“No one tests the depth of a river with two feet.” – African proverb

My wife and I are lucky. Our small business has some great clients with whom we work on fun projects doing things we both love. Many of our clients have become trusted friends, and all our clients always pay on time. Or they always used to.

Last month, we noticed almost $23,000 in missing payments. We hadn’t received any checks for weeks. In fact, we hadn’t received any mail for our company for two weeks.

We’d recently moved to a new house (and, hence, a new office). But I’d set up the mail-forwarding in good time, and I’d checked with the USPS to make sure everything was in their system correctly.

What was going on?

My queries to the USPS, to our old post office, to our new post office, and to our new and old letter carriers resulted in the same story: Everything was in the system correctly.

Only after I personally visited our new post office and spoke with the counter clerk did the truth emerge.

I explained the situation to the clerk. There was a moment of silence, followed by “Oh, now, hold on a minute.” He disappeared into the back for a few minutes, and when he returned he revealed that there was indeed a problem. Turns out the new letter carrier was returning all our company mail to the senders. He recognized our names but was not aware of the name of our business.

Thankfully, a month later, all appears to be working. We had 20 friends around the country each mail a letter to our business name, and we monitored the time and place each one was mailed and when it arrived.

This is exactly what I should have done before the forwarding of our mail was scheduled to begin. I should have sent some test letters to our personal and business names at the new address. After all, the then-owner knew who we were. So if our test letters were being delivered, he would have informed us that mail was waiting for us. If, on the other hand, our test letters were being returned to the sender, I’d know it… because the sender, in that case, would have been me.

Over the last 20 years of doing business online, I’ve gotten in the habit of testing everything – and I do mean everything – before it goes live to customers or prospects. After our postal fiasco, I kicked myself for forgetting that.

Fortunately, you can learn from my momentary lapse of memory. When you’re starting a new business online, or making changes to your current Internet business, make sure you take the time to test as many aspects of your venture as possible.

I can usually look at any website, shopping cart, automatic payment system, or e-mail promotion and immediately find something that needs fixing or, at a minimum, could be tweaked to improve both a customer’s experience and the business owner’s income.

Last year, for example, I was brought in to give a final look at a website that was ready to go live. I came up with a whopping 87 things that needed fixing, 27 of which were critical or security errors and a further 20 that would have impacted income negatively right from the start. Numbers like these are not uncommon, even for websites produced by seasoned Internet marketers.

And when everything looks correct, that may be the time when testing is more important than ever.

Here are the tests that should always be considered when launching an Internet business:

  1. Purchase a domain name specifically for the purpose of testing. You can also have your Web developer set up a subdomain (“CNAME”). For example, we used the subdomain “testing.earlytorise” during the testing phase of the ETR website redesign last December. Use that domain or subdomain only for testing. When you are satisfied that it works as a live site, you can switch over to your real domain name with the certainty that the site has been tested thoroughly.
  2. Have some of your customers test your new website before it goes live. This is the perfect way to get feedback. Ask your testers to give you their responses to the layout, navigation, and usability of the site. If you don’t get customer feedback before your site goes live, you may miss key problems. And don’t count on customers to give you feedback after the site is up and running. Only a few will bother. And, let’s face it, you want customers to respond by spending their money, not by telling you something is broken.
  3. Place lots of test orders before you launch a shopping cart. Use a real credit card (create fake $1 products if necessary) and check that everything works.
  4. You should constantly monitor your website. To do so, use a tool like websitepulse.com, which can alert you within moments if your website, shopping cart, etc. becomes unresponsive or unreachable. True “guaranteed 100 percent up time” is expensive to achieve. But knowing when your website is not working will allow you to jump on the problem quickly, greatly minimizing down time.
  5. Monitor your e-mail campaigns. Tools like deliverymonitor.com will show you how your e-mail campaign is being delivered across 16 major Internet service providers. This will allow you to see where your e-mails are being rejected or classified as “spam.”
  6. Pay attention to your test customers, not your Web designer/developer. If your customers (or you) think something seems quirky and your developer assures you “That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” put your foot down. Insist that the developer make it work in a way that suits your customers.
  7. Measure twice and cut once. Many problems that turn up at the end of website and Internet development projects can be avoided by taking time at the beginning to accurately lay out a plan with your Web developer – a plan that includes exactly why each feature is necessary.

If you take the time to test your site (or any new project, for that matter) you can prevent all sorts of glitches and customer dissatisfaction.

[Ed. Note: Get more profit-building techniques for your own Internet business at our 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.

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