Short version, why should you read over 3000 words of my ramblings? Because most people don’t have a business plan to make money online, and I think more of you need one!
A Whole Bloody Business Plan? Why Not Just Some Goals?
This started off as my 2012 goals post – and ended up as an Internet Marketing plan – how the frig did that happen? I read some other people’s goals posts – and don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking posts like this, or this, this one, or indeed the one that made me buy a book. I read them all, and they all seemed reasonable goals and plans.
But I wanted a bigger picture, I wanted a vision, some frigging idea where I was going with this whole business thing, and 2012 in particular. Or, to be allegorical, (’cause I am playing with language at the moment), I needed to know the layout of the forest, before I focussed on individual trees!
And then Google has failed me. I figured that now I was finally ready to write a business plan for my Internet Marketing business, Ms Google would provide me with a handy dandy template, or at least a format to copy!
Nope – I found a couple of sites willing to sell me a a template, for a bargain price, limited-time offer! But not a similar business plan to be found on the Interwebs! Well guess its time to fill the niche! Naturally I should have realised this months ago so that I could be #1 for “internet marketing business plan”, ah well, maybe next year? Maybe its just that Internet Marketers don’t want to admit to their business plans? Well I’m sure the A-Listers dont – but Z-List bloggers signed up for transparency – so here we go!
Anyway what I did start with was a fairly ordinary free business plan – and adapted it, yeah its written by New Zealanders, but none of this is stuff is very country specific.
Does Everyone Need a Business Plan?
Well as I write this I am entering my 5th year in this business. This is my first business plan. Should I have had one early, probably, let’s face it, I’m hardly a star on the earnings front! Should I have done one at the start – nope, you can’t write a business plan until you know your business. I still think it takes at least a year before you have any chance in hell of writing a business plan!
Because unless you can actually write down your business model and strategy – you can’t write a plan. As I look back through my archives, I see so much stuff that I tried and failed at, and some of it my fault some of it just failed business models that are now the relics of history. (Note to self – go through and put some caveats on those old posts in case someone actually reads them!). In the long-ago past I actually used to have to write business plans for company units, every now and then, as part of my job, it was a nightmare, but at least I know how to do it. My lack of business plan to date has nothing to do with being unfamilar with them, it was because I didn’t have the necesary information.
Now I think I do.
I’ve modelled this plan on a “normal” business plan, as linked to in the link above. If you want to apply this to your own business I suggest you download it and read the notes, you could buy a zillion worlds of business books on how to write a plan – but this template is the essence of the format, used world-over and beloved of MBA schools!
Business Model for Internet Marketing – Overview
For the brief history – see here. The purpose of my business? Well to make me money while I sleep of course? Could there be any other?
Hmm my products and services … Well I’ve written one book in the travel niche and have plans for more. This in essence is the difficulty of writing this type of plan when you are in the business of affiliate marketing and ranking sites that make money from Adsense. WTF are your products and services!
Are websites products? I think they might as well be for the purposes of discussion, after all they make me money even though I don’t see them as my product per se, i.e. I don’t build websites to sell on a regular basis, instead they product me on-going income by way of affiliate and other advertising.
Yup lets take websites as products – in which case I have, 53 domains registered. Of those 5 are purely personal so can be ignored. Of the other 48 I have websites in some shape or form on all of them. Some of them are supposed to make me money and do, some are supposed to make money and don’t, others are “support” sites which aren’t supposed to make me money directly.
In addition I make money from my writing on revenue-share sites including HubPages and Wizzley
Current position of the business – well summary can be found here. Where is my business in the business lifecycle, I’d say its at the start of its growth phase. The industry of Internet Marketing I’d say is an emerging industry which is developing at a frighteningly fast rate.
I really do see the whole on-line digital marketing/publishing world evolving at a speed which its hard to comprehend even to those of us who live in the midst of it. The rate of change is currently only accelerating, quite probably at a exponential rate, regardless of what measurement you are using.
Overall the whole landscape of SEO, affiliate marketing and digital products are all changing at light speed. Really I’ve always liked technology for its speed of change, but the whole online environment is amazing quick moving.
Ooh a competitive analysis – who are my competitors and how can I capitalise on their weaknesses? My competitive advantage is simple, I’m small, I answer to no one, no bank to please, no investors. If I want to try something new in response to changing markets I can, and do.
Who is my main competitor? Well this is where I’m starting to think that I’m going to need to do a business plan for each of my main websites (or groups of websites), for example this site has a quite a different competition environment than say my travel sites.
In fact I think I will do that for a least three of my sites over the following week or so. So I’ll keep this post at a high level.
To be honest I don’t see my main competitors as the people who own the sites that out-rank my own in the search results. Rather I see my main competitor as Google and the major brands (Amazon, eBay, TripAdvisor, Expedia, LonelyPlanet) who Google tends to favour in those results.
My advantage is that I can go more niche and more specific than the competitors. Travel is a classic for this – try searching for a specific destination which you know has hotels. Pick somewhere obscure, but that definitely has businesses with an on-line presence. What will you get? Results for the nearby state, province, town – but not the specific destination you entered. That’s Google preferring their brand partners. But its not in the searchers best interest, eventually it will have to change. Eventually in Internet Marketing is within the year.
My other advantage is that I’m unique, people have called me lots of things, but bland is not one of them. On my count I’ve made more friends than enemies for being outspoken and saying it as I see it. You’ll never get h0nesty from a tourism website or from 99% of internet marketing websites. I can do honesty – must be an advantage!
How am I going to increase my capability? I’m not, there’s nothing much wrong with my capability, its my application of the same which needs work! So really I need to either, severely limit or eliminate, the time I spend on Facebook and possibly some forums too. The trouble is of course, that forums and social media do get me visitors and subscribers, I’m just not sure that its worth the effort 1/2 the time.
How am I going to increase my capacity. Well I am going to build up my outsourcers as I grow my income. There seems to be plenty of people who can write competently, I’m happy to employ them, as I can afford it, to build my business.
I see no issues with growing my business, the problem is merely the CEO who has to stop bouncing from one new, bright idea, to another and to actually flipping focus!
The suggested time frames with the original template business plan is “next year” and “next 1-3 years”. I think we need to focus in a bit of a shorter time-frame to take into account the speed of change in this industry.
1-3 Month Goals
Goal 1: Fast Cash via Wizzley
Well specifically I need to find NZ$3500 by April and the same again in May for taxes.
I’ve proven that Wizzley will rank long tail articles on page 1 of Google within 24 hours so I’m using a combination of content I’ve removed from Hubpages plus Tony’s Keyword Researcher to reuse most of that content and try to make some quick cash on Amazon, to compensate for the loss of Hubpage Amazon earnings from January and to pay my taxes. I’m not pretending its a long-term strategy – but I need the cash now, and the pages can provide backlinks long term.
I have 2 ID’s on Wizzley and I need to get both to over 100 articles to maximise my revenue share. I’m hoping that once I have the momentum going, that I can outsource most of my “anonymous” account’s writing.
I’ll need to average about 7 articles/day to get 200 published by the end of January. That’s lots, but not impossible.
Goal 2: Diversify from Google – Branding and List Building
After years of being anti-list building, I’ve changed my mind. I’m building lists for a single strategic reason. To remove some of my dependence on Google (see SWOT analysis below). The two main areas that I see that I can build lists is this blog, and my travel niche. These are two topics that I have genuine knowledge of and write almost all (all for this site) my own content for.
It also means I have to play the “branding game” – hence the Z-List Blogger manifesto!
I don’t even know what is considered “good figures” for a mailing list. I’ve seen plenty of bullshit figures in the A-List circles (let me know if you want me to tell you how to fake the numbers!). From a standing start (i.e. zero) on the 7 November, I now have 118 subscribers here, and 72 over 2 travel blogs. I probably need to give the travel subscribers a reason to subscribe ie a discount on a book or a freebie, and maybe the same here? I’m not sure. But I am (slowly) evolving the way that I split content between my blog and the subscriber list.
I’ll work out some specifics in my specific business plans for my main sites here, suffice to say, I think 1000 is a nice round number!
Goal 3: Diversify from Google – Publish More Books
I need to finish the books I’ve started and get them out there making some money!
3-12 Month Goals
Goal 4: Use the Wizzley Results to Diversify
Using the results from my Wizzley adventure, any winning keyword groups I will use to develop new niches. Early results suggest that Wizzley is rubbish for Adsense click thru rates, so these will probably be product niches.
Goal 5: Promote my Published Books
This one is vague at the moment – lets get the books out there first!
Despite Google’s best efforts at mis-information to the contary, I don’t see a whole lot changing as far as promoting websites in the near future. Its all about content and backlinks, content is a bit more important that it once was, but I still see absolute crap rank at the top of the search results, why, backlinks and site authority.
I know how to build both – but I’ll leave the details to specific posts I think at this stage.
The main risk I see in the next few years, for me and other affiliate marketers is Google, pure and simple. But the market is changing so rapidly, its hard to know whether search will even be the more dominant method that consumers use to find information in the next few years.
Do no evil. Really, because, lets face it, Google abandoned that particularly philosophy a long time ago. Yeah I’d acutally like to be ethical in this business. Particularly in Internet Marketing, because, lets face it, there is not too much competition! Hence the transparency – how many other Internet Marketing blogs actually tells you the number of subscribers?
SWOT and CSFs
SWOT analyses are cool – not heard of them? Read up, there is precious little useful in all the management courses I’ve done over the years, but learning to do a SWOT is handy, not just in business, I do when I’m buying a house too.
Strengths of me/my business:
- diversification of income sources: I make money from many niches and from many advertisers.
- I have standardised my sites on WordPress and Catalyst – and they are therefore much easier to manage, update and control than previously.
- I live in a country that doesn’t have, and is unlikely to have, sales tax. This means the chance of my Amazon affiliate account being banned is low.
- I have an eBay account, got in early, not sure what to do with it these days though, as I can no longer use it through HubPages. I do, however, know they are rare.
- I’ve been in this game long enough to have some confidence in my own ability to pick keywords and rank pages in the search engines.
Weakness of me/my business;
- I’m getting better at selling, but its still against my natural inclinations, I’m particularly uncomfortable about selling to readers and people I know online. I can’t stomach the sort of prices many people seem to be able to put on their products and their time.
- short attention span. I’ve always had a tendency to value learning, over doing, so I am suspectible to the “shiny new object” syndrome so common in our industry.
- my location. Because I live in a market of only 4 million people there are few local opportunities for selling services to local businesses. Basically pretty much anything will rank here with minimal effort, and the business community doesn’t “get” SEO, because, frankly, they don’t need to.
Opportunities for my business in the current external environment;
- the rise of e-readers is driving demand for cheap fiction e-books, and an as yet unknown market, for non-fiction e-books. Self-publishing has never been easier, and the sector is very rapidly evolving. There are opportunities for those of us who can write.
Threats against my business in the current environment
- Google is progressively blocking detailed stats from Google Analytics accounts. The only question is when it all become unavailable or unaffordable for most of us.
- dependence on Google for much of traffic and the unpredictable changes to the Google’s search engine algorithmns;
- dependence of Google for much of my income (Adsense);
- dependence on a formerly good revenue site, gone bad (HubPages) for some of my income
Critical Success Factors have got a bit over-run with the newer fad of KPI’s, but I like them – because they are about as basic a question as you can ask your business: “what are the key things that need to go well for this business to be a success”.
CSF1: Chose the right keywords, the terms that people are searching for who have their credit card out and ready to run. I am so over keywords that either have no traffic or no profitable traffic.
CSF2: Produce good books and price them low enough to offer excellent value for money. The pricing of books has absolutely nothing to do with how long it took you to write it!
Market research is the basis of this business. I do it two ways. Initially I take a guess at the relevant keywords, then, once I start ranking a site, I look at what I am actually ranking for, and persue those terms as well. Its not rocket science, I doubt that its changed for years, it works.
One of the delights of Amazon – is that they have plenty of actual data that they are happy to share with you (check for most popular items and then apply your imagination).
Google will tell you what people are searching for – by giving you auto-complete suggestions as your type in a query. I also have the feedback from readers and subscribers for the Internet Marketing and Travel.
My emphasis is on the US, and will continue to be. America may be having a recession, but even in recession you guys buy far more online than any other country.
Initially, one of the huge appeals of this business was that I could be a one-woman band. The human race is full of idiots and most of the worst ones had been people I’d worked with and for over the years. I was really looking forward to working with no one. It didn’t work out like that. Instead I ended up finding out just how important your friends are online. I’m lucky to have had some of the good and great over the years – many of whom no-longer post regularly.
But the Internet abhors a vacuum and I am lucky to know Mark from SEOCobra (exciting developments there in the next few weeks) and Dave from ZenDuck.me, not to mention Tracey from Tracey-Edwards.com and SY from Hospitalera.com.
E-Commerce and Technology
“Explain how you’re using e-commerce and technology in your business”. Yeah I think we can safely say technology is my business!
Tactical Promotion Plan
Interesting question – in general I’m wondering if I should try some of the tricks of Social Media to use things like Twitter and FaceBook to get more followers. The trouble is, that my experience is, that ranking for the right search terms, is not only easier in terms of time spent, it also gives me far more engaged readers!
I do want to investigate videos and podcasts as methods of promotion as well.
Nope no intention of spending anything much on marketing, certainly not going anywhere near PPC! I do pay for editing of my books and cover design – does that count?
Credibility and Risk Reduction
Who do I increase my creditability and reduce my customer’s risk? Basically I think I’ve always maintained my credibility, particularly on this blog, by not having guest posts. I’ve seen so many blogs over the years die a living death by becoming dependent on guest posters.
Selling through Amazon and other “legit” online shops (iTunes, Barnes & Noble etc), is a very easy way to differenate an ebook.
Team & Management Structure
Skills, experience, training, retention
Yeah well I think the boss needs to go some 5-star resorts, somewhere warm and learn about planning and better time management. Anyone up for sponsoring that one?
Seriously. I have one full-time outsourced writer who writes my BMR articles. I’ve had him for over a year now and he’s reliable and consistent. Last year, he had exactly one article rejected. I’m keeping him on. I do however want to expand my outsourcing in 2012 as my cash flow allows.
Well thank goodness I don’t need a lawyer! My accountant I’m training up to understand my business. A consultant – please God no! A guru and advice? Actually I was just going to delete this section – but I one of the biggest risks in this business is the isolation and the voices in your head! Where do I go for advice?
- The Keyword Academy forum;
- Zen Duck Dave’s forum;
- here’s a new one too – check out Hospitalera’s new forum.
- my trusty spreadsheet manages my cashflow and income/expenditure in several currency and actual versus cash (because affiliate programs take so long to send cash). It works, I’m not changing it.
- I’m currently developing a better system to track my actual output – words or articles and projects they relate to.
Financial Budgets and Forecasts
I don’t do detailed budgets or forcasts, I may add this in this year though as I ramp up. It would be useful to have when I decide to increase my outsourcing budget.
My cashflow forecast is that I need:
7/4/12 – $3599
7/5/12 – $3419
for taxes. We have it, we aren’t going to getting into dispute with the tax man, but I am determined to have that money out of my own business’s cash flow! On top of covering my 1/2 of the household’s expenses (which I have done for 2 years now).
Summary: Internet Marketing Business Plan
Wow that was a bit of a mission! But a useful exercise – I think I still need to drill down and focus on individual sites for their business plan’s – I’m a still a bit vague on just how many sites I’m focussing on this year. But its been an energizing exercise for me, I hope it inspires you too – let me know in the comments!
Next plan review date: 1 March 2012