Success Internet Businesses

by : Tiffany Banks

Beginning with issue # 28 (see we profiled a brand-new internet startup called ) A couple (Erik & Dawn Olsen) were launching their first venture selling "physical products" online, and allowed us a glimpse into their thoughts and challenges involved in starting such a business on a shoestring. This is a follow-up one year after launch...

Tiffany: Well,'ve lasted a whole year (which is itself an accomplishment for a new business) are things going?

Erik: Super! We completely blew away our first-year goals and are currently gearing up for our 2nd holiday season. Considering our sales shot up roughly 400% for the month prior to Christmas (and the fact that we have about 390 more designs than last year), we're pretty excited to see this year's holiday numbers.

Tiffany: That's great! But...there can't be all sunshine, right? What are some of the "challenges" you're having to overcome?

Erik: There are a number of them. Right now, the biggest is our free search engine rankings. For the first three months or so after we launched, we were steadily climbing in the SERPS (ed: search engine result pages), but at the end of march, we suddenly fell like a rock. Although there hasn't been a penalty, and we still get allot of free traffic (about 2000 visitors a day), our rankings are just now starting to climb back our of the cellar.

Tiffany: I'm sure that problem is common to almost all online business owners. What are you doing to improve your rankings?

Erik: Well...a number of things. About 4 months ago, we started a very selective linking campaign to trade links to sites that tightly fit our focus (i.e. body jewelry, and/or the jewelry industry). This has had a two-pronged benefit. One, it has started to give our site a boost in the SERPS, and two, we've actually been getting sales as a direct result of those links.

Tiffany: Not to get too specific, but how are the numbers? You know our readers REALLY want to know about the $$$.

Erik: Specifics aside, we tripled our first year goals. I'll leave it at that.

Tiffany: Fair enough. What other challenges have you been up against?

Erik: To be honest, our biggest challenge this year hasn't even come from the business. We've had a rather nasty medical problem crop up in my immediate family which has been dominating my time for several months now. This has made me realize having a home business, while a blessing, can also be a double-edged sword. When you run your own business, there's no one to "pick up the slack" for you. I've been doing as much as I can with the business via laptop from a hospital, and shuttling back and forth handling orders. It's been a real challenge, but I think there's light at the end of the tunnel. In six months or so, I hope that things will be back to "normal".

Tiffany: Definitely sounds like you've had your hands full. Ok...aside from all the bumps in the road, you've obviously got a hit on your hands. what are your plans for year #2?

Erik: They are almost too many to mention. Further expansion of our affiliate program (through the recruiting of specific partners), increased search engine traffic (which of course leads to more sales), a HUGE expanse of our product line (we've got over 1000 new designs on order already), as well as expanding into other related product lines.

That's just a for the others...there are a number of marketing ideas I've some up with that no one in the industry has tried yet, so I hesitate to name them here, as I know they will be "adopted" by my competitors.

Tiffany: That brings up a good point. Is competition a problem?

Erik: Yes and no. There are a few (and I mean only a few) competitors our there who are giving us a run for our money, but I don't really see them as a problem. Unfortunately, some of the areas where we innovated in the sales process have been latently copied by those competitors.

Tiffany: For example..?

Erik: For example: We offer free shipping on orders over $25. That in itself is not such a revolutionary thing However, when I was having our system custom built from the ground up, I had our developers add a feature that would "encourage" a customer to spend at least $25 by telling the "Spend just $X more and get free shipping". This feature didn't appear on a single other body jewelry retailers site. Low and behold...a few months after we started gaining market share, this feature was quietly "added" to a competitors site. I guess imitation is the best form of flattery. Aside from that, the only "competition" come from people building dozens of sites all pointing to the same product database. The good news is this is against Google's (and other) guidelines, and we've been very successful in reporting these "networks" of sites, which has resulted in their getting banned from the engine(s). I've got no problem with competition, as long as they play by the same rules that we do. If they're trying to game the engines by setting multiple keyword-based domains, we'll report them for as long as it takes to get them banned.

Tiffany: So...with your first year under your belt, what advice would you give to anyone who was considering "taking the plunge" into their first home business?

Erik: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. Know the market you want to get involved in. Our niche was VERY crowded when we launched (and remains so). The only reason we were able to capture the kind of market share we have now is because we had both the USP (ed. Unique Selling Point) and the finances to both act and look like a player from day one. The days of putting up a site that looks like it was designed by your paperboy are long gone. If you want to compete, you have to LOOK like you can compete. In this day and age, no one want to purchase something from a site that APPEARS to be run from a garage. The good news is, with just a bit of startup capital (I'd say $5000 is a good number to have on hand), you can build a site that from day one gives the perception that it can deliver the goods. Perception is everything.

Follow that up with awesome customer service (not a single support e-mail has gone more than 18 hours before being answered), some great marketing twists (we sent over 200 T-shirts out a couple of months ago, which generated 3-times their cost in sales), and a strong affiliate program (ours now generates over 50% of our sales), and you'll have a winner.

Tiffany: That's great, Erik. Thanks for "talking" to us, and we'll definitely check back in 6 months!

Note: We'll be following up on Erik & Dawn's progress in the coming month's. Stay tuned!

Note: You can visit the site referenced in this article at