How To Build A Diversified Online Business
Diversify, diversify, diversify.
The three coolest words in an Internet Entrepreneur’s vocabulary. But what does it mean in practical terms?
Most entrepreneurs appreciate that with competitive markets and rapidly changing technologies, placing all your profitable eggs in one basket is a risky tactic.
If you don’t want your online business to end in a flood of tears and bitter resentment, then you better learn to diversify and create several avenues of profit. MySpace has shown, quite spectacularly, that it’s possible to fall from grace in 18 months. And you would do well to assume that so can pretty much any profit spinning website in your portfolio.
What Makes a Strong Portfolio of Online Assets?
In no particular order, here are some of my favourite business cornerstones.
Profitable affiliate marketing campaigns
Who would have guessed it? An affiliate marketer recommending affiliate marketing! Stable it is not, but an important staple of my business it will remain.
CPA campaigns provide enormous earning potential, and although short term in nature, can be used to fund investments in to more long term business models. I advertise affiliate offers using various PPV traffic sources, Plentyoffish and Facebook.
Effective affiliate campaigns require only part-time management, making them key contributers to your bottom line, without swallowing up all of your time.
The information resources for Tomorrow’s Next Trend…
Forget about the monetization, and ask yourself, “What is going to be really talked about in 2012?”, then build a website that provides top quality content on that topic. Does anybody remember the crazy market for backgrounds and add-ons when MySpace peaked? These exploded in popularity, and those who were ready to meet the demand, profited immensely.
Predict what is about to become hot, rather than attempting to monetize yesterday’s news, then build a website that delivers outstanding content on the topic. If you do this well, the monetization will take care of itself. Being first matters.
How about a home bizopp site for Greeks? Smell the demand, jump on it.
Having an online store
Drop-shipping and digital download stores are two areas I’ve been exploring closely over the last few months. I have a turnkey download store that produces a steady flow of revenue, and it’s inspired me to look further afield.
One of the great benefits of selling your own products is a conspicuous lack of anal manhandling by Google if you later decide to use their Adwords platform. Yes, owning your own product takes away the title of Internet Middleman, which Google unfortunately associates with Aids and Rabies.
For those with aspirations of something more legitimate than a digital product store, feel free to get utterly lost in the possibilities of drop-shipping. Sites like Alibaba make it possible to purchase, via wholesale, just about any product imaginable, and then sell it on for [sometimes] healthy profits. This is a step away from simple sideways diversification, but worth a look.
The branded blog
You may have noticed my soft spot for blogging. And you may have noticed my particular style of blog branding. I believe that it’s possible to become an authority in your industry, making good money as a blogger, without selling out in the eyes of your readers.
But the formula is murky.
Some bloggers use their platforms too eagerly to push any affiliate product with a commission attached. Others, I feel, are guilty of under-monetizing their blogs. I prefer to ignore writing about products, and instead focus my efforts on establishing relationships of similarity with my readers.
For my Internet Marketing blogs, I like to use humour, sarcasm and an occasionally self-deprecating tone. These are excellent weapons for building bridges of trust with a notoriously cynical market, but they’re not always as effective elsewhere. If you’re going to diversify in to becoming a blogger, step one is to understand your market.
And no, that’s not just some useless Quantcast demographics. But understanding what makes them laugh, what makes them smile, what content are they known to devour, and most importantly, what do they aspire to be? It sounds straightforward, but is often forgotten. The secret to running a popular blog is to know exactly what the “end goal” is for your average reader…and then to position yourself as the lifestyle rainmaker who can deliver that golden egg.
I have developed a collection of popular blogs that rake in $5-10K per month through direct banner buys alone. Many affiliates would laugh at those numbers, but hey – it’s diversified income. Most of my money traditionally comes from affiliate marketing, but if it were to disappear overnight, I make more than enough through publishing crap like this to live comfortably within my means.
The coupon haven
Consumers love coupons. It’s an addiction that has been passed down through generations and is now more exploitable than ever thanks to the reach of the web.
When people ask me what kind of website would make a good first addition to their portfolio, I tell them to go find some niche coupons for products with affiliate programs, then build a website around them. If you’re smart, you’ll do this in such a way that the website doesn’t die with each coupon period that expires.
Your own personal page
Even if you don’t want to become a blogger, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have a personal presence on the web. Some of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had would never have found my inbox if I hadn’t made the decision to promote myself, and what I do, through a personal site.
Obviously, a portfolio is not going to attract money in the diversification sense. But you shouldn’t underestimate the opportunities that can fall your way if you tell the world what you’re good at.
A collection of mailing lists
They say the money is in the list, and although that statement is being challenged by the arrival of fan pages and enormous Twatter followings, I believe it still rings true. Mailing lists are fantastic assets to have. The ability to land effortlessly in the inbox of 50000 potential customers at the snap of your fingers should not be discounted.
I like to use Facebook and PPV sources to build highly targeted mailing lists that can be sold various products. For a brilliant illustration of how this works, get your IMGrind on and read this.
Understand there are Internet Gazillionaires who make money through no other means than by mailing the hell out of some very large lists. Contrary to popular belief, those lists do not last forever, especially if you’re the kind of prick who buys them from the unsolicited scrapheap. However, put to the right use, mailing lists can deliver lots of return customers and cross-selling opportunities.
The acquisition of good products
As perfectionists, we sometimes doubt what others are capable of achieving. One of the best ways to diversify an online business is to invest in somebody else’s good work. You can’t give 110% of your attention to every brainfart that occupies the mind… but somebody else can.
Stable businesses make a habit of innovating and investing in equal measures. While I enjoy the creative thrill of building websites from scratch, it makes just as much business sense to buy websites and digital products straight off the shelf if the standard is high. You might want to avoid marketplaces like Flippa which are about as buyer-friendly as a fist in the balls for your money back.
I recommend buying re-sellable digital products, or privately seeking out under-monetized blogs for the best chance of adding a nice juicy investment to your portfolio. If you can monetize better than 95% of other webmasters, you can have an absolute field day profiting from their hard work.
What Are The Areas I Don’t Like Diversifying In To?
Are there any projects to avoid? This is likely to provoke an angry response from those who dedicate their careers to the work I’m about to mention, and with good reason. Entrepreneurs are driven by different motives with different objectives. But for me personally, the areas I don’t like diversifying in to include…
Anything driven solely by SEO. I can’t control it, therefore I don’t pretend to understand it. SEO is an afterthought for all of my projects. If you build it, they will come. Only a complete bumberclart wastes his time trying to compensate for Google’s next move.
Web design and programming. I have the skills from my background as a programmer, but it’s far too time consuming to “diversify” in to client work. And it’s not so much a diversification, but rather a complete veering from the racetrack. In short, client based programming work can suck a donkey chode. I always get the shivers when friends or family contact me asking for a “quick website built”. And that’s without the duty of actually being paid for it.
Web hosting services. They will consume your entire working day, unless they’re entirely modularised and outsourced. I’ve seen many examples on Flippa of small web hosting services boasting respectable profits, but when you factor in that time is money, those profits suddenly start to look very small. Committing to be somebody else’s 99.9% uptime bitch would push me to insanity.
Customer subscription services. You will find that once again, unless you outsource everything, another service will usually beat you to the market by dedicating 100% of it’s time and doing a better job. A good example of such a subscription service is the pay-to-access forum. Many of these forums are emerging (PPV Playbook, IMGrind…), and it’s tough to knock the earning potential when you look at the numbers. 500 members paying $60/month is a healthy $30000/month in revenue.
However, forums are also notorious time-vacuums. Unless you can dedicate significant time to them everyday, they will never blossom in to healthy communities. Even once they’re established, you still need to engage and interact on a daily basis. This is perfect if the forum is your primary business. But as a diversification strategy? Be prepared to double your current workload, or get eaten by the competition.
Niches I know nothing about. If I can’t understand what I’m selling, I have no hope of guessing my customer’s next move. I’ve made the mistake far too often of developing websites on niche topics that I don’t “get”, and although I can motivate myself for the build phase, they often sit derelict after the site is launched.
Whatever You Do, Do It Well
It goes without saying that diversifying a business is irrelevant if you do a half-arsed job of it. We can go back to the MySpace example as a prime example of this. The examples above are merely my own professional choices, based on my own skillset and the talents of those I work with. You may have a very different vision.
As long as the vision is clear, and the planning is sound, diversification can only ever be a good thing.
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4 CommentsLeave a comment
I agree about 80% about the web design and programming. Most clients will pay a nice hefty price for a template you’ve made and the only real work is dicking around with the styling. But then again, there’s the whole, “this isn’t what I was expecting” crap from clients who are stupid. Terrible diversification.
You actually used the word ‘bumberclart’ in a post – in my eyes that makes you a god amongst content publishers.
I’m with you on the ‘having an online store’ front as a way to diversify and have set up a (shameless plug here) turnkey e-commerce site building service over at ecommercenerds.com
The SEO point you made is very valid though, any business thats sole source of referrals, traffic and leads is Google is a business in trouble IMO.
Wow, you covered the gamut on what makes strong online assets—good job! I agree that having a personal page and branding is critical in making your presence known on the web.
I really love what you had to say about SEO. SEO is a conundrum to me. And lastly, you emphasize “whatever you do, do it well”. I believe striving to become an expert in your field of profession—is that’s not your goal, why bother? Thanks for an educational, thought-provoking; informative post.
Finch, I must say that your blog has really struck a chord with me. The British sense of humour really is something to behold.
I got in to IM about a year and a half ago because of my love of travel (location independence) and the internet. I have been concentrating on building high quality websites with useful and interesting content so far. From the point of view of getting quality websites online complete with some reviews and email series I would say that I have been a success.
Unfortunately I have just been concentrating solely on SEO up to this point which has given me very hit and miss results. Time to start diversifying those traffic sources.
Great post, cheers for that