Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my online talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Anita Campbell @Smallbiztrends. Anita is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.” This chat was sponsored by FedEx, Enter the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest and you could win a $25,000 grant and $7,500 in FedEx Office® print and business services to give your small business a boost. Show FedEx why your small business should be recognized. Enter between February 21 and March 29, 2017. Learn more at fedex.com/grantcontest.
SmallBizLady: What’s the first step to growing an online business?
Anita Campbell: Have a crystal clear idea how you plan to make money. That sounds obvious but too often entrepreneurs don’t clarify their business model. Business model is a fancy phrase for “how are you going to make money.” You can get caught up in the excitement of starting a blog, getting website visitors and amassing social followers. But if at the end of the day you’re not making any money — or have no clue how you will make money any time soon — you don’t really have a business.
SmallBizlady: Can you build a business by blogging or through social media?
Starting a blog is not a business model by itself. Gaining an active social media following is not a business model. But if you set up an online store to sell your handmade goods and use your social following to engage and build an audience, NOW you have a business model. Or if you turn your blog into an online community where you charge a membership fee, now you have developed a business model with your blog.
SmallBizLady: How do you promote an online business today?
Anita Campbell: Blogging, social media, search engine optimization — those are all fantastic DIY ways to grow an online business. Your customer base for an online business is already online, so those techniques help you find them. And the beauty of those techniques is that you can often learn enough to perform the work on your own. This is a godsend at first when you still have time but don’t have much money. Just know when to stop trying to do everything yourself.
Don’t forget about advertising, such as Google AdWords. They are especially good for ecommerce businesses where you can track the ad click all the way through to the completed sale. That way you can measure ROI. Leverage platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Meylah and Etsy. They draw a large ready-made audience. Learn the ropes for success there.
SmallBizLady: What if you sell software or an app? How do you grow online?
Anita Campbell: For software businesses a key way to grow is to create an app or integration, and get listed on various marketplaces. Not just the huge places like iTunes or Google Play or the Windows App Store. Look at software vendors that reach millions and if your product integrates with them, it’s a benefit to be seen on their marketplaces, including Intuit, Zoho, Shopify and other marketplaces.
Develop and share content on topics related to whatever you are selling to attract an interested following. Social media is a great way to spread word of mouth. Share your content on social media, and engage with those who show interest.
SmallBizLady: What role does content play in growing an online business?
Anita Campbell: Content is a fabulous foundation of an online growth strategy. Everyone should become a content creator. Here’s why:
- Content on your own blog or site forms the centerpiece for a good SEO strategy. Helps you attract traffic through search engines — these are people already searching for what you offer.
- Content gives you something to share with others on social media. It helps you attract and build a social following.
- Content can be an email newsletter or ebook/whitepaper downloads. People sign up for your content and you grow a mailing list you can market to.
- Content can position you as a thought leader, and that in turn can get you publicity and media coverage.
- Guest blogging on third party sites expands your message reach to new audiences.
SmallBizLady: Can service providers and vendors make a difference to a startup?
Anita Campbell: Good partners make all the difference. When you’re starting out, you can’t do everything. Figure out your core functions and perform those internally. Look for opportunities to outsource or partner with another entity for non-core functions or anything you’re not good at.
For instance, if you run a consulting business, your core functions would be the actual consulting. But go outside for creating marketing materials.
Likewise, if you sell handmade goods online, find a good shipping partner like FedEx to make shipping the goods easier and faster. This will free you up to focus on creating your goods and marketing them.
SmallBizLady: What’s your secret to growing online traffic?
Anita Campbell: Quality, quantity and consistency of content output.
It all starts with content:
- You need quality because people have to want your content.
- You need quantity because the more content you create, the more there is to share on social media, to be found in search engines, and to engage people who come to your site.
- You need consistency because momentum takes a while to build. If you do things in fits and starts, with long pauses, you lose whatever following you gained. Then it’s like having to start over all the time.
SmallBizLady: What role do systems and processes play in growing a business?
Anita Campbell: A huge role. To me this is the most underestimated factor on small business success. Too many of our small businesses are inefficient. Most small businesses have to create their own processes and systems from scratch. Not everyone is good at that. An even bigger issue is that processes take time to establish and refine. The right technology is crucial. Yet investigating and deploying technology such as a CRM system or a help desk system, can be a major undertaking for a small business.
If you can outsource pieces and parts of your processes to partners that already have technology in place, you’ll be further ahead.
SmallBizLady: Do you need money to grow an online business?
Anita Campbell: The answer is yes — and no. You always need money to do things, but not necessarily that much money. At first many entrepreneurs fill in for the lack of funds by working hard and doing a lot of things themselves.
You can bootstrap, i.e., fund yourself first with savings and later with customer sales.
Many do it successfully. I grew my business that way.
But bootstrapping takes time. If you bootstrap, make sure you have your living expenses covered at first to give yourself enough runway to become successful.
SmallBizLady: What if you don’t have savings to use as seed funds?
Anita Campbell: Other options are to keep your business as a side business, while you hold down a day job. Or do some kind of freelance work on the side. Lots of entrepreneurs use their own earnings from something else, to fund their startup businesses.
Remember, this method too will slow you down. You’ll essentially be working on your business part-time or with divided priorities.
SmallBizLady: Do you recommend loans or other financing to grow your online business?
Anita Campbell: In my opinion, financing may be an appropriate option for those who have been in business a while – at least 6 months or more. Not newbies fresh out of the gate.
Prove your business is viable. Get some customers. Then once you have a bit of a track record, you’ll have a better clue of how much money you really need and more importantly, what to spend it on. Otherwise you could misspend that loan, and if the business doesn’t work out, find yourself in debt and possibly loosing your collateral.
Once exception to this is a franchise. You typically have to buy a franchise up front.
If you do seek financing of any kind, do a detailed plan — for your own benefit. By doing a detailed plan of how you will use the money, you’re less likely to overextend yourself.
SmallBizLady: How do you hire your first help to grow your business?
Anita Campbell: I always recommend starting with project help or freelancers at first, if you can. Advantages:
- Risk is lower. If sales dip or don’t grow as expected, you can scale back expenses more readily with freelancers.
- Less expensive. You can add part-time and grow the time commitment as your business grows.
- Get precise skills needed. In a growing business you need lots of skill sets. You’re not likely to get all the skills you need in one full-time employee. But you might be able to bring on 3 freelancers each giving you 10 hours a week in different skilled areas.
This blog post is sponsored by FedEx. The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest offers significant opportunity for small businesses across the United States to share their inspirational stories and achieve national recognition while simultaneously rallying support from local communities to grow their businesses. For more information visit FedEx.com/grantcontest
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz