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What Should I Sell Online?

Many would-be entrepreneurs get stuck on the most basic of questions before they’re even out of the gate with a new business.  They know they want to make money online but they have absolutely no idea how they’re going to do it.

Often these same entrepreneurs will have a list of niches and maybe business models that they’ve been thinking about trying but they’re not sure how to narrow that list down to the top choice that they’ll eventually focus on for their new business.

When you get right down to it, this same stumbling point and resulting paralysis is actually felt by most people when they contemplate going into business for themselves.  They ask questions like:

  • Am I getting into the right niche?
  • Am I choosing the right business model?
  • Is this something I am going to enjoy?
  • What kind of income can I expect from this niche?
  • How much competition is there going to be?
  • How much time will I have to spend to reach my income goal?
  • Will I be able to establish myself as an expert in this niche?
  • How much is it going to cost to start my business?

These are fundamental questions that you’d better answer before you think about products to sell or you start building a web site or spending money on promoting your business idea.

So here are my suggestions to begin narrowing down the field if you haven’t decided on your business topic yet.  These ideas aren’t new, they’re not secrets and they are not my original ideas . . . but they are universally effective:

1- Have you visualized what kind of business you want to create?

Are you going after a million dollar business or will you be happy making $5,000/month?  Do you visualize having employees working with you or are you a committed solo entrepreneur?  Do you see yourself working 50-60 hours per week in your business or do you want a lifestyle business that takes 20 hours per week or less to run?  You see, the answers to these questions are going to allow you to cross some subject ideas off your list right now.

2- Have you done your niche research?

If you haven’t, you’re not starting in the right place.  Some niches will support the kind of business you envision; other niches won’t.  Some niches are extremely competitive and present a great challenge to entry.  Others will be easier to break into.  Again, the likelihood of success in any of the topics you’ve been considering will become more apparent as you thoroughly research the niche market.  I would think a 30-minute dive into niche research in each of your subject markets would be time well spent and you will see where the best opportunity lies.  After you’ve identified the one niche that you’re going to enter you should jump into the marketplace again and do more thorough research knowing that this is the place you’ll be setting up shop.

3- What do you really enjoy doing?

Could you be happy immersing yourself in every one of the topics you’ve included on your list?  Surely, some of these topics hold your interest better than others.  You see, entering a subject niche that you really enjoy will help you to focus on becoming an expert in that topic without feeling like it’s an agonizing drudgery.  You will look forward to working in the niche every day.  It’s critical that you keep up your spirits and enthusiasm for the subject … especially in the early lean times when the business isn’t producing much and as a new entrepreneur you are more likely to give up or question if this career is really for you!

4- Where does your past training, schooling, and work experience lead you?

One of the key elements of a great business is owner knowledge and expertise for his/her business subject.  Granted, you can learn what you need to know in most niches in order to become an expert.  But believe me, it really does help and give you a tremendous head start if you already know and understand the topic.  Do you already speak the industry jargon?  Do you have experiences and dealings in the niche that you can share with other?  Do you have friends, contacts, sources of information in the niche that could be an advantage to you as a business owner?  If so, the niche is a prime candidate for your consideration.  But don’t be blinded by your mastery of the subject because lots of people have specialized knowledge in subjects that don’t monetize well.

5- Where does your passion lie?

This is related to #3 above, but a little different.  Are you really jazzed up and excited to get going on a particular business?  Is it something you like to delve into anyway (despite wanting to create a business in the topic)?  The fact is this: business owners that really have a passion for what they do seem to be contagious.  It’s easy for prospects to get excited about something if they see the genuine love and excitement that an owner has for what he/she does!  Passion for your subject means you’ll willingly keep up with the latest news, events, changes, and happenings in the niche and want to share those with your like-minded customers and prospects.

6- What is the outlook and trend for each of your potential topics into the future?

You don’t want to sign on as the captain of the Titanic in your chosen niche!  You don’t want to invest you time, energy, and resources into creating and running a business in a niche that is dying or even slowly drying up.  If you’re really in business for the long haul, you need to understand that your efforts are going to be rewarded for years to come.  Some niches are evergreen.  Subjects like health, exercise, travel, relationships, dating and marriage, small business, self improvement, making money, etc, are always on people’s minds.  A great resource for determining subject appeal to the masses is Google Trends.

7- What are the barriers to entry in these niches?

Finally, it’s critical to be aware of barriers that could potentially thwart your business creation hopes in particular niches.  Are there licenses that need to be gained in order to become respected or qualified in the niche?  Is the cost of entry for needed software or product creation going to be more than I can comfortably handle?  Is the niche already saturated to the point that I can’t identify a unique position in which to place my business?  Is the business subject seasonal, limited in any way (geographic, cultural, etc), or not socially acceptable?  Is the business subject something that is blackhat, underground, sleazy, hateful, discriminatory or of bad taste?  (I would caution everyone to stay far away from subjects like porn, gambling, lotteries, anything illegal, immoral, or in any way in poor taste.)

So I’ve given you seven “filters” to run your ideas through.  If you are serious about starting a real business, apply each of these filters to your list of potential subjects and it will soon become quite apparent which topics you should eliminate and which you can confidently move to the top of your list.

After you finish this little exercise, you may still have two or three ideas that have risen to the top and pass all the tests.  Don’t fret.  It may be that any of them that you choose will lead you into a nice profitable business.  What you’ll have confirmed is that any of these remaining topics can serve you well.  Just choose one and be on with doing some detailed market research!

A word of caution:  Don’t try to juggle two or more new businesses at the same time.  Sure, you can add multiple streams of income later, but only focus on one until it is running profitably and giving you the income you want.  Don’t dilute or water down your efforts at the outset.  It’s very difficult to divide your attention and become profitable when you’re trying to figure out how online business works!

To your online business success!

Steve Browne


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Backend Products

Customers vs. Clients – Do You Know the Difference?

I’d like to talk about a way to conduct your solo business online that will bring you all the profits and business that you can handle.

What I’m speaking about has as much to do with your mindset as it does about your strategy or business system of operating.

If you will adopt an “MO” (a method of operating) that includes what I’m going to describe here, your business will automatically be differentiated from your marketplace competitors.

You will have a unique and wholly creative business that your clients will love and clamor for.

What I’m talking about has nothing to do with your chosen business niche, per se.

This model can be implemented in any niche market, with any product or any service.

In addition, anyone can adopt this business mindset as it is totally age, gender, culture, education, and experience independent.

Have you guessed yet what I’m talking about? Yes, the title of this post should have given the secret away.

First, let’s go to my huge Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and look up the definition of a customer.

Here it is:
cus-tom-er, n. 1. a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron. 2. a person one has to deal with; a tough customer; a cool customer.

It’s pretty easy to gain customers for your goods and services.

All you have to do is sell something – that’s it!

Once a person buys from you, they are automatically your customer.

Nothing else is needed.

No relationship exists, other than they have given money in exchange for a good they wanted.

Anyone can do this! Most businesses would prefer to have as many customers as they can generate.

It’s a simple and easy business principle.

Really nothing further is expected of customers.

Yes, your customer can buy from you over again if he decides to, but there are no further expectations or contracts to continue your relationship at this point.

Every one of your customers is free to keep purchasing from you or look elsewhere if he/she desires.

There are no strings attached.

Now, let’s focus on clients.

What is a client?

Here is Webster’s definition:
cli-ent, n. 1. a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc. 2. a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc. 3. anyone under the patronage of another; a dependent. 4. a person seeking the protection, guidance or influence of another more prosperous or powerful.

I hope the distinction between customers and clients is becoming abundantly clear.

If you take on clients, there is the expectation (understood by both parties or not) that you are going to develop a relationship with them that will be in their best interest. You are committing to protect, guide and influence them in whatever subject you are teaching.

So what does this distinction mean for the business owner?

Here is my take on it:

I want people who come to my business to see themselves as clients rather than customers.

I want my clients to know that I will do my best to give them advice, counsel, products and services that will be in their best interest – not necessarily mine.

I welcome my clients to open a dialogue with me – to enter into a personal relationship which includes open and frank discussions about the subject of my business.

I welcome their suggestions, ideas, experiences, and especially feedback in the niche.

I will give them my personality, wisdom, and experience as it applies to the subject so they can understand my passion and qualification for being their teacher, coach, and mentor.

I will never purposefully lead them astray and I will always give them the guidance that I feel will best help them become successful in the niche.

Can you understand how the customer/business owner model of small business is so different from the client/mentor (coach) model?

Now I’m not going to get caught up in semantics. You can call clients “customers” if you want.

Some will call them “friends of my business.” Clients could be called “students” or “pupils.”

The important point is, the folks that come to your business for help can be treated like faceless customers who buy and are never seen again . . . OR . . . you can use your effort and influence to treat them as clients – people who are there for tutoring, guidance, and coaching by one who has great influence, power, or experience in the niche.

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you have or what you sell – you can develop the mindset that everyone who walks through your business door will be treated as a valued client.

One more thing . . . if you decide to take on clients, there is an expectation that you can deliver something to them that the general public doesn’t have – specialized knowledge and skill in the niche.

Yes, you can learn this quickly, you can find it in other people that you work with, or you can organize and present the accumulated knowledge of other experts on the subject.

But somehow, you have to be able to give credible guidance and advice to people that rely upon you for direction.

As the owner of a business, you have the choice to go after one time customers or loyal clients.

Certainly, the client/mentor model demands much more from the business owner – that’s why very, very few owners ever accept this role and business model.

But think about the significant advantages of this type of business:

– Wouldn’t this kind of “TLC” really set your business apart from every other competitor in your niche? Truthfully, how many businesses can you think of that are personally concerned with the customer/client?

– Wouldn’t you be able to charge much more for your products and time if you give this type of personalized assistance? By all means.

– Wouldn’t your clients be much more likely to buy your products without a lot of hard selling on your part? Of course they would.

– Wouldn’t it take far fewer clients in order to keep your business humming? Yes, most definitely!

The decision is yours, and yours alone. I would seriously encourage you to step outside the norm and consider this unique and fulfilling business strategy.

To your online business success,

Steve Browne

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Business Ideas

How Well Do You Know Your Market?

Way too often I run into frustrated new entrepreneurs that understand very little about the marketplace they plan to enter.

Some may have a written business plan (although this important step is neglected way too often).  Some may even have experience in a niche market but have not spent time researching that market in earnest given they want to do business in it.  That’s a big mistake.

Part of the problem lies in the simple fact that business owners sometimes feel they are not capable of researching a market.  They have never done it before and wouldn’t know where to begin or what to look for in their study.

Others don’t feel any need to delve into the market – they may have some experience in it already and figure “I’m a professional in the market and I know what my prospects and customers want.”

I can honestly tell you that the Internet superhighway is littered with products brought to market that no one wanted!  Had market research been done in the first place, most such disasters could have been avoided.

The Internet is such a wonderful tool when it comes to researching a potential market and niche (and by the way, they are not synonymous).

Here are a few questions you can ask (and the answers are there online for you) prior to creating a business, product or web site that will help you to analyze whether your business hopes are realistic.

  1. Who are my perfect customers?  I consider a perfect customer to be one that wants exactly what I have to offer and the ability to pay for it.  Remember, you don’t typically create new demand for a product or service.  The demand exists in the marketplace already and your charge is to find it and then sell into that existing demand.  Yes, some persuasion may be needed in a sales letter … but if the prospect isn’t looking to buy what you are offering (or something very close) … well your conversions will not be good.
  2. What are the demographics and characteristics of that perfect customer?  What is the customer gender, age, skill level for the product, where do they live, what is their education, income level, and past experience in the market?  Understanding these things helps you to better target your product to meet the profile of your customer so that you can provide something that gives great benefit, solves existing problems, and is easy to understand and use.  If your offering is not a good fit for the customer’s technical or skill level you risk a “one and done” customer buying experience which is never appropriate.
  3. Where do these perfect customers congregate?  As you get into marketing your product or web site, it’s important to laser target your ads and even branding message to be seen by those most interested in what your are offering.  You always seek a high ROI (return on investment) for your marketing dollars.
  4. How many, and what kind of competitors will I have?  Understanding the direct competition is critical.  It can be a daunting task to break into a market that is filled with heavy hitters who are already established and have a track record of success.  It can be done, but most likely you will need a product or service that fills a different and important need in the niche.
  5. Another reason for understanding the competition is that you need to see what is currently available for your perfect customers.  What other choices does your prospect audience have?  When you know this, you can better position your business and products to address a unique need or a “gap” in the marketplace  where the competition is non-existent or at least not so heavy.  A great example is the retail book business.  How will you ever compete with Amazon in that space?  Local bookstores by the dozens have been put out of business because Amazon has become a consumer favorite in that marketplace.  So one must ask the question, “What do my prospects want that they can’t get from Amazon?”  Do they want some very deeply focused niche books?  Do they want a more personalized buying experience?  Do they want a physical place to hang out?  Do they want book reviews from experts instead of average consumers?  What else can I provide that Amazon (because of its size) can’t?
  6. Do my customers usually buy this kind of product online?  Maybe there are reasons why you shouldn’t try to sell your product on the Internet.  Maybe the cost to deliver the product is exorbitant.  Maybe the exact product that you would sell is already online and selling well.  Maybe the product is conveniently available in local physical locations.
  7. Is my product timely?  Or did I just miss the “hay day” of my product and now the demand is petering out.  You don’t want to be chasing fads or trying to sell out-dated information or technology.  You want to be on the leading edge of the product wave … not floundering in the back wash.
  8. Have I incorrectly estimated the size of the market?  This mistake can be a business breaker.  A market too broad means there is too much competition and it will be difficult to differentiate your business brand and effectively target your customers.  A market too small means you might find some saturation – too many competitors for the small amount of potential buying customers.  If that’s the case, you can still compete in the market but you must position your business differently.  Some suggest that the biggest markets are always the best because if you see there are lots of sellers you know there are lots of customers. I personally don’t buy that logic completely.  I would prefer to have a unique product in a very targeted market – it means less competition. Most viable markets are larger than you think since online markets these days reach across the globe.
  9. Can I get repeat sales within my niche?  Most business owners don’t make a living on a single product. You’ll be ahead of the curve if you choose a niche where multiple products can be created and sold to repeat customers.  Selling a happy customer on another quality product in the same niche is almost always easier and less costly than finding a brand new customer.  Build your business on repeat (back-end) sales.
  10. When my prospects are looking to buy a product like mine, where do they go?  Understanding the places typical niche participants shop is important.  It helps the business owner to focus advertising and it opens the door to knowing how best to make an offer that will work.  Observe the best competition.  Look for the authority sites in your marketplace.
  11. What are typical customers in the niche willing to spend on a product like mine?  Pricing decisions can be very important to a business. I think the best approach is to understand the price points in the niche that are now working and then test and track price points for your own product before you roll it out in a major way.  You can always ramp up marketing, but you should only do that after you understand where the best pricing points for your niche rest.
  12. How much support are my perfect customers going to need?  Support requests for a solo business owner can get to be overwhelming. Time is money and if you get an avalanche of support inquiries it’s going to mean a lot of your day is taken in answering phone calls and emails. Many folks are lazy (or lack confidence in their own ability to figure something out) and will pick up the phone to get help even if simple, clear and plain instructions are sent with the product.
  13. Are my perfect customers candidates for a community?  By that I mean, are they the type of people that like to get together and interact? If so, you have a perfect niche for a forum, a subscription or membership site, or even physical or webinar events. People like to meet and interact with like-minded enthusiasts.  When I think about this phenomenon, the Harley Davidson brand comes to mind.  Folks that buy Harleys seem to want to get together.  The product brand is recognized and esteemed.  Business owners can create a lot of recurring revenue if they can enhance the brand’s user experience and provide a community platform or infrastructure for their customers.
  14. Will the market prospects for my product or service also be candidates for another unrelated-niche?  If so, a business owner can capitalize on affiliate offers in that other niche. In addition, there are joint ventures and cross-promoting that can generate a lot of new leads and additional revenue.  Just as one example, a business owner with a bridal product might decide that brides are often candidates for printers (announcements), photographers (wedding pictures), and soon, baby supplies.  All of these businesses could be potential partners in sharing leads, cross-promoted product offerings, and customer back end products.
  15. Finally, does my market share product or web site information?  Certain kinds of businesses attract customers that tend to be social.  If this is the case with your product, the use of social media in your marketing can be a huge advantage.  Word of mouth advertising is very effective and if your customers have a great experience with your business and share their feelings about it with their friends, you are going to reap nice benefits in your business.

There you have it:  fifteen questions to ask and resolve in order to better understand and analyze the potential of your marketplace for your online business.  Initial market research is ignored by many entrepreneurs.  Before you decide on a product to sell , or a web site to create,  or even the business model you’re going to employ, you need to research the marketplace.  It makes creating a profitable and lasting business so much easier and legitimate!

To your online business success!

Steve Browne




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How Ethical Are Your Marketing Tactics?

All small business owners will be faced with the decision to use less than truthful advertising and promotional strategies in their sales letters, email communications, ads, and other promotional material.

How do I know? It seems to be the way business marketing has evolved on the Internet.

Deceptive practices include all those little white lies, half truths, and marketing tactics that many feel are perfectly legal, excusable, and appropriate in this day and for this medium.

Some, I know, would question why we are even discussing this topic as they feel anything is game as long as you don’t cross the line of outright lying in your presentations.

I don’t see it that way.

I believe that Internet marketers have a responsibility to their prospects and customers that includes being upfront, honest, and ethical in everything they publish, say, and do.

I understand that I am opening myself up to a lot of potential criticism from the IM (Internet Marketing) community by suggesting what I am about to suggest.

But I do it as an IMer who wants to help and “take care” of my own customers. I want to practice what I preach about putting the customer first.

Haven’t we all been repeatedly giving lip service, at least, to “It’s not about you (the IMer), it’s about the customer and what he/she wants.”

Okay, here’s my rant:
1. Why does every big launch IM product cost $1997?
2. How can a product with a “real value” of $38,650 be sold for $97?
3. How come all the “short window” launches are reopened or extended because the guru’s server crashed (again) from all the massive unexpected traffic? Didn’t he learn how to take precautions the first time that happened?
4. Why do I need to know that I’m not going to pay $10,000, or even half that much, no not even $2,000, or $1,000, not $700, not $397, not even $197, not even a ridiculous $97, but if I order in the next ten minutes I only have to pay $27?  It’s a game that seems to work or it wouldn’t be copied so often – but is it really truthful – to even suggest that the product could easily be sold for $10,000?  I doubt it.
5. Why do IMers get to send me multiple emails on the same day promoting their offers simply because their email service messed up again and they’re not sure if the list I’m on ever received the first email?  It’s a tactic to flood the prospect’s inbox with multiple sales messages … maybe one will stick?
6. How could there only be 7 copies left of any digital product?  Anyone should be able to see right through this one.
7. How can an IMer send me promotions for nearly every offer that comes along and still claim that he only wants to tell me about “the good stuff that he uses and that is relevant to the reason I subscribed to his list?”
8. If a product owner is willing to pay affiliates 50% or more for a buyer from the affiliates list, why should I (the consumer) not feel like I’m paying more for the product than it’s actually worth to the owner?  Yes, I understand that the product creator is paying for someone else to market and sell his product … but if that cost is really built into the product, then why can’t I pay the owner something less than I have to pay to purchase through an affiliate?
9. How many IMers actually read or immerse themselves in a product prior to promoting all kinds of wonderful things about it? Let’s be honest now . . . 30% ? . . . 20% ? . . . 10% ? . . . 2% ? . . . Why is that?
10. Why does an income screen shot of a merchant or Clickbank account really matter:
a) when they are easily doctored or faked altogether?
b) when the small print income disclaimer at the bottom of the page says that the income described in the sales letter is not typical and that YOU may not experience any income at all?
c) when it’s the product owner’s account rather than that of a product user – someone like you or me that’s purchasing the product?
11. Why should I care about being on the first page of Google? (I only want to be ranked for relevant search terms that will bring me traffic that will convert to sales)  If organic search results are your complete marketing system, then “yes” being found ranking well on Google for your keywords is important.
12. Why are guarantees only for the cost of the product? If you guarantee a six figure income, why isn’t that the amount you should pay me?
13. Why do you say “this is the most important email you will ever read” over and over again?
14. I recently copied and pasted a guru’s one page sales letter into WORD and it ended up being 37 pages long . . . how could that be?
15. When I close a screen it means I want to go somewhere else. Why do I have to be interrupted by another pitch, then another, then another, then another when I’ve already decided I don’t want your product?
16. When you claimed your product generated $350,000 last month alone, shouldn’t you also disclose that you and your staff burned through $345,000 in operating and marketing costs to get there?
17. Is there anything wrong with seeing a picture of you and a hired model sitting in a rented Lamborghini in front of a friend’s mansion?
18. If I initiate contact with local businesses about purchasing a web site I designed, contracting for my SEO services, buying a domain name I’ve already registered, or simply listing your business in my directory, how is that not considered unsolicited commercial email (UCE), or as we have come to affectionately call it . . . SPAM?
19. Why didn’t you tell me that your PLR or MRR product would be selling for $1 on eBay shortly after it was released to the public?
20. Why do I have to give your company my name and email address for every single new video or offer that you release? Can’t you keep track of what I’ve already given you?  Don’t you segment your email lists?

I could go on and on some more, but I will stop there.

Yes, I understand some of the reasons, techniques and motivations of selling and marketing that lead IMers to employ these tactics and many, many others. And no, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of them.

What I am wondering, however, is whether using these strategies are really in the best interest of our beloved prospects and customers?

Or do we simply believe we need to use them because that’s what we see other IMers doing so we figure that’s what we must do as well to be successful?

Most of these strategies, when you get right down to it, contain elements of deception . . . or dare I say it . . . lying!

You might say to yourself, no I’m not really lying since I’m not intentionally trying to harm or hurt my prospects.  I just use these tactics to help my conversions because that’s what I see all the experts doing and supposedly that’s what works.

Please understand that I’m not singling out any person or accusing the entire IM community of underhanded and dishonest marketing methods.  Some marketers don’t do any of these things.

My purpose in discussing whether or not we are doing a disservice to our prospects with these strategies is rooted in my desire to be up front and honest with my own customers and to not insult their intelligence with obvious tricks, games, and techniques that could lead them to the conclusion that I care more about my own sales than I do about what’s really best for them … my valued customers.

In the early days of the Internet, consumers may have been oblivious to such tactics.

But to me at least, it seems apparent that today’s Internet consumers are becoming more and more aware of, and tired of (no . . . actually fed up with) these and other deceptive marketing approaches.

Am I being too harsh about marketing practices? Maybe.  Is this really not as much of a concern as I’m making it out to be? Could be.  In your mind, are these practices really not deceptive at all?

Do we in the IM community need to, at a minimum, stretch the truth in our marketing in order to be successful at promoting and selling our products? You will have to decide that for yourself!

To your online business success,

Steve Browne

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