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The Free Lunch (and Other Myths)

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I have a page at my website that contains a list of home business ideas (and links to detailed articles about some of them). On that page, I invite visitors who have an idea that isn’t listed on that page to submit it to me for inclusion. Nine times out of ten, the “ideas” that are submitted are nothing more than ads for various online business opportunities and not true business “ideas” at all.

This evening I received one such email. No greeting, no thank you, just a terse one liner “to be added to your ideas page” and an URL. I responded that this was not an “idea” (which, had the person bothered to spend any time at all at the page in question, she would have realized) but an ad for her business opportunity, and that if she wanted her ad on my site, she could damn well pay for it like anyone else (I was a little more diplomatic than that but you get the gist).

Hot on the heels of this type of approach is the owner of an affiliate program for a product which would be of marginal interest (if that) to a tiny number of my ezine subscribers, offering me a fabulous “joint venture” opportunity whereby all I have to do is send a solo mailing to my list (worth $260) in exchange for making maybe $12 on each of three sales. Whoopee. Invariably, these people know the demographic of my database intimately since, according to them, all my readers have been searching high and low for just such a solution to all their problems and *I* can be the one to give it to them!

Please. Contrary to what these people obviously think, I did NOT just fall off the back of a turnip truck so, to whom it may concern, go grow your own list or pay to advertise to mine. Those are your choices. This is a business, not a charity for the bone idle.

These are by no means isolated examples.

Those of you running an online business probably have a list of examples like these as long as your arm. Why do people not understand that you get what you pay for in this world? I’ll tell you why. The proliferation of “secret” sites that promise to reveal to you, for only a “$60 lifetime membership!” all the “tips and tricks” you need to know to market your online business on the ‘net “without spending a dime!” and all the “insider secrets” marketing courses promising the same thing.

If you’re laboring under the impression that it’s possible to market your business without spending money, here’s some not-so-secret tips:

1. There ARE places to advertise your business for free, sort of. They don’t come with no strings attached though. For example, although you can submit your site for free to the classifieds sites and FFA pages that are absolutely everywhere, be prepared for a deluge of email in response. And I’m not talking about requests for more information! Typically, people visit these sites to get your email address so they can send THEIR business opportunity to YOU.

2. Some of the search engines are still free. Many have moved to a paid submission model though and, even if they do still offer a free submission service, those listings are not a priority and tend to be added to the index when the engines get around to it. Better to spend a few bucks for a submission and get listed before the next summer Olympics.

3. You can write articles and submit them to newsletter publishers and relevant websites. That’s actually a good way to get your message across so long as the article has real meat to it and doesn’t mention your opportunity or product (leave that for the resource box). Although it needn’t cost you money, it does cost you time and effort and you may well get a better return by simply paying $65 for an ezine ad.

4. You can start your own newsletter and develop your own opt-in subscriber list. Unless you’re prepared to pay for subscribers (around 15 cents per subscriber is about the average) it’s going to take a LONG time to grow your list to a decent size. Contrary to what some people will tell you, you will not grow a ‘sticky’ subscriber base of 5,000 within a month. Oh, you can grow a list of that size alright using some of the various approaches being offered but it won’t be a targeted list and it won’t be a sticky list (i.e., subscribers won’t stick around). With these programs you’ll also find that a lot of subscribers are in it to generate their own subscribers and really aren’t interested in subscribing to your newsletter. They do so only because it’s a condition of being in the program. Often these people will use free email addresses that they never check, let alone actually read the contents of.

5. One of the best advertising mediums out there is ezine advertising (which is why I receive so many of these bogus “joint venture” proposals). Understand though that the person writing and publishing an ezine that accepts paid advertising from third parties is running a *business*. True, some publishers will accept free ads from subscribers but they are usually just starting out and offering free ads is a good way to generate new subscribers. As a result, their subscriber numbers are pretty low (only a few hundred or a couple of thousand at best) and so the result will probably be disappointing unless it’s an extremely targeted list. So, if you want to get your message to a large, targeted group of prospects, ezine advertising is your best bet. But be prepared to pay.

Contrary to what many people apparently believe, running an online business is hard work. It’s not a simple matter of slapping up a website, posting a few free classified ads, submitting your URL to the free search engines and then turning your computer on in the morning to find an inbox overflowing with orders that came in overnight while you were sleeping. This is a MYTH perpetuated by the authors (and VERY hard-working authors, I might add) of those so-called “secret sites” memberships and “insider secrets” marketing courses. They make their money by selling you the FANTASY that it’s possible to make money online without working (or that you don’t have to spend money to make money).

Running an online business requires an enormous time commitment initially just to create a useful website and just as much (if not more) of a commitment to maintain it, create new content, develop products, publish a newsletter and basically do all the marketing things that ANY business must do to grow, whether online or off.

So, next time you’re looking for ways to market your product or opportunity without spending a dime, think about who you’re approaching. If it’s a free classified ad site, fine. But if it’s someone just like you trying to make a living with a business of their own, ask yourself: What’s in it for them to promote your product for free?

Consider how you would feel if you had invested two years of blood, sweat and tears building a business in your town only to have people walk into your office expecting you to help them market your product for free. It just ain’t gonna happen unless there’s something in it for them. The same is true online. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone’s online business is just a hobby and that they’re there for the sole purpose of helping you make a success of your business. They’re not. They may be helpful, they may offer advice and encouragement but, when all is said and done, they’re in business, just like you. Bottom line: you have to pay your way in this life and that includes online.

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/

The Free Lunch (and Other Myths)
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