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A Private Area for Your Partners?

Have you ever considered developing a private area web site?

Depending upon the type of solo business you operate, and the needs that your business has to communicate with the “outside” world, you may want to consider setting up a private area on your company or business web site.

I’m not talking about creating a forum, chat room, or discussion board as is commonly done among niche community web sites.

Also, I’m not talking about a private membership site. In both these models, your web site is open to the public and you attempt to recruit members (paying or otherwise) that have to identify themselves before entering by submitting a user name and password.

The idea I’m suggesting here is to control access to only those who you specifically target. You want to know information about every one of your clients (members) so that you can target them for niche advertising, specialty products, or services that will generate an income for your business.

A private area web site refers to a site that has a “locked” section or special controlled access area that you limit to special support vendors, partners, and suppliers. The idea is to give these support personnel a way to communicate and transact business with you online, right at your web site; but at the same time, keep customers or the public visitors coming to your site locked out of this area.

The private area can be reserved for anyone you want, but typically would be set up for sharing information with your business partners about your business operation, announcements, policies, financial terms, exact product specs, and anything else you don’t want to share on your public web site but want your business support partners to see and gain access.

Having such a private area is almost like having an “extra” Internet site that is not a part of your main company site. These “extranets” as they are sometimes called, can serve to offer convenience and streamlining to your suppliers allowing them to more easily conduct business with you.

Depending upon the solution chosen, you may be able to offer your partners document sharing, project development sharing, calendaring opportunities, online contracts, sales activity and commission tracking, inventory tracking, and other related management functions.

This strategy doesn’t make sense for every business, so don’t run out and implement this option based solely on the idea that you’ve got to have the latest technologies and comprehensive solutions in your business to be viewed as being real and legitimate.

You may have no reason whatsoever to employ an extranet. Especially if you don’t have a business model that involves work groups, vendors, partners, or suppliers. If you run some type of B2B operation, you would do well to at least consider how such a private area web site could automate and simplify contact with your partners.

Most often this service is offered as an ASP (application service provider) and is hosted on a remote web server rather than on your business server. There are literally hundreds of such applications being advertised online that you might choose from. Most will cost you around $30-60 per month for a small business set-up; however, large companies will pay several thousand dollars a month for a robust hosted solution.

I have also seen a few free applications online if you don’t mind some “in your face” advertising on your net suite.

Realize too that security of your business database and records is of critical importance. Make sure the ASP solution backs up its servers every night to avoid potential catastrophic breakdowns of your business.

Depending upon the type of solo business you operate, and the needs that your business has to communicate with the “outside” world, you may want to consider setting up a private area on your company site.

To your online business,

Steve Browne

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Does Your Content Resonate with Your Audience?

Do you create your own products, publish a blog, or distribute content of any kind?

I would be extremely surprised if you don’t produce some type of content.  Why?

Content can be almost anything you see online.

  • The written word as in articles, blog posts, forum posts, ebooks, newsletters, email messages, reviews, etc
  • Videos that you host on your own site, YouTube, Vimeo, or many other places
  • Audio content that can be found in podcasts, music, and other types of audio files
  • Images that appear as memes, infographics, and photos and images sold for re-use
  • Software and other products used as templates, plug-ins, apps, and on and on

My point is . . . content takes many, many different forms but all of it requires that the creator make choices about how to structure and “voice” the content to appeal to his/her desired audience.

Marketing success typically depends upon how well the creator “targets” his message so that it resonates or “rings true” to his intended prospects.  As a result, it means that the creator should have a good idea about his prospects’ level of education, gender (may not be important in some cases), age, ethnicity, and possibly preferred “style.”

Did you know that, according to USA Today, 43.6% of American adults read at an elementary school level (6th grade or below)? Fully half of all high school graduates can’t effectively fill out a job application. Sad, but true.

In your publishing, it often pays to speak in a common English conversational style – not trying to impress your audience with your “college doctorate” vocabulary and grammar.  Of course, the intended audience should drive your decisions about the specifics of your approach.  If you have a general or average audience, however, be careful that you don’t seem condescending or that you’re “speaking down” to your prospects.

The same type of caution applies regarding using “tech speak”, industry jargon, and often used online word abbreviations like LOL, IMO, BTW, and similar shortcuts.

Be sure to always keep your content easily understood, to the point without a lot of unnecessary verbiage, and of good value to those who are taking the time to review your content.

Larry Winget, noted author and “the Pitbull of Personal Development,” tells the following enlightening story:

“A few years ago I did a press run of 10,000 copies of my self-published book, The Simple Way to Success. After selling over 9,000 copies, we received a phone call from a man saying he had discovered . . . that pages 158, 159, and 160 were blank. I did not believe him. I checked, and sure enough those pages in every copy were blank. I had already sold 9,000 copies of that press run and apparently not one person ever made it to page 158. That realization did a lot for my ego.”

How many of us purchase a published product thinking how much we really need the information in this thing . . . only to get part way through it and stop . . . or worse, never even crack it open in the first place?

If you self-publish any type of content and want to have your writing actually read, keep it elementary and brief. If you publish a course or a comprehensive training of some kind, think about dividing it into user-friendly bite-sized chunks that are very easily digested. It goes without saying that you should gear your publishing to the audience for which it is written.

Most anyone can self-publish and sell a few copies of almost anything with some good marketing.  But those who are earning a full-time living producing content mostly rely on satisfied customers as repeat buyers.  It’s the back end of their business that really enables their publishing to sustain their income.

So make it a point to publish content that is targeted to the audience and of great value to the customer.

To your online business success,

Steve Browne

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Autoresponders Are the Unpaid Employees of Your Solo Business

The ways an autoresponder can be employed to automate your business tasks are many.

Here are just a few of the typical business uses of an autoresponder:

– if an email address is no longer valid, a message can be sent from the mail server that the email is now “undeliverable,”

– if the business changes its email address or URL, a new forwarding address can be sent to those that send mail to the old address,

– if you go on vacation or are otherwise unavailable for a time, your autoresponder can alert customers to your absence and when you’ll return,

– you can have an autoresponder confirm registrations at your site, sign-ups or requests for removals from your mailing list or your newsletter, or customer requests for web site help or support,

– you can have your autoresponder actually deliver your newsletter or “tip of the day” or other marketing message at a set time,

– you can have a direct sales letter sent to anyone that requests further information, or you can send out freebies, bonuses, or other incentives without you having to physically mail the items,

– autoresponders will collect names, email addresses, and other information from potential customers, confirm their information, and forward your pre-made message or “bonus for joining” without your intervention,

– autoresponders can even be your product delivery means if you sell a digital product (be sure you understand the security protocols of this strategy because it’s easy for a customer to share your product with others in most cases.)

Autoresponders (sometimes referred to as “sequential” autoresponders) can be set to do follow-up emailing so that your messages are delivered in order or sequence and on either specified dates or at specified intervals (like every 5th day).

Emails can be pre-formatted in either plain text or HTML and your autoresponder can “recognize” and deliver whichever form a particular email address can read.

Emails can have active links embedded so that in one simple click your reader can open up a window and be transferred to a particular web page.

The work involved (other than installing the software) in setting up your autoresponder is largely a matter of preparing and formatting your messages, in advance, as you want them to appear in the email.

Then you “load” the messages into the system and specify your preferences and the timing or sequence of delivery.

Make no mistake about it – there is a fair amount of work involved in writing and preparing your responses. But the payoff is that you only have to do it once . . . the system handles sending out your messages to the proper person at the pre-appointed time.

By the way, you can have custom “fields” included in your messages so that they appear to be personalized to each recipient if you gather such details as part of your mailing list subscriber-volunteered information.

Autoresponder scripts range from the very simple to very complex. You can find some online for free or at modest cost . . . others are very pricey (like $750) depending upon the features and emailing speed and capacity you decide you need.

There are also many online application providers that will take care of all the mailing and set up for you for a fee (generally around $20/month for a limited number of email messages.)

There are some advantages to this alternative since the cost to get started is reasonable and you don’t have to worry about your ISP getting upset with your heavy mailing schedule that hogs his bandwidth resources.

In addition, autoresponder email companies work very hard to make sure that their emails are not black listed and are deliverable, something that you may struggle with using your own server and script.

The uses and creative applications of autoresponders are many and quite varied.

But in every case, the result is that you are able to perform otherwise laborious and time-consuming tasks by setting up a system that does most of the work for you.

It’s as if you hired some full time customer service employees that never expect to be paid.

What a great business automation tool!

To your online business success,

Steve Browne


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Should a Small Solo Business Owner Outsource Any of His Operation?

A lot of small business owners would reason that because their business is very small and specialized, they ought to try to save money and increase efficiency by keeping all operating functions in-house under the watchful eye of the owner.

Why trust important activities like communications, product development, customer relations, marketing, financial management, or fulfillment to an outside firm or several firms that won’t have the same concern over these functions that the owner would?

And why pay someone else when the owner is trying to conserve cash and keep operational costs as low as possible?

Here are five good reasons why every small business owner ought to at least consider outsourcing some parts of his operation:

1. To increase business speed.

One of the key advantages of solo business is the fact that the owner can make critical decisions extremely fast.

When a new trend surfaces, the owner can jump right on it and secure “first mover” advantage.

When his customers tell him about a new product that they want, he can quickly move to fulfill that desire.

The fewer operations he has to worry about, the more time he’ll have to spend in product research, development and marketing.

2. To increase business flexibility.

Very few successful businesses were catapulted to that elevated position selling the products and services that they initially offered.

Most seem to have seized emerging opportunities that surfaced once they were in business in other areas of their marketplace.

Flexibility is a huge advantage to solo businesses that learn to recognize customer demands in associated products and lateral markets.

3. To save money.

Maybe this reason is counter-intuitive, but consider this simple example.

A business owner has the choice of spending a great deal of his own time dealing with customer questions, support issues, and keeping contact information and customer mailings in order.

Alternatively, he might outsource his customer relationship management (CRM) function to a call center at a very competitive price (less than what his hourly in-house cost might be).  Or if not a call center, maybe the business owner turns to an outsourced assistant that is willing to take on these responsibilities for a very reasonable contract amount.  Outside the continental U.S. there are many workers that are willing to do full- or part-time online tasks for a fraction of the labor cost it would take inside the country.

Which alternative might make the most sense?

4. To take advantage of customization and expertise.

Purchasing the latest high tech software, learning how to set it up and use it, and then dealing with support issues, new updates, etc. can be an expensive and time consuming proposition.

Would it be more advantageous to use an ASP (application service provider) in such a case?  Or would another alternative be to hire a stay-at-home mom or a young college student to watch over certain aspects of the business operations?

Maybe.  It would be prudent to at least look into the issues and costs involved if the alternative is that the business owner does these tasks himself and it requires a major portion of his day.

Instead of buying expensive software that will become outdated, need technical support, and have to be hosted on the company server, would it ever make sense to employ an ASP that would set up, host, service and update its software at a fraction of what licensing a purchase would cost?  Maybe.

Would it save you time to have experts in the product help you customize your own unique solution?

5. To make up for owner deficiencies.

No small business owner that I know is competent in every aspect of his business operation.

Limited knowledge or understanding, lack of time, and even a lack of desire to perform certain routine but necessary functions are deficiencies or holes in the business operation that can be plugged with outsourcing.

Let’s say that the owner has little knowledge of, and no personal interest in being the company webmaster.

This may not be a function that the solo operator wants to hire an employee to oversee.

The obvious solution is to outsource this separate function to any one of many web site management companies or freelancers.

The owner gets the expertise and help he needs without having to pay an employee a full time salary, benefits, and worry about worker’s comp, payroll taxes, and all the strings attached to regular employers.

Outsourcing may be the very best solution to the dilemma the solo operator faces as he decides how to leverage his own personal time in order to handle all the many operating issues that his small business requires.

Isn’t it at least worth a little investigating to see if outsourcing makes sense in your particular situation?

To your online business success,

Steve Browne


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