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11 E-commerce Tips That Will Result in Happy Online Shoppers

While adhering to strict lockdown regulations in South Africa, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the one thing I’ve gotten really good at is online shopping.

Over the past few months I’ve made over 50+ online purchases and have shopped from 10+ E-commerce providers including Amazon.com, eBay.com, Takealot.com, Sixity60 (Checkers), Market City, Raru.co.za, Loot.co.za, UberEats, Aramex Global Shopper, Verimark, and Butlers.co.za.  

While making online purchases from all these different online retailers, I’ve learnt first hand from my own experiences what creates a happy and satisfied online shopper and what leaves them feeling frustrated and disgruntled. 

I’ve come up with the following list of tips that will result in happy online shoppers.

1. Make It Easy For Buyers To Find Your Product

When potential customers search for a product that they are interested in purchasing, Google will (if they are available) show shopping ads right at the top of the page.

I was recently searching Google for the Star Wars: X-Wing 2nd Edition Core Set in Cape Town, when the following shopping ads showed up:

I can immediately see that there are at least 3 retailers selling the product that I am looking for (takealot.com, loot.co.za and bidorbuy), with takealot.com offering the lowest price at R789.

It’s never been easier finding a retailer selling a product I’m searching for in my geographic location and it’s never been easier comparing prices of the top retailers. If I want to see even more options, then I can click on the » link to show a full page of shopping search results.

If your products are not showing up in Google Shopping Ads, then you are loosing out on search traffic and you are probably leaving money on the table. 

Recommended Action

Make it easy for potential buyers to find your product listing by advertising your products on Google Shopping Ads. Conduct competitive research to see what other retailers are charging for the same product and see if you can compete on price. 

2. Communicate Clearly & Timely

Some online retailers do a great job at communicating with customers, while others fail dismally. Whether you use in-app notifications, SMS messages, emails, phone calls or a combination, make sure to keep the customer informed. 

A few months ago I ordered a new vacuum cleaner from Verimark.co.za. After filling in all my details incl. credit card details on the checkout page, I clicked to place my order. The next page I saw was an error page. The funds had been debited from my credit card, but I had nothing to confirm my order. No order conformation page, no order confirmation email … just an error page.

This experience left me annoyed and frustrated. I had to send a follow up email to find out if my order had gone through and to get an idea of what the estimated delivery date was. After being told that delivery would be 1 to 2 weeks, I promptly cancelled my order and requested a refund.

With other retailers, like Raru.co.za, Takealot.com, UberEats, etc., communication has been a lot better. After making an online purchase, I get an order confirmation page, as well as an order confirmation email. I can also log into my account and view all my existing and past orders. If an order has not gone through, then I will be notified, so I can retry or cancel. 

Recommended Action

Use clear and timely communication along every step of the purchase process. This will build trust and result in happy and loyal customers.

3. Deliver What the Customer Purchased

This seems obvious, but with a recent frustrating experience, I felt like I had to state the obvious. I recently ordered a Sony PS4 Dualshock PlayStation Controller from Takealot.com. Before making my purchase, I reviewed the product page carefully to make 100% sure that this was the product I wanted. When I received my purchase a few days later, I was shocked to find a cheaper generic “Doubleshock Controller” in the box. This was definitely not what I had purchased.

After requesting an exchange, I was told that the supplier no longer was offering the product I had purchased and that I therefore needed to accept a refund. To cut a long story short, I eventually got a credit after returning this generic product, but it took many messages back and forth via email and Twitter, which wasted a lot of my time.

Recommended Action

Make sure that your product listings accurately describe and depict the product that you are selling and make sure to ship the product or products that were purchased.

4. Resolve Problems with Superior Customer Support

First of all make sure to have clear and adequate customer support channels that customers can easily access in order to get help with their orders. A support@yourdomain.com is usually standard, but you can also use online forms, live chat, Twitter DMs or a phone number. 

They key is to make it easy for customers to contact your support team and acknowledge the receipt of their message. The first thing a customer wants is to be heard and understood. The next thing they want is for you to resolve the issue as soon as possible. The quicker you can resolve the issue, the happier the customer will end up being.

For email support using a support ticketing platform like Help Scout, can be extremely useful, especially if you have multiple team members that are responsible for answering support tickets. 

Recommended Action

Provide your customers and prospects with a customer support experience that will impress them. Support staff should be trained to respond promptly and professionally. Create saved replies for common issues and empower support staff to resolve issues quickly. 

5. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Don’t make the mistake of listing a product as in stock of it’s actually sold out and try avoid offering a product at price X, if the actual price is in fact Y. 

I recently made a purchase on Takealot.com and got an email 3 days later informing me that the product was actually out of stock and could no longer be sourced from the supplier. Or that time I ordered the Sony PS4 Dualshock Controller and was sent a cheaper generic controller instead.

Recommended Action

If you have to disappoint a customer, do whatever you can to resolve the issue, even if it means offering them the product at the cheaper price or sourcing the product from a more expensive supplier. The lifetime value that can potentially come from a happy customer usually far outweighs the expense or loss you might incur in the short term.  

6. Make It As Easy As Possible For Customers To Purchase

Butlers Pizza in Cape Town make use of live chat to let customers order on their website. You fill in a simple form asking you for your name, phone number, delivery address, which branch you’re ordering from and what you’d like to order and a friendly Butler confirms your order within a few minutes. 

Butlers also lets you pay via SnapScan, which makes contactless delivery easy and simple during the COVID pandemic. 

Because I’ve saved my usual order and delivery address as a text template that I can copy and paste into the order form, I can place an order within 30 seconds. No need to pick up the phone, dial, speak, etc. … in a few simple steps my order had been placed and confirmed. And within 30 - 40min hot pizzas are delivered to my door. 

If I’m ready to enjoy a relaxed pizza dinner at home or if I’m in a pinch and need a quick meal, then there is an obvious reason why I’m a repeat Butlers customer … great tasting pizzas, super quick and simple to order, as well as fast and friendly service. It’s a winning formula!

Recommended Action

Make it simple and convenient for customers to order or purchase. Review and refine your order or purchase process.

7. Same Day or Next Day Delivery = Happy Customers

If other online shoppers are anything like me, then they cannot wait to get the delivery of their purchase. Amazon has been raising the bar significantly on their delivery options by offering Two-Day, One-Day, Same-Day Delivery, as well as delivery within a few hours. Generally speaking, the quicker you can get a purchase into the hands of the buyer, the happier the buyer will be.

When ordering groceries from Market City or Sixity60 (Checkers) in Cape Town, I’ve been impressed by their same day delivery. When ordering pizzas from Butlers, my order usually arrives within 30min.

Takealot.com generally offers 1 to 3 Day Delivery, depending on whether the item I’ve ordered is in stock in Cape Town or if it needs to be sourced from Joburg or from a 3rd party supplier.  

If a purchase is not urgently needed, then delivery time is less important, but most online shoppers are keen to get their purchase as soon as possible.

Recommended Action

Offer your customer delivery options including (if possible) a same day or next day delivery option at a premium price. Whenever possible getting the purchase to the customer as soon as possible will result in a happy customer.

8. The Importance of Reviews

The one thing I place a lot of attention on when doing research before making an online purchase is looking at customer reviews. Stores like Takealot.com show the product rating on a product page, based on the ratings and reviews from other customers. If a product has a 4-5 star rating and has 20+ reviews, then I can generally safely assume that it’s a quality product worth buying. 

Recommended Action

If possible, give your customers the opportunity to leave reviews and ratings of your products, as adding this factor to a product page will increase social credibility and assuming the reviews and ratings are positive, will most likely result in an increase in purchases from other customers.

9. Perfect Your Online Checkout Process

A common issue with online shopping is cart abandonment. This is when a buyer is ready to make a purchase, they add the product into their shopping cart, but for some reason decide to not complete their purchase. There could me multiple reasons that could lead to this undesirable outcome. Perhaps your checkout process is too complicated, too long or too time consuming. Perhaps for some reason the purchase did not go through leaving the customer frustrated. 

A while back I made a purchase on Digicape.co.za and after entering my credit card details and clicking the purchase button, the page just would not reload. I was not sure what the problem was and was getting close to giving up and canceling my order. I then realised that I had to make selection using a dropdown menu item, which was not very clear to me. This was a great example of how a small technical hurdle can cause a buyer to cancel their purchase. 

Recommended Action

Make sure to test, review and refine your checkout process in order to maximise the number of orders and to minimise your cart abandonment rate. 

10. Create A Simple, Efficient & Enjoyable Digital Experience

One of my favourite parts of online shopping is saving items to my wish list. I often research products and find them on my favourite online stores. I then add them to my wish list to hopefully purchase them at some stage. 

I recently added a bunch of X-Wing Expansion packs to my Wishlist on Raru.co.za, as I was looking forward to ordering them over the next few months. One Monday morning I got a long list of emails from Raru informing me that these products had all been discounted by 30%. About 15min later, I had purchased all 10 items at the discounted price and had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. 

Giving your users the opportunity to save items to their wish list makes it easy for them to order them in future and it lets you easily send them discount notifications. This exact same experience has also happened to me with items on my Takealot.com wish list. 

Besides letting customers keep track of products on their wish lists, they might also from time to time have the need to return a product. Making it as simple as possible for customers to log a return request will result in a positive experience and give the customer peace of mind.

I’ve needed to return a few products to Takealot.com and with their simple online process, it’s been an absolute breeze.

Recommended Action

Review and improve your online store or website to give your customers the best possible digital experience. Make sure your website loads quickly and offer your users features like adding items to a wish list and a simple return process.

11. Offer A Quality Product That’s in Demand

You don’t need to sell iPhones, toilet paper or hand sanitizer to be successful. If you sell a quality product for a reasonable price that is in demand and people can find it online, then you’re in business.

Butlers.co.za makes it easy for me to order pizzas online and they deliver a tasty meal in under 40min to my door. Takealot offers a wide range of products and provides a great online shopping experience. For me they have quickly become the Amazon in South Africa. 

Some specific products, like books or board games, I’ve only been able to find on either Raru.co.za or Loot.co.za. This has made me a loyal customer of both these online stores. 

Market City and Sixity60 (Checkers) have made it simple and convenient for me to purchase groceries in Cape Town and have them delivered to my door. 

For products that I have not been able to purchase from South African online stores, I’ve managed to purchase from Amazon.com. And recently while buying vintage board games, I could only find what I was looking for on eBay.com. 

UberEats lets me quickly order food from local restaurants that gets delivered to my door and Aramex Global Shopper gives me access to 24 shipping addresses in all major cities, so I can make purchasers from online stores around the globe and have them forwarded to Cape Town.

Each of these brands offers something unique and have made my life better in this new digitally connected world. 

Recommended Action

Make sure to offer a quality product for a reasonable price that is in demand and make it easy for potential buyers to find you online.  

In Summary

1. Make It Easy For Buyers To Find Your Product
2. Communicate Clearly & Timely
3. Deliver What the Customer Purchased
4. Resolve Problems with Superior Customer Support
5. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
6. Make It As Easy As Possible For Customers To Purchase
7. Same Day or Next Day Delivery = Happy Customers
8. The Importance of Reviews
9. Perfect Your Online Checkout Process
10. Create A Simple, Efficient & Enjoyable Digital Experience
11. Offer A Quality Product That’s in Demand

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it. If you have any feedback or questions feel free to leave a comment below. I'll do my best to get back to you.

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The 5 Types of Website Traffic & How To Leverage Them

In this post I’d like to explain the different types of traffic sources as well as provide ideas for increasing your traffic from each of these sources.

1. Direct Traffic

Direct traffic includes a visit of a user that types your website URL directly into their browser or clicks through to your website from a bookmark that they’ve added to their browser.

Direct traffic would account for someone seeing your website URL on a business card, a poster or flyer or hearing about it by word of mouth and then typing it into their browser. 

In Google Analytics, direct traffic has a medium of “none”.

How to increase direct traffic?

If and where appropriate, add your website URL to any physical promotional material including business cards, posters, flyers, brochures, and signs. 

2. Email Traffic

Email traffic includes a visit when a user clicks through to your website from a link in an email that you or someone else has sent out. 

If you have an email list that you regularly email and in your emails you link back to your website, then this will lead to an increase in email traffic.

In Google Analytics, email traffic has a medium of “email”.

How to increase email traffic?

Create an email list and regularly send out emails that link back to content and sales pages on your own website.

Click the link below to watch my free comprehensive video tutorial on how to use ConvertKit for your email marketing. 

3. Organic Search Traffic

Organic search traffic includes traffic that is directed to your site from organic search results on a search engines’ search results page. 

If, for example, a user searches for something on Google.com and then clicks through to an organic search result, then this would count as organic search traffic.

In Google Analytics, organic search traffic has a medium of “organic”.

How to increase organic search traffic?

Regularly publish content that gets indexed by search engines and that ranks well on search engine results pages. Make sure that your website and the content on your website has been optimised for search engines.

4. Referral Traffic

Referral traffic includes traffic that is directed to your site from some other site. These other sites include social media networks and all other websites online, excluding search engines.

In Google Analytics, referral traffic has a medium of “referral”.

4.1 Referral Traffic — Social Media

When we talk about referral traffic from social media websites, we are referring to traffic from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube & Pinterest, excluding any traffic generated by ads running on these networks. Traffic generated from ads on social media would fall under paid media traffic.

How to increase this referral traffic from social media sites?

Regularly share valuable content to social media sites on which you have a strong presence and remember to link back to your website if and when appropriate.

4.2 Referral Traffic — Other Websites

When we talk about referral traffic from other websites, then these could be any other websites online other than social media websites. 

So for example if a news site mentions your business or brand in a news article and links out to your website, then any traffic that comes to your site via that link will be referral traffic from that specific site.

Or if you run a local tourist attraction and a destination specific travel blog mentions your brand or business in one of their blog posts and links out to your site, then any traffic that comes to your site via that link will be referral traffic from that specific site.

How to increase this referral traffic from other websites?

Getting mentioned on websites that are owned by others can occur organically or it can be formally arranged. A link from someone else’s website is like an endorsement or recommendation. If you build up a reputation for the work that you do, then you will most likely be mentioned on various websites online. 

You can however also take a more active strategic approach, which is referred to as link building. You could submit your business or website to local directories and submit articles to other larger online publications that will publish your content which usually includes a link back to your website. This is commonly referred to as guest posting.

5. Paid Traffic — PPC/Paid Search

Paid media traffic includes traffic from paid advertising on platforms including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Anybody with an advertising budget can start running ads on these platforms and can pay to drive traffic to their desired landing pages, which can be a specific offer, a specific piece of content or a simple contact form. 

In Google Analytics, paid media or paid search traffic has a medium of “cpc”, which stands for cost per click.

How to increase paid search traffic?

Increasing the amount of ads you’re running and increasing your ad spend will generally result in more paid media traffic, assuming your ads are enticing enough to get user to click through to your specific landing page. 

In Conclusion

The 5 sources of website traffic are direct traffic, email traffic, organic search traffic, referral traffic and paid traffic. 

You can strategically invest time and money into increasing each of these traffic sources.

1. Direct traffic requires word of mouth and a strong physical brand presence. 

2. Email traffic requires you to grow your own email list and to frequently email your list promoting new content and/or offers. 

3. Organic search traffic requires your content to rank well in search engines and in order for that happen you’ll need to invest in content marketing (i.e. regularly publish new and valuable content).

4. Referral traffic will require a strong online brand presence, which can be developed through content marketing (publishing valuable content that other websites link to) or through strategic link building and guest posting.

5. Paid traffic will require an advertising budget, advertising account management and ad creative in form of images, videos and text. You will also need to have a landing page to link to from your ad. You can place ads on Google Ads, Facebook Ads, YouTube Ads, LinkedIn Ads or on various other networks. If you can develop a profitable advertising strategy, then paid media is the best way to scale your business online. But if you don’t have product-market fit or your advertising strategy is not generating a profit, then it’s a quick way to burn money.

What to focus on based on where you're at:

If you are just starting out and have a fairly unknown brand and website, then organic search traffic, referral traffic and email traffic would be your best sources of traffic to start with.

If you have an established brand that is well known with existing product-market fit, then paid traffic is a great option for expanding your brand and your income online. 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please click the heart below this paragraph. If you have any feedback or questions feel free to leave a comment below and I'll do my best to get back to you.

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8 Key Business Growth Metrics To Track

To grow your business, you need to know your numbers! 

At times it’s easy to focus on vanity metrics. These are those numbers that look impressive and appealing, but don’t directly contribute to the revenue, profit, growth and efficiency of your business.

In this short list I will share with you 8 key metrics to focus on and I’ll compare them to similar metrics that are less important.

1. Profit vs Revenue

Revenue is the more appealing figure to quote when discussing the financial performance of your business. The truth is that there are companies that generate massive amounts of revenue, but they fail to make a profit. 

  • Profit = Revenue - Expenses
  • Profit Margin % = Total Profit / Total Revenue

Focus on measuring and increasing the total profit and profit margin percentage to grow your business.

You can do this by increasing revenue while keeping expenses constant or decreasing expenses while keeping revenue constant, or both.

2. Paying Customers vs Likes or Followers

The most quoted vanity metric in online marketing is likes, followers and fans. These figures paint a picture of how well your brand is performing online, but they don’t directly generate income. Paying customers, on the other hand, generate the revenue and profit. 

Focus on sales to increase your amount of paying customers, as well as your customer retention rate. Increasing these will increase your revenue and profit, and ultimately help you grow your business.

3. Engaged Subscribers vs Subscribers

When it comes to email marketing, having a smaller engaged list of subscribers is more valuable than having a massive list of disengaged (or cold) subscribers. More engaged subscribers will open your emails, click your links and buy your products and services. 

Keep track of and improve your engagement metrics (email open rates and click-through rates), and regularly purge your list by removing cold subscribers.

4. Opt Ins/Leads vs Traffic

Traffic is the lifeblood of online marketing success. We all need traffic to our web properties in order to get our message in front of our target audience, however what’s more interesting is the opt in rate. In other words, the total number and percentage of users that opt into your list (sign up for a free lead magnet or add themselves to your notification list) and become a lead. 

Focus on providing valuable content to increase your opt in rate. Your main goal is increasing the number of leads that join your email list and enter your marketing funnel.

5. Champion Customers vs Ordinary Customers

As mentioned above, it’s crucial to focus on the total number of paying customers your business serves. You can however take this one step further and focus on those extraordinary customers that:

1. Rave about and recommend your business to family and friends — i.e. Brand Ambassadors
2. Make up a large portion of your revenue — i.e. High Value Customers
3. Send you high value referrals — i.e. Affiliate Partners or Strategic Partners

Figure out how you can convert more ordinary customers into champion customers and make sure to communicate your appreciation to your existing champion customers.

6. Recurring Purchases vs Once-Off Purchases

While focusing on attracting new customers, don’t neglect and underestimate the potential value of your existing customers. Instead of focusing on once-off deals, shift your attention to creating more value that you can sell as a recurring purchase or an additional purchase. 

On average it costs less to sell more to an existing customer than to acquire a new customer. And recurring purchases, like subscriptions, increase your monthly recurring revenue (MRR), which is more predictable and lead to more business growth. 

Consider offering your customers a subscription or membership or a monthly, quarterly or annual payment plan in exchange for an ongoing product or service package that adds value.

7. Engagement vs Views

When it comes to online content the most appealing metric is usually subscribers and views. What’s more interesting is looking at user engagement. How many viewers or readers are taking the next step and engaging with your content — for example leaving a comment or asking a question?

Encourage engagement and interaction to gather feedback from your audience. This will help you better understand your audiences' challenges, so you can refine your products and services to better meet their needs and market to them using the language that resonates with them.

8. Testimonials vs Compliments

It’s easy for friends, family members and even customers to compliment your business. What’s far more interesting is focusing on individual customer success stories, case studies and testimonials.  

Source and document customer testimonials, case studies and success stories and use them as part of your marketing material.

Document how a specific customer has benefited from using your service and/or product and how your business has helped them experience a transformation. Written testimonials are great, but video testimonials can be even more effective. 

Bonus Metric: Customer Lifetime Value

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV, CLTV, LCV or LTV) is a prediction of the net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer. 

CLV = (Ave. Monthly Revenue per Customer * Gross Margin per Customer) ÷ Monthly Churn Rate
For example: ($100 average monthly spend * 25% margin) ÷ 5% monthly customer churn = $500 CLV

Calculating your estimated CLV will help decide how much you can afford to spend on acquiring a new customer. 

For example: If your CLV is $500, then you can spend up to $499 to acquire a new customer, while still making $1 in profit. If your CLV is $5000, then you can spend a lot more to acquire a new customer.

In Summary

1. Track your revenue and profit and maximise your profit margin.
2. Focus on sales to increase paying customers.
3. Track and increase your email engagement, as engaged customers are customers that purchase.
4. Track and increase your opt ins to get more leads into your marketing funnel.
5. Convert more ordinary customers into loyal champion customers and brand ambassadors.
6. If possible, increase recurring revenue by offering a subscription or payment plan.
7. Increase your user engagement to learn more about your audience.
8. Capture testimonials, success stories and case studies and use them in your marketing material.
9. Track and increase customer lifetime value.

I hope you found this list useful. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via our contact page.

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10 Proven Online Business Models with Real World Examples

In this post I'll explain the 10 proven business models that will let you create and grow a successful online business that generates online income. 

One of the most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make is they jump into a business idea and start executing without understanding and clearly defining their business model. 

Make sure to understand the different business models and focus on the one that best aligns with your skillset, experience, goals and aspirations. 

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

1. Selling digital services — freelancing or creating an agency

This option entails providing digital services to a client in exchange for a set project fee, an hourly rate or a recurring monthly retainer.

Example: MashMetrics is an agency that offers Web Analytics services — mashmetrics.com

Becoming a freelance digital service provider has the lowest barriers to entry with the highest short term earning potential. If you have marketable skills that others are willing to hire you for, then you can in a short space of time find a handful of projects or clients and generate an online income. 

The rate that you will be able to charge depends on your ability, your experience and your past success stories. What can you offer a potential client, what can you help them achieve or achieve on their behalf and what success stories do you have under your belt that will convince clients that you are the right service provider to work with.

Example: UpWork is a market place that matches freelancers with rewarding projects — UpWork.com

Any area of expertise that can be delivered digitally and worked on remotely can be sold as a digital service. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Web Development
  • Copywriting
  • Graphic Design
  • Video Editing
  • Social Media Management
  • Paid Media Management
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Customer Support
  • Conversion Optimization
  • Lead Generation
  • etc.

It’s fairly easy to start freelancing, but as a freelancer your income is capped by the total number of hours you can work per month or by the number of clients that you can service at any given moment. Also keep in mind that your income potential and potential for being hired is directly proportionate with your skill level, your experience and how competitive the market is for what you are offering. 

If your goal is to earn more and take on more clients than you can handle yourself, then you will need to start hiring contractors and/or employees to build a team. By expanding your freelance business will grow into an agency. Building a digital agency comes with it’s own set of challenges and opportunities, and can be very lucrative in the long run if done correctly.

You can find many freelancers on UpWork and Fiverr. And here is a list of top 100 agencies.

2. Selling digital consulting, coaching or training services

This option entails providing strategic advice and support to an individual or a company via online video calls or sessions.

Example: Willo Sana offers coaching services — WilloLovesYou.com

If you have the knowledge and experience in a given area and you are willing to share your expertise and guidance with your clients, then this is a viable option. With this model you are not doing the work on behalf of your client, but you are merely accompanying and guiding them along their journey. 

As a coach or consultant you can offer one-on-one, group or team sessions. If needed and when possible you can offer in person sessions, but sessions can also be conducted online via platforms like Skype or Zoom.

Here are some examples of coaches and consultants based on their expertise:

  • Life Coaching
  • Business Coaching
  • Career Coaching
  • Fitness Coaching
  • Musical Instrument or Voice Coaching
  • Psychotherapy
  • Corporate Consulting
  • Financial Consulting
  • Legal Consulting
  • Language Teachers or Tutors

Here are 3 examples of life and business coaches: Willo Loves You, Charlie King Coaching, & Million Dollar Coach. And here is an example of an online language tutoring platform: iTalki

3. Selling physical products online — eCommerce

This model entails creating your own physical product and/or selling someone else's product in exchange for a margin or a sales commission. 

Creating a new product from scratch is generally speaking no minor undertaking. You’ll need to start with an idea, come with the design, manufacture a prototype, conduct extensive product testing, and market the product well enough to generate sales. Even though manufacturing has become a lot more accessible, it still has major risks and requires a fair amount of start up capital. 

Having said that it also depends on your specific product. Creating and selling custom designed and hand made face masks or swim wear is less complicated compared to designing, manufacturing and selling electric skateboards or a DIY hydroponics system. 

If you do manage to design, manufacture, distribute and sell a new or improved physical product profitably, then you are in a position to build a bigger brand and product portfolio. You’ll also have a competitive edge over your competition, assuming the product you sell is unique and cannot easily be copied. 

Here are three great examples of products that are being successfully sold online: The Roost StandSwitch Pod,  and Minaal.

Example: The Roost Laptop Stand — therooststand.com

Besides creating a brand new product, another option would be to sell an existing product either via your own online store or via a larger online retailer like Amazon, using their FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) program. If you do not hold your own stock and you outsource the fulfilment of your orders, then this model is referred to as drop shipping.

Here are examples of the top 500 Shopify stores: and here are some of the top Etsy stores.

4. Selling digital products

This option entails creating, marketing and selling a digital product online. Digital products can include books, audio books, games, online courses, templates, sheet music, musical recordings, recipes, building plans, checklists, or software to name a few.

The benefit of selling digital products is that distribution has become a lot easier to scale and once the initial production is complete, you can sell unlimited copies of your product. 

Once you’ve coded a game, written a book, recorded a song or finished filming and editing the lessons of your online course, you package the product once and can keep selling copies of it for years to come. By keeping overhead and recurring costs low, it’s possible to generate high margins when selling digital products.

Example: Data Driven U sells online courses, as well as a monthly or annual membership — datadrivenu.com

One major downside of the digital product business model is that digital products can easily be copied and pirated, but don’t let that hold you back.

One other thing to keep in mind is that creating the digital product is only part of the challenge. A major part is finding product market fit (i.e. creating a product that people want and are willing to purchase) and getting your product in front of the right audience.

The right audience can either be an audience that you have built up over time or you can rent the attention of an audience by running ads.

Here are some examples of websites selling digital products:

5. Affiliate Marketing

This model entails promoting someone else's product or service in exchange for a % commission for each sale that you generate.

Instead of spending their marketing budget on running ads and promotions, some companies offer an affiliate program where they will let anybody willing to promote their product sign up as an affiliate. After being accepted into the program, the affiliate will get their own unique affiliate link which they use when linking to the product online. 

Any sales that are generated via that affiliate link will then get credited to the affiliate’s account and the company will pay the affiliate the agreed upon commission on the agreed upon payment schedule. The commission is paid out by the company selling the product at no additional expense to the customer making the purchase.

Affiliate marketing has a low barrier to entry, but generating enough traffic and sales to earn significant commissions takes time and effort and is something that most affiliates never achieve.

Most affiliate commissions are once off commissions, but some companies do offer recurring commissions for the lifetime of a customer that the affiliate referred. Recurring commissions are great for affiliates, as they will continue getting paid every month as long as the customer remains a customer.

Affiliate income can be a great stream of passive income, but it’s important to understand that you won’t generate any sales without putting in the work that is needed to build an audience and generate the traffic to the specific offer that you are trying to sell.

Example: Amazon Associates Program — affiliate-program.amazon.com

There are many different ways of driving traffic to your affiliate links. Many YouTubers add affiliate links to the description of their videos recommending their preferred gear. Other affiliate marketers will add their affiliate links to review videos and blog posts. Travel bloggers might recommend specific listings on a booking site by linking out via their affiliate links. 

Here are some real world examples of well known affiliate programs:

And here are examples of some real world affiliate marketers:

Example: Smart Passive Income — smartpassiveincome.com

6. Advertising & Sponsorships / Influencer Marketing

This model entails building an audience and then selling their attention to advertisers. 

The most most common examples of this model would be YouTubers, authority or news site owners, Social Media Influences (Instagram, TikTok, etc.), and podcast hosts.

A YouTuber will regularly publish videos to build grow their audience on the platform. As they increase their subscriber count, their views, and their engagement, so their channel will become more valuable in terms of displaying ads. In order to monetize their account (i.e. activate ads on their account) a YouTube account needs at least 1000 subscribers and have at least 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months.

An authority or news site owner will create a website that focused on a very specific niche and contains valuable content about that niche. They will create content that ranks in search results and will therefore attract readers (i.e. traffic). They can then sign up with an ad network (for example Google AdSense) to place ads on the pages and blog posts on their site. Ad networks will either pay out CPM (cost per thousand impressions) or CPP (cost per click). In order to generate significant ad revenue a website will need a significant amount of traffic. Some authority sites will also charge advertisers for a sponsored post on their website.

A social influencer will spend their time regularly publishing new content to grow their following on the most popular social media channels including Instagram and TikTok. As their subscriber count and view count grows, so they will have more and more attention to sell to advertisers and so the cost of placing ads on their accounts will increase. Social influencers can charge per sponsored post or can sign endorsement deals in which they feature and promote a brand on their channels.

A podcast host will grow their audience and subscribers by regularly publishing new podcast episodes. As soon as their channel is large enough they can sign start incorporating ads or promotions as part of their episodes. If you become popular enough you could even license your podcast to Spotify for a sweet $100m — yip, I’m looking at you Joe Rogan.

Example: Armchair Expert Podcast — armchairexpertpod.com

With any of these examples, keep it mind that it takes consistent effort and determination and it can take a considerable amount of time to grow a channel to a significant size to make advertising a viable option. 

Here is a list of top social media influencers by industry and here is a list of top YouTubers in 2020

Podcast Examples: The Joe Rogan ExperienceArmchair Expert & The Tropical MBA Podcast.

Authority/News Site Example: Mashable

7. Membership Sites, Events & Exclusive Communities

This model entails creating and selling access to a private membership and/or creating and selling tickets to in-person events, retreats and conferences.

Running a successful membership site can be a great source of recurring revenue, assuming that you can convince your members to keep paying their monthly membership. 

Membership sites generally provide exclusive access to premium resources and can also include an online or in-person community that gives members the opportunity to expand their network by meeting like-minded individuals.

Example: The Dynamite Circle — tropicalmba.com/join-the-dynamite-circle

Events can be run virtually or in-person and can provide the attendees with a specific experience which might include an educational element, like training, presentations or workshops. Formats can include conferences, retreats and masterminds. Creating a monthly, quarterly or annual event can help solidify the experience as a recurring one in the minds of attendees. And it also lets you pre-sell tickets for upcoming events.

The Dynamite Circle is an example of an online community membership site that brings together business owners and location independent entrepreneurs.

DCBKK is the exclusive annual conference that is hosted by the Dynamite Circle, which is only available to DC Members. 

And Lineage of Light is an example of online training and in-person educational retreats in an area of Ancient Wisdom Sciences, Core Cellular Healing & Ke Ala. 

8. Software as a Service (SaaS)

This model entails creating and selling access to a software application that provides  a valuable solution to a common and recurring problem. 

The SaaS model is great for regenerating recurring revenue, assuming you can build up a loyal user base and customers that keep paying the monthly or annual renewal fee.

Developing a new piece of software is a challenging under taking, as you will need a to create a solution that users are willing to pay for on a recurring basis. You also need to either build it yourself or hire developers. You will most likely also need to keep improving your product in order to keep users from switching to a competitor.  The development, marketing, maintenance and customer support will need to be financed and managed. 

Example: Dropbox Business — dropbox.com

There are higher barriers to entry when it comes to developing software, but if you can create a valuable solution that is delivered in an efficient and enjoyable user experience, then you can create a business that can be scaled almost indefinitely. And because it’s a digital product, your team can work remotely and digitally.

Here are some real-world example of successful SaaS products:

9. Brokerage — Online Market Places

This model entails bringing together buyers and seller to facilitate some form of transaction. This could involve facilitating the sale of an online business, a website or a service. 

Example: AppSumo — appsumo.com

Here are some real world example of online brokers and/or market places:

  • UpWork — A marketplace for freelancers selling their services and those looking to hire
  • Dynamite Jobs — A remote job board bringing together those hiring and those looking for work
  • AppSumo — Featuring and selling discounted online products and services from 3rd parties
  • Empire Flippers — Facilitating the sale of websites

10. Or of course, a combination of the above.

Last but not least it is common for a business to use a more than one of the above business models. For example a brand selling online courses or books, might also offer done for you services. Or a YouTuber might include affiliate links in their video descriptions, but also monetises their channel with advertising. 

Using more than one of the above models can work well, but trying to implement more than two or three will probably result in a dilution of your efforts. A strong recommendation would be to have a clear focus and stick with what works best for you. You can always expand at a later stage. 

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8 Tips For Growing Your Online Business

1. Start Today

While you’re reading this blog post (or watching YouTube videos) there are customers searching for the web for your specific product or service. If you have an idea that you’d like to launch or an existing business that you’d like to grow by marketing online, start today!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” ― Chinese Proverb​

2. Avoid Distractions

The current pace of change that we are experiencing with the web and technology has never been seen before. There are unbelievable opportunities to make a difference and have an impact in the work you do.

Moving forward this pace of change will keep accelerating. The web has become an incredibly noisy environment. New tools, apps and services are launched every day and there seems to be an endless amount of “experts” wanting to offer you magic bullet solutions to your problem.

Beware of the constant noise and the endless options. You most likely don’t need that new shiny web app or the 30-hour video course that will “Teach you everything you need to know to make 6 figures online”.

Cut out distractions, don’t waste your money on things you don’t need and stay laser focused on what you are creating.

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” ― Winston S. Churchill

3. Define Your Desired Outcome

To reach your desired goals, it’s important to have a clear definition of what you are trying to achieve. What is your desired outcome? What does it look like? Why are you passionate about this idea or business? Take as much time as you need to clearly define your mission and your outcome. Avoid launching into the ‘doing phase’ if you are not sure what you are hoping to achieve.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” ― Lewis Carroll

4. Validate Your Value

So you’ve got something great to offer the market. Create a minimal viable product/service and make sure to test your offer before investing more time and money into expanding what you’ve already created.

The best way to test an offer is by getting direct feedback from existing or potential customers. And the ultimate validation of an offer is by generating sales. If your target audience is willing to pay for your solution, then it’s worth pursuing.

If you realise that your offer is not resonating with your audience, then review, rethink and rebuild.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” ― Albert Einstein

5. Create A Strategic Overview & Action Plan

After defining and clarifying your mission and desired outcome, expand those two items into a concise strategic overview and add an action plan.

A strategic overview will help you define and outline the finer details of your greater vision. Think of it as an architectural plan for your online home. This document should include defining the problem you’ll be solving, the value you’ll be adding, the audience you’ll be targeting, the offers that you’ll be making and how this all fits together online. How will you be marketing and delivering your product or service? Create a visualisation of your online marketing funnel.

Your action plan, on the other hand, will help you layout specific desired outcomes (projects) and what tasks (action items) need to be completed to reach those goals.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ― Abraham Lincoln

6. Avoid Trying To Do It All Yourself

A common trap to fall into is trying to do everything yourself. As an entrepreneur, there is a lot to think about and manage. There are many moving parts to creating, managing and growing a business. Creating an online presence and marketing your business online is only one of the many challenges to overcome.

Consider hiring smart and reliable contractors and consultants to help you plan and create your desired outcome. Professional strategic support will help you scale yourself and your business. It’s ok to ask for help and work with strategic service providers. Trying to do everything yourself will result in overwhelm and burnout. Trust me, I’ve been there.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb.

7. Invest In Systems & Support

The ability to invest depends on your available budget, your cashflow, your desired outcome and your priorities. If you’re creating a hobby blog, then you would not want to invest much. However, if you’re building and expanding your business, then I’d assume it’s a high priority and well worth investing in.

Making use of free and cheap solutions and services is great for when you’re bootstrapping and just getting started, but if you are serious about growing a sustainable business, then it’s crucial to invest in premium systems, services, and experienced support.

Areas worth investing in includes your website hosting, your content management system, your website architecture, any online tools and services you use to run your business – for example invoicing, payments, capturing leads, email marketing, landing pages, webinars, social media, content marketing, and analytics.

It can be extremely overwhelming to know what your business needs when. If needed, seek professional advice and guidance to make sure you don’t waste your money on things you don’t need.

“All the tools, techniques and technology in the world are nothing without the head, heart and hands to use them wisely, kindly and mindfully.” ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

8. Progress Over Perfection

One of the most frustrating hurdles to overcome is dealing with perfectionism – wanting everything to be perfect before we share it with the world. The truth is that behind perfectionism lies something else that needs to be addressed and dealt with. This could be some sort of limiting belief, insecurity or imposter syndrome.

Sometimes emotional work is needed to overcome these challenges. And once you’re ready to put yourself and your business out into the world, start with version 1.0 of your product or service. Create, refine and launch as soon as possible. Then get feedback from potential or existing customers and then work on version 1.1. Don’t try to make version 1.0 perfect, you’ll only end up wasting time and energy.

If you feel ready, you’ve launched too late.

“Perfectionism rarely begets perfection, or satisfaction - only disappointment.” ― Ryan Holiday

In Summary

1. Start Today
2. Avoid Distractions
3. Define Your Desired Outcome
4. Validate Your Value
5. Create A Strategic Overview & Action Plan
6. Avoid Trying To Do It All Yourself
7. Invest In Systems & Support
8. Progress Over Perfection

Additional recommended reading: 10 Proven Online Business Models with Real World Examples 

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