How To Help Your Communities And Attract More Prospects

Group of people

 

“Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.” Paul Ryan

I’ve been networking for my offline business for a number of years. It’s all about making connections, building trust and becoming the go-to person when a prospect needs help in your area of expertise.

Does this principle work online too? Well, it’s usually referred to as getting involved in communities rather than networking, but if you do it right it can build your client base.

There are two types of communities you can get involved in. A community of your peers and a community of your prospects. You have to know what to do in each of them for best results.

Peer Groups

There are two types of peers, those with whom you are in direct competition and those who offer complementary products or services to yours. Both can help you get clients, but it may be easier to approach the complementary group because they are not in direct competition with you and so may be more willing to listen to proposals. I’m not saying that competitors will never enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement, but there are often barriers to overcome.

Business and industry focused groups, mastermind groups, and so on all exist to help you educate yourself further and provide connections. Once you have established trust in the community you can start to get clients through ‘word of mouth’. Peer groups also offer opportunities for joint venture (JV) partnerships which can widen and expand your audience.

Prospect Groups

Prospect or audience groups are the best place for you to spend your time because they are often full of your ideal potential clients. You can locate these groups by looking for relevant Facebook Groups, searching for groups on LinkedIn.com, and searching for and joining message boards and forums devoted to your particular niche.

The way to make these groups work for you is to join the group, freely answer questions for them and let them come to see you as part of the group. If you are on a forum let your signature line speak for itself and do not try to sell your services or products at all. Your prospects will come to you when they see that you offer what they want. Your job is to establish a level of trust through sharing your expertise.

What To Focus On

“Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.” Simon Mainwaring

Be a free and open source of information regarding your niche. This is how people will get to know you and trust you and start seeing you as someone they can use, work with, or refer to others.

Spend more time in communities that are made up of your ideal prospects than with your peers. You should certainly participate in peer communities so that you can become known as a community expert, but you don’t want to spend most of your time in a group of competitors.

When you join either type of group you should realise that when you first join, you are the new person and you are unknown. No one is going to trust you immediately. Take the time to get to know others before mentioning your products or services, and get to know the culture of the group. Let your signature line act like a business card and start the selling process for you. Make helpful participation your goal and you will be more successful in attracting prospects and turning them into clients.

Increase The Chance Of A Sale With A Powerful Guarantee

Guarantee badgeThere are a number of factors that influence the chance of making a sale. Perceived value, price point, bonuses, and more. When a vendor or affiliate is putting together an offer they are likely to put some thought into each of these, but one factor that is probably given least thought, where we follow the herd, is the guarantee.

The principle of offering a guarantee associated with the sale is risk reversal. This means if a product or service doesn’t work as promised, it is not the customer that has something to lose, but the vendor.

The most common guarantee in online marketing is probably the money back guarantee. This makes a sale more likely by promising the buyer that the vendor will return their money if the product or service does not work as advertised.

However there are variations on this promise based on the ‘does not work’ part of the guarantee.

Probably the weakest guarantee used in internet marketing is the 30 day money back guarantee. If the buyer can discover whether the product or service works within this time period the guarantee is appropriate. However if it takes more than a month to produce impressive results the guarantee is unlikely to persuade a prospect to buy and may leave purchasers with the impression the guarantee lacks authenticity.

 

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All our products are covered by our cast-iron money-back guarantee. If for any reason (or no reason at all) you’re not completely satisfied, simply contact our helpdesk within 90 days of your purchase for a full refund.

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This type of guarantee can be improved by increasing the period in which the guarantee can be claimed. The most common alternatives to the 30 day period are 60 or 90 days, or even one year. Another way to improve the guarantee is to increase the circumstances under which the buyer can claim a full refund. This is where the buyer can activate the guarantee “for any reason, or no reason at all”.

A guarantee that is valid over a long period of time and has no conditions related to claiming a refund is one of the best risk reversal strategies. However it could be argued that it places too much risk on the seller’s income.

Statistics show that many people who buy the books and courses online often do not complete the material they have bought. It’s even quite common for people to purchase an information product and then never access it. This means it is possible that a customer can purchase a product, leave it untouched on their hard drive, find it just before the guarantee expires and claim a refund without ever trying the product. This and similar scenarios have led to the use of conditional guarantees.

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Use our course, go through all the material and follow the steps to make more money.If you don’t see immediate and consistent results, contact us within 1 year of your purchase date for a full refund of your money.

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The conditional guarantee promises a full refund in the event of the product or service underperforming, but only if the customer can demonstrate they have used the product as intended and taken the appropriate actions.

This means the validity of the guarantee depends on the customer following through and taking action. However, as mentioned above a percentage of buyers will never take action and therefore will never be in a position to claim a refund. This makes the vendor’s income more secure, so they can consider offering a bolder guarantee.

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Download the ebook today. Read it from cover to cover and see for yourself just how much (and how fast!) your results improve once you start using our methods. Then, if you don’t make at least 10 times what you paid for the ebook within the next year, just email my team and we’ll refund you twice the amount you paid. That’s double your money back!

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Did you spot the conditional part of the guarantee? Offering something like double your money back can appear to be an impressive way to reverse the risk to the prospect and help encourage the sale.

The key to creating a powerful guarantee is to consider your offer from the perspective of a sceptical prospect. What risks will they see to buying? What worries will stop them purchasing?

Unfortunately there are some worries you won’t be able to address with a guarantee. The consequences of a product not delivering as promised can be more serious than loss of the purchase money. Using an advertising method that does not work can waste far more money than the cost of an information product, following poor SEO advice can drop your website from the search engines, yet another money making method that does not work can put a strain on your relationship with your spouse, and online strategies that don’t work can waste time that you’ll never get back.

Many of these worries can’t be addressed by a normal guarantee, but they can be overcome by building trust in your integrity and expertise. A blog with impressive content, a social media presence that shows you to be honest and helpful, impressive but believable testimonials and case studies related to your offer can build a perceived guarantee in the minds of your prospects.

Work on these factors and then take each perceived risk and try to reverse as many as you can so that it is you the seller who stands to lose instead of the customer. However if you want to stay in business don’t stand to lose too much.

How To Be More Successful At Making Money Online

If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to make money online for some time there are two questions to ask yourself. Why have you not yet achieved that goal? What have you been doing to make yourself the amount of money you want and reach your goals?

If you’ve been doing the same thing over and over again for more than six months and you haven’t got the result you aimed for then it may be time to try something different. There are a number of ways to make money online. Try not to limit your beliefs regarding what is possible.

Many fail to make money online because they don’t understand that an online business has to follow the same principles as any other business. Working online doesn’t mean basic business practices no longer apply. It certainly doesn’t mean you can set up a business with less effort.

If you want to earn a lot of money you’re going to have to do a lot of work to make that happen. That means staying away from pushbutton software and methods. Don’t waste your time looking for a single product that is going to make you five figures a month, or whatever your target is. Realise that that particular online dream is as impractical as hoping to make money from most business-in-a-box offers in the off-line world. If you want five or six figures a month you’re going to have to build a business to get that sort of money.

Don’t buy a product from a sales page believing that you can automatically get the results described in the sales copy. Not every ‘make money online’ product for sale is a waste of time, but you may need to find your own method of what’s going to work for you. Every business owner has their own approach and talents. That’s why a method of making money can work immediately for some, but not others.

Creating an automated income from a website takes time and effort. Creating a website is easy. The challenge is to provide something of value and letting your prospects know it’s available. You need to work out how to initially engage with your audience and how to continue engaging with them.

This is basic business practice, whether it’s online or off-line. People are not going to go into a shop and buy something off the shelf if it is of no value to them. They’re not going to buy something if it looks cheap or the shop looks like it’s setup to make the owner a quick buck with no regard for the customer. You need to build trust, and that will take time and effort too.

If you want to make money online it is no different to building yourself a business off-line. The only difference is that you are digitally delivering your product or service. The concepts and principles of business are basically the same. You still have to put in the time and effort. You’re  still selling to human beings, but the delivery is different.

If you’ve been doing the same thing for the past six months and your income has not yet increased then something needs to change. Look at what you have been doing and discover why it is not working for you. Have you been building a business or trying to implement a silver-bullet push button method?

You need to focus on one niche where you can deliver value, and preferably that you enjoy. Even if that leads you to something you believe no one else would be interested in, the internet is probably vast enough to contain that small niche. Your customers are out there somewhere. Whatever business you choose, go into it with persistence and expect to have to work for it. Treat it like a business and you’ll be more successful.

Time To Improve Your Business With A Half Year Review

So the sixth month has passed and we are just over half way through the year. Although a review of progress can be done at any time it seems appropriate to do one now. So here is a process I went through over the past couple of days. I hope you find it useful.

Step 1 Progress To Date

You should have a set of goals that were due to be achieved by this time of the year. The first step is simply to review how well you have met those goals. What steps were completed, were they completed on time, and how much of each goal was achieved?

You should end up with an honest review of your progress in the first six months of the year. Include how far adrift you are from meeting goals that have not been achieved yet. How many weeks behind, how much content is still to be produced, etc.

Step 2 Two important Questions

That snapshot of reality may lift your spirits or it may inspire disappointment. Whatever your reaction, put those details aside for now and ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. What are the biggest opportunities to grow your business in the next 12 months? There may have been developments since you last considered your action plan. You may now be able to access new resources that open up new possibilities. These changes may mean you could abandon some goals, be more ambitious with others, or consider a change of direction.
  2. What content does your audience need to see to know, like and trust you? This is particularly important if you are solely based online and use social media. Yet your answer can also involve producing blog posts and/or products to help establish your expertise and trustworthiness. Don’t answer in general terms. If you aim to publish more blog posts what topics would work best to increase your audience’s awareness of you, or convince them that you are trustworthy?

Step 3 Your Guiding Sentence

Next try to summarise your main goal for the next 12 months in a sentence. If you need help with this try completing the following:

In the next 12 months I will focus on …

State your main focus and add what benefits you will gain from completing the goal. If you have lost focus in the past six months and your course has drifted away from your goals, reading this sentence should remind you of where you should be heading.

Step 4 Project Ideas

Next list all the projects you currently have underway. Then add any projects you could start in the next six months. Don’t judge how practical or successful they are, just list them. Then compare them with your guiding sentence. Remove from the list any that will not help you achieve your main goal for the next 12 months.

Step 5 Identify Your Roadblocks

Now it’s time to return to your review of the past six months. If you have not met goals consider your journey towards each one. What have been the top problems in reaching the goals? What have been the main roadblocks?

Write down a numbered list of as many roadblocks as you can. The more thorough and honest you are the more helpful the next step will be.

Step 6 List The Solutions

Now you need to brainstorm solutions for the roadblocks and list them. Use a numbered list so that the appropriate solution has the same number as the roadblock it solves.

This step may need some research. Some solutions may mean committing yourself to learning a new technique or putting in more effort to your business. If you are reluctant to invest the time and effort maybe you’ve identified another roadblock.

Step 7 Identify The Best Projects

Once you have completed step 6 it’s time to look through your list of project ideas and identify which ones solve the most roadblocks. The best solutions should be the projects you focus on for the next 12 months.

You may find that you are already working on some of the best solutions while other projects will need to be started and replace ones that are currently in progress.

You may find this process indicates you should drop projects that you are heavily invested in. If you are reluctant to abandon any projects take the time to think through why it would be better to continue with it, even though it has not been identified as one of the best roadblock solvers. If you can’t convince yourself then the project has to go for now, no matter how much you’d prefer to keep it.

Step 8 Plan The Next 12 Months

Having worked through the above steps you should have a short list of projects you will implement in the next 12 months. It’s likely this list won’t exactly match what you are currently doing. Set aside four weeks to make adjustments. In this time aim to close down or complete the projects you are not going to continue with and start planning when and how to implement you first new project.

Your 12 month plan does not have to be detailed right now. Just enough to know when you will start each project during the coming year with time built in to prepare for its implementation. Once you have this outlined the last task is to build in reviews so that you can repeat the above steps at least once every six months.

Solve Big Problems And Test New Ideas With A Quick Sprint

Sprint bookSprint by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz reveals a process that focuses on making very rapid design and product improvements by focusing on a specific project for a period of one week. The book says it is a method “to solve big problems, test new ideas, get more done, and do it faster.”

The book is based on the “design sprint”, a five day problem solving process that Jake Knapp created while working at Google. His ‘sprints’ were used on Google Search, Chrome and Google X. Jake then joined Google Ventures, a part of Google that invests in startups and then grows them into successful companies. It was there that he met his co-authors Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky, who had worked on products like YouTube, Gmail and Google Trends. Together they have run over 100 sprints with their portfolio companies and this book claims to be the distillation of those experiences.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure if I should spend time reading this book. It was based on a method used by companies and requires a team of up to seven people. However, this includes a number of experts, including a finance expert who knows the finances of your business, a marketing expert familiar with your competitive environment, and someone familiar with your customers. If you run a solo or low employee business you are probably those experts anyway. So I decided to ignore the big company aspects and just concentrate on the process.

For many businesses the traditional method of approaching a problem is to research a market to uncover insights into the products or services they could offer, then develop and test the solutions. In the ‘sprint’ approach you design a prototype first, then test it to uncover more insights. You learn by testing rapidly built prototypes first, not by focus groups and surveys.

Esentially the first three days are spent working through ideas and solutions, day four is spent on prototyping, and on day five you stage a user test. So within one week you solve the problem conceptually and create a prototype.

The book breaks this process down further. The ‘sprint’ runs from Monday to Friday, but I’m going to present it in terms of days. Each day starts at 10am and runs to 5pm with lunch and breaks between sessions, but if you’re a solopreneur or don’t have to round up and coordinate a lot of people you can follow your own timetable.

Day 1: You start by creating a path for the sprint week. Start with the end in mind and identify the goal you want to achieve by the end of the fifth day. What would success look like? What problem(s) would achieving the goal solve? What answers do you need?

Day 2: Start finding solutions by reviewing what’s already on the table. Consider which of the existing possible solutions you can remix and improve. The core principle of design thinking is that “all design is redesign”. So each member of the team (or just you, if you are working alone) works individually to create redesign variations and then creates a rough ‘sketch prototype’ of their preferred remix. The goal for this day is to produce these sketch prototypes ready for the next day.

DAY 3: In the morning, the team (or just you) critiques the sketch prototypes, selects those most likely to succeed and decides which one to progress or which ones to combine and progress. This is done using a voting process involving coloured stickers placed on the sketches. Next you turn the winning sketch into a customer storyboard that outlines the steps from product discovery to purchase, use and disposal.

Day 4: You adopt a “fake it till you make it” philosophy and convert the storyboard into a realistic prototype that you can present to a customer and learn from their feedback. It doesn’t have to be a finished product, it’s a prototype. So you can use Powerpoint, Keynote or a word processor to summarise a digital product, or outline a sales page. You could create a prototype advertisement or even build a rough webpage to send people to. Alternatively produce some prototype packaging or a brochure related to your product or service.

Day 5: It’s test day. Share your prototype with customers and record their reactions. The authors suggest you get the prototype to five customers as that number will probably identify around 80% of all problems. Collect feedback with followup questions and combine the answers with your observations and customer comments to get an early insight into how end users will see the product or service. If feedback is favourable you can get an idea of how successful your solution might be. You’ll also get an idea of what and how to improve.

So what insights can we take from this process?

  • Take time to map out the problem and decide on the goal you are aiming for.
  • If you are working as a team it’s best to work independently to come up with possible solutions instead of brainstorming as a group. Then present the options, discuss, vote, then optimise.
  • The quick development and voting aspects of the process stop progress being held up by endless debates and deferring decisions.
  • Develop a quick and easy prototype that you can immediately show a few customers.
  • Once your customers have seen your prototype observe their reactions and get feedback so you can learn, adapt and optimise.

In summary, if your product or service is fairly straightforward ‘sprints’ can help move you forward quickly and give you the chance to fix obvious issues at an early stage.

If you’re interested in taking a closer look at this process you’ll find the book at http://www.thesprintbook.com. There are also free resources, including slides and pdfs, and there’s a bonus pack available too.

Is your content focused on growing your business?

There are a number of ways to measure success and growth in business. It may be tracking how well known your brand is, or how many followers you have on various social media accounts. However, for many businesses these statistics are not indicative of success. Earning money is.

One of the most important resources an online business can use to promote growth is content. Blog posts, newsletters, social media updates, videos, podcasts and more can all be used to increase your reputation and your traffic, but you should really be using content to grow the turnover of your business.

Content – The Resource To Leverage

Online, everything revolves around content. Whether you sell products or services your business will need a lot of content to engage, educate, and encourage your prospects to buy from you. If you create information products you need even more content. So, the more you can leverage the content you create and the better you organise it, the more efficiently your business will grow.

Content Formats

There are many different formats of content you can use. It can be text, audio or visual in nature. You can place this content on your own blog, as guest posts and articles on other websites, on social media and in emails and newsletters. Discover which formats your audience prefers and where they are most likely to find it. Then create a combination of different types of content to ensure you reach more of your potential audience.

Create With a Plan in Mind

To leverage your content properly you must have a plan. Don’t create content without deciding on a point of view, voice, and the goals for the content. Ideally each piece should act as part of a path your audience can follow until they reach a destination you can use to increase your income: an opt-in page.

The Email List Is Where Your Business Grows

It’s a cliche, but ‘the money is in the list’, is as true today as it was ten years ago. Okay, some will get pedantic and say it must be a targeted list, or a responsive list, but they’re just trying to appear that bit more clever. The bottom line is you will create more customers from the prospects on your list than from anywhere else. Advertising and social media marketing can produce customers directly, but probably the best way to leverage them is to lead people to your email lists.

Incentives To Join Your List

In the most successful solopreneur businesses the blog posts, social media updates, and sometimes even webinars are designed to recruit people to an email list. Get the right target audience on a list and you can market to them regularly. The key is to have something free or low cost that will persuade your audience to hand over their email addresses while anticipating a valuable and useful reward for doing so.

Joined Up Content

Ideally your content should work together. Start with the product, service or event that you want to promote. Decide what email content your prospects will need to consume to become educated and enthusiastic so they are more likely to purchase from you. Then work backwards again to decide the content you will need to get more email subscribers. The blog posts, articles, etc. that will catch their interest, and the incentive that will persuade them to join your list.

Create a Content Calendar

When you know what content you need to create, it’s important to work out in a calendar when you will create the required content. If you are planning to launch a new product in three months, you have to make sure you can create the promotional and educational material in that time frame. It will be a missed opportunity if you don’t give yourself time to grow and educate your list before launch day.

Create Content For A Purpose

Earlier I said you should really be using content to grow the turnover of your business. With this clear goal you’ll be able to look at how your content works together to recruit prospects and encourage purchases. You’ll be able to identify and fill gaps in your content and thereby create a more efficient way of growing your business.

How to Prepare Your Business So You Can Enjoy A Vacation

Wooden lounger on beach
Image: Vacation in my backyard by Mandolin Davis on Flickr

Vacations are one of the many things sacrificed by startup business owners. Even those working online. Even if the business has been running a couple of years it can still be a challenge to step away from the emails, posting and creating that working online involves.

Yet one of the supposed advantages of having your own online business is that you can go anywhere at any time and still have the busines running. The problem is business owners believe that going on vacation means they’ll slip from the minds of their list and social media contacts, lose money, and return to a pile of work.

If you are to genuinely leave your business and relax it’s important to make plans to take vacations. You have to decide and work out how you are going to turn off the computers, disconnect from social media, and spend time away from your daily work.

Here are six ways you can prepare your business for your vacations.

Have Systems

You cannot expect to select appropriate software or give someone a task if you cannot explain what the task entails. This is where systems come in. You should have a clear process for every important part of the business that you will need to continue if you hope to go away on vacation. This can seem daunting, but it’s really just a matter of recording what you do as you perform each task and then reviewing it to check another person can perform the same task and produce the required results.

Create an Appropriate Schedule

Control the flow of work in and out of your business during your vacation by careful scheduling. Set deadlines that ensure everything is prepared for the vacation period. Knowing everything is in place before you leave creates the piece of mind you’ll need if you are going to enjoy your time off.

Use Automation

It’s an online business, so using automation should seem an obvious solution. There are plenty of things you can automate and there are some things it is best not to. For example, you can automate delivery of content. Autoresponders to send emails to your list and other software to schedule your social media posts. You can also automate parts of your business that do not directly interact with customers, like bookkeeping and computer backups.

As a general rule, if it doesn’t directly affect your clients, consider automating it, especially if it does not make your business seem less ‘human’ and friendly. However, beware of automating anything that responds directly to your customers, like customer service. This sort of task would be better given to a team.

Build a Reliable Team

If you want to run your business so that it continues as usual whether you’re there or not you are going to have to build up a team. Identify the tasks that need creativity or a human touch and find people or outsourcing companies that will meet these needs. Using individuals or companies each have their advantages. A company can be more reliable than an individual, simply because you will not be depending on just one person. However a person that understands and meets your needs exactly can be better than a company with many clients competing for their attention.

Find a Partner

If you cannot yet afford to build a team or outsource, consider going into partnership with another business owner who does the same type of work as you. There are a number of advantages to online partnerships, including having an agreement that each partner will take over some of the work of the other during vacations.

Build Up A Passive Income

There are plenty of opportunities for passive income online. Affiliate marketing, blogging, and adverts leading to automated sales and delivery systems can help make your business less reliant on other income sources that demand your active participation. Build up a passive income and the ability to schedule blog and social media posts for while you’re on a vacation, and your business will hardly notice your absence for a couple of weeks.

As an online business owner you can easily take a laptop or tablet on vacation and keep working from anywhere with an internet connection. However, if you want to completely disconnect for a period of time there are ways to organise your business so that you can have a genuine vacation.

Is Your Marketing Supporting your Business?

Two common mistakes made by new internet marketers is to start a blog and then not promote the material they create. If you decide to have a blog, and you know why you have that blog and why you need to market, you’ll be more likely to maintain your blog, promote your content and see your business thrive.

It’s important to have an idea of what your online business should be doing and how you should be making people aware of what you do, otherwise you can lose focus and waste effort. The best way to focus on these aspects of your business is to have plans.

A good business plan should summarise the overall strategy for your business. It should include financial details, market research, details of your products or services, and overviews of your operations and marketing strategies.

Your marketing plan should outline your strategy for social media, content marketing, pay-per-click marketing, or whatever marketing tactics you intend to use.

Producing useful business and marketing plans sounds like hard work. That’s because it is. However, they don’t have to be produced instantly. In fact they should be working, evolving documents that help you guide your business.

Having business and marketing plans that work together gives your business the following advantages:

A Consistent Brand

Your business plan should address your mission. As I’ve said before (your mission statement as a way to focus) this doesn’t have to be a specific mission statement, but it should give you direction and identify why your business exists, for whom, what you deliver, and how you differ from your competition. Knowing this will help you create a consistent brand and communicate it to your audience.

An Appropriate Marketing Budget

Deciding an initial budget for your marketing and predicting cashflow as your business grows will enable you to keep to marketing strategies that support your business, not threaten it. This may mean starting with free social media channels and only spending on advertising once you start making money.

Marketing Goals

You can set marketing goals that are alligned with the overall objectives of your business. These can include reaching a target audience appropriate to the stage your business has reached, explaining the advantages of your products or services, or generating enough prospects to enable you to hit sales targets. Set measurable goals and you can monitor your progress against your business targets.

Flexible Marketing

If you are monitoring your marketing performance you can stop investing in areas that are not working well and divert your budget (whether that is in terms of money, time, or both) to areas that are. One of the advantages of marketing online is that there are a number of strategies and channels that you can test to see what works best. This makes it easier to keep your marketing focused in areas that can grow your business.

If your business doesn’t have the above advantages it’s time to review your business and marketing plans. If you are to make the most of your resources and opportunities they have to work together.

How To Avoid Suffering The Loss Of Your Online Business

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Imagine you have a website that receives a good supply of traffic, converts a decent percentage of those visitors to customers and provides your bank account with a healthy stream of income. Now imagine that the website, its domain name, and all the email accounts connected to the site disappear in an instant and you cannot restore it.

No website to trade from, no visitors converted to customers, no way to contact your customers, no income.

A Real Catastrophy

During the last couple of weeks this nighmare has been happening to a number of businesses. All due to two facts. The website was hosted with a company that is capable of huge errors and, most importantly, the website owners had no backup to use to restore their websites.

On 16th April the hosting company 123-Reg started a clean up process on its servers. This included their virtual private servers. These have many of the features of the more expensive dedicated private servers, where only your websites are stored and no on else’s. Storing your website this way makes it more secure from being influenced by other websites, but it can be very expensive.

A cheaper alternative is a virtual private server (VPS). This hosts hundreds of websites while mimicking the functionality of a private server. Unfortunately the script used in the clean up process included some code that identified some live VPSs as empty and therefore effectively deleted them.

A total of 67 servers were affected. There has been no statement about how many websites have been affected, though the company has been emphasising it’s a small proportion of the 1.7 million UK sites that they host. To make things worse 123-Reg does not keep backups of customer data.

As you can imagine there has been scathing criticism of 123-Reg on social media. While some businesess have effectively disappeared, 123-Reg has suffered a colossal drop in customer and industry confidence.

The catastrophy seems to be down to a combination of human error, poor processes in auditing scripts, and insufficient hardware capacity.

So, could you have coped if this had happened to your hosting company, or would your online business have disappeared without a trace?

The key to being protected from such events is having a good disaster recovery strategy and maintaining separate personal backups.

Backup Best Practices

The idea is simple. In order to make sure your data is safe, you make a copy of it. If something happens to the original copy you can always use your backup copy. Any damage can be easily undone by replacing or restoring from your backups.

Any backup solution should have the following four features:

  • Redundancy

You shouldn’t consider data as backed up unless there are at least two copies of it. You should store these copies separately. Ideally you should have one copy stored completely offline, on something like a Smart Card, portable hard drive or compact disc. However be aware that this hardware will need to be replaced regularly as each has a finite accurate data retention lifespan. With data stored offline there is a minimum risk of malware infection and you can be sure that it is truly disconnected from your online copy.

  • Secure locations

Don’t store backups on the web server. Apart from the possibility of some calamity occuring with your web host the backups could contain old software that is vulnerable, and because they are in a publicly-accessible location, they could be exploited.

Backups should be stored offsite and, as the 123-Reg disaster shows, not on the same server as your website. Other scenarios that make a server based backup useless include infection from malware and malicious attack. If you are using a WordPress plugin to make backups make sure you download a copy of each backup to your computer immediately. Off-site backups help protect your data from attackers and it also helps protect against hardware failure.

  • Automation

If there is no automation there is no guarantee that backups will be made. Without an automated system many people tend to forget or become lazy when it comes to making backups, especially if the website has been problem free for some time. Decide how often your data should be backed up and make sure the automated schedule is good enough. There may be some critical data that needs to be backed up more regularly than your site’s static data.

  • Practicality

It’s no use having backups if you can’t use the data to recover from a potential disaster. You need to regularly test that you have a practical solution by doing a test run. Using a test domain and only the files from the backup make sure you can get your website online.

This won’t necessarily mean a full restore. If an error occurs in one file that affects your whole website you can recover by simply replacing the single file that contains the error. This is much quicker than a full site restore. So make sure you know how to replace as well as restore, or that you have easy and quick access to someone who does.

Some website owners who lost their sites in the 123-Reg disaster were back online within hours of realising the extent of the hosting error. That was because they had a practical disaster recovery strategy that included secure, up to date backups. If you are serious about your online business but you could not have been one of those who recovered quickly, it’s time to take a close look at your backup strategy.

Common Info Product Mistakes For Beginners

Many people enter the information product niche full of hope, expectation, and excitement. Often they haven’t taken the time to gather and understand the data surrounding their chosen niche or have a clear plan on how they will make a sustainable income. Some will misunderstand or ignore the relevant facts and accepted wisdom and end up working towards failure.

Here are some of the common mistakes that are made.

Not recognising reality

There’s a lot of data to gather before you should enter a niche. The size of the potential market, sustainability, competition, how to reach your prospects, accepted price points, etc. All of this can be researched before you even decide on a product or service. Once you have the data you need to be certain that your plans reflect the information you have gathered. This is the worst time to be wearing ‘rose tinted spectacles’.

Poor Business Plan

Even with all the correct information it’s possible to put together a business plan that will fail to deliver the profit you’re hoping for. Many people starting out online concentrate on the revenue they could produce and fail to offset the costs of delivering a product or service. These costs are much lower online compared to running a brick and mortar business, but it does not mean they can be ignored. See my previous post Is your online business model profitable?

Unwilling to commit resources

Many newbies fail to realise the resources they will need to get their first product or service up and running. Even businesses online need some start-up capital and the quality of some of the basics does depend on how much you are willing to spend. Website hosting is an area where they may be tempted to go cheap, and subsequently find that their site occasionally goes missing, and that technical support is almost non-existent. As well as financial capital there’s also the investment of time and effort. The have-it-now, get rich quick approach rarely works in business, even online.

Shiny object syndrome

Conversely, many people overinvest when starting online. They probably don’t have a focused business plan and start hopping from opportunity to opportunity, throwing money needlessly as they go. With a realistic understanding of the data and a good business plan it will be possible to predict how revenue will grow in the early days. This will indicate the size of your budget and, together with a focused business plan, should prevent any temptation to invest in shiny objects.

Creating what is not wanted

Too many start with an idea for a product or service they believe their niche will crave yet they fail to do any market research. Consequently they throw themselves and their resources into producing something that the niche will completely ignore. As this is likely to be their first attempt at product creation it will probably have taken a substantial amount of time to get the product ready for launch. Time that could have been spent more constructively if only they had evaluated the product first.

Spending before receiving

Cashflow can be a problem for an online business just as it can be for a brick and mortar one. With all the stories of online entrepreneurs becoming rich quick, it’s easy to be over optimistic about the sales your start-up will achieve. This is where you need to control your budget, continually revise your expected levels of revenue, not forget the effect of commissions if you pay any, and avoid spending money that has not yet entered your business account.

Poor customer service

Neglecting customer service is another beginners mistake. If your product or service hasn’t pleased the customer the worst thing you can do is offer a poor level of customer care. It costs a lot more to keep acquiring new customers than to retain ones you already have. Underinvesting in customer service will have consequences for the long-term future of your business.

The above are some of the most common mistakes made by people hoping to make money with information products. There are plenty of other areas where mistakes can be made. The quality of the product, how well it is marketed, and the use of upsells, downsells and cross sells will all have an impact on the business.