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10 years on from the cataclysmic collapse of the dotcom boom, we look at what it takes to make an online business successful today.
A mere decade ago the Internet was in tatters, with start-ups everywhere imploding due to the sudden crash of stock value and a sudden realisation of the worthlessness of online property. In the heady days of teenage millionaires and geeks galore owning thousands of stocks in a multitude of websites they’d had a hand in, the Internet was a very different beast. Opportunity was abound and investors were clamouring for the opportunity to throw their money at something, today things have moved on.
In the year 2000, almost every idea was a new one. People were still only just coming around to the idea of using the Internet as a marketing platform and as such getting a foothold was relatively easy. The trouble was that not every idea was a good one, but they still continued to invest right up until the moment the administrators knocked down the front door and stripped their assets. Now there is competition, and plenty of it too, so you have to be clever as a fledgling business with how you market yourself.
Inspired by an article on the BBC, entitled What ever happened to the dot.com millionaires, which looked into a few of the more notable rags to riches and promptly back to rags story of the era, I want to take a quick look at how things have changed in ten years. As we all know, the dotcom crash saw dozens of companies slip seamlessly into liquidation, having juggled what appeared to be millions of pounds worth of virtual assets. Valuations were astronomical and ultimately the business behind most companies was shaky at best.
So the first lesson from this period for start-ups today is…
It doesn’t matter how much you market a bad idea, ultimately its weakness will always be a fatal flaw. You can’t reinvent the wheel, the same goes for websites online. If your idea is unprofitable, already in existence elsewhere or just won’t add much to the world, you need to ask if it is worth it. Of course, there are always ways to spin an existing idea, but you have to make sure that yours is better. Guess why Google are still top.
You have to research your industry. Find out what people are searching for, how they search for it and where they are going. Spraying money and resources around in the faint hope that something good will come of it harks back to the dark old days of the dotcom crash. Keep within your budget and build your website and your business.
If you have a website, it has to be optimised. Even if you are predisposed to hate SEO, it is a necessary evil. This means building links, writing content and optimising your Meta throughout. You can also use social media sites to build a groundswell of interest. By discussing your new business/site with the wider community you can receive vital links and even more crucial feedback. Be sure to listen to what people are saying though, don’t turn off just because there are negative messages coming back. Take it on board and use it to improve what you offer.
Contact professionals and get to understand the online industry, particularly if you are new to it. Speak to marketing agencies, get an insight into what is involved and maybe find one to manage your SEO, PPC, PR and social media efforts. That way you can concentrate on what you know and let the specialist get on with what they do best.
A website that has been built to generate income can’t be treated as a play thing. You have to give it your full attention and must be approached with the same vigour that you would a bricks and mortar business. Complacency and an underlying assumption that money would simply appear was a major reason for websites to fail in the past. You have to first prove your worth to investors and visitors alike, then you can begin to build.
Don’t overspend and under develop. Your website is an extension of your business, so make sure that it represents you effectively. If you have a good idea and a decent marketing platform, you have to ensure that your decisions don’t undermine your efforts.
There is a lot that can go wrong when creating an online business. It isn’t the easy path to riches that people believed it was back in the late 1990’s and that some still believe that it is today. Everything takes time to develop and expand, so you can’t expect to get off to a flying start.
But warnings aside, it is still a marketplace full of opportunity. It has never been easier to get your name out there and seen by thousands. So if you think you have the next big idea (which doesn’t include rehashing something that is already out there) get on and give it a go; just be sensible about how you go about it.