Think Strategically, Not Opportunistically
“Internet business is not as fast paced as you think”
Yaro Starak, Internet Entrepreneur
The pace of change in technology and the Internet happens very quickly right? That means success belongs to those who are quick and agile right?
Yaro Starak, the serial Internet entrepreneur wrote,
The collective online commerce industry moves very quickly because there are thousands of companies working on thousands of ideas. The macro view is rapid and the companies that get the media coverage are either the biggest players – the Microsofts, the Googles and the Apples – or the highly innovative breakthrough start-ups with unique and interesting stories. Your venture could very well be a breakthrough start-up, but remember you will be just one concept within a sea of like-minded entities all struggling to find their place online.
In reality, especially as an independent operator or small self-funded team, the pace online is painfully slow. Internet business requires a lot of patience. The nature of the web is that you can’t put a website up and have thousands of people visiting your site immediately, if you have limited advertising funds and no contacts.
If you are lucky enough to hit upon a unique idea and your business grows quickly then you are in the minority (but congratulations!). If you aren’t that lucky, don’t get discouraged.
What happens if you believe in the myth that the pace for online business is exceedingly fast and that you have to be extremely responsive to get ahead?
When that happens, you stop thinking strategically. You stop working patiently, purposefully, and methodically towards a goal. You get distracted by all kinds of ideas. You overwhelm yourself with overwork as you continuously chase and implement kinds of stuff like
- hot business ‘opportunities’,
- the perfect niche,
- the best business in a box,
- the new untapped method of making millions
- hot traffic opportunity, the killer conversion strategy, or
- anything else that promises the secret shortcut to eliminate what’s currently holding your Internet business back.
In other words, when you believe in this myth, you become an opportunist instead of a strategist.
An opportunist sees an ‘opportunity’, arise and grab it. An opportunistic Internet business owner struggle with busyness because he/she constantly take action on what’s appealing. A strategist, on the other hand, has an end in mind, a vision. A strategic entrepreneur knows his vision, think of different paths towards its accomplishment and choose the path he thinks is most probable.
An opportunist asks what the latest opportunities are for grabs while the strategist asks what the best path to take is.
And here is an insider tip (from Rich Schefren, another serial Internet entrepreneur),
It’s about 100 times easier to sell to an opportunity seeker than [to] an entrepreneur. Why? Because the opportunity seeker has no criteria – if you can convince him or her that they can make money with it, you’ve made your sale. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, has to compare what you are offering to their current plans – will it make it easier for them to achieve their vision? Is this something that fits into their current approach and if it does is it superior to what they are currently doing?
Have you ever heard the comment, “The only ones making money online are those selling tips on how to make money online”? That comment is about marketers selling to opportunists.
Unique Brand and Identity
“If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity.”
Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Today, more and more products, services and talents are getting commoditised, thanks to the Internet and advancement of high-speed communications network. Even the global talent pool cannot escape this trend as more and more workers from the low-wage developing nations come online. Your customers have more choice than ever before, with more information about products and services more readily available at their fingertips (with their smart-phones).
If you are a commodity, you can only compete on price. Once you compete on price, it is a vicious cycle downward between you and your competitors. Eventually, someone will go out of business. If your competitor is from a low-wage and low-cost developing country, good luck. Even if you don’t go out of business, you are a price-taker, which means your business is at the mercy of market prices.
But if you are a brand, you can rouse the passion and loyalty of your customers (think of Apple). You wouldn’t be competing on prices. You will have the freedom to set prices far beyond your cost of doing business. Your brand is your unique identity becomes a moat that protects your business. Anyone who wants to buy your branded business will have to pay a premium for an intangible called ‘goodwill’.
So, if you want your business to succeed, you have to plan to develop your brand and identity. The sooner the better because once you are perceived as a commodity, it is extremely hard to become a brand. Therefore, if you are just starting a business online, the time to think about and develop your brand is right at the beginning. Even though developing your business’s brand and identity can be costly in terms of time, money and effort, not doing so will be costlier in the future.
That’s why Robert Kiyosaki works so hard to develop his Rich Dad brand. He too confessed that he has heaps of competitors providing financial education. The Rich Dad brand is what keeps them at bay. That is also why Apple is so jealous about guarding their brand image. They are actually not a computer/electronics company anymore because the bulk of their manufacturing is done in China. Once Apple loses its brand, it is no longer a viable business.
“Put simply: If your content isn’t good enough to attract good, natural links, it doesn’t matter how ‘optimized’ that content is.”
Brian Clark, founder of CopyBlogger
Whenever you think of financial literacy and how to be rich, who is the first person you have in mind?
He is the expert on financial literacy. Or rather, he is an expert on financial literacy. See the difference?
The former (the) is a perception. The latter (an) is the reality. I know the latter is the reality because Robert Kiyosaki, though he is rich, is not the richest guy in the planet. There are people much richer than him. Therefore, there are probably some people who are more financially literate than him. Also, he is not the only one teaching financial literacy. But Robert Kiyosaki is the one who has the authority when it comes to the subject area of financial literacy. Between him and Bill Gates (who is richer), who do you think will command a bigger audience when they talk about financial literacy? Who do you want to listen to regarding financial literacy?
In the same way, to be successful online, you (or your website) have to develop some kind of authority and attain some level of expert status. In the online world, given any subject areas, there are so many voices clamouring for your attention. If you don’t develop some kind of authority, your voice will be drowned out among the multitude of shouting.
Also, to build up your authority on a subject area, you need to have passion in that area. Passion unleashes the inner creativity within you, which leads you to original ideas. Your originality will make you unique, which is what branding is all about. Without it, your customers will see it through. When they see it through, you will just become another boring voice among the many. Once you become boring, you become a commodity.
Once you develop an authority, good SEO rankings will become a natural side-effect—people will mention you, link to your website and spread the word about you in social media. However, the converse is not true. Awesome SEO will not give you the authority. In fact, ‘awesome’ SEO is what will get you penalised by Google. Of course, I’m not saying that SEO is totally bad. Some forms of SEO are necessary. But SEO alone is not sufficient. And if you decide to pay SEO companies to do it, make sure they don’t over-do it and get your website into the bad books of Google.
Highly Creative Content
In 2011, Google released Panda update, which is an update of their search engine algorithm. Overnight, many websites got shot down like lightning in their search engine rankings. Others got promoted.
The Panda update is part of Google’s wider war against junk on the Internet. Since it can be very lucrative to rank high on search engine results page, an entire industry of “Search Engine Optimisation” (SEO) companies sprang up to help website owners achieve this feat. Some SEO techniques are legitimate, while others try to game Google’s system. The problem with many SEO techniques is that at best, they do nothing to improve on the quality of content (which include writings, video, pictures, audio, etc); at worst, they fill the Internet with junk content.
Make no mistake about it: Google will continue to update their algorithm to prevent unethical operators from gaming its system and eliminate junk from the Internet. SEO companies and websites that obsess with gaining every tiny sliver of SEO advantage are going to rise and fall according to every tweak by Google.
To improve their search engine algorithm, Google is believed to be using artificial intelligence (technically called “machine learning”) to sift out the wheat from the chaffs. That requires the input of humans to rate the quality of content and letting machines learn from the humans. This means that Google’s search engine algorithm will get smarter and smarter and become more and more human-like in its ability to sniff out great content.
What does this mean?
The implication is that creativity will play a more and more important role in the future if you want to rank well in search engines. Gone are the days when people can use automated robot software programs to churn out website content to fool Google. Gone also are the days where you can fork out a handsome price to SEO companies to make you rank well. In the near future, you will need creative people in your team, from graphic artists, copywriters to mini-filmmakers.
Make Design a Priority
As I wrote in my book, The Google Trap,
Like it or not, in this attention-starved Google-Trapped world, your chances of being remembered will be extremely low.
Consumers on the Internet are extremely short on attention span and spoilt for choices. This gives rise to one problem. With so much distraction, advertisements, information, websites, products and services to shop and visit, they often can’t remember where they last saw you. For example, they may visit a specific page on your website, suck out all the useful content and then move on to the next website (or close the web browser window). They will remember your content, but they will most likely forget you. If they want to retrieve your content again, all they have to do is to ask Google. If Google still likes you, then they may be directed back to your website. If not (or if they can’t find you), then you will be out of their mind indefinitely.
What this means is that if you fail to stand out in the first impression, you will not have a second chance. In this Google-Trapped world, it is not good enough to merely make a favourable first impression. You have to make a favourable stand out first impression. As I mentioned before, the Internet is no longer a meritocracy. Being good is no longer enough to win—you have to at least look good too. Today, even looking good is not going to be enough, since everyone else is looking good too. You have to look far better than anyone else to stand a chance.
That’s where visual communication design comes in. If your designer (e.g. web/graphic designer, photographer, brand image consultant) is good, she will make you stand out. If she is not good, you will merely look good just like everyone else.
That’s why you may end up losing by paying cheap money for a designer. The more Google-Trapped your niche/industry is, the more crucial it is to stand out. The more crucial it is to stand out, the more crucial your designer plays a role in your business.
If you want to be successful online, you simply cannot be stingy on design. You may save money initially by skimping on design, but that will cause you to lose customers in the long run. You will not be given a second chance. Instead, your second chance will be given to your competitors.
Superior Intelligence Gathering
“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”
Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese strategist
Today’s technology allows you unparalleled capabilities to gather intelligence about your customers (‘yourself’) and your competitors’ customers (‘enemies’).
For example, tracking software can be easily installed in your website to find out where your visitors are coming from, how much time they spend, which pages they are looking at, which websites refer them to you, how many are repeat visitors, which countries and cities are they from, and so on. From the emails that you send, you can track who opened it, what links they click, who tweets and like your emails, and so on.
Every day, a lot of chatter is conducted through social media and online forums. You can listen in and hear what people have to say about both you and your competitors’ businesses. You can also get more information and feedback by engaging your fans/followers directly. You can listen to them, answer their queries, solve problems and point them towards useful resources.
All these give you an idea of how big the treasure trove of intelligence you can gather for your online business. If your business has superior intelligence, it will have the competitive cutting edge against your competitors.
Functions, Processes and Systems, Not Tasks
“Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant”
Michael Gerber, author of E-Myth Revisited
For your business to grow, you have to think in terms of functions, processes and systems. If not, you will be thinking in terms of tasks and guess who will be doing (or at least be responsible for) most of the tasks?
Since you have a limited amount of time, your time will limit the growth and scale of your business. But if you think in terms of functions, processes and systems, your business will be in a better position to scale and leverage. Then you can begin to take yourself out of the picture and let your business run itself. This is what Robert Kiyosaki meant by transitioning from the S Quadrant (Self-Employed) to the B Quadrant (Business Owner).
The beauty about Internet businesses is that many of the processes can be automated with computers and software. Or at the very least, provide tools to help people run the processes much more efficiently. And I have further good news for you: A lot of these tools and software are either freely available or offered at low cost. Better still, fierce competition on the Internet means that you have plenty of choice—in fact, too much choice. But to work that to your advantage, you need to know what they are, where to find them and how to evaluate them (remember, strategists find the best alternative to achieve their goals).