Most likely you created your web site in the first place because you know that you have something to offer:
- you offer a service that people want
- you know something that people need to know about
- you know how to find information that other people are searching for
- you can explain a difficult subject in a way that makes it seem easy
- you have a soft-product (music, video, slide-show,) that some people will want.
You are probably not the only expert in your field. In fact there may be many people who are offering the same kind of service or product or information that you are offering. The question is simply this: Can you offer something that somebody wants at a price that they're willing to pay?
The short answer is surprisingly simple: Yes! Most importantly: It's possible for you to offer far more than you might realize and it's probably easier than you think. Here's how:
Get some Traffic
Before you can sell anything you need to get some people to visit your web site. To do this properly you need only post some useful content to your site. This can be a slow and time consuming process. However, if you take it step-by-step and keep working at it consistently over a period of time - you will eventually find that people are visiting your web site and taking the time to read a few pages before they leave.
Stay in Contact with your Visitors
Once you've got a visitor who is browsing your web site - you can assume that the visitor is interested in the content on your site. This is a good opportunity to build your mailing list so that you can get in touch with this person again in the future. It's a good idea to offer some information in newsletter form so that the visitor will sign-up to get the newsletters.
You can also keep in touch with people by offering an RSS feed. People who are subscribed to your feed will automatically be notified when you have new content to offer.
Sell a Service
If you are really good at something there is a good chance that other people will want you to help them with it. For example if you are good at Math you can probably find a student who needs a tutor.
There are many services available on the Internet that you can use to help you connect with people so that you can work together without having to physically meet. As such there are lots of useful things you can do over the Internet with customers who are out-of-town or even out-of-country. For example, you can offer:
- tutoring services
- secretarial/dictation services
- translation services
- artistic services (ie: discuss what the customer wants you to draw, draw sample sketches, then draw the image in detail)
- (use your imagination!)
Software such as Microsoft Windows Live Meeting can be used to share a desktop if you don't want to use a specialized service. Payments can be arranged through Paypal very easily.
- Web sites that are specialized in handling transactions between customers and web-based service providers will be able to offer you useful help and advice - take the time to investigate.
- Same advice in a different form: Find and talk to other people who have been successful in offering services similar to the one you would like to offer. They will certainly be able to offer you some good advice on how to avoid problems.
- Obviously the most important problem to avoid will be mis-understandings: be very careful to be very clear about what you are offering to do and what your customers can expect from you.
- Prepare yourself for common problems by asking friends and family to go through the exercise with you a few times - before you try it with a paying customer!
Sell Something Soft
If you look around on the web you will be quite shocked by all the different types of soft-products that people are selling. Soft-products are products that can be downloaded through the internet, such as:
- Booklets, Books, Reports and Newsletters in HTML, Word DOC and PDF formats.
- Presentations in Power Point and a vast array of similar formats.
- Audio Podcasts (like a radio show.)
- Video Podcasts (like a T.V. show or movie.)
- Software programs.
- Images (Professional Photos.)
If you already know how to use a Word Processor or a Spreadsheet program - you can probably prepare lots of useful products with nothing more than the computer you are using to read this web page! Power Point presentations are particularly popular because they can be sold as-is or turned into different types of web pages and videos. Free PDF-file printer software is available on the Internet to convert your document into a PDF file.
Audio Podcasts are especially easy to make: Just connect a microphone to your computer and record what you need to say. There is lots of great software available to help you edit your recordings, add background music and even prepare feeds for iTunes and other such services.
Video Podcasts are also surprisingly easy to make! These days every copy of Microsoft Windows comes with Windows Movie Maker. Also, most of the small $100 digital cameras on the market are capable of recording video. You can put a small camera in front of your desk and simply talk about a subject of interest for a few minutes. Using Windows Movie Maker you can edit your recordings into a video presentation.
When you first hear about these projects you think perhaps the technology will be a problem - but it's not really. The real problem is deciding what to say and taking the time to say it properly. Then comes the task of edit the resulting product. It's not unusual for an amateur video producer to spend an entire week of eight-hour days recording and editing a forty-five minute video presentation!
Still, wouldn't it be nice to have your own radio or T.V. show on the Internet? What about getting paid for some of the more polished episodes?
By the way: Yes, it's true: Amateur and semi-professional photographers do indeed sell their images through their web sites. When a customer pays (often by credit card through Paypal,) the photographer then:
- emails the image file (if it's small enough,) or
- emails a link to an image file that the customer can download, or
- emails a link to a service provider who will print the image and physically mail it to the purchaser.
Physical Products are not Passé!
Continuing with the example of the photographer who is selling his photos:
- There are some photo services on the Internet that will host your photos for you and automatically offer printed copies - for a fee - to everybody who comes to look at them.
- Of course, it's still possible for you to print the photo on paper and physically mail the photo to the customer - and many customers will be happy to pay the associated service fees.
Don't forget your hobbies! Have you made any interesting arts and crafts lately? Is it possible that some people might be interested in buying your work? People have made lots of money on the Internet selling all kinds of hobby related products, including:
- specialty clothing
- specialty foods
- niche products and services related to model aircraft, boats and trains.
Be careful about rules and regulations in the countries that you are selling to. For example:
- Some countries require that your product reach the customer in two weeks or less to avoid mail-fraud charges.
- You might not be allowed to send cheese and other dairy products into a given region without special licenses.
To save yourself some trouble: take the time to investigate in advance of trying to make a sale.
What about local competition?
When you work exclusively in a local market you are restricted to dealing with the local market conditions. When you operate a web-based business your market can expand to include new regions that were previously not accessible.
For example: If you are selling computer components in Toronto you will find the competition is fierce and the margins are razor thin. However, you can always concentrate your advertising in remote regions of Ontario and learn to serve them rapidly. By developing a keen understanding of the best shipping methods and by making good use of local radio station and newspaper advertising - you can target customers in remote regions who are willing to pay a premium for your products in exchange for your consideration of their special service needs.
Your local market may not be able to bear a higher margin but there is always a good chance that some other market is waiting for you to serve them.
Fundamentally your web site should be a communications tool - a way for you to offer the information and services your customers need and a way for them to get back in touch with you and your services.
It's not a co-incidence that you get the most consistent traffic by regularly posting useful information to your web site. Most people are not happy to hear about this because they understand that it takes time and effort to put the information together; even more time and effort to make the information accessible and easy to read and benefit from.
Fortunately, the effort that you put into your web site will continue to draw readers. Every few minutes here and there that you put into new content for your site will continue to earn you rewards long into the future.
The key is to balance your efforts so that you will have something to sell in the midst of all the free stuff that you post to your site. As you can see from the various suggestions above: you don't need to do anything complicated or radical to put together some soft-products, web-based services or even physical products!
So why not get started today?!