Starting an online business is never easy, sustaining it is even harder. Many people will give up in the first year because they are simply not making the profit they need to make the business venture viable, and in some cases the business could be losing money, every month. That can only go on for so long.
First of all, there's no magic pill, no overnight riches and no immediate solution, unless of course you have friends in high places, or you happen to be independently wealthy, then it could be possible. The pace of the transformation depends on many variables including current audience, type of business, existing clientele, previous history and existing operating costs to mention a few...
What I use this strategy for is assessing each individual business and the current health of the business, and then coming up with a pace and plan for executing the changes. If one step is skipped, or not carried out properly, or for the full duration, then this method of transformation will likely not yield the results desired.
If followed according to plan, and it's tweaked and adjusted along the way, then it has every chance of being a success.
Phase 1 - The Finances
The first step is to take a Birdseye view of the whole business to get a grasp on how much the business is costing on average per year, and then break that down into 12 months to get an average monthly payment. This can be a shock at first, but it needs to be done.
Once that's done, we look at where money can be saved, where certain things could be automated or even eliminated, and how that will impact the business.
The aim of this is to get a final monthly "break even" based on the overall annual cost of the business, this gives you a true figure of what you're aiming to make.
At this stage while refining costs and seeing what can be removed or changed, it's also a good time to do a review of all the systems and assets the business has - is a new website required, new brand, new product, new service, could workflows and processes be streamlined further to save money, could new team members be utilised that are more cost effective - it's a time to be ruthless and really find a footing, and build a foundation.
It shouldn't take you too long to pull together your expenses and see where the money is going across the year. If you're struggling with the refining process make sure you seek out an experienced online business consultant
who can help you with this aspect.
Phase 2 - The Changes
The second phase is to implement the changes outlined in the first phase, whether this be changing systems or services, rebranding, redeveloping a site or redesigning social media accounts. By doing this the right way, at this stage you will have your foundation, and your monthly "break even" target. Set that aside for a moment.
This depends on the volume of changes and resources required to implement them, for some it can be done fairly quickly, for others it could take months.
Phase 3 - The Relaunch Campaign
Whenever you make significant changes to your business, it's important to have a structured relaunch campaign with a schedule in place and some sort of a special relaunch offer. Don't make the mistake of just thinking you can email your list and that's that. Make sure you utilise all your resources, social media accounts, scheduled tweets and updates, reminders, emails, LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, really get your head together and think, "Who can I tell about this?" and "Where are they?" Then schedule in your relaunch emails and messages and recurring status updates to really push the relaunch, the more you plan ahead the less stressful this will be.
I would say a ballpark 2-4 weeks (depending on the type of business) with a solid well thought through marketing campaign should do it. Don't also make the mistake of rushing ahead before proper planning and speak with your team about the plan, so everyone's on the same page and working towards a common goal.
Remember after you do this phase sales could take a dip, don't let this put your off, you have work to do!
Phase 4 - Weeding
(and Intel & Relationships see Phase 5)
After your launch, you can begin "weeding" your current business, just like you would weed a garden, taking out everything that doesn't really do anything for the garden, this is often the most exciting time, and the most concerning time. Because you get to see exactly what you currently have to work with. It can be a shock to realise that the list you've been building over a period of time has no real value, or the followers you've been building are not listening. In these cases we're trying to start fresh, weed out the unwanted, and keep what is most valuable to the business.
The most important thing to weed out is the mailing list. What's the point of sending an email to 20,000 people each week that you've bought or coerced into subscribing, and only 500 open it, each week. It leaves a false sense of security. Email marketing is no longer about the quantity, but about the quality. You can make $10,000 from a list of 50 of the right people, and zero from 500 of the wrong people. If you've been using tactics to obtain subscribers over the years that have signed up under fake emails or simply don't look at your emails ever - it's time to let go.
The easiest way I have found to do this is through sending 10 emails (you can do less, 7 - 10 is an average) to the entire list over a period of time, then extract all the people from the list that have opened at least one of those emails. Everyone else who hasn't bothered to open any of the last 10 of your emails, either isn't there (it's going into an unmonitored account, or doesn't care - they simply don't have an interest in what you have to say). Those people won't make any significant difference to your business, if any at all. We have to get a realistic number together. To the list of people who don't open the emails send a final polite email, informing them that you are making changes in your business and if they would like to keep receiving emails from you, can they please subscribe again (and give them a link).
I suggest 7 - 10 newsletters, so if for example, you send a weekly newsletter then that will be 7 - 10 weeks to collate the results and make the changes.
Phase 5 - Intel & Relationships
(and Turning The Corner see Phase 6)
During Phase 4 which we've just discussed, you can also begin gathering intel & relationship building, which is phase 5, this is really the start of putting one foot in front of the other and taking a new path and you'll begin to see if this is really working. The reason being is that in this phase you can start measuring the success of the process so far, through interaction. Let's break this down.
The best way to see how your relaunch is fairing is to create a survey and send that to your audience asking for feedback on the new style business, what do they like, what don't they like, and do they have any suggestions for improvements? Be sincere in your request for help, and make sure your audience knows that you care about what they think. From that you can see what your users are thinking. If one person makes a comment or suggests a change, but it doesn't come up from anyone else then it's probably an isolated case, so you can decide if it's something that needs to be addressed or not, but if several people suggest the same thing, that's when you need to pay attention, and take action refining the business - but make sure that each change is thoroughly thought through, just because someone suggests making a change it doesn't mean to say that it's always for the best. Listen carefully, but be cautious.
There are several ways you can go about this depending on the type of business you have, and ideally your end goal is to get people back to your turf (e.g. your website) and get them subscribing to your email list (you should have something to offer them in exchange for their email, a free download, mp3, eBook, call, programme etc...) - remember, the people who are already on your list will already know you, may have already bought from you, and most likely will already know what you have to offer, but don't want to purchase for some reason. That's ok. In these cases you need to make sure that you're bringing in a steady flow of new leads and if you are suffering financially (you need money to put a roof over your head and food on the table), you can't really afford to be picky about who wants to spend their money with you at this stage in the game - you'll either do what it takes to survive, or you'll go under.
Essentially, being precious about what you want from your business and what's going to pay the bills is not something you should be considering in your position right now to get the cash flowing, it will come later. For now, bite your lip and target the people who need what you've got first, so that when you get to phase 7, you're not in panic mode financially. "Panic mode" can kill your business and all your efforts to date.
Here are a few suggestions - keep them consistent and frequent throughout, a couple of blog posts and a few tweets won't fly.
Stay in touch with your audience regularly, email newsletters are one of the best ways to go about this. At this stage, save the promotional sales-y type stuff for phase 6, you don't want to dilute the impact of phase 6 with too much selling in the interim, stick to providing really high quality, FREE, useful content and information to your audience. I think it's fine to add the odd message with a link to an offer, but don't thrust it on people, remember, you've just relaunched and it's a lot for people to take in, plus you don't want to go all desperado style.
A great way to create a newsletter is to first create a blog post and tell your readers about it.
The best place for relationship building on Facebook is in a group. Pages tend to be for people to like and share and comment, whereas a group is a place to have a conversation, to learn about people, and they'll be more likely to open up and talk to you in a group than on a public page.
But, that doesn't mean to say that you abandon the page, keep posting on the page and share your posts inside the group to get activity going. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day and it can take time to gain trust, especially if this is something new for your audience.
Start working on building your following, interacting, and directing Twitter followers to your website or other social media.
Start building connections on LinkedIn, start a company page and share status updates on there, invite people to follow your company page, seek out groups of people who could potentially use your products and services, contact the owners and develop a relationship with them, these types of relationships come in very handy in the future in a tight spot or during promotions.
Other ideas include guest posting on other people's sites, getting involved in online communities, and receiving testimonials or positive social proof from other people in authority or people your buyers will trust.
How will you know this is working?
You should see a steady increase in subscribers to your newsletter during this phase. When I monitor the results with clients I like to see new subscribers daily, then I know it's working. If you don't see new subscribers, you need to increase the amount of activity and interaction, or change the way you approach people. You want to build rapport and invite people into the fold.
One other very important part of this process is asking people to share your information, don't expect they will unless they're prompted - set up an auto responder on the free download saying something such as, "Like this eBook, please forward this link to a friend." It's a simple message but you can run it through most social media accounts or send a request to your connections offering to reciprocate where appropriate.
Give this as long as possible, the more time you spend on relationship building, the more clout Phase 6 is going to have.
Phase 6 - Turning The Corner
So now you have your valuable original list of subscribers from "weeding," and all your nice new subscribers who you've been prepping with interaction, great content, information and emails to warm them up and develop trust. When you feel you're at the stage where you've made enough of a difference to your audience numbers, you can then begin with Phase 6, and begin turning a corner, and making the business profitable.
Make sure that before you embark on the corner turning that you take on board the intel you've gathered and all your tweaks are in place based on the feedback.
This is possibly one of the most difficult phases out of all 7 but get the timing right and it can be the most rewarding. Are you ready for this...
You need to muster something up with a WOW Factor - something that you can offer, that proves, without a doubt, you are an expert, what you say works, what you do will work for them, and you're the "Go To" person for that.
It sounds simple, but for most people, it isn't.
The best way to do this is to learn and understand what your audience really wants, really really wants, and then check out your competitors, and see what solutions they're providing and then knock them out of the ballpark with something new.
Remember, you'll need evidence and social proof, whether this be audio, video, text, testimonials, whatever - it has to be DAMN good. You've got one shot at this, right now, time is of the essence.
Once you have your product or service and your WOW factor evidence, then you're ready to schedule your campaign, just like you did in Phase 3. Only this time, you have weeded your garden and you have a new audience of people who need what you've got.
You have to show them that they need it now, and they need to buy it from you because you have the WOW factor that nobody else has.
How will you know this is working?
You'll start to make money from sales - if you don't, there's a fundamental flaw in your prep work somewhere.
Again, the same as phase 3, around 2-4 weeks (depending on the type of business) with a solid well thought through marketing campaign should do it. Don't also make the mistake of rushing ahead before proper planning and speak with your team about the plan, so everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.
But really the timescale comes down to the business and its status. The most effective relaunch period I have known is around 3 complete months from relaunch on Phase 5, and 2 weeks on Phase 6. Keep note that a lot of people wait until the last minute to buy.
Phase 7 - Your Ideal Business
This is what you've always dreamed about, you've got to the point where the business is now making money, and you're working on keeping it that way. Remember, we began with bringing people into the fold who needed what you've got as a means to get to this phase, now you can start working on turning your business into what you want without the sense of urgency, panic or looming financial downfall.
First we need to be realistic and you'll want to keep working as hard as you have been until you're at the very least meeting your "break even" from Phase 1 - make sure you have that as your target and don't lose sight of it.
Then you'll need to think about what you really want from the business, and you can do this at this stage by going through 5 areas with a fine tooth comb.
1 - Your overall business review.
2 - Selecting the right people (for YOU) to work with.
3 - Improving your communication so you attract these people.
4 - Looking at your marketing to attract these people.
5 - Getting your finances in order for the long term.
I do a review of all these points annually, so I can consistently work on getting my business to where it needs to be. If you'd like to study the exact process and criteria I use, check out my digital mentorship programme
Is this the only way to rescue an online business? Of course not! You'll find many people have different theories, ideas, and techniques - this is just mine, and I know it works.
If you follow these phases and take each of them seriously, and don't deviate from the plan then I have no doubt that you will succeed in turning a failing online business into a profitable one. The most important factor is that you have the patience to carry it through and keep a cool head. This is easier said than done for some people, let's face it, running a business that isn't making it is a very stressful uncertain time, and the longer the business has been failing the worse it takes its toll on the owner. This can lead you to panic, lash out, place blame, lack trust and faith and doubt that there will ever be a light at the end of the tunnel - those feelings whilst all valid, are unproductive, drain your energy and can cause the whole process to fall apart at the seams if they manifest.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I've seen it in many businesses I have worked with, the plan works, the business changes - but only if the people involved are united as a team, working together and can stick to the programme, and power through until the end...
Why Am I Telling You This?
Because we don't live in an ideal world.
It would be great if we could all shoot straight to Phase 7, it's what a lot of mentors and business experts will say is the most ideal, that we shouldn't compromise, I have to agree entirely - but folks - we don't all live in an ideal world, where we can borrow money to keep us going while we do that. It's really time that someone offered another solution for people (the majority) who need to make their business work as soon as possible.
I've developed my own business from scratch, without any start-up money, moving through 6 countries, I have never had any form of credit or borrowing - no credit cards, no bank loans, no job, or other income, just me and the biz, and I have always used the funds I have made to live and develop my business. I have a true understanding from personal experience how important it is to keep the cash flowing to provide for my family - it's not all fluffy bunnies and pink unicorns in the world of business ;-)