One of the more common mistakes that I see from relatively new online entrepreneurs is an unwillingness to set personal preferences aside in favor of first relying on analytics, case examples from competing sites and the plethora of easily available tools and data points that can help make a new project soar.
In short, if you want to be successful as an online entrepreneur: stop thinking for a while.
If you’re new, pretty much everything you do is basically a guess. And until you have a fair amount of online project successes under your belt (specifically, successes in the space you’re in), you have absolutely no reliable intuition when it comes to what will or won’t work. It’s a hit to your ego, I get it, but that’s the cold hard truth. You don’t yet know what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative or implement new ideas – I’m the first to yell that you should, but you need to do so on a small scale and then only expand them when you have reliable data to say that your web audience is responding to them.
When you’ve started making money with the project and have some back-to-back successes there within, then your judgement and ideas hold a bit more credibility and aren’t as big of a risk to the success of your new venture. Until then? More learning, less thinking.
It isn’t hard to see what works on the web, because stuff either catches or it doesn’t. You can easily see what seems to perform best on other sites, while also gutting things from your “do again” list that haven’t worked well for your site in the past. If it isn’t increasing your sales, conversions, getting shared, leading to opportunities or at least inspiring debate, then it isn’t working and you can stop chasing one failed idea with another.
That article about the ten favorite things for your dog to do in the morning might have seemed awesome to you, but clearly no one else gives a shit. Delete it and don’t do it again.
This is where “test and scale” is the most effective in it’s purest form. If you’re paying for ______ marketing campaign, start small and work your way up when you have a positive return on marketing dollars spent. It’s that simple.
Taken a step further, there are plenty of great marketing forums out there where you can ask for seasoned feedback for your campaigns and traffic sources. It’s fine to take creative chances here and there, but the stuff that costs money needs to be a science.
Professional secret? If you’re paying for advertising, look into spy tools. Especially with banner and Google Ad Words campaigns, you can use spy tools to see exactly what ads your competition continually run.
Your Website Design.
Find companies in your space that you view as being both innovative and successful. They’ve been doing it right for a while and have already blundered their way through countless mistakes and missteps. Use their blood, sweat and expensive tears to make your project better from the start.
Step 1: Begin with deconstructing their current design and trying to figure out the “why” of the various components. That’s key. Print their sites out and go panel-by-panel, truly digging into what purpose (you believe) each area serves, the reasoning for it’s positioning, color, styling, etc. Some things won’t matter, but most will.
Step 2: Use Archive.org to see how their site has evolved in recent years. More specifically, what did they formerly have that they opted to get rid of or upgrade? If you can overlay the time line of changes against available Alexa.com data, you can possibly see general patterns of how redesigns affected their traffic spikes.
Step 3: Run their site on BuiltWith.com, see what various services, technology and / or plug ins they are using. When you see things that pique your interest, look more into them.
Step 4: Do exactly the same for any other similar sites, even paying attention to innovative sites that may not directly be competitors.
Step 5: Develop your site based on the intel you’ve gained, launch it, work out the bugs and start collecting data.
Step 6: Once you have enough data to go off of, now it’s time to see what is working for YOU and what isn’t. Using heat maps and Google Analytics, feverishly pour through your user behavior to evolve your design to focus on what people care about, while cutting out the things that are just in the way. When you’re further along, learn how to split test your designs and content changes.
I’ve invested in plenty of things that ended up being massive flops. It happens. It’s a part of being an entrepreneur. But if you have no successful experience in the space that you’re in, you need to mitigate your risks by easing into product and supply purchasing as cheaply as possible.
Case in point? Our AdvancedMuscle.com property started with about $5,500 in printing equipment, before initially selling an embarrassing three posters. We could have outsourced the prints on demand for $9 a pop, which would have cost $27 instead of $5,500. Had I researched that as an option, I would have saved a bundle and invested those resources in other areas.
Your Service Providers & Vendors.
This is where “measure twice, cut once” comes into play. You should always start with a good amount of research into the area that you’re hiring / paying someone for, then follow it up with multiple bids and information requests. Always. I don’t care if you went to preschool with the person that’s trying to get hired. Get multiple bids. If nothing else, you’ll learn more about what others can offer and will know what a good price, time line and expectation will be.
And, if you’re new, don’t ever sign any long-term contracts until you have a reason to know that you should. If there is a way to do it cheaper in your testing phase without hurting your new site, then by all means: start small and work your way up.