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Your Online Business's Greatest Asset

By Elena Fawkner
Posted Saturday, September 11, 2004

One of the most common questions I get asked goes something like this: "I've just signed up for your xyz program and it's great. But now I want to start making money by selling it to others. How do I find people to sell it to?"

The stock-standard reply goes like this (regular readers of AHBBO will recognize the following words from last week's Q&A segment):

"First off, what everyone needs to understand is that this business is a numbers game. Something like 2-3% (estimates vary) of all people who read your ad will respond to it. Of these respondents, a similar percentage will actually buy from you. So, as you can see, the name of the game is to get your ad in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible.

"It is for this reason that spamming is such a problem. People come to the realization that this is a numbers game and, when they do, the uninformed conclude that all they have to do is bombard their message to as many people as possible and 2-3% of 2-3% will yield sales in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile. This approach does have some superficial logic to it, of course, which is why it seems to appeal to so many.

"What the rest of us understand, however, is that this approach simply doesn't work. Most people will not only not even open your message (we all develop a spam radar very early on) but won't deal with you in any shape, manner or form because these tactics paint you as a charlatan. In addition, of course, spamming is downright illegal in many countries and parts of countries.

"So, how do you, legitimately, get your ad in front of the numbers of eyes you need to generate a fair return on your investment? One approach, certainly, is to post your ads in the free classified sites. Superficial logic dictates that it's sensible to see whether your free ad generates a response before spending money for paid advertising. Well, your free ad WILL generate a response. Unfortunately, it probably won't be the kind of response you're hoping for. Usually, you'll just wind up on some spammer's mailing list or find your autoresponder bombarded with other people's advertising messages.

"The reason for this is simple. Who do you know who goes to the free classified sites when they're looking for a business opportunity such as the one you're promoting? Not many. The reality is that the vast majority of people who frequent the free classified sites are those who are placing their OWN free classified ads!

"So, what's the answer? It's threefold. The first is something to get going with right now. The second and third are longer term investments in your business that will yield results over the longer term.

"Firstly, when you're just starting out, you're going to have to rely on paid advertising to generate all your enquiry. This means spending money on paid ads in ezines that target your target market. You need to write a few different classified ads and monitor the results, tweaking your ads, one element at a time, until you have one ad (or a few) that consistently generates good enquiry for you.

"Once you're at that point, you can begin to start advertising aggressively, confident that your ad "pulls". Be prepared, also, to reinvest your profits back into advertising. This is how to build a serious business.

"Secondly, and longer-term, create your own website. The traffic to your website is a rich source of prospects since these people are already obviously highly interested in what you have to offer since they've sought you out.

"Thirdly, develop your own list. This means capturing the email addresses of your site visitors. You do this by inviting them to leave their email address with you so you can stay in contact with them about developments at your site of interest to them.

"Also, supplement your website with a newsletter that people can sign up for at your site. By establishing and developing relationships with your site visitors and newsletter subscribers, you are investing in your own highly targeted list of people who are likely to be very interested in the programs you are promoting not only now but in the future.

"This is the basic approach to running a business online. Don't be concerned if you're not generating quick sales at this stage. As you can see it takes a LOT of time, effort and commitment. The good news is that your investment will pay off over time."

The focus of this article is the third step of that process: developing your own list. As suggested above, there are two main ways to go about doing this. The first requires that you have your own website. The second doesn't.


If you have your own website, you need a way to capture the email addresses of your site visitors. Now, "capture" doesn't mean using some devious means of tracking email addresses without the knowledge of your hapless site visitor, if such a thing is even possible. What it means is directly inviting your website visitors to provide you their email address so you can stay in contact with them, let them know about changes to your site and let them know about new products and services that may be of interest to them.

Your likelihood of success or otherwise in getting people to give you their email address is directly related to one thing and one thing only: the content value of your site. If your site is barely more than a sales page for all of your various affiliate programs, don't expect people to give you their email address. Why should they? What have you given them of real value that would make them think that you may have something of even more value to talk to them about in the future?

To the contrary, your visitors are likely to be disappointed and annoyed to find that, despite the promising description in your search engine listing, your site is nothing more than a collection of affiliate programs they could have found from any one of a thousand or more sites they've been to this week.

So get the foundation right before you start to build your house and way before you start inviting people over. Take the time to create a website that is unique, that has REAL content and which offers visitors something of genuine value. This takes REAL work and REAL effort and REAL time. That's because you're creating a REAL business!

Once you have created a real website with real content, then, and only then, should you invite visitors to leave you their email address for future contact purposes. You will, of course, establish and adhere to a privacy policy for your site to govern the uses to which any email addresses will be put. In particular, you must keep those addresses secure and confidential and never EVER reveal or otherwise make them available to any third parties.

Over time you are going to amass a significant number of email addresses. These addresses are your "list". Once you have a "list", you have a ready-made group of qualified prospects to whom to market your existing and future product range.


Publishing your own ezine is the other main way of cultivating your own list. This option doesn't require that you have a website (although it is recommended you do both).

Although you may not have a website, the same comments about quality of content that were made in the context of websites apply equally in the case of an ezine.

It is only if you publish an ezine with quality content (and this means a LOT more than publishing a couple of articles written by other people with a few ads thrown in for good measure) that you will attract and, more importantly, retain, subscribers.

Your ezine then becomes the vehicle to communicate any offers you want to make to your list. Because you have been communicating with your readers week in, week out, because you deliver consistent quality content, and because you've been around for a while and seem to know what you're talking about, your subscribers get to know you and trust you. And that makes any purchasing decision much easier.

Some publishers add anyone to their subscriber list who makes contact with them. Others only add subscribers who specifically request to be subscribed to the ezine. It is this latter group who will cultivate the better quality list because the average interest level of subscribers will be much higher.

If you intend to accept paid advertising in your ezine, you should definitely stick to the strictly opt-in version. Advertisers will only pay for highly targeted lists that get results. Sure, you may make the first sale but what you want is repeat advertising and this depends on your advertisers getting good returns from the ads they place with you.

There are many ways to make a decent income from an online business but none of them come with shortcuts. Because online marketing is a numbers game, you must somehow find a legitimate way to get your message before as many pairs of eyes as possible. But as we've all heard many, many times before, it takes an average of seven exposures to your message before someone will make a purchase decision.

Sure, if you spend sufficient money you can generate enough exposures to make the sale. THAT sale that is. But then you have to start all over again to make the next one. You lose your investment of time, money and energy as soon as that one ad campaign is over.

The point to take away with you is that, as well as being a numbers game, internet marketing is as much a relationship game. By cultivating your own opt-in list you have created an established bank of pre-qualified, targeted, interested prospects who know you and trust you. You'll find that your response rate will be much higher than from a cold-start ad campaign in someone else's ezine. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of work, time and effort to create a quality list. And so it should. You're building a business, after all.

So treat your list like gold. It's your online business's greatest asset. Besides you, that is.

About the Author
Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online ... practical ideas, resources and strategies for your home-based or online business. (


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