If you believed every advertisement in your Facebook news feed selling the entrepreneurial dream, you would think that everyone and their brother is creating million-dollar online businesses while traveling the world or floating in their pool.
Now, I’m not saying every one of these courses is pure BS. There might be some solid actionable advice to be found, but instead of paying $97, $197 or $297 (you know those are the magic numbers) to some self-proclaimed internet gazillionaire, I’m going to walk you through the steps that are required to build a successful online business, in several articles here on Entrepreneur.com, starting with this one.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to secure an attractive domain hack: LAWYE.RS. It’s the only one-word “lawyers” domain hack available, and while I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it at the time, I knew it had potential to be turned into something very special.
The time has come to do something with this domain, and I have determined the strategy I will use to build this website out and monetize it.
Will I be successful? The potential to turn it into a multi-million-dollar business exists, but I could also fall flat on my face.
Here’s how I laid out the concept and monetization strategy for this new project. The same strategy can be used to help you develop any online business — it’s universal.
1. Identify a product or service that has a large market and that’s unlikely to decline.
I decided I was going to turn this domain into a law firm directory, and two factors played a role in this decision. First, there will always be a need for lawyers and plenty of law firms for consumers to pick from. There will never be a shortage of website visitors or law firms to monetize as customers.
Second, online marketing and online branding is on a consistent growth path with no sign of slowing down, so another platform for law firms to use for marketing and brand building will be welcomed.
When you create an online business in a niche that will never see a decline, you are drastically increasing the chances of building something that will generate revenue for a long time. I see too many people trying to start online businesses with only the short-game in mind. Instead, focus on building something with long-term sustainability.
2. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — but you do need a unique component.
Building an online law firm directory resource isn’t going to win any innovation awards, but it can still be different than other available options. My main focus with this project is creating an online community and content platform — giving lawyers a platform to publish content on, which will be seen by industry peers and potential clients. The personal branding benefit and ability to be seen as a thought leader is the unique angle here.
When you create an online business, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you do need a unique selling proposition and a way to provide some level of value that isn’t currently available.
3. Identify how you can generate money.
There are several ways to generate money with an online business. You can sell your own products or services, re-sell products or services, sell information or courses, promote affiliate offers or sell advertisement space, for example.
For my law firm directory, user experience is a priority. The last thing I want to do is annoy visitors with banner ads and pop-up offers. They need to be able to land on our website and quickly find the information they need. So, the revenue model will be based around an annual premium listing upgrade that law firms can claim.
We will be building out the directory with every law firm in the U.S. Every basic listing will contain the firm’s name and address. For an annual fee, law firms will be able to claim their listing and upgrade to a premium listing, which allows for full contact information, a complete listing of all lawyers on staff, images, video, social media profile links and a link to their website. Also, they get unlimited inbound form-submit leads and each lawyer on staff will receive a contributor account, allowing them to publish content on the directory’s blog.
This monetization strategy allows us to keep the website free of advertisement banners and affiliate offers, keeping our user experience pleasant. It also provides several attractive benefits for our target customer, which is important if we want to convert a large enough percentage to turn this into a multi-million-dollar online business.
A lot of people get hung up on the monetization component, and while it’s an important piece of the puzzle, you need to remember that you can always pivot.
4. Lay out a marketing and advertising plan that will help reach your monetization goals.
Your online business is unlikely to take off without a solid marketing and advertising plan in place. Whether you are using simple public relations strategies such as HARO for securing press mentions or launching a six-figure campaign on Facebook, you need a detailed plan.
Our plan for the directory is a combination of email marketing and highly targeted digital ad buys. Automation is key here, allowing for more teamwork on the back end. A team of customer support reps, developers and editors will maintain the directory and continue to add new premium listings and blog content.
While the email marketing and digital ad buys will drive awareness, we also know that the content platform will help get the word out. As more lawyers sign up to contribute content and then share it across their networks through social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, they will introduce our directory to their industry peers.
We will also be doing our own content marketing outreach with an emphasis on infographics and interactive media for maximum social shares and exposure within the legal community.
5. Seek out feedback directly from your potential customers.
Launching an online business without any feedback from your target customer base is foolish. You might have a great idea, but a gut feeling or intuition alone doesn’t mean it’s a viable business model. Taking the time to gather feedback and constructive criticism can help you avoid launching a dud and coming to market with a better product.
I spoke to countless attorneys and law firms before moving forward with this project. Taking their feedback and feature requests, I was able to create an offering that is highly desirable at a price-point that makes it affordable for any size law firm.
I sent emails and even picked up the phone and called random firms. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and listen to the feedback, both positive and negative. This step helped to polish the finished offering.
Building a successful online business capable of generating millions of dollars in revenue requires a great idea and, more importantly, flawless execution. Everyone has ideas, but very few can execute them.