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Now that you’ve developed a fluid business plan template for your online microbusiness, it’s time to start preparing for launch. Like a runner in a race, your start can deeply affect your performance.
We’ll assume that you’re launching your microbusiness without a pre-existing brand or audience to leverage. One of the biggest and hardest questions in online business is this: how do I go from having nothing at all to running a thriving and profitable online business? The leap seems huge, and if approached as a leap, it is. That’s why it’s important that your break the launch process down into small, actionable steps.
The good news is, regardless of the microbusiness model you chose, many elements of a strong launch are repeatable and will work across a variety of microbusiness types. In this post I’ll share with you my blueprint for a successful microbusiness launch.
1. Be Customer Ready
Thoroughly test your microbusiness in as many ways as possible before your first customer or visitor arrives. Your launch is a crucial opportunity to build your first 1,000 fans.
If your site goes down, if links are broken or if orders can’t be fulfilled, you lose a valuable opportunity. Your first visitors are the hardest to get, and in the history of your microbusiness, they will be the most valuable. Your microbusiness doesn’t need to include all the features, products or pages it will eventually hold, but what is there should work flawlessly.
2. Capture Interest
Have a landing page, build an email list, and when someone tells you they’re excited about what you’re launching, remember them. From the moment you start to talk to people about your upcoming microbusiness, you should have somewhere to capture the contact details of those who seem interested, those who tell you that they’d buy your product, visit your website, or pay for your online course.
3. Start With Your Circle
Do you know anybody in your target market? Start there. Too often we assume that our friends and family aren’t ‘real’ customers, but in the early days of your business, every single potential customer is incredibly valuable. Selling to those close to you can also be a great way to validate your business idea. If friends and family who fall into your target market don’t use your product or visit your website, you’ll have an even harder time with strangers.
Luckily, your friends and family are excellent sources of feedback for what they do and do not like (or understand) about your business.
4. Reach Out to Get Great Links
Watch this excellent video from Moz on how to get great links.
In one of his excellent Whiteboard Fridays, Rand Fishkin of Moz explained what makes a ‘better’ link. He said the best links are editorially given (inside content), not paid for, not acquired, not left on a website in the form of a comment or forum post, and appear on highly trafficked, quality websites. These are wonderful from a search rankings perspective, and can also provide a new microbusiness with the traffic, interest and positive branding it needs.
Remember: your microbusiness’s launch will be one of the most newsworthy events in its history, so make the most of it. Write well-thought out emails to the owners of websites, blogs and podcasts that might be interested in covering your launch. Here’s an example of an excellent outreach email from Pat Flynn.
5. Leverage What You've Got
In the beginning you don’t have a lot of capital, so favors can help you. Providing exposure is cheap and easy for the owners of successful websites and blogs. What can you provide them that is valuable enough to receive some exposure in return? Could you exchange your special skills? Can you hook them up with free product? Could you give them detailed feedback on an unreleased project they’re working on?
If you’re not sure what to provide in return, ask them. Send them an email covering the following points: I would love to get my business covered on your blog/email list/podcast. What could I do for you in return that would make that worthwhile?
In my case, I might offer to write an in-depth article on any topic they want, I might do an SEO review, offer to do a report on the usability of their website, etc. Even if you don’t feel like you have relevant skills, saving someone from boredom is valuable. Offer to do three hours worth of grunt-work for them in exchange for a mention, things like: transcribing audio and video, doing research, or proofreading.
6. Conduct Small Experiments with AdWords
Ask yourself: what is my ideal customer likely to be searching for on Google when my microbusiness would be a godsend for them? For example, if you’d decided to create a niche site about how to start an airline, this search term would probably be ‘how to start an airline’. If you want to get some quick and useful data on how well your business is meeting the needs of your target audience, spend $100 on an AdWords campaign for this exact search phrase.
Your goal here isn’t necessarily to turn a profit on this campaign (though that’s always nice), but its purpose is to gather data about how well your microbusiness is communicating its value to your target market. If people searching for the term ‘how to start an airline’ come to your niche site and immediately browse away, or don’t delve further into your site, you may have to tweak some things. If they stick around for a long time and thoroughly explore your site, you know that you’re doing at least some things well.
7. Go to Your Market
Where does your target market hang out? What are the blogs, podcasts, forums, apps, communities and social media platforms they read and use. How can you put your microbusiness in front of them, wherever they are?
Let’s continue with the example of a target market hoping to learn how to start an airline. Where could they be found?
- airline industry blogs, like AirlineReporter.com or the Airline Biz Blog
- aviation forums and communities, like airliners.net
- listening to podcasts like Airplane Geeks
- startup and entrepreneurship blogs like TechCrunch
Brainstorm ways you could have a presence on the channels that matter to your target market.
8. Push a Snowball, Not a Boulder
If your product is remarkable and word-of-mouth worthy, marketing it will feel easy. No amount of marketing can make a bad product successful. You need to validate with data. When you bring your target market to your site, what do they do? Do they convert at a reasonable rate? Do they stick around and dig deeper, or do they immediately browse away? If there are core issues with your product, they should be fixed before you throw yourself into marketing efforts.
9. Understand That Great Content is Magnetic
Free plus valuable is an excellent formula for garnering attention. If you can create something free and valuable that is well-targeted to your ideal buyer, customer or visitor, it will function as a magnet to your product.
It's better to create something lazer targeted, even if the audience is small, than something that draws in thousands of people, most of whom aren’t your target market. This is why people often don’t see the results they expect when they get a big influx of traffic from social media. A visit from someone outside your target market is not much better than no visit at all.
10. Help Your Fans Become Marketers
If your fans recommend and market your business for you, your job as a marketer for your business will become so much easier. Give them the tools to spread the word about you, and reward them for doing so.
- People Per Hour give their freelancers a ‘Hire Me’ widget. The freelancer pays no fees for any jobs they do with clients who come to the site through the widget.
- Project management app Trello gifts users with ‘Gold’ membership whenever they refer someone else to the app.
This incentive should be something that you know big fans will be excited about. Give people tools to show their loyalty to your product or website. Reward them for customers they bring you with an affiliate program. This will require more thought than just including social media sharing links on your site. How can you reward your biggest fans with something they really want, in return for spreading the word?
Once your microbusiness has launched, your primary role will change from product manager to marketer. As the owner of a microbusiness, you’re unlikely to have a dedicated marketer on your team. Learn as much as possible about marketing and search engine optimization, and work hard at both.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between great marketers and mediocre marketers is that great marketers aren’t afraid to reach out, one human to another. They send 100 customized emails to different bloggers, they take people out to coffee, they aim to grow their business one customer (one human) at a time. Less successful marketers distance themselves from customers and view them as numbers that make charts go up and down in Analytics software.
When you deeply understand your customers, marketing becomes much easier. The only way to deeply understand your customers is to regularly talk with and interact with them. There is no single more valuable work activity you can underdtake than gaining a better understanding of what your target market want and need from your microbusiness.