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Internet / Online Business Ideas and Strategies for Entrepreneurs
How to start, plan, strategize, approach and execute your new online business concept in today's evolving business landscape for success
by Bernard Kohan
Today's business entrepreneurship has evolved to a different complex landscape that depends on new and different business strategies and marketing.
There are a great deal of new ideas and concepts that exist for starting and building successful online businesses, but to be successful, it requires business strategies, approaches and executions that have been proven to work for today's Internet business landscape.
In this article, I'll explain how to strategize your online business idea and turn it into a successful business project.
In my opinion it is rare to find a general online business idea that is new anymore — if you thought of a new business idea or venture, it is more likely that someone has thought of the same concept.
I have come across a great deal of entrepreneurs that they claim that they have a very unique idea and believe that no one else ever thought of it. But a little research shows that the same idea existed, was started, and has been executed by several other entrepreneurs with a different approach and delivery.
The same entrepreneurs spend a great deal of time and money on Intellectual Property attorneys trying to protect a general business concept or method that has been already developed and implemented by many different individuals or companies. Some entrepreneurs have been misguided by Intellectual Property (Patent) attorneys or by watching movies such as "The Social Network" — for example, the Social Networking concept was not a unique idea from Facebook; before Facebook which was founded in 2004, Friendster was founded about two years earlier in 2002, and Myspace was founded in 2003. All three companies had the same general concept — Facebook became the most successful because how it approached and executed its Social Networking services business.
It is not about the first individual or company to implement an online business idea, it is about the approach and execution.
On a side note, I would like to mention that it is unfortunate that some of the Intellectual Property (Patent) attorneys will submit Patent applications for very general online business processes and methods and use every possible confusing wording in the Patent Claims that present general concepts with some specific tendencies in order to be awarded a Patent. And it is unfortunate that Patent Offices have granted many Patents in general or common business methods or processes based on those types of complicated Patent Claim Applications.
For example, a Company has been granted a Patent for a Guided Search (aka Drilled-Down Search.) This is simply a database advanced filtered search. An attorney representing the company has sent out legal threats to hundreds of small businesses who have eCommerce sites with a Guided Search feature, asking for payments. This is shameful that this type of unfair hostile action is commonly occurring in our country and no one can do anything about it.
A similar example would be if the grocery stores start claiming that the way they are lining up their grocery store aisles are proprietary and start filing patent claims.
When we look at Internet technology, we need to relate some of the methods and processes to a real life example of methods and processes instead of considering the "Claim" as a unique Claim just because the method or process exists on the Internet.
Today's patent applications and legal battles are not for protecting very unique ideas or methods, but they are about protecting ideas that although seem to be unique because they are part of this new Internet Technology. So we need to see. and get used to the fact, that the Internet in the new global virtual landscape that will take over many of our old methods, actions and behaviors that used to be performed in the real world. So, we should not be able to file a Patent Claim for common methods and processes that were simply occurring in our day-to-day life.
It is time to ask Patent Offices around the world to do more due diligence and carry out much better research before granting general use (common) Patent Claims based on confusing Claim wordings filed by Patent Attorneys. I believe Patent Offices have too much power — any of the Patent offices erroneous actions can affect small business' livelihoods and can prevent inovation without any consequences to the Patent Offices.
The following approaches and executions are the best ways to build a successful online business:
Start out with the field that you have the most interest and expertise.
You will have the most advantage when you select a field that you have substantial knowledge and experience. You know people in the same industry, you can market to them, or you can get help and recommendations from those collegues.
Look for a specialized niche product or service or a unique need in your field.
You will have a better chance of success when you select a specialized service. In today's competitive Internet business market, most of the common ideas have been developed, matured, and dominated by a few large companies. Your chance of competing and beating those companies will be slim unless you can provide a more specialty service and do a better job than anyone else who is providing the same service. There are a great deal of unique and specialized business ideas that have never been successfully implemented as an online business. Your interest, knowledge and experience in your field should be helpful for you to find a niche service in your field.
Spend a substantial amount of time researching the competitive landscape and the demand for your service.
This should be an important part of your process — spend a lot of time on Google, researching for similar services on the Internet. Analyse Internet companies who provide similar services that you have interest, knowledge and experience. You can have success if you are able to determine your competitor's weaknesses and flaws, and you learn to present and deliver your services in much better methods than your competitors.
It is also important to do research, to see if there is a demand and need for your services. You can use tools such as the Google Keyword Tool to see the number of monthly searches for your products and services nationally and globally. You may also want to consider setting up study groups and get a feel for how users or consumers react or what they would prefer from your product and services.
Start out in your local area.
It will be much easier to market your business in your local area than trying to market it nationally. As a matter of fact, if there are large online companies in a similar business category, you will have an edge over them because you know your local market better.
A good example of an Internet company who started locally and grew to an international successful company is Craigslist. Craigslist started in the San Francisco Bay area and now it is servicing classifieds to 570 cities and 50 countries with over 20 billion page views per month and about 60 million unique monthly visitors in the United States*.
Craigslist with a small number of employees and limited funding has been able to compete in a huge way, with large newspaper companies and successfully defeat them in the area of Classifieds posting.
Market your services to a targeted audience or market.
It will be much more effective to focus your marketing to a targeted audience instead of a broad market.
A good example of an Internet company who started in a specialized category is LinkedIn. LinkedIn was founded in 2003 and focused its business in professional social networking and targeted its marketing toward job seekers and employers. as of August 2012, LinkedIn has on average about 25 million monthly unique U.S. visitors, about 50 million global visitors. about 175 million registered users and has presence in more than 200 countries.
Provide quality product or services with the best user experience.
If you look at many successful Internet companies and analyse their business model, you will notice that they all have a similar model of providing quality, and user friendly services.
Google and Apple are the two most successful companies who focused heavily on product quality and best usability.
Between 1994 -1998 search engines such as Yahoo, Alta Vista, Excite, Lycos, InfoSeek, HotBot and WebCrawler were the popular large, invincible search engines. Then Google started in 1998 and within one year, by 1999, it took over the search engine market and kept its popularity and market share beyond the reach of any other search engine company. Google did this by simply creating a search engine with a clean interface and good relavant search results.
Apple had a similar approach in providing quality products that are user friendly. In April 2011, Apple's Earnings surpassed Microsoft's, its largest rival.
In the Social Networking arena, Friendster and MySpace were the most popular Social Networking sites between 2003 - 2007, and they both had very good popularity until Facebook started to gain popularity over the other two in 2008.
Facebook's popularity was driven based on their marketing to a different audience, better branding and quality, and clean interfaces.
Be innovative and think outside the box.
Think of ideas and concepts that are new and unique. Do not be a follower of what everyone else is doing.
Branding and naming your company.
Selecting a proper name for your products or services can have a substantial effect in your business. Your brand and name is the first impression that your users and customers will receive from you. This can have an effect whether your customers or users want to be part of or a user of your brand and name.
So, this would be a time to show your innovation and come up with a name that represents and describes your product and services, and provides a brand and environment that others want to be part of.
Do not use common names or names that are taken by others; this will degrade your brand and value of your company.
Hiring a reliable and capable design and development company or team for your project.
One important aspect of any Internet business project is the successful execution of the design and development.
Good user experience, design, and branding are really important — your customers or users will more likely judge your company, will make a decision to be part of your site, or will make a purchasing decision based on your site's image.
Anyone can claim to be a web designer, but providing a design that can create a positive response and impact requires much more than knowing how to use a web design software or installing an already designed templete. A good web designer requires marketing and advertising knowledge and experience.
Anyone can also claim to be a web programmer (there are no licensing or engineering degree requirements) — but a good programmer is required to have experience in building complex applications using structured code that is maintainable and scalable.
There are also other aspects of the project such as Cloud or Managed hosting — having an application that is scalable, and can handle your project growth should also be an important consideration.
Often enterpreneurs resort to hiring offshore developers — this can bring up a few challanges such as: bad quality of code that is not maintainable or scalable, communication problems and lack of recourse or any legal remedies if the offshore company duplicates, repackages and resells your completed development project.
You always want to ask the development company to showcase some of their projects and work that they have completed successfully to make sure that they are capable of developing a complex project.
Also make sure that you have a good agreement that lists the work in detail and includes the milestones for successfully completing sections of your project.
Ask the development company about their development process and approach. These should give you a good idea about the development company's organization, capabilities, timeliness, experience, etc.
If you want to launch a successful project, you will need to hire a capable design and development company.
Be prepared to work hard, spend money in development and marketing your product and services.
Starting a business and becoming successful will require a lot of discipline, hard work and sleepless nights. Also, be prepaid to spend money for design, development and marketing.
The design and development cost for Internet businesses are on average between $30K - $50K, and $250 - $1000 per month (on average) for hosting and maintenance.
The development cost depends on the requirements and complexity of your project; I have seen projects that cost $20K or $200K to develop and $240 to $10K per month for hosting and maintenance.
Don't be mislead by false advertising of many low-cost shared hosting companies — you will get what you pay for. There are people who assume an Internet business can cost as little as $500 and hosting of $5 per month. Unless you are extremely lucky, in my opinion, in today's competitive world, it is impossible to achieve a grand online success when your budget is under $5,000 and less than $10 per month.
Research for this article was completed September 30, 2012; pricing and other information may change.
Bernard Kohan is a mobile app and web application development and technology analyst expert. He is available to discuss any issues or questions you have about web development and the best choices for your company or project.
Bernard can be reached at
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