols and ensure you have the processes setup to support. From mail forms to email, to telephone make sure what potential customers need to do is made very clear
- Capitalisation – I cannot find evidence of any affiliates who contact their customers after they have made a sale – so I cannot quote examples. Perhaps this is one many affiliates overlook. I just got here so I am no expert, but if someone has taken the time to find your website, read it and then buy a product from the seller, is that not an opportunity to quickly and simply form a relationship? Capitalisation fundamentally means more revenue from happy customers and is transacted by using processes to engage and ensure they are satisfied. Did the product meet their needs, was delivery as promised by Amazon and that all important ‘how else can I help’. This type of process is typically a component of modern customer excellence strategies.
- Risk Assessments – I cannot emphasise enough the value of risk assessments and if you are not familiar with risk assessments they should cover the main features for all angles of your business and – what if? what if? what if? Commercial, Operational even the Health and Safety of your workspace risk assess everything.
I hope you found the above useful and enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is my spin on how someone with a bit of time can unlock their own creativity and create a viable e-business. I suppose the acid test of my belief in the outputs will be for me to find some affiliated products or services which I believe may be of help – my only hesitation is that I thought my e-business days where over – perhaps not, what a case study….