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Five Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Starting an Online Business (Sponsored Post)

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Online business Starting an online business is not easy. It takes time, discipline you never knew you had and requires a herculean amount of effort to stay focused. But you did it! Congratulations! You got the word out, are great at what you do and are growing your online business. You have leapt far over all of the hurdles that have stopped lesser businesspersons in their tracks and are on the way to total world domination.

But even the savviest start-ups can have a few hiccups. Lucky for you, most of them can be avoided.  Here are five tips to help make your online business a runaway success.

Tip #1: Separate your personal and business social media accounts

We know it’s a pain to have separate accounts for your business and personal life, but your business will thank you. Let’s face it; not everything that is appropriate to share in your personal life sends the right message for your business. Photos of your breakfast and angry rants about the postal system might not mix so well with a repost of a great review of your services.  Also, a change in your relationship status might be more information than your customers need.

Keeping a separate business and personal identity also allows you to evaluate what social media platforms are best for your business, which brings us to the next point:

Tip #2: Remember that not all forms of social media will be appropriate channels for your business.

Your business doesn’t have to have a presence on every social media platform. In fact, forcing engagement where it doesn’t naturally occur can do more harm than good for your brand. Twitter might be a great way to get info and updates out to your customers as well as a fantastic avenue for direct customer service. However, you might struggle with how to position your business on Instagram or Vine.

A good rule to determine whether a social media platform is right for your business is to consider the ease at which you can create content. If you find yourself struggling to make your messages fit the platform, it isn’t right for you.

Tip #3: Register a good domain name.

Just putting up a Facebook page and calling it a day is a rookie mistake, and you run the risk of losing all your content and engagement with customers if your page gets taken (permanently or temporarily) down due to a mistake in following Facebook’s guidelines or a malicious report. Your business needs a website and a domain name.  When you control the website for your online business, you control your business. We recommend something personal, memorable and catchy: .ME offers the ability to truly get connected with your customers with a URL they will keep coming back to.

Tip #4: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

The best lesson about starting an online business to not learn the hard way is to not make promises you can’t keep. Whether it is a vacation for your significant other or a job for a friend once you can afford to expand, don’t say it out loud until you know it is a reality. We get it. You’re doing well, you’re proud of your work and you’re on track to having a better year than you projected but you have to keep it a secret until you are 100% ready to follow through on your promise. If you announce and then fail to deliver, it will haunt you and make you feel BAD. Don’t let this happen to you.

Tip #5: Control your momentum.

If done right, your business will gain momentum. Make sure you constantly check-in with yourself about your work load and control the pace at which you are growing. Since you are a human being and not a machine, there is a finite amount of time in a day to get things done. Take on only the projects you know you have time to well. Saying “yes” to everything and failing to deliver will hurt your business and brand far more than saying “no” politely.

With these five tips under your belt, you are ready to go out and conquer the online business world. Also, we would love to hear from you: What tips would you add for navigating the rough waters of online business?

Should Bloggers Think More Like Start-Ups?

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During my recent trip to Israel, I met with over 100 different start-ups, venture capitalists, and investors who are really passionate about their ideas. Israel truly is a start-up nation, for better or worse, as my friend Renee from SheBytes noted on her blog.

Meeting with so many start-ups really got me thinking about the similarities and differences between new entrepreneurs and new bloggers. The approach to this new endeavor is almost often extremely different, but is this a good thing? Could bloggers – those who hope to make money at least – benefit from taking more of a “start-up” approach to what they’re doing?

Is a Blog a Business?

I think the “is a blog a business” debate is one of the most interesting in our new media world. Certainly, not all blogs are businesses. Some are purely for hobbyists, people who simply enjoy expressing themselves online. But what about the people who do have some kind of business in mind when they start their blog. Typically, people are in one of two mindsets:

  1. The blog is the business. They hope to monetize the content through advertising, premium content, affiliate sales, or other means.
  2. The blog is not the business, but rather a means of marketing the business. They hope to use their content to lead to sales through being hired as a consultant, selling products, etc.

Often, there is overlap between these two opinions and it is a matter of perspective whether the blog is the business or the blog is a marketing tool for the business. For example, a blogger who posts affiliate links might consider the blog the business, while a blogger who emails affiliate offers to people who’ve signed up for their list might see the blog as a marketing tool for the real business, the list.

Regardless, there is a business element to the blog. So doesn’t that make your blog a start-up? By their very nature, start-ups are designed to grow quickly, which is the hope for every blogger as well. No one wants to feel as though their mom is the only one reading.

What Bloggers Can Learn from the Start-Up Mentality

If you’re starting a blog, here are a few things you can learn from the world of start-ups:

  • This will be hard work.

“You have to understand how tough it is,” says Dov Moran, CEO of start-up Comigo and inventor of the USB flash drive. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of fighting. It’s not fun. […] But if you do it and succeed, it’s amazing. Go ahead and do it, understanding the price.”

Bloggers often start with the mindset that this is an easy work-from-home opportunity, in part because what you see most often are the success stories. Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Darren Rowse, Jenny Lawson…these are are hugely successful bloggers, but what you don’t see are the thousands of bloggers who “fail,” either because they give up or in the sense that their blog never supports them financially.

If you want to have any financial success, if you want to make blogging a career, you need to be prepared to for the amount of work you’ll have to do. Any blogger who tells you that it’s easy to make money online is lying – or at least not telling you the whole truth. Building any kind of business, online or otherwise, takes a lot of hard work.

  • What problem are you solving?

Often, the difference between a start-up that fails and a start-up that succeeds is the magnitude of the problem they are solving. If someone develops a technology that cures cancer, you better believe they have a better chance of success out of the gate than someone who develops a technology that cures hangnails.

What problem does your blog solve? This is a question most bloggers never ask themselves, but if you don’t think about it, you could be missing out on an opportunity to succeed.

Sometimes, the problem you’re solving is pretty straightforward. For example, here on the NMX (BlogWorld) blog, we help people become better bloggers, podcasters, video producers, and social media users. Other times, the problem you solve might be that people are bored and you want to provide entertainment. Cracked.com is a great example of a blog that’s solving the problem of boredom.

Check out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The more basic your needs (near the bottom of the pyramid), the bigger problem you’re solving for people. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed if your blog addresses the need for creativity instead of the need for food, but it’s something to consider when you’re pinning down the topics you want to cover.

  • Monetization needs to be in the plan.

One of the reasons I believe that many start-ups fail is that they don’t have a strong monetization plan. It’s great if you have investors, but those investors aren’t just going to keep throwing money your way forever. You have to have a plan to make money. Blogs are similar. If you truly want to make this a career out of this, you have to have a plan to make money.

Yes, that plan starts with great content. But where does it lead after that? You don’t have to have an in-your-face hard sell present on your blog from Day One, but you do have to have a strategy from Day One, leading you to a final goal of making money. It might take a little time to perfect this strategy, and that’s okay, but don’t make the mistake of saying, “I’ll worry about making money later.” Once an audience is used to content without any kind of advertising, for example, they’ll revolt when you do decide it’s time to start selling ad space on your blog.

Maybe Start-Ups Should Think More Like Bloggers Too…

Although I do think something can be learned from start-ups, I think bloggers have something to teach too, especially about community.

When you’re a new entrepreneur, working hard to get your start-up off the ground, it is somehow easy to forget the people behind your business plan. Why is this a solid business idea? Who will ultimately become your customers? What does your audience really want and need? Most bloggers are very in tune with the idea of community, but start-ups sometimes get so involved in research and development that they forget this aspect of business. So maybe we have something to learn from one another!

Do you think a blog is like a start-up? Do you treat yours like a business?

Photo Credit: Bigstock

Millennials Using Social Media for Social Good

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The adoption of digital technology is one of the major distinctions Millennials have among previous generations. The age group in their late teens to early 30s can create a profile on the latest social network faster than you can say “smartphone.” Many might deem their ubiquitous love affair with social media quite trivial, but don’t discount all the good some of them are already doing with it. Millennials are pioneering ways to give back to their communities, sharing actionable solutions to social issues, and galvanizing others who believe real impact is sometimes only a send button away.

Social Networks Expanding Nonprofits’ Reach

Take IGNITEgood for instance, who has teamed up with The Huffington Post to give away $100,000 to 10 game changing ideas that move humanity forward. The competition dubbed “Millennial Impact Challenge,” will first select five existing nonprofit organizations/businesses that demonstrate scalable impact, viability of getting others involved, and a sense the applicants are uniquely qualified to champion their big idea. The IGNITE Team has corralled an impressive group of–you guessed it–Millennials as the selection committee to pick these winners. The second half of funding is reserved for five startup organizations or companies who get the most “likes” on Facebook during the voting phase. You see, socially-conscious Millennials are using the “like” button for something other than self-esteem boosters and virtual pats on the back.

A Houston darling of a nonprofit is also harnessing the social web to make a difference in their community. Mia’s Closet is barely a year old and is already making established nonprofits take notice with its online presence. Executive Director Chelsea Coffey founded the nonprofit to instill confidence and self-worth in students from kindergarten to high school by providing them with clothing through a personal shopping experience.

Seeing is believing in Coffey’s perspective so she tells the story of her organization through Instagram. The app allows Coffey and crew to showcase the lively atmosphere of pampering, personal styling, and all around family fun. What started out as a small project has blossomed into a steady growth in Facebook and Twitter fans, along with a full-fledged website using the easily-to-learn, WordPress platform. Quite fittingly, the 20-something founder now moonlights as fashion/social media editor for the same magazine that gave Mia’s Closet its early press coverage in March.

Social Entrepreneurs are The New Rockstars

From local zines to globally-recognized publications, Millennials are reported on as leaders in the surge of social entrepreneurship. One such brand is Forbes Magazine, which intends to bring these modern enterprises to a new audience. The magazine has publicized its search for 30 Awesome Social Entrepreneurs Under 30. Known for its lists of actors, rockstars, and  business moguls, Forbes is venturing into content that may add cachet to the young do-gooders of the world. Don’t go nominating your buddy who raised a wad of singles and loose change selling lemonade at the local block party, though. The staff is essentially searching for the dream team of altruistic innovators. The noble group who will help define this generation and their impact will most likely be fueled by Web 2.0.

One clear candidate deserving Forbes glory is Tristan Walker, who is adding value to the nonprofit sector via the social highway. The tech wunderkind Linkedin page looks more like Mashable.com’s top stories. Walker has worked for Twitter, JP Morgan, a major Boston-based consulting group and more recently served as Foursquare’s Director of Business Development (a relationship which he initiated with an email to the founders). Working 12 hour days to develop an investment portfolio so he can buy yachts, expensive champagne, and gold-plated toilet seats seem like the next steps for him, right?

On the contrary, the rising figure has opted to tackle a new venture that yields $0 in profits. Yes, Walker recently founded a nonprofit organization that is primed to give minorities a shot at taking on Silicon Valley’s biggest startups. The bold move has backing from some major players in the tech space, philanthropy powerhouses, and venture capital partners. Their inaugural class of fellows earned paid internships and gained insight from the who’s who of tech startups, as well as established companies.

Tammy Tibbetts is another under 30 community organizer crushing it at the intersection of social media and social change. Tibbetts had already scored a coveted job as Social Media Editor for Seventeen Magazine, which she reported as having the fastest growing Twitter presence in the magazine industry in 2011. She has since made the tough decision to leave that dream job to begin another as founder of She’s the First, a non-profit sponsoring girls’ education in developing countries.

Tibbetts takes social media best practices from her previous role to amplify the impact her organization makes. The site features “Map Your Impact” using Google Maps, as well as tweeting, Facebooking, and Tumbling calls-to-action that drive donors to its Razoo page. One of the most surprising, yet promising displays of support comes from its tie-dye cupcakes campaign, which has turned into social media tour de force. The video below is a taste of how sweet it is for college students to raise  thousands of dollars with a few days of baking and selling cupcakes on campus.

How Millennials Engage With Nonprofits

These new media-friendly founders help contextualize the bigger picture of how Millennials are working toward a greater good.  A valuable reference to these interactions is the often-cited 2012 Millennial Impact Report, which surveys Millennials’ relationships with existing nonprofits.

  • Connecting: The majority of Millennials surveyed stated they prefer to learn about nonprofits through their website and social media. 77% of them own smartphones, and they like having access to what an organization does, how to get involved, and shareable content, right at their fingertips. Nearly 70% of the participants have interacted with a nonprofit via Facebook. A staggering 87% of them follow nonprofits on Twitter, while 60% give compliments and retweet content from nonprofits they follow.
  • Involving: Not surprisingly, 81% of respondents prefer to learn about nonprofit volunteering opportunities through their peers. This finding warrants an added incentive for nonprofit leaders to create content people want to share, and display social network mechanisms for supporters to do so. Coming in at second and third are emails and a nonprofit’s website to learn about volunteer information. By a margin of more than two-to-one, Millennials who volunteer for nonprofits are more likely to make donations. That’s good news for organizations who can effectively engage with their audience via online and offline experiences.
  • Giving: Millennials overwhelmingly prefer to donate through the web, with 70% of respondents having made contributions through a nonprofit’s web page in the last year. This goes back to nonprofits needing to produce and feature inspiring content on their website in order to gain financial support. To encourage consistent giving, nonprofits should make it clear as to how donations will impact the organization, avoid telling donors how much to give, and stray from sending long letters in the mail for support. Millennials like to make contributions with ease and immediacy.

So there you have it. A look at innovative Millennials using social sites to make meaningful connections and bring change for the undeserved communities they’re passionate about. And a snapshot of overall trends that will ultimately drive new and interesting ways to solve human injustice and inequality. Comment below to share your story or tell us about a person you know who is using social media for social good. Even lemonade stand stories are welcomed here.

 

How to be Successful on Kickstarter

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I recently contributed to a Kickstarter project for the first time. The project in question is ZOMBIES, RUN!, a game for iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android that encourages you to work out. As you run (in real life), your character advances in the story, so you actually have to get off your butt and get some exercise to win.

For those of you with no experience on Kickstarter, this site allows you to ask for small donations to fund specific projects (like the development of an app). You set your goal amount and the date by which this goal needs to be reached. If you get there, supporters’ credit cards are charged and you get on your merry way working on the project. If you don’t, no one pays anything.

To entice people to donate, you set pledge levels with specific prizes. It’s kind of like making your product available for pre-order. For example, if your project is making a movie, anyone who donates $25 or more might get a free DVD of the completed movie, anyone who donates $50 or more gets the DVD plus a producer credit, anyone who donates $75 or more gets both of those things plus a t-shirt and poster, etc.

The team that posted the ZOMBIES, RUN! ap project made their goal $12,500. Currently, they’ve not only funded the project completely (and they did so well before their deadline of October 10), but they’ve raised $72,627. Woah mama.

Other projects have also been wildly successful. For example, the Womanthology project (an anthology of female comics) has, as of this writing, raised $109,301 – the original goal was $25,000. Or, the “Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer” music mini-tour project raised $133,341 – the original goal was $20,000.

But then, of course, there are projects that aren’t so successful. Every day, Kickstarter projects expired unfunded, with disappointed would-be millionaires wondering what went wrong.

I’ve done some browsing on Kickstarter, checking out what is successful and what is not. Here are some common characteristics of Kickstarter projects that are successful:

  • Create a project that is interesting and excites your audience.

Before you upload information about your project, ask yourself – is this something people will want you to do? Or is it something that you want you to do? People don’t want to fund projects that are just like everything else out there. They want something cool, unusual, and fun.

  • Give away cool stuff in exchange for pledges, even small ones.

If your finished product creates something worth $35, anyone who pledges that among should get it for free. But what about the people who pledge just $5? If all you’re giving away at this price point is a “thank you,” people are going to move on to the next project. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but those $5 donations add up! So give them something (though give away better stuff at higher levels to encourage giving).

  • Create some limited packages.

At higher levels, you want to create some packages that include really cool stuff. If your project is a novel, maybe you’ll name a character after each donor, for example. You want to make these packages extremely limited to create scarcity. If people don’t buy RIGHT NOW, they might miss out.

  • Give people a reason to keep donating after the project is funded.

So your project will cost $10,000. What happens to the extra money if you raise even more? Along with cool prizes, give people extras that make your project even cooler if it is over-funded. For example, the ZOMBIES, RUN! project will include guest stars doing voices in the game for every $10,000 more they raise – and the donors got to have a say! They send up a survey asking who we’d like to see in the game and that’s how they’ll determine who they’ll contact.

  • Make it a no-brainer to spend more.

Whatever level is your “main” donation (usually around $25), make the next level up just a little bit more with an extra bonus. For example, let’s say you’re trying to fund a music project and anyone who donates $25 will get the finished album for free. Maybe for $30, you throw in a personalized autographed copy. It’s just $5 more, so why not upgrade? For very little extra time (and no extra money unless you count having to purchase a pen to sign copies), you’re making more money with every donation.

  • Write kick-butt copy for your project.

If your project is explained in a confusing or boring way, people will click on to the next project. Be very clear in explaining what you’re doing, but more importantly, explain why it is so darn cool for potential backers. Include pictures and don’t be afraid to inject a little personality! Make people laugh, make people cry, make people want to help you.

  • Send emails.

Once someone pledges, you can contact them with project updates (they can opt-out of emails, but I’m guessing that most don’t since they want to know what’s going on with their money). Don’t be annoying, but send updates asking supporters to spread the word. You can also add additional bonus, so it encourages people to come back and donate even more money.

  • Get some of your friends on board right away.

People will hesitate to donate when no one else has stepped up to the plate. It looks like the project might not be worthy and they wonder if they’re doing something unwise with their money. So, immediate after you upload your project, pledge to it yourself and get some of your close friends and family members to do the same, even if they only pledge at the $1 or $5 level.

  • Social media it up!

I should go without saying that you should promote your project on Twitter, Facebook, and all of your other social networks. Even better, link to these profiles on your Kickstarter page so people can spread the word.

  • Don’t apologize.

I see a lot of Kickstarter projects where people seem almost apologetic that they’re asking for money. Some even flat-out say that they’re sorry or give reasons as to why they’re asking for money on Kickstarter rather than paying for the project out-of-pocket. It makes me think that you project isn’t worth my money and you’re just looking for a free hand-out. Start-up companies look for investors every single day. You aren’t doing anything wrong, so don’t apologize. Just do something awesome.

  • Include a video.

People like to support people they know, and a video helps potential backers feel like they’re getting to know you. Your video doesn’t have to be long. In fact, shorter is better in many cases. Just say hello, talk about your project a little, and thank everyone for donating.

I haven’t actually tried Kickstarter myself for anything, so I hope that if you have, you’ll chime in with some of your own tips. What made your project successful? Or, why do you think your project went unfunded? Leave a comment!

Want Investors? Determination is Key

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Recently, Entrepreneur posted an interview with Paul Graham that I found really interesting, so I wanted to share. Graham is the co-founder of Y Combinator, a seed-stage venture firm that has provided funding to 40 start-ups including some that you may have heard of like Loopt and Reddit.

You might not have the idea for the next Twitter, but your blog is a start-up too, if you treat it like a business rather than a hobby. You can look for investors in a traditional sense, but this interview is also good if you’re looking for people willing to spend money on your site in other ways (like people who might advertise on your sidebar or as a slot on  your podcast).

According to Graham, what’s the number one thing he looks for when people come to him with investment ideas?

Determination. When we started, we thought we were looking for smart people, but it turned out that intelligence was not as important as we expected. If you imagine someone with 100 percent determination and 100 percent intelligence, you can discard a lot of intelligence before they stop succeeding. But if you start discarding determination, you very quickly get an ineffectual and perpetual grad student.

It makes sense – you want to know what someone isn’t going to give up (and lose your money), just because running a business (blog or otherwise) is difficult.

If you’re hoping to approach some investors, here are a few ways you can show your determination:

  • Blog consistently. If you’re a sporadic poster, the investor might thing that you’re a sporadic business owner in general. You don’t have to blog every day, but be consistent.
  • Have a business plan. If you’re determined to make something work, you’ll have a plan going into things – and investors know that. Without a solid plan, you come off as “well, we’ll just see what works, and if it doesn’t, make money, we’ll just quit.”
  • Be prepared to talk about your past successes – and failures. It’s okay if you were involved in projects that didn’t work in the past, as long as you’ve learned from the situation. Talk about what you’ve done that has worked and what you’ve done that hasn’t worked in relation to how your project today is different.

If you get a “no thanks” answer, don’t get discouraged. It doesn’t mean that the answer will be no from everyone, nor does it mean that the answer will be no forever. Part of showing how determined you are is continuing to develop the project and then re-approaching the investor in the future when you’re a little farther along and can better address some of the concerns they had. Don’t be afraid to keep in touch with potential investors who’ve been hesitant to give you money in the past.

Check out the full interview on the Entrepreneur website.

Image by Dana Lookadoo – Yo! Yo! SEO

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