You may have noticed that we’re pretty excited about digital commerce around here. And we’re not alone.
The web provides an unparalleled way to launch a business — small or large — with very manageable levels of investment and risk.
But you won’t launch a new business by thinking or reading about it — you have to take action. At this point, I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks build viable businesses around an online product or service, and I’ve noticed five areas of focus that are crucial when you’re getting started.
Here’s what they are.
#1: Build an email list with an autoresponder
Probably no huge surprise here. We’ve been talking about email marketing for a long time on Copyblogger, because it’s the key mechanism you’ll use to pull your audience together and let them know what you have to offer.
I started with an email autoresponder on day one, and I suggest you do, too.
Why? Because it gives you a great way to capture the attention of every interested person you run across, and to turn those individual relationships into an audience.
It’s worth doing a good job on your autoresponder, but you don’t need it to be perfect, especially at the beginning. Come up with 5 or 7 messages that will:
- Help your audience member solve a simple problem they care about
- Give that audience member important information about why you do what you do
- Educate the audience member about why your solution is a great way to solve the issue they have in your topic
Each autoresponder message can do one or more of the above.
For various reasons, I like to create strong, interesting “teaser” messages in the email itself, with a click to read the full article.
Of course, email marketing is a big topic. To learn more about how we use it to support our own products and services, go snag our Email Marketing ebook — you get instant access to it with your free registration for My.Copyblogger.
The best time to get your email autoresponder going is about five years ago. The second-best time is this week. Forgive the business cliché, but that really is how it works.
#2: Craft your cornerstone content
I like to build an autoresponder first so I can capture every drop of audience attention as it comes in.
So where does audience attention come from? Well, your content, of course — but more specifically, from the cornerstone content that you create for your site.
Cornerstone content answers the most important questions, both:
- The questions you’re asked all the time about your topic,
- … and the questions you wish you were asked all the time about your topic
Again, they should be good, but they don’t need to be perfect — you’ll continue to evolve your cornerstone posts over time.
#3: Expand your network
One nice thing about really solid content is that it tends to attract people who can help your business. They might share your content, or recommend your work, or even be candidates for great partnerships.
But you don’t just sit back and wait for people to notice you. Start expanding your network now, to create the most possible opportunities for your new project.
Guest posting is still an excellent way to expand your audience and your professional network. It won’t bring you overnight success (and neither will anything else), but it’s a solid, steady strategy to increase your influence and authority.
Social media channels are also good places to find other content publishers. Naturally, you won’t want to spam them with “Do me a favor” messages. Make yourself useful, be a good egg, and make sure you have solid content you can refer them back to.
#4: Seek market intelligence
A digital product is like any other product — you absolutely must find out what people want before you invest time and money in creating a product.
We’re very lucky to have great platforms for listening in on market needs and desires.
Social media is a good place to start. Remember to listen more than you talk.
- What problems are people wrestling with in your topic?
- What frustrates them about the existing solutions?
- What objections do they have before moving forward?
Remember, you don’t need to do all of your social media listening on your own page or site. Anywhere your potential customers are hanging out makes a great listening post.
Once you have an audience (even a modest one), you can supplement your social media listening by holding free Q&A calls, using a service like Google Hangouts. I like to gather questions in advance for these, then deliver the answers in a live session.
This isn’t just a terrific way to find out what your market is hungry for. It’s also a powerful confidence booster for you. Conducting a few free Q&As will show you just how helpful you can be in your topic, as well as revealing areas you can get even better.
#5: Craft your Minimum Viable Product
Now that you’ve done the groundwork, it’s time to start thinking about actually creating that digital product or service.
We’re big fans of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. It’s used by lots of software and technology companies, but it’s a smart approach for creating nearly any type of product or service.
How do you pin down what your first MVP should be? Answer this question:
What’s the absolute smallest product or service I can create that will offer a meaningful benefit for my audience?
Not every MVP is a paid product — many small online businesses launch a few free offerings to test the waters, before zeroing in on an idea with traction for the initial paid product.
MVPs allow you to put a small amount of focused work into a product concept, then launch it to your audience and see how it goes over.
- Is this type of product something your audience wants?
- What do they like about it?
- What’s not working, either for your customers or for you?
Once you find an MVP that’s capturing some interest, you can start to optimize it — doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
And if you launch an MVP that’s a complete dud — that’s valuable market intelligence. Something is off in your product concept or your marketing message. If you keep the MVPs small enough, this won’t frustrate you (too much). It’s just another experiment to learn where the wins are.
Need more guidance?
We offer a lot of free resources at Copyblogger to help you hit the ground running.
But if you want to save yourself some time and money, it’s smart to pick up more advanced training … let’s make your digital dreams a reality.
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