Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

Some of the most innovative companies in the world started out as a napkin sketch. When you put it that way, it sounds incredibly easy to turn an idea into something millions of people will love and share with their friends. In reality however, those same companies were actually the result of an many setbacks, hardships, and a relentless work ethic to break through to the other side. Often, the end result is nothing remotely close to the original sketch. There is no such thing as an overnight success story.

Well, this is the beginning of Selfhelpy’s story. Depending on when you’re reading this, you are either

A.) Witnessing history in the making, or

B.) Experiencing the humble beginnings of a brand that you’ve come to know and love

What do I mean? Well, at this point in time (March 31, 2018) Selfhelpy isn’t much of anything. This website launched exactly 3 months ago, and in that time frame this is the humbling reality:

  • There have been a total of 1,061 unique visitors
  • A handful of blog posts published (all with 0 comments)
  • The Selfhelpy Facebook page just hit 200 likes (mostly friends and family)
  • Only 1 purchase has been made. Thanks mother-in-law!

Just being open and honest. You might think I’m crazy, but I’m actually excited to share that with you. Why? Because I have no doubt Selfhelpy will be successful. It will just take time an effort. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was it built in a few months. When that time comes, those stats will only be a thing of the past and hopefully inspire someone to never give up on their dreams.

The thing is, I expected to make mistakes along the way, learn from them, and apply what I’ve learned. If you’re here to learn what to avoid when launching an online business, let me save you some time by sharing the three biggest lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Don’t keep your business a secret
  2. Don’t launch with products first
  3. Don’t try to help people that aren’t looking for help

Don’t Keep Your Business a Secret

To illustrate what I mean here, let me tell you about my genius idea that actually backfired:

I’m pretty passionate about self-help books (in case you didn’t notice from the website). I’m also very big on setting goals. New Years Day is my favorite holiday for that very reason. One day, I noticed that there was a world of people out there just like me when searching for “self-help books” in Google Trends.

Google trends for the search term "self help books"

In the image above, you’ll notice a huge spike in search volume for the word “self-help books” every year around January 1st. When discovering this, I knew what I had to do. Create an online self-help bookstore and launch it on New Years Day. This (ironically) became my New Year’s resolution for 2017 and I spent several months toward the end of the year to make it happen.

The problem was I didn’t tell anyone. I thought it would be better to keep it a secret, build this amazing website, have it ready, and surprise everyone right when they were ready to buy. It was going to be the website everyone needed and go viral and it was going to be glorious!

It was far from that.

There was some traffic, sure. I made some Facebook ads and Google ads and thought surely, all my hard work and effort was going to pay off. Unfortunately, not a single book sold.

Since then I’ve learned that people, more than ever, will not buy from you until you’ve given them solid evidence that they can trust you. Trust has to be earned and you will be competing with a lot of other companies to earn it. If I could start over again I would have spent the same amount of time and effort publishing valuable content, letting people get to know Selfhelpy, and giving them a reason to trust the brand before trying to sell anything to them.

Don’t Launch with Products First

This is the lesson I should really beat myself up over because I ALREADY KNEW IT and still did not apply it. If you don’t get anything else out of this content, then please at least take this one bit of advice with you: don’t launch with products first. Before Selfhelpy was even an idea, I had read a book in college called Content INC, by Joe Pulizzi. This guy coined the phrase “Content Marketing.” In his book he explains why you should focus your effort on writing great, quality content before you even think about selling anything.

Despite his solid advice and convincing arguments, I decided to launch this site with products first. The thrill of creating an online store with a fully functional cart and checkout was way more exciting to me than writing content. I’m a designer, not a writer – so I focused my time and energy on creating an amazing shopping experience instead of writing helpful, quality content.

Lesson learned: Good design doesn’t sell things, words sell things.

You might find it hard to believe that it’s been difficult to sell books, considering there are 1,000 of them listed on this website. That’s 1,000 product pages for people to stumble upon and 1,000 opportunities for them to make a purchase.

However, why would Google send traffic to this website over Barnes & Noble or Amazon? Google’s number one objective is to provide quality, relevant results and they already know that both of these amazing companies will give searchers exactly what they are looking for.

Furthermore, how do I even know what people will buy? In the book, Joe Pulizzi makes the case that by creating content first, building an audience, and understanding their needs, you’ll better understand what kind of products they will be most interested in buying. If your thinking about launching a business, I would highly recommend you read Content INC first and actually apply what you learn, unlike me.

Don’t Try to Help People That Aren’t Looking for Help

Since I had not taken the advice of building a targeted audience first, a big part of my launching strategy was to announce the new business venture to all of my Facebook friends and family and rely on them to get started on the right foot. The logic here was this:

  • I have a lot of friends and family
  • Many of them are supportive
  • Therefore, some of them would be just as excited about Selfhelpy’s launch as I was.

And the result of that thinking:

  • Many of them have showed their support by liking Selhelpy’s Facebook page
  • Some of them have shown support by liking posts
  • A few have shared posts
  • And only one has made a purchase

One of the toughest lessons I had to learn the hard way was this: Nobody will ever care about your business as much as you do.

I get it though. I feel the same way when I see promotions that I’m not actively seeking. It’s just too easy to scroll on by and pretend you never saw it. People get on Facebook for free entertainment, not to buy stuff. If anything, people get on Facebook to escape the commercialism altogether. Facebook understands this and has made it a point to make it more difficult (and expensive) to reach people via advertising on their platform.

The biggest mistake here was assuming I would find people actively wanting to learn on a platform that primarily provides entertainment. If you are wanting to start an online business in entertainment, then Facebook might be for you. Otherwise, you should probably find a new place to promote what you have to offer.

Just to illustrate: two weeks ago I posted a time-lapse video of Sesame Street chalkboard art for my daughters second birthday. This video got 58 shares and over 13,000 views on Facebook. Two years before that, I made a time-lapse pregnancy announcement to announce our baby in a creative way. This video got picked up on Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, some other big media sites and now has nearly 400,000 views on YouTube.

I tell the same crowd about an amazing website to help them discover self-help books and….crickets.

They are on Facebook for free entertainment, not educational material, and certainly not to buy stuff. At least, that appears to be the case in my experience.

Conclusion

I’ve already focused on what NOT to do for your business launch, so here are the three actionable steps you SHOULD take instead:

  1. Tell everyone that you’re planning to launch a business. Get people excited about it before hand and keep them updated on the progress.
  2. Take it one step further by creating helpful, quality content in the form of blog posts, videos, podcast. Whatever you find that resonates with people the most.
  3. Find where your target audience hangs out before launching. Join their discussions, make some friends, and promote your valuable content to people that will appreciate it.

Content marketing is a huge topic right now, and a lot of companies, even those who already have products, are starting to take advantage of what content marketing has to offer.

If you’ve already launched your website and your trying to figure out why your not getting traffic or sales, then you’re not alone. I would definitely recommend looking into content marketing. If you haven’t launched yet, then you are in luck. You have an opportunity to create value, build an audience who trusts you, and deliver an amazing product, specifically for that audience.

So, what would I have done differently? Well, if I wouldn’t have made mistakes #1 and #2, then I wouldn’t have been in the position to make mistake #3.

My focus right now is to continue creating helpful, quality content – specifically around the topic of personal development. I’m even in the process of becoming a Certified Life Coach, so I can learn how to better help others to achieve their personal and professional goals. I’ll be sharing everything I learn along the way on this blog, so be sure to subscribe below if you want to tag along on this journey of continuous improvement.

Just a side note: Life Coaches charge between $160 – $325 per hour to help people realize their full potential and achieve their goals. I plan to provide that same value on this blog absolutely free, so you’re getting a pretty good deal just for subscribing 😉

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4 thoughts on “HOW NOT TO LAUNCH YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS: 3 LESSONS I LEARNED THE HARD WAY

  1. Vickie Prince says:

    This really was great! You claimed you couldn’t write. I almost made mistake #1 but I finally started telling anyone that would listen. This way I HAD to actually take action instead of planning (it has been in planning stages 4 years) and it pushes you to work harder if you know all these people are waiting to see you succeed. Before I feared failure and part of me thought if I didn’t tell everyone I know at least they would not have front row seats to watch me fail, this thinking sets you up for failure. Now getting it out and talking I want to work harder because I want them to see me succeed. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing.
    Our site is not up yet but it is in the workings. We handcraft customized art and crafts. We’re also working on a line of journals and sketchbooks. Posting this here means I HAVE to do it now.

    • Nick Rollins says:

      Vickie, it’s great that you are getting out there and letting everyone know about your business. It’s tough to break through all of the noise to get to people. Looking forward to seeing your website when it’s launched!

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