Build it and they will come: A myth busting guide to starting a business
By Ophelie Lechat
Today’s post is by Matt of Aussie Domainer, a web designer and blogger from Melbourne, Australia. Find him on Twitter: @ace_sites
Sometimes when you get a great idea for a business or website, you can’t help but think “If I can just build out this quality idea, people will surely flood to the site by the thousands!”
It seems logical. Why wouldn’t people be rushing to take a look at your wonderful, innovative idea?
Unfortunately for some, it’s not 1999 anymore. Back then (if you believe what we hear from early Internet veterans who were active at the time), all you had to do was throw up some content and you’d have people finding it all on their own. If you have much experience in 2013, though, you know how that doesn’t work anymore. There is so much content and so many distractions fighting for everyone’s attention online that it simply doesn’t cut it to build a project and hope that it will market itself.
You will have to put in the hard yards to get your project off the ground.
The web is estimated to consist of about 50 billion indexed pages. As you can imagine, it’s hard to stand out in a crowd that big. Just building the idea will rarely be enough. “Build it and they will come” simply doesn’t work online.
What does that mean? It means it’s time to roll up your sleeves and begin the hard work that it takes to build up a steady flow of traffic.
So what can you do to get the traffic flowing? You have to pace yourself, avoid distractions, and invest in your project.
Keep a realistic timeline
In my experience, slow and steady really does win the race when it comes to building a website. Take traffic for example: when I first started my blog, traffic was literally non-existent. I’m still pretty sure there were exactly zero readers for my first couple of posts. Over time, a couple of visitors showed up (I have no idea how they found the site), and as the months went on a small but steady flow of readers started showing up.
Imagine your new blog or website as a remote city in the middle of the desert. There’s only one road going into the city, and it’s called the “Direct Traffic Highway.” The only way people can find their way to your content is if they happen to type the exact domain name in to see what’s there. Unless you own a truly amazing domain name that receives heaps of type-in traffic, you probably won’t get too many hits this way. So you have to build new roads into your city so people have different ways of finding it. As you create new content for your site that content begins to get indexed by the search engines. Every time some content of yours is indexed, it’s like a new road is built leading from “Googletown” to your website.
If people enjoy your site, they might write about it elsewhere or create links from their site, these are like roads too. Over time the flow of traffic to your site increases which means the amount of people talking about your site and spreading the word becomes greater and greater until what started as a deserted site with no visitors snowballs into a site with a regular audience.
It takes time and commitment to keep creating content for your site, especially during the early phases when you feel as though you aren’t getting many results.
In order to stay focused on your business for the time it takes to reach a more successful place you are going to have to:
Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome.
Image Credit: Ken Douglas
Oh, so many months I have been a victim to the horrors of shiny object syndrome!
Shiny object syndrome is when you can never focus on one project because you are constantly getting new ideas and trying to do everything at once. You end up getting pulled in so many different directions and splitting your focus on so many different projects that you actually end up getting nothing done- even though you feel like you’ve worked super hard!
For me this manifests itself in the form of development ideas. Every few days I check the domain name aftermarkets to see if anything interesting is dropping. When I do this I often see a domain name that sparks an idea. Maybe I’ll see a domain name ending in “forums” and I’ll think “I could build a forum on that domain name!”
So I’ll buy the domain name and start building the forum. Maybe I’ll get the forum running and looking nice and I’ll be ready to start marketing it so that it can gather users.
But then I’ll see another domain name for sale… Maybe it’s a domain name ending in “blog”. Suddenly the furthest thing from my mind is the forum I’ve been working on for a couple of days. All I can think about now is the new blog idea which I simply must get started on right away!
Of course, before I get the chance to really get that blog going, I’ll have seen a couple more domain names that I’ll be chasing after and the blog site will be left abandoned.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself very blessed! Living without “shiny object syndrome” means you’re the type of person who probably gets stuff done. You come up with one great idea, put the pedal to the metal and stick with it week in week out until you’ve built an empire!
On the other hand, if you’re one of those people whose mind feels like it can’t focus on any one project for more than a few days, you probably have Shiny object syndrome. Welcome to the club.
I have found that an effective way to counter this problem is to create a list of priorities. Put your most important tasks at the top of the list and go down from there. The rule is that you are not allowed to work on something until all the tasks above it are complete. This way you will be forced to focus on the most important tasks first.
When I feel myself trying to focus on too many things at once, I open Wordpad and write down all the things I have to do, then I rearrange them in order of importance. That’s how I channel extra enthusiasm. This has also helped me to stop procrastinating: it’s so much easier to get off Youtube and start working when you have a defined task written down.
Whenever that exciting new idea comes into your mind and starts demanding your full attention simply write it on the list- now instead of pulling you away from more important things, it will inspire you to get those other things done so you can be free to try the new idea.
Unfortunately, sometimes you simply have to decline some very good ideas because they would take up too much time that would be better spent on your flagship project. Remember the concept of opportunity cost: you can only spend time one way. Wouldn’t you rather spend it on your main project and get ahead?
Invest in your idea.
If you believe in your idea, there is no reason you shouldn’t invest in it.
I remember hearing of people who had a great idea, but they were so desperate to cut costs that they didn’t even want to pay for hosting, opting instead for shoddy free hosting and ads they don’t benefit from. Doesn’t a good idea deserve better?
In my town there is a fairly high turnover of retail shops. New coffee shops and other boutique stores pop up all the time. Sometimes they last, sometimes they are gone within half a year.
The costs of “having a go” with a real life brick and mortar shop are massive! Let’s take a simple coffee shop as an example. Let’s say you decided to start your own coffee shop in your town. Some of the costs involved with giving your business a shot might include:
- Renting a property
- Buying thousands of dollars of equipment and furniture
- Buying all the coffee stock, mugs etc.
- Paying staff an hourly rate to man the shop
And that’s all before you sell your first cup of coffee!
Image Credit: Thomas
Imagine you treated your online business venture the same way you would have to treat a brick and mortar venture. That would mean saving up and actually investing in your business idea’s success: Investing in a quality domain name even if it costs more, paying to market your business properly, being meticulous about the quality of your content (after all, if a coffee shop serves bad coffee, who will return or recommend the place to their friends? Your website’s content IS the coffee: if it tastes bad no-one will return) and being willing to take some risks to build your business.
In other words, avoid the “spare all costs” mentality. That alone will separate you from the vast majority of online businesses.
When I first started buying domain names, I was a pretty cheap buyer! I was still new to the whole concept and the thought of spending a lot of money on a domain name wasn’t very attractive. That limited thinking probably caused me to miss some great deals at the time!
When I had an idea for a website, I would only look to hand register an available name rather than purchase one off a domainer or try bidding for one in an auction. For some reason, even though I’d be willing to spend money on real life items that were not assets (like tickets to football games, video games, and so on) I wasn’t willing to spend much on something that could actually appreciate in value like a domain name!
So I ended up with many average quality domain names for my sites. When I would sell the sites they would do okay- sometimes making a profit, but they weren’t particularly special.
Over time though I started spending a little more… I still remember the first time I bought a domain name for a few hundred dollars at auction, I had originally told myself “I’ll spend $100 max”, but at the end of the auction things got heated and I ended up spending a few hundred to win it. When the auction closed I thought “What have I done?! How could I spend hundreds of dollars on A DOMAIN NAME?!” At the time I was simply not used to spending money on something so intangible, but it was necessary to do so in order to have higher quality sites. Who else here can relate to this mild panic when buying a mid-end domain for the first time?
It seems counterintuitive, but realistically it’s the best way to give your business a chance at long term success. Sometimes you might be tempted to start a business idea because you think it would be wildly profitable, even though you are not passionate about the idea itself. This might not work out for you though.
If you don’t like cars, don’t start a blog about luxury cars. Maybe it is a profitable area of business, but the odds that you will be around to build it up are not likely. You will get so bored after the first week that there’s virtually 0% chance you will continue posting to that blog with passionate, quality insights about cars. If however you are a total motor head who loves cars, then a car site is right up your alley! Due to the fact that you love cars so much, even when things seem slow and you go through some rough patches with the project, your love for the subject matter will keep you writing and persisting until you have built something great.
So do something that you personally love and enjoy, something you’d probably do just for fun, even if it didn’t have the prospect of being a great business.
Image credit: Professor Bop