Copyright © 1997 Dave Soss. All rights reserved. Published here by permission.
"I need to make money. I've got a great computer set-up and html is easy. I'll sell via email and make my own hours. I think I'll start a virtual business."
Starting a virtual business, a business that finds, sells and services customers or clients via the Internet can be a tremendously exciting and rewarding undertaking. It can also become a virtual nightmare.
Let's consider the challenges to successful "Cyberpreneuring", and the potential benefits to such a career choice.
Successful Cyberpreneurs spend a great amount of time in front of their computers. For some niche product or service, they...-establish, develop and add value through quality, convenience, service.
-provide ample, free, useful information before, during and after the sale.
What product would you sell at your virtual business? You will want to spend a fair amount of time finding-strategically planning-your company's product, price, positioning and placement relative to the virtual competition.
A Virtual Product catalogue takes a lot of time to set up. Lots of jpeg files, links, etc. Don't make all of your products high ticket items. Small sales create trust and build relationships. Quality information freebies are a sure hit!
Competitors' web sites offer many insights into how to bundle value, service and time savings into a product line. Surf these web sites, not as an end user looking for freebies, but as a businessperson looking to develop your own business concept.
Prefer to offer a service, rather than a product? Here are some considerations:
Your advice skills via email are critical. Specifically, you must learn to establish a legitimate need and solution to a potential client's problems, without sounding like a salesperson working on commission.
Are you a good writer? Provide useful, relevant and updated articles on subjects of interest to your cyber audience, subjects that support your web site concept.
You must find your market, create lots of hits, handle initial inquiries, add value and service to your pricing, and never stop marketing. It takes time-many hours and months-to set up your web site, establish enough links, get enough hits to make enough sales.
Virtual business (cash flow) problems are virtually the same as real business problems:
Monthly bills are never virtual. Unhappy virtual clients flame your cash flow as well as the real ones. They won't stomp into your office and demand a refund. Instead, they'll call the credit card company and cancel your last credit card swipe. You could then end up on the short end of a business transaction:
VISA Representative: "The customer acknowledged receiving the goods electronically and still canceled payment? Sorry we don't honor EUDORA. Try small claims court 3,000 miles away."
That's part of the bad you will find with virtually any business, right? The smart business person spreads this risk by also creating a real, walk-in business. Your catchy web site also serves as an excellent presentation tool for in-office sales, or a virtual brochure after a cold sales call-virtual and real business marketing, a tag team approach.
The greatest start-up cost and risk is therefore time. It can take months to create an effective web presence. How many sites have you net-surfed recently that are under construction?
Once your web site is up, it takes many hours to establish worthwhile links. After all, a link is a business relationship that must be developed and maintained. Links to web pages far afield of what your company offers will probably not create good prospects. Bad prospects ask deflating and time consuming questions.
Free links are worthwhile, especially given the cost. You will want to surf wisely to find and develop strategically useful links for business alliances that add value, credibility and hits.
Develop your net sales skills. Answer, sell, post, respond to the plethora of inquiries, provide new free information, create an audience of qualified buyers. Sell and close by providing useful insights and ideas for the cyber-junkie on the other end with a definite need for the fix, the solution you offer. Stay in touch with the fence sitters using the friendly drip technique. Some of them will come around.
Time alone in front of a computer can become an internal barrier. Can you spend hours working alone, then explaining and selling via email? An inexpensive picture, i.e. web icon speaks a thousand words. However, a personal relationship often makes for a much higher close rate. For businesses that offer the same services locally, email may not close the sale.
There are hidden time costs to the seller--the extra time it takes to win the trust of someone that does not know you and cannot meet you in-person, and the ease of putting off a seller far, far away. Without enough hits, time becomes a very expensive opportunity cost.
The effective Virtual Business person reduces this cost with an effective web page and effective emails. You must quickly read and non-aggressively provide the information and insight that captures the buyer's imagination, addresses his or true needs.
Think you would make a good Virtual Entrepreneur? Try this quiz:
Defining work-related values as directly applicable and meaningful to satisfaction while actually working, please rate the following:
a. Importance Scale (how personally important are each of these variables to you?): 1-5 (1 indicates a low level of importance, 5 indicates a high level).
b. Frequency Scale (how frequently does your current work enable you to fulfill those values?): 1-5 (1 indicates low frequency, 5 indicates high frequency).
c. Virtual Fulfillment Scale (would these values and goals be fulfilled in your virtual business): 1-5 (1 indicates a low likelihood, 5 indicates a high likelihood).
a. Importance b. Current Frequency c. Virtual Business Fulfillment
01. Time spent working alone:a._______ b.________ c. _________
02. Autonomy:a._______ b.________ c. _________
03. Taking smart risks:a._______ b.________ c. _________
04. Control:a._______ b.________ c. _________
0 5. Deal with business problems:a._______ b.________ c. _________
06. Creativity:a._______ b.________ c. _________
07. Administrative Details:a._______ b.________ c. _________
08. Selling:a._______ b.________ c. _________
09. Strategically planning:a._______ b.________ c. _________
10. Handle/reassure clients:a._______ b.________ c. _________
Total your score in each column:a._______ b.________ c. _________
How did you fare? Are you already planning an IPO for your virtual company? Or, would you like to give the whole idea some more thought?
The real scoop on these numbers is this: If your average score is at least 3 or higher in columns 1 and 3, your aspirations to become an Entrepreneur may be legitimate. I said Entrepreneur, not necessarily, Virtual Entrepreneur: As you probably noticed, the qualities listed above are universal requirements for successful Entrepreneurs, Virtual or Real.
If you scored 3 or higher in column 1, and less than 3 in column 2, your current job may not be right for you. A career change may be in order-a new job, not necessarily your own business.
Let's try a second quiz that may better determine your VEQ level, Virtual Entrepreneur Quotient.
Defining virtual work-related values as directly applicable and meaningful to satisfaction while actually working, please rate the following:
a. Willingness Scale (how willing are you to perform each of the following variables?): 1-5 (1 indicates a low level of willingness, 5 indicates a high level).
b. Frequency Scale (how frequently does your current work enable you to fulfill these interests?): 1-5 (1 indicates low frequency, 5 indicates high frequency).
c. Virtual Fulfillment Scale (would these activities prove fulfilling if they were performed for your own virtual business): 1-5 (1 indicates a low fulfillment level, 5 indicates a high fulfillment level).
a. Acceptable b. Current Frequency c. Virtual Business Fulfillment
01. Long hours on the computer:a._______ b.________ c. _________
02. Ongoing search for useful links:a._______ b.________ c. _________
03. Product/service sale difficulty:a._______ b.________ c. _________
04. Spend hours creating free info. :a._______ b.________ c. _________
05. Create, update, fix web site code:a._______ b.________ c. _________
06. Locate, hook worldwide market:a._______ b.________ c. _________
07. Administer business details:a._______ b.________ c. _________
08. Many free email/phone inquiries:a._______ b.________ c. _________
09. Many small ticket sales:a._______ b.________ c. _________
10. Months of set-up time:a._______ b.________ c. _________
Total your score in each column:a._______ b.________ c. _________
How did you fare this time? If you scored 3 or higher on average in columns I and III, you may be a Budding Netpreneur. Questions #3 and #4 are extremely important. How valuable is the product and/or service you offer? How unique? How easily sold? You may want to seek the opinion of other cyber junkies.
What occurred in these two surveys should also occur in your web site. You must create a user-friendly instructional/marketing process-a process that induces awareness and interest. Surveys are a fun instructional and marketing tool for web surfers.
Want to go into the business of helping others all over the world grow in life? You may be a virtual lock to succeed.
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