“You know my methods by now, use them.” Agatha Christie, in Poirot

The angel watching over our daughter’s crib heralds the message: “Children need two things. Roots and wings.” We strive to give her both.

The same message seems to apply to an Internet business. Take, for example, one Internet marketer who recently asked me what more he could do to grow his sales, website traffic, and e-mail subscriber base. He wanted to learn about new ways of marketing online and new advertising avenues worth exploring.

My answer surprised him. Instead of giving him new methods to try, I had him revisit the fundamentals of his online business.

In my experience, most online businesses are looking for wings when they’d do better with deeper roots. They waste time looking for new techniques to amp up their sales – but new techniques don’t yet have a track record of success.

That’s why I recommend methods that have proven themselves – business-building strategies that have gotten great results for many successful businesspeople. These “fundamentals” of business success are 100 percent more likely to work for you, too, than some untested trend that’s just hit the marketplace.

Here are 7 of the best and most fundamental strategies you can use to build your online business.

1. Develop a clear conversion system.

When visitors arrive at your website, you need a system in place for them to sign up, make a purchase, contact you, or perform some other action that makes it a “successful visit.” This will help you keep and convert many of those visitors into subscribers, readers, and/or paying customers. Not having a clear (“clear” to your customers and prospects, not just to you and your website designer) pathway for visitors to take the next step means you’re letting plenty of qualified prospects slip away.

Conversion systems can range from a simple sign-up for your e-newsletter to offering a free report in exchange for their e-mail address. Just make sure you explain exactly what you want and what the visitor will get in return.

2. Establish regular, relevant communication with your customers.

  • Create an E-newsletter: If you wait for your customers to contact you only when they need something, you run the risk of losing their business to competitors who are in front of them at the moment they are ready to make a purchase. As every business in the Agora group of companies has proven, an e-mail newsletter can be the backbone of a successful online business, because it keeps you in front of your customers on a regular basis.

Make the content timely, relevant, useful, and interesting to your customers, and your newsletter can build you a solid list of people who will listen when you have a product to offer.

  • Always Send a Welcome/Confirmation E-mail: Whenever your customers or prospects transact with your business – by, for example, signing up for your newsletter or buying something – you should welcome and introduce them to your business and/or reassert the benefits of the product or service they just purchased. A confirmation e-mail confirms a transaction. (“Thank you for buying our widget.”) A welcome e-mail goes one step further by establishing a more personal tone and reinforcing in the customer’s mind the fact that they just made a good decision.

Businesses that send confirmation and welcome e-mails in the first few days of a relationship with a new customer are consistently able to increase sales, the number of their future e-mails that are opened, and the number of links people click on inside those e-mails. Most companies do not take this important step – but smart companies turn these initial e-mails into sales and marketing opportunities. In effect, confirmation and welcome e-mails are a chance for you to place relevant sales messages in front of new customers at a time when they are most receptive to them.

I’ve seen companies convert 12 to 15 percent of new prospects into customers within the first week of a free e-mail newsletter subscription by using this technique.

3. Use your customers’ e-mail AND postal addresses.

What?! I’m telling online marketers to keep their customers’ postal addresses? Absolutely. Businesses that have – and utilize – both their customers’ e-mail and regular postal addresses as part of their marketing efforts report remarkable results. In most cases, revenues from those customers are between 8 and 12 times the revenues from customers that are communicated with only via e-mail or regular mail.

Effective online marketing pretty much mirrors classic direct-marketing. Only the channels through which you communicate have changed. The methods are identical in many ways.

4. Make it ultra-simple for people to order.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many online businesses make it easy for people to place an order – but only if they do it online. You should make it easy for your customers to order any way they want to do it, not force them to place an order the way you prefer. That means giving them multiple choices – a phone number they can call, an address they can mail checks to, and an online credit card option.

5. Use search engine marketing.

Marketing through search engines has been, without a doubt, the single biggest growth factor for Agora companies over the last three years. There are two main types of search engine marketing:

  • Setting up your website for “free” (also known as “organic”) searches. The content you post on your website is automatically indexed by search engines in such a way that, when someone searches for keywords or phrases relevant to that content, your site (or pages within your site) will be displayed in the searcher’s results.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, where you “purchase” online ads that include keywords and phrases people are likely to search for if they’re interested in the kind of thing you’re selling. But you pay only when they actually click on the ad and are brought to your site.

6. Involve experienced copywriters and marketers.

The Internet added many wondrous ways for us to make sales, but it did not, not, not change the way people tick or the things that motivate them to buy. Yet I see many online businesses run by techies or teams without an iota of experience in pre-Internet marketing.

Savvy online businesspeople realize that getting input from great marketers and copywriters with lots of offline experience can reap rewards online. Structuring your online marketing efforts by taking advantage of classic marketing principles will put you light-years ahead of your competition.

If you don’t want to hire an experienced marketer for your team, make sure you learn everything you can about direct marketing and copywriting. You can do this with ETR’sDirect Marketing Masters Edition, and with AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

7. Slow down to speed up.

As many as half of your customers probably still connect to the Internet using a dial-up modem. That is 100 times slower than most of the cable Internet connections available today – and it’s difficult for many website designers to understand how frustrating that is for your customers. They won’t hang around more than 15 to 20 seconds waiting for your site to load.

There are a couple of “modem emulators” on the Internet that demonstrate how slow surfing on a dial-up connection really is. (Search for “28k and 56k modem emulator” or “sloppy” on Google to find one.) Try one out – and then make sure your website, shopping cart, e-mail newsletter, and anything else you do online is reasonably quick for all your customers.

If you are just starting out in an online business, I recommend that you adopt as many of these strategies as possible from day one. If you have an online business, make sure they’re in place. And if you’ve already implemented each and every one of them, revisit them to make sure they are all as relevant, timely, and interesting to your customers today as they were when you first set them up.

[Ed. Note: Learn how to build your own Internet business at ETR’s upcoming 5 Days in July Internet Conference. You’ll walk in with nothing – no product, no marketing skills, no technical know-how – and you’ll walk out with your own online business.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies.
David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen!
He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.