Running An Online Business Without A Website
A common question I get from website visitors and ezine subscribers is “do I have to have a website to run an online business?”. The answer is a resounding “no … but it’s easier if you do”. If you’re absolutely aghast at the idea of creating and running your own website, not to worry. Here’s how you can create, run and market an online business using nothing but your email program and ISP!
The first thing you need is a product that can be promoted and/or distributed online in a text-based environment, i.e. email. Don’t have a product of your own? Then start out by promoting affiliate programs. If you’re new to online marketing and don’t know what affiliate programs are, read this article: http://www.ahbbo.com/affiliate.html . To find good affiliate programs visit http://www.associateprograms.com . This is an excellent resource. If you want to see what affiliate programs are working for me, visit my site at http://www.ahbbo.com . Virtually all of the banners you see throughout the site are the affiliate programs I’m a member of.
Many affiliate programs will include a free website that you can promote without having to do anything to create it or maintain it. All you do is sign up for the affiliate program(s) of your choice and direct your prospects to your affiliate website which then does the selling for you. Other programs just have you direct prospects to the product owner’s website using a website address that includes special coding so that prospect is identified as having been referred by you and you get the commission on the sale.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you creating a product of your own. Information products are huge sellers on the ‘net. Create your own e-Book, write your own software. Make sure it’s something that can be adequately described and communicated in email, though. It’s no good starting out wanting to promote something exclusively via email when you really need a website so people can “see” what you’re talking about.
Of course, if you’re selling your own product, you need to get set up to receive payment. Being able to accept payment by credit card is a must. Don’t rush off and spend mega-bucks on your own merchant account just yet though. Wait until your business is turning a profit before going to that sort of expense. Start out using a third party credit card processing service. I use Clickbank. The service is excellent, they just take a small commission from the payments made by your customers and send you a check every two weeks like clockwork. You can check out Clickbank for yourself at http://www.clickbank.com . There are other third party credit card processors out there too but I haven’t used them so I don’t know whether they’re good, bad or indifferent.
As for online checks, I am yet to find a reliable merchant. The one that I was using went belly-up a few months ago leaving me unpaid. Finding the right online check merchant seems to be a case of figuring out which is the best of a bad lot. Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. The number of people wanting to pay by online check is minuscule in my experience and they’re usually just as happy to send you a paper check if, for some reason, they’re opposed to using a credit card.
OK, so let’s assume you have something you’re ready to promote online. Let’s look at how you can use email to run your business and get those sales.
DEVELOP YOUR OWN “LIST”
The very first thing you need to do is to get set up to build a list of your email contacts. This is kind of like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when you’re first starting out since how do you build a list when you don’t have any email addresses to add to it yet? The answer, by the way, is NOT to send unsolicited email to every email address you can find. Not only is that a colossal waste of time, your ISP will soon start receiving complaints and you’ll find your fledgling online business is grounded before it even has the chance to leave the nest.
By implementing the techniques described below, you’ll soon start generating interest in your product/service. When you start receiving email from people asking for more information, add their address to your list of email contacts. NO-ONE should be added to your list who hasn’t first made contact with you. Anyone who later asks to be removed from your list must be removed immediately and without question.
CREATE YOUR OWN NEWSLETTER
An excellent way of building a list of email addresses is to offer something in exchange for other people’s email addresses. The single most effective method out there at this time is to publish your own newsletter on a subject or theme relevant to the product or service you are selling. If you’re selling an informational product on internet marketing, then your newsletter should be related to internet marketing. Beware, however, that “internet marketing” is an extremely crowded market and, to be blunt, they all look pretty much the same to me. To effectively compete in this particular market you really need to be able to offer something different from the same-old, same-old. And if you’re just starting out, that may be a tough assignment.
So, try and stick to what you know both for the subject matter of your newsletter and your product or service as well. Nothing sells as well as someone who knows what they’re talking about and can back it up with solid experience and know-how. Believe me, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and grief if you don’t try and reinvent the wheel. If you’re a CPA, create a product or service (or promote someone else’s) related to your field of expertise. Same thing if you’re an at-home mom. There are plenty of others in exactly the same position who would love to hear your words of wisdom.
Once you’re publishing your own newsletter, it’s then just a matter of promoting it. There are many, many places to list your newsletter online. Just do a search for “ezine directories” or “newsletter directories” and you’ll get a list as long as your arm.
You can also “purchase” subscribers. One service I have found particularly effective is http://www.worldwidelists.com . If you want to build your subscriber base FAST, I recommend them.
Your newsletter itself is a great place to tout your product or service but make sure it’s not just one big ad. You need to produce consistent, quality content if you expect people to stick around long enough to get to know you, let alone think of doing business with you.
PLACE CLASSIFIED ADS
Placing classified ads will be one of your marketing staples. The best place to advertise is in your own and other people’s ezines (newsletters). Again, there are directories of ezines that accept paid advertising. Just do a search for “ezine advertising” or “newsletter advertising” or similar and you’ll find them.
The reason why ezines are such an effective place to advertise is that the publisher has done the hard work of drawing together a group of people specifically interested in the subject matter of that ezine. So look for ezines that target the same audience as you do. You’ll find that the really general ezines give you less bang for your buck than the more specific. For example, you’ll find that the response you get from an ad placed in a general “internet marketing” ezine will not be as good as a more specific ezine targeted to work-at-home moms looking for ways to make money from their computers. That’s because the ezine’s audience for the latter is more targeted than the former. So be selective when choosing ezines. You may pay a bit more for the more targeted ezine but your profits will be disproportionately higher.
You can also place free classified ads all over the web. In my experience these are a complete waste of time and only achieve to get your email address harvested by spammers thereby guaranteeing an endless flood of rubbish to your inbox that you’ll never get rid of.
When you publish your own ezine, you’ll start writing articles. Don’t just rest there, though. After you’ve published your article to your own group, make it available for other publishers to run in their ezines as well! Add a resource box at the end that tells people how they can subscribe to your ezine. There are many places to submit your article to. Again, make use of that trusty search engine to find them.
RENTING EMAIL LISTS
You can also rent lists of email addresses for direct marketing purposes. Be EXTREMELY careful here. All email lists are not created equal. There are many, many unscrupulous people out there using email address harvesting software trawling the ‘net and gobbling up every single email address they can find. Then, they whack them all onto a CD and tout the CD as “5,000,000 email addresses, $9.95”. The sales pitch usually goes on to say that the owners of all these addresses volunteered their email address for the specific purpose of receiving email from advertisers. Please. Stay away from these shysters. You will buy yourself no end of problems and most likely get yourself shot down by your ISP for spamming.
Instead, if you want to rent a true opt-in mailing list, go to somewhere like http://www.postmasterdirect.com . This is one area where you definitely get what you pay for.
DISCUSSION LISTS AND NEWSGROUPS
Another way to raise your profile is to contribute to discussion lists and newsgroups. Now, this does NOT mean you post your ad to these groups. In fact, most have strict acceptable-use policies that expressly prohibit solicitation. But every message you contribute includes your signature file – that SHORT, 3 or 4 line blurb at the end that says who you are and how you can be contacted. Contributing to discussion lists and newsgroups on a regular basis (spasmodic contributions won’t do it) will deliver a surprising amount of enquiry from prospects.
WORKING YOUR LIST
Finally, after implementing all of the above strategies, you will start accumulating a sizeable list of email addresses of people who have requested, in one form of another, information from you. This is your “list”. Once you have a list, you have a ready-made pool of targeted prospects for your product or service.
So, at the same time as you’re continuing to implement the above strategies (this never ends, by the way), you should also direct mail your list. Don’t abuse the privilege, however. Start emailing your list every day and you’ll soon find that your list members start leaving in droves (you should always include a way for members to be removed from your list in every mailing you send). So be judicious in not only what you send to your list but when and how often.
When people start buying from you, put their names in a separate, second list (as well as leaving it in the original list). This second list is your list of buyers. Once someone has bought from you once, they are MUCH more likely to do so again. So take special care of this group. Make special offers to them to reward them for their previous custom and loyalty.
So, there you have it, a handful of ways to run and market an online business without a website. It most definitely can be done, but don’t write off the idea of creating your own website down the track to leverage your marketing efforts.
2001 Elena Fawkner
Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online … practical business ideas, opportunities and solutions for the work-from-home entrepreneur. http://www.ahbbo.com/