Elayne Whitfield, BA, MVA ~ VA Industry ExpertSubscribe Now

Five Online Business Optimization Strategies

word strategy with magnifying glassRunning a business online gives entrepreneurs an incredible chance to expand and scale their operations. Where offline businesses require a physical presence, online businesses can operate entirely with virtual storefronts and digital real estate. Expanding online is also much simpler and bringing your business to new heights can be achieved without the need for expensive outlets and physical locations.

Still, there are a few major errors that first-time online entrepreneurs tend to make when they scale their businesses. From expanding too quickly to moving in all the wrong directions, the road to running a large-scale online business is paved with potential potholes. These five strategies are designed to help you achieve worthwhile business optimization while taking your business to new heights without endless difficulties and setbacks.

1. Stick to the 80/20 Principle

Pareto's Principle -- known as the 80/20 principle -- dictates that 80% of your returns -- in this case, business profits -- will come from just 20% of your actions. Your goal in running an internet business is not to do as much as you can, but rather to achieve as much as you can. Focus on the ultra-profitable 20% of clients/customers, and eliminate as much of the fluff as you possibly can.

2. Whenever possible, add products to service businesses

Service businesses are a good short-term model, but as a long-term earning option on their own, they are not the best. The main issue with service businesses is the lack of scalability and long-term earnings potential. By running a service business, you are essentially tying a value to your time and working from that alone. It is a more effective strategy to create a product and use your time to amplify its sales.

3. Package and sell your information

Informational products are a major hit, especially in the online world. From guides on mastering online business to simple how-to sets for learning a new skill, informational products make up a huge percentage of online sales. If you have skills that would otherwise only be valuable in a service business, why not package them into an informational product that you can sell online?

4. Focus on marketing before you start your business

The make-or-break component of any online business is marketing. The internet is crowded, especially for small online businesses, and there is no chance to survive without a large customer or client base that knows how to find you. The world's most profitable companies are invested in marketing before they expand, and you should be too.

5. Set a value for your time, and don't waste it

You have set up your online business, invested in some manual and paid marketing presences, and you’ve started to earn over $100 a day. The only problem is that it is taking almost 12 hours to do it. There will be times, especially when running an online business, where you will rack up a reasonably impressive daily earnings total. Ignore it. Daily totals are deceiving and are not an accurate metric for judging online business success.

What is much more valuable is the amount of time that goes into that income. Set a minimum value for your time, and create an online business that gives you options on where to spend it. Sometimes services might be worthwhile, other times product-based work might be the best solution. Either way, set a minimum cost for an hour of your time and design a business that allows you to earn above it.

Why a Business Coach/Mentor is Important

coaching word mapAs someone who has been operating a small business for nearly 15 years now, it feels like I have made every mistake imaginable; not least of which is not hiring a coach sooner. Learning on your own may seem like both the most cost effective and thorough method of gaining the knowledge you need for your business to succeed, but in fact it is neither. There is no substitute for a professional coach.

The first objection most people have to hiring a coach is the cost. And although quality coaching does come at a price, this objection can be overcome by the simple fact that coaching almost always pays for itself within a few months. When put to work, the information that you gather and the skills that you learn from your coach will change your business immediately for the better. A more efficiently operating business with a better focus on its goals will bring you more income and make you question why you didn’t hire someone earlier. This new income would not have come about without your coach and that alone makes your investment more than worthwhile.

Realizing the value a coach can bring to you isn’t just about getting over the financial burden of hiring them. For myself and many other people who operate small businesses, admitting first that you need to hire someone to help you was the most difficult part. Often times it is easier on your ego to continue on plugging away at a comfortable level of mediocrity while telling yourself that you are perfectly capable of solving any individual obstacle that crosses your path. And for the most part this is true. Getting off the ground with any business is a success in and of itself and anyone who accomplishes that will generally be able to learn whatever they need to get passed the problems that arise for them. But being a reactionary in the business world will not get you very far past a level of average. You may be able to survive by learning only what you need to, but in order to thrive, at some point you will need a mentor to tell you the things you don’t know and what you will face in the future.

Keeping yourself in a bubble of self reassurance only keeps you isolated from the valuable problems and solutions out there that you may never be exposed to on your own. With more experience comes greater knowledge and that is exactly what a business coach will bring to the table for you. Your own experience may have taught you that doing something a certain way is sufficient, but once you bring in the experience of a quality mentor, you may learn that your ways of doing things could actually be antithetical to progress and efficiency. Bringing in a new set of professional eyes for your career can be like putting on the perfect pair glasses when you didn’t even realize your vision was blurry without them.

For me it took over ten years to realize the value of hiring a coach and ever since I made that decision I have been kicking myself for not doing it sooner. For ten years I made silly mistakes and did little things wrong that dragged on my business in ways I was completely blind to. Within three months of bringing in a coach the investment had already paid for itself and I felt like a new person. Now after 15 years of experience in my field and with some professional coaching under my belt I am able to position myself as a mentor to others who are just starting out. And do you know what the first thing is that I tell people who are willing to listen? Getting a coach sooner rather than later is the best decision you can make for your business.

Professional Branding Tips for the Job Hunter

Professional Branding Tip - ImageHaving a professional brand is not a new concept for job hunters. It’s the image you present to potential employers wherever you are. In a competitive job market, it’s essential to build your own professional brand so that you will stand out from the rest of the pack and build a consistent reputation. Your brand will also help people remember who you are so that when they are asked if they know someone good for a job, you’ll be more likely to come to mind.

What Determines Your Professional Brand?

There are four key elements that make up the image and brand you present to the public:

1. What you look like. This includes the clothes you wear, your features, your haircut, your cleanliness, and your makeup (if you wear any). No matter what anyone tells you, people do judge a book by its cover.

2. How you behave. Your behavior is demonstrated through things like your personality, the way you speak, any mannerisms you exhibit (such as twirling your hair), the way you smile (or not), the way you shake someone’s hand, and other actions and statements that demonstrate your values.

3. What you know. Your education gives some indication of what you know. But people will be primarily looking at the skills, knowledge and talent that you possess when assessing your professional brand.

4. How you are different. Your professional brand must include anything that demonstrates how you are different from others. Potential employers are always looking at how you would add value to their company.

Where Will People See Your Professional Brand?

You exhibit your professional brand everywhere, both online and offline, in everything you do. Online, you find your brand reflected in search engine results, social media, any blogs you write for, photos of yourself, or any articles you’ve written. Whether good or bad, your brand is also reflected wherever someone mentions your name.

Offline, you demonstrate your personal brand in any face to face encounters with people. For example, in networking lunches, business meetings, interviews or casual introductions people give you. Anywhere you are mentioned or shown in print, or any offline publications you’ve done will also help build your brand.

Tips for Building the Professional Brand You Want

Here are a few tips that will help you build and maintain the type of professional image and brand that you want potential employers to see:

• Plug your name into the major search engines and see what results come up. You’ll need to make an effort to move good stuff up the rankings and the not-so-good down the list where people are less likely to find them. You can do this by adding more content to the sites you want to appear. If possible, you can even delete some things, though it might take time to disappear.

• Keep your personal life private. Check the privacy filters on anything you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see. Wherever possible, keep personal information offline, unless it is relevant or helps build the image you want.

• Practice your elevator speech. Think about what your main skills and knowledge are and how you add value for an employer. Put that into a short 1 minute blurb and practice saying it out loud. You often only get a minute to make an impression when networking, so you need to spark an interest as fast as possible without giving a sales pitch.

• Use the same professional photo. Wherever you need to upload or supply a photo of yourself, try to make it the same one. If necessary, get a professional one taken. Whatever you do, take down that photo on your Facebook profile of you and the gang partying on the beach.

• Be active on social media, or stay away. Social media and blogs are all about the interaction and social element. If you’re not going to be active on these sites, don’t be there at all and don’t have a profile there. While it’s important to show up online, it’s better to not be there than to seem apathetic by posting once or twice and then disappearing for weeks at a time.

• Educate yourself consistently. Stay up to date on what is going on in your industry and the world in general. Read the top blogs and publications in your industry, watch the news, read the latest hot business book, etc.

• Do your research. Whenever you are scheduled to have a networking meeting or interview, make sure you have done your research into the company in advance. Demonstrate your knowledge and interest.

The internet has made it easier than ever to establish your own professional brand. However, it is just as easy to project a bad image of yourself as a good one. Work on building a consistent professional brand that is visible to potential employers both online and offline. It can help you stand out from the crowd and land that ideal job much faster.