Monthly Archives: November 2005

Do you want it all for free?

Ok, ok, I know, I am a week early with this edition of the newsletter but the topic I want to talk about has got me so worked up that I just couldn’t wait!

It all started earlier in the week when a colleague posted a message on my forum relating to a refund request that he had received.  In a nutshell, his customer had purchased an eBook (a technical eBook – nothing to do with Internet marketing etc) for £9 (about $15) and then complained that he had already found much of the information contained within on my colleague’s website and within his forum.  Because of this, he felt that his eBook purchase was not value for money and requested a refund.  The buyer actually stated that the main reason for asking for a refund was that there was simply too much free information on the website!!!

I was somewhat stunned that someone could justify this in their mind, after all one way or another, my colleague’s website had provided the answers to his questions so why did he resent making a small payment for this assistance?

Of course, the customer was refunded and I forgot all about the incident… for about 5 hours when…

…an entirely different person emailed me with an almost identical request!!!

They too stated that they had purchased one of my products and found that although it was ‘nice’ to have the information packaged into one place, ‘some’ of the content was covered in the past posts of my forum and my archived newsletters.  Urm, well, yes I hold my hands up, some of the content matter has been discussed on the forum or covered in old newsletters but do you really want to go searching through over 35,000 forum posts or 3 years of newsletters to find the information you are looking for (especially when not all of it is even there!)?  And again, regardless of how you found the information, I have still answered your questions so do I not deserve to be rewarded for that in some small way?  (We are not talking big money here believe me!)

It then occurred to me that this happens in the offline world as well…

I have a friend who owns a computer repair shop – this means that he earns his living by fixing computers for people.  It may seem like I have just stated the obvious but it seems that a large percentage of the population thinks that he makes his living by standing behind his counter dishing out free technical advice to anyone that cares to enter the shop.

Seriously, I was in the shop the other day and there was a constant stream of people coming in and starting a conversation with the phrase…

“Can I just ask you a quick question…?”

When someone says this, it basically means ‘Can I have some free advice?’ and for the record, there is no such thing as a ‘quick question’ when it comes to computers!

Now of course, some of my friends freebie seekers will eventually turn into paying customers when they realize that they can’t fix their computers themselves but the majority won’t and when you are being paid for your time (or not), it is not good business sense to stand around giving free advice all day.  So much so that he is now looking at ways of charging for those ‘quick questions’ and why not? 

Going back to the online situation, people have always liked something for nothing and that’s fine.  This is exactly why I set up the forum and my wholesale search engines and why I write this newsletter and in fairness, many people that use these services go on to make purchases from me.  But there is something wrong with someone’s logic chip if they can justify complaining in the manner described above.  How do they think that businesses can operate if they give everything away for free? 

Would the customers above have preferred to have had to pay for access to our websites/forums/ newsletters in the first place?  Would they feel that this was better value than getting the opportunity to find their answers first for nothing?  No, I don’t think they would.

I am not saying don’t take advantage of the free information that is available online (or indeed offline) but just be aware that in most cases, the person providing the information is not doing it for fun.  If, at some point, you decide to spend a small amount of money with them then think twice about whether it is right to ask for a refund of less than £10 because you ‘could’ have found the answers by spending a day searching the sellers forum.

Remember that the vast majority of information products (and indeed real-world books) contain information that can be found for free IF you were prepared to spend the time researching the subject…

Customer service is key…

I’ve written about customer service before but I want to touch on the subject again because this is such an important topic.  In fact, getting the customer service aspect of your online (or offline) business right could mean the difference between success and failure…

I don’t care what you are selling, who you are selling it to, what service you provide or who your target market is, if you don’t make the effort to provide top quality customer service, you will definitely be losing sales somewhere along the line.

This subject is fresh in my mind at the moment because I have had cause to make several online purchases over the past week or so and the levels of service I have received have varied considerably.  At one end of the scale I have had some excellent service and in contrast, some companies have totally ignored my requests for assistance!

This is to be expected I guess (though there is no excuse for ignoring paying customers) but the businesses that really stand out for me are the ones that made the effort to communicate on a ‘personal’ level.  By that I mean taking the time to reply to my emails rather than just ignoring them in the hope that their standard automatically generated emails would do the trick.  These businesses that went the extra mile to make me feel like a valued customer are the ones that will reap the rewards in the future because I will go back to them to purchase again.  It really is so simple that it amazes me when companies/individuals don’t bother to make the effort.

So what can you do to ensure that your online business is offering the right level of customer service?  Well here are a few ideas to get you started…

1.  Ensure that your website has a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ) page.  This will help your customers to find the answers to their own questions immediately without the need to send an email/make a telephone call.  As many of you know, I set up a Support Centre earlier this year which includes a Knowledgebase of commonly asked questions.  Not only does this help customers but it also reduced my inbound emails considerably.

2.  Make sure that your contact details are easily located.  Online businesses can generally get away with not publishing a telephone number (though if you want to do so, even better) but it is vital that a working email address is available for customers.  Note that I say ‘working’ email address – if your ISP is filtering your emails for spam and junk, then this doesn’t really count as it is very easy for a genuine email to get sent to the trash bin in error.

3.  You should set your sales site up so that when a purchase is made, a confirmation email is automatically sent to the buyer.  This lets them know that their order has been received and confirms that it is being processed.  I can’t stand it when I spend money online and don’t even get an email confirmation! 

4.  Answer all emails/enquiries within 24 hours.  That said, I actually think that 24 hours is too long to wait for a reply from an online business.  I have always stated on my sites that I will respond within 24 hours but most emails are answered within 8 hours absolute maximum.  If an online business can’t/won’t respond to me within 24 hours, then I won’t deal with them. 

I am afraid that I have little time for anyone running a business that says that they can’t answer emails within 24 hours.  Even when I had a full-time job, I checked my emails first thing in the morning and then again in the evening so that customers weren’t left waiting.  I even check my emails daily when I am on holiday so if I can do this, why can’t other people?  Ok, you might want to have time off over the weekend – that’s fair enough but make sure your website tells your customers that your office is only manned Monday to Friday. 

Mind you, any online business owner that doesn’t check their emails at the weekend is missing a trick.  I make a fair few sales on Saturday/Sunday and I know that sometimes this is because I bothered to reply to an email sent on one of these days within a few hours.  If I had left it until Monday, chances are that one of my competitors would have got the sale.

I have come across some business owners that have gone on holiday for two or three weeks and just left their emails to pile up.  I find it hard to believe that anyone that takes their business seriously would do this but I have seen it happen.  If you want to take a holiday and don’t want to check your emails, fine but make sure you get someone else to do it while you are away.  Sending an autoresponder message that says ‘We will answer your email in two weeks time…’ just isn’t good enough.  If you want to be able to clear off for a break and forget about your work, then you need a job not your own business.

5.  Finally, deal with complaints quickly and fairly.  Whatever type of business you run, you will get complaints from time to time – it just isn’t possible to please everyone all of the time.  A lot of the time you will probably feel that the complaint isn’t justified and in many cases, it won’t be – people can be a strange breed!  However, just handle it and move on – it isn’t worth getting hung up on.

Spending time on customer service is time very well spent – it gets sales and more importantly, it brings customers back again and again.  To quote an old saying, it is much easier/cheaper to retain an existing customer than it is to find a new one.

A million dollars in 4 months?

As with so many things, the ideas that really ‘work’ on the Internet are often the most simple.  In fact, they are often the ideas that most people would just discard as being too ridiculous to even try (this doesn’t just apply to the Internet of course – many great inventors/entrepreneurs have been laughed at in the past only to have the last laugh themselves.

Anyway, I have been following the story of one such idea over the past couple of months and although I am sure many of you will already be familiar with it, I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

The site in question is called the Million Dollar Home Page.  This site was the brainchild of an English guy by the name of Alex Tew.  Alex is 21 and back in August was about to start university.  Being only too aware of the fact that many students end up finishing their education with huge debts to repay, he decided to try and generate sufficient funds to cover his expenses whilst studying using the power of the Internet. 

The basic concept of the Million Dollar Home Page is that website owners can buy advertising space on the home page of the site at a cost of $1 per pixel.  The smallest advertising block you can purchase is 10×10 pixels, hence a cost of $100.  There are a million pixels available for purchase, thus if Alex succeeds in selling them all, he will have raised a cool $1million!

On the face of it, this is a crazy idea – why would anyone want to pay to put a tiny graphic on a page of thousands of other tiny graphics on the off-chance that someone might click on it?  If you had asked me 3 months ago (ie. prior to the site being launched) if I thought it was worth doing, I would have said ‘no’ (as indeed, I think most people would have done).  How wrong I was…

Alex launched the site at the end of August and right away started to try and generate press interest.  This approach worked superbly and he has had International press coverage over the past couple of months which has helped to spread the word about his site in the viral manner that is only possible via the Internet.  Result?  At the time of writing this article, Alex had sold over half a million pixels – yup, that means he has generated over $500,000 in income in just 2 months!  At this rate he will achieve his target of selling a million pixels by the end of the year and even if he doesn’t sell another pixel, he has still done superbly well.

So what can we learn from this?

Well the first thing is that even the wackiest ideas can work and it doesn’t matter how simple a theory may be, it is worth giving it a shot.  You don’t get much simpler than the idea for the Million Dollar Home Page – in effect, this could have been a one-page site.  As it is, Alex has added other pages such as a blog and press release info which helps to make the site even more appealing as people like to read stories such as this as they happen.

Clearly you don’t need a 1000 page website with lots of complicated programming running in the background to earn half a million dollars – one page will do it!

The second thing to note is that the way in which the Internet can spread the word about a website is hugely powerful.  Admittedly much of the PR that Alex obtained was via television/radio and newspaper articles/features but an enormous amount of the traffic and customers that he has received will have been via people emailing his link to their friends and by hearing about the site from articles such as this one.  Remember, all of this ‘advertising’ is completely free and it doesn’t get better than that.

Of course it didn’t take long for the copycats to show up and there are now several hundred similar websites online – many of them haven’t even bothered to change the style or wording from the original site and have just copied and pasted Alex’s work.  How lazy can you get?  It is a fact that if you have a good idea that makes money on the Internet, sooner or later someone will copy it.  I know this from my own experience!  What all of these copycats miss is why an idea such as this works – it is a one-off and the only person that is going to make any serious money from it is the guy who was first to the table, ie. Alex.  You see this so often both on and offline – how many people are still trying to set up online auction sites that are never going to work because eBay is already too far ahead of the game?

I have even seen several people selling scripts that automate the admin functions of a ‘pixels for sale’ page so that you can set up your own pixel site without having to manually add graphics/links etc!  At least this shows a little imagination and doesn’t rip off the original idea completely.

In summary, Alex has to be commended for coming up with a brilliantly simple idea and for actually seeing it through.  The advertisers will almost certainly be seeing increased traffic since the very nature of the site encourages visitors to click on a couple of graphics ‘just to see’.  Of course, this traffic won’t be targeted and for the most part therefore, will be pretty poor quality but as they say, there is no such thing as bad traffic. 

The Million Dollar Home Page is a perfect example of how a basic idea can be let loose online and allowed to generate a small fortune from nothing in a very short space of time.  The best ideas are yet to come and to repeat a quote that I used a few months ago, ‘Most of the people that will become Internet millionaires don’t even have a website yet…’

Three months ago Alex fell into that category, today he has a website and I willing to bet that in a few months time he will also have the $1m to go with it.  Will it be your turn next?