The economic recession is pushing more and more people to consider self-employment. Starting an online business is a very low-risk way to put your toe in the entrepreneurial pond because the start up costs are minimal, the overhead is low, and the returns can be high. Despite these benefits, however, an online business is just like any other and needs to be thoroughly researched before starting to determine if there’s a need in the marketplace and how viable the business idea is.
The Internet is rife with exorbitant claims of how much money can be made as an online entrepreneur and that you can be rolling in the dough by next week. Remember, most “overnight” success are 1, 2, or more years in the making, and online businesses are no exception to this rule.
How do you determine if your online business idea will sink or swim? Here are 10 steps you can take to test your idea without breaking the bank:
1. Research. Comprehensive research is always the first step for any business idea. Brainstorm a list of keywords someone might use to find the product/service that you’re offering, and then use a keyword tool finder to see how many searches have been done on these keywords. The keyword tool will also make suggestions of related keywords to try. Once you have a list of keywords, conduct searches (use quotation marks around your search term for stronger results) in Google, Yahoo, and MSN to see who else is out there. Evaluate the popularity of the sites you discover by checking out their Google Page Rank and Alexa ranking. Use the same keywords to see if articles have been written about your topic in the major article banks. You’ll uncover your competition in this research, as well as potential strategic alliances. Employ a powerful bookmark program to help you track your research results.
2. Monetize the idea. After completing your research, have you discovered enough competitors in the marketplace who are making money from doing something similar? If so, how are they making money — is it from the sale of info products, consulting services, subscription to their site, advertising, etc? If you don’t see much competition, that usually means one of two things:
a. There’s not enough demand for the product/idea or
b. You’re ahead of the curve in seeing the profit potential.
Unfortunately, in most cases, that result means that there’s not enough demand for your idea in the way that it’s been presented.
3. The “so what” factor. From your research you should be able to clarify what it is that you’re offering and what group of people need what you’re offering. In order to be successful, your offer must pass the “so what” factor in light of your competition. To take this test, you must successfully be able to answer the following question after telling someone what you do, “So what? How is that different from what x, y and z are offering?” You can answer these questions best if you review the benefits of what you’re offering (the What’s In It For Me) rather than just a listing of the features, and if you can speak from the heart about your idea. An online business will take time to manage and develop, so you want to settle on something that you love. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you quickly become a prisoner in a prison of your own making.
4. Industry information. Set up Google Alerts for your industry keywords and track them from info posted on websites, blogs, and newsgroups. Reviewing the alerts you receive over the next few weeks should help you expand your view of the problems/issues with your subject, help you see the “movers and shakers” in the industry, and help you discover other places (blogs, discussion forums, social networks) where your target market hangs out online.
5. Test the waters. The easiest way to test your idea is by creating a blog. Buy a keyword-rich domain name for the blog and map your blog to that domain. Then begin to blog about your insights on your topic, or reprint articles others have written on your subject. The idea here is to begin to establish your online presence and your online brand.
7. Crown yourself the expert. The only way to become an expert in an area is to believe that you are one. By virtue of the research you’ve already conducted, you know more than a large percentage of your target market. Therefore, don’t hesitate to begin to refer to yourself as an expert in your industry
8 Drive traffic. Once you build your blog, they (visitors) won’t come without some encouragement. Create profiles on prominent social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Start writing articles about your topic and submitting those to article directories. Discover if your target market hangs out on niche-specific social networking sites and start networking there. Interview experts in your industry and release the interviews as a podcast. Create a weekly email newsletter to stay in touch with the prospects on your email list. Create powerful inbound links by getting your blog listed on various blog and website directories.
9. Implementation time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a successful online business. Allow at least three months to give your idea a test run and evaluate it after that time. Have you been able to build a list? Are you getting traffic to your site? Are you attracting attention of others in your industry? If so, you’re ready to move to the next step.
10. Move forward. If you determine that your idea is viable, what’s next? Creating info products or a membership site? What are your longer terms goals to develop this idea into a business? The best way to harness all the info that you’ve collected thus far is to create a business plan (check out Boomer Nation). It doesn’t have to be complicated — it can be only one page, in fact. What you need to commit to paper is your offer, your target market, your ongoing goals for how to monetize the idea, and an outline of how you plan to grow the business over time.
It’s not too late to get your start in an online business. Don’t be distracted by the false promises of quick wealth overnight. Success takes time and planning, so invest some planning and research time into your business idea. That’s the strongest foundation you can create for yourself to become a successful online entrepreneur.