'If You Build It...' From Newbie to First Sale by Michael J. Spindler About a year ago, consumed by financial worries and despair, I embraced a brilliant idea. I would make an immediate fortune with an online store. It was that whole "build it and they will come" mentality. I plunged in. Never mind the fact that I had no product to sell, no knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) -- or even HTML for that matter. I didn't even have a clue about how I was going to get my ideas onto a web page in cyber space. First off, I faced two tasks. They went hand-in-hand -- a "chicken before the egg" or vice versa sort of quandary. I had to decide what kind of products I was going to sell -- and what supplier I'd get them from. And there was the major question: how I was going to get those products to my customers? After a lot of research, I found the drop ship alternative. It was a good solution, but it presented an entirely new set of problems. A plethora of middlemen claimed to be wholesalers in the drop ship business. Fortunately, instinct kicked in -- my natural distrust for anything that sounds too good to be true served me well. But wading through all those promises meant continued research that ate up countless hours. Eventually, I reached a point where it seemed as if almost every link led me back to a company that looked solid: World Wide Brands. Instead of acting as a middleman, World Wide Brands is a portal that connects businesses with drop shippers. The staff at World Wide Brands does the research on drop shippers, quality checks the vendors and lists their contact information. The World Wide Brands web site is also full of useful articles and other information that helped me move forward. But that's where their service ends. Any products I decided to sell would come from the drop shippers, and from that point on, I would deal directly with the individual companies. Knowing I'd finally found the information I needed, I scoured the World Wide Brands database, looking for just the right products to carry. And as I searched, it suddenly became clear to me: Businesses that do legitimate business only do business with legitimate companies. I needed to become a legitimate business myself. So, I formed my company (a sole proprietorship), opened a business checking account, obtained a state tax ID, located an accountant.... With that, I figured I was well on my way. But the drop ship companies I wanted to deal with had a "want" of their own. They wanted to know who planned to carry their products. This led me to that second problem I
mentioned above. I needed to create a web presence, a way to get my products to my customers. To build a site, I needed something simple and straightforward -- something that offered the tools I needed: email, web hosting, and domain registration. I wanted a one-stop shop with support. I found this at Yahoo! Merchant Solutions. Yahoo!'s SiteBuilder program is great for beginners or even for proprietors of small operations who are already juggling everything else that goes into running a business. Picking a domain name was the easy part, or at least, that's how it seemed compared to building pages. I'm the type of person that learns by mistake rather than by disciplined research. That meant the whole experience was one of trial and error. As my skills with the SiteBuilder tools increased, the site evolved and changed -- and I'm not talking about simple changes. I went through three face-lifts with that first site -- and never made a single sale when it was finished. But I was learning. It was an expensive lesson, but it was progress. The most important part of that lesson was "education, education, education." No understanding of market research, poor site design and layout, bad copy or no copy, these were just a few of the ingredients that combined to create a black hole -- one that sucked in every penny that I'd invested in the project. Feeding black holes instead of making sales -- that wasn't what I'd had in mind when I set out to create a business. So I stood back, took an objective look, and realized that despite all my hard work, no one was going to buy anything from my grade "B" web site. It was all too apparent that I needed something more than a basic site with a few products slapped on it. On reflection, my first site was a bomb. But it was not a loss. I had learned, through my research and by practicing with the right tools, just what it was that I needed to do if I wanted to build a successful business. I wanted to further my growth rather than be stifled by the bad ideas of my beginning stage. If I expected my site to be a reflection of my own growth, major amputation and considerable alterations were necessary. It was my first lesson in web presence. I'd found that it's best to be straightforward and literal in choosing a domain name, titles and descriptions. The temptation to be funny with bad plays on words can end up turning away prospective customers. But once they've found your website -- once you've got them looking you over -- that's when you can let your personality shine. With all that in mind, I shut my first business down completely and started from scratch. I built MJS-Mall with new business accounts, a new tax ID, the whole bit. I chose a domain name that was more literal and more representative of the concept I had in mind for my online store. Then I incorporated templates into my strategy for building a new website. For anyone out there who wants to build their own website, I'd have to say that templates are possibly the best investment you can make. Their ease of use and their possibilities for customization helped me build a site that I consider truly unique. Because templates leave the final product up to the imagination, I was able to build a site with a flavor all its own, one with a professional feel.
I learned quickly that once I had a customized template together, I needed to sit on it for a few days before creating each page. This allowed me time consider what the future would bring. There were growth needs to plan for. I also had to consider what functionality, banners, ads, and affiliate links I might add later. Looking back, I'd have to say I could have avoided a lot of pain and agony if I'd taken time to research and plan -- and then research and plan even more before I sat down to design that first page. But now I'm looking forward. After having done this kind of work for about a year, my efforts have finally paid off. I made my first sale. A $19 profit. That's hardly the immediate fortune I set out to make when I started all this a year ago. But it's a start. And for me, it's major encouragement, not to mention evidence that my efforts to keep growing and learning this business have finally gotten me on the right track. To all of you who dream of owning your own business, I wish you good luck and great success in your endeavors. And above all, never give up. Failure is in not trying. Michael J. Spindler Owner - MJS-Mall.com Resources: Articles Shopping Directory About the Author Michael J. Spindler is an entrepreneur first. With a creative streak and a tendency towards technology, the two fell together to become what is MJS-Mall.
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