After growing my boutique mergers-and-acquisitions firm for 10 years, I decided to listen to my inner voice and pivot into a new business.
My new venture would be the complete opposite of my previous company, which had expensive office space and a team of 12. This new venture would be a home-based online training company supported by a virtual assistant.
Initially, this laptop lifestyle seemed like a dream come true. There’s nothing like the feeling of hitting “send” on your first blog post, email or video upload—unless, of course, the response is zero, nothing, nil.
Yes, the dirty little secret is out: When you begin building an online business, be prepared for crickets or—even worse—complete silence.
The truth is that it takes time to build an online following and even longer to convert users into buyers.
If you follow online business gurus, you might think the industry is as simple as “write, upload and post,” and the money will start flooding in. If I’m being fair, success probably does come quickly for a small few who already had a large following before they started, but if that’s not your situation, be on the lookout for the following myths when considering "free traffic" for your site.
Myth 1: Someone Else’s Strategy for Free Traffic Will Work for YouThere are many online courses you can purchase, often at a steep price, that will show you how to drive free traffic to your site. Many of the programs teach excellent strategies and tactics, but in my experience, when you try to copy someone else’s path, it rarely leads your business in the right direction.
The fault isn't in the lessons; it’s based on the fact that, if you don't interject your own brand's style and personality into the process, your audience won't understand how the strategy appeals to them, leading your customers to question why they should buy from you and not a similar competitor.
If you do decide to invest in a course, master the technical aspects, but pay special attention to what feels most natural to you. You may be a better writer than a video blogger, or you may feel very comfortable in front of a camera but loath the idea of producing a 750-word post. In essence, learn from their best practices, but be sure to make it your own.
Lastly, that pricey course was far from free, so be sure to measure your success and the return on that “free traffic” investment.
Myth 2: You Don’t Need to Spend Money on AdvertisingIf you opened a service business, would you sit at your desk and wait for people to walk in? Or if you manufacture products, would you stare at the phone waiting for a big-box retailer to call you? Of course not!
To grow your business, you have to actively market and sell your offerings. There’s no way around it, and it's especially true for online businesses.
The fastest way to grow your sales is through highly targeted and measurable advertising. Don’t get me wrong: You can absolutely grow slowly and organically with networking, word-of-mouth and referrals. In fact, these are great strategies, but to really gain traction, you need to spend money to let your potential buyers know you exist.
If you’re just getting started with generating online traffic, consider running a small marketing campaign on Facebook. Based on my own experience, the beauty of Facebook marketing is that it’s highly targeted and has great analytics, so you can track both your successes and shortfalls. You can also start with a very small amount of money, even as low as $10, to test an ad or promoted post.
As a growing business, you don’t have money to waste, so in order to find the fish that are willing to bite, paying a few bucks for worms is definitely money well-spent.
Myth 3: Free Traffic Is Actually FreeLet’s say you decide that writing and marketing a blog post is your primary strategy for driving online traffic. For certain businesses, regular and consistent blogging can be an excellent way to build an audience and an email marketing list.
But to be clear, this isn’t free if you’re writing, editing and posting it yourself. While you didn’t have to write a check to get it done, you have most definitely spent your biggest and most valuable asset: your time.
Time is perishable, and as an entrepreneur, we need to track our time spent in the same way we would track the task if it were outsourced.
Start with establishing a “project” fee for yourself, but not an hourly rate. Hourly rates create a time-for-activity mindset, whereas a project rate takes into consideration all of the years it took for you to gain the expertise you’re bringing to the task.
The added bonus is that, if you value your work and “bill” your business for it, your customers will value your work and pay you more for it. Ultimately, your prices should reflect the value you bring to the customer, not how long it took you to produce the service or product.
Nothing Is Free, Not Even YouIf you’re growing an online business or adding an online sales channel to an existing brick-and-mortar establishment, be prepared to invest cash in strategies that attract customers and close sales.
Consistent growth requires time and money, so resist the impulse to rely solely on “free” strategies. Instead, focus on increasing your return on investment. Getting a high return for every hard and soft dollar invested in your business is the secret to success. So stay focused, value your time, and measure results every step of the way.