In our present world of information access and technology, it seems easy enough to start a business, especially one that leverages the power of the internet. In my experience, however, running a digital business has a different reality of many “after alls” you’ll read below.
Forty years ago the internet was born. Twenty years after that, e-commerce giants like Amazon and Ebay began to rule the World . . . Wide Web, that is. Today, anyone, in theory, can form a legitimate hustle online within minutes. B2B online platforms like Shopify boast that anyone can start a business within minutes, which can be true depending on what instance you define “starting a business”.
We’re empowered today more than ever to start our own business. And that’s beautiful! Anyone who has the will can create a successful business. Not only that, you can create it within a fraction of the time. Tim Ferris popularized the idea of the Four-hour Work Week with similar thought leaders later paving way for the laptop lifestyle using images of pristine waters spilling into the the horizon. And while all dreams can be made possible, there are 5 reoccurring, common challenges that surprise business owners time after time, no matter how well-intentioned they come. So beware of the reality behind the veil.
This post wasn’t meant to discourage your efforts from achieving your online business dreams. In fact, I’m working on my very own right now.
It’s quite the contrary! It’s meant to help support your dream. By offering you the realistic inventory of what goes on behind an online-based business, you can anticipate what you’ll truly need. Knowing the potential roadblocks can help you ask the right questions before making important decisions that can affect your time and costs.
#1: Automations: Automations are not so automatic after all
One of the ways you can leverage technology to accrue passive income, build an audience, or make sales is to create automations that do the work for you. This means integrating your web page, email-marketing, social media, and your content together so customers can click and purchase.
Take a look at your inbox and see how many emails you have from United Airlines, Tradesy, Groupon, Etsy, or your favorite retailer. If you receive a lot of emails from them, you know that it’s powered by an automation. Each time you see a Facebook ad or post that has 11,000 likes, you know it’s gone viral, but it’s also because there is some level of automation behind it.
What small business owners often don’t know is the amount of time (and money) it takes to create a strategy and implement that automation. Automations require steps that, if done well, require a full-time effort and a budget beyond a shoestring budget. Creating an automation requires mapping out a funnel strategy, creating content, implementing the strategy onto your email marketing or CRM (customer relationship manager), testing the automations, then creating reports on the particular campaign. Automations are only as automatic as the level of work and effort you put into automating your business.
#2: Do-it-Yourself Platforms: The easy-to-use platform isn’t so easy to use after all
If you’re no longer using juno or aol as your email server, chances are you’re probably tech savvy enough to operate a web platform, whether it’s for e-commerce, a membership site, or a blog. But what often happens in this case is that you rarely ever get the page quality you want, or see in the “store window”. It’s sort of like going to a fast-food restaurant; from the menu image the lettuce looks much more plump and juicy, but when you get the food, it’s far from the quality the photo made you to believe.
To achieve the quality you envision for your online business page, you often need customization and that work requires a developer who has experience in that particular platform. This can get costly. What also may come as a surprise is that web platforms only provide you with certain functionalities which you discover too late in the game. Platforms rarely come complete. You’ll either be required to purchase additional Apps–which require additional steps to integrate and test, or be required to upgrade your existing platform.
The easy-to-use platform will always require more time, skill, and money than meets the eye. But that’s fairly normal when starting a business.
#3: Creating content is time consuming after all
What does content refer to? Content refers to all forms of media that communicate to your audience: web copy, email copy, newsletters, social media posts, ad copy, podcasts, videos, curriculum content, and the list goes on.
Building content is essential for an online business because it’s what allows search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to find you organically. Content is essential for SEO and marketing, but it’s also what forms the basis of your online business in many cases. You can either outsource a team to help you create content, or you can do it yourself. What business owners underestimate is the amount of content that must be whipped out of thin air to power an online business–and that can be time consuming, if not, a full-time job or a dedicated team.
#4: Branding is not as intuitive as it seems after all
It’s easy to think that we can all be experts on branding because we have a keen sense of what we want and who we are in the world. That’s great. But branding is quite a huge undertaking for a several reasons. It can be especially hard when you offer a product or service that’s become a commodity, like coaching, insurance, or a social media training.
Second, branding is beyond just the logo or design of your page, which within itself requires specific creativity and skill. Branding is how your business shows up in the world and how the world perceives your business. And that, my friends, is ongoing work. While this post wasn’t intended to break down the complexities of branding, I will outline some roadblocks that business owners come across when building their business. I will name just a few.
Oftentimes business owners get excited at the process of building their website–and that’s great! You should be excited. But as they begin the process, they become stuck. They get stuck because the messaging–or how they want to communicate their product is unclear. It may sound clear to the business owner, but when it’s all laid out, it doesn’t resonate with their target audience. They then discover that issues with branding isn’t just about great copy-writing. The roadblock is often a symptom of a disconnection within themselves and the business or uncertainty about their core offering and value proposition.
#5: Roadblocks with your online business have nothing to do with online after all
If you’ve recently been captivated by the opportunity to run an online-based business, it’s important to know that it requires the same passionate effort as it would require to run any type of physical business. You may have smarter tools and more advanced ways of leveraging a process in an online-based business, but the level of energy remains the same. You must create good relationships and partnerships, develop good communications, and have a product that solves a need, among other things.
At the end of the day, the challenge business owners face when they start a business online has to do with what’s offline. If you’re running an e-commerce site and your sales are doing poorly, you have to go back to the drawing board to evaluate your product and your branding. This surprises many business owners who believe online sales will simply take off. No, you must continuously find ways to hustle, even your online business. (True Story.)
There are no shortcuts
While there are innovative ways to scale your business and automate your processes, the only way to build a successful business online is the same way you would build a business in the physical world: align your business with your values and build the mechanism that will deliver your value. It sound easy enough, right?
There are no shortcuts. You must do the work. If you’re starting a new venture or expanding your existing business in the online world, it’s probably motivated by the opportunity to increase your reach, freedom, fulfillment and income. What small business owners realize is that launching a business online is no less of an effort. It simply becomes an entirely different type of effort.
And once you approach the project of business as a mechanism to deliver your value, you’ll snowball into a new reality of business and adopt the view that building your own business is completely amazing after all.