Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

The lure of online ventures

Posted by A Friend on 15 March 2009

Going Online The promise of making money online is a great one: entry cost can be very low, and reach is immediately global. An online business only needs a micro fraction of the market to be set, and it offers a lot of potential work life balance benefits (e.g. working from home, four hour workdays) too tantalizing for the almost burned out with a still young family 30-something corporate professional to ignore. Not to mention that it can become a big financial bonanza.

This was more or less the case with Sandra when she ventured online. Sandra had a blossoming career as a project manager with over ten years in the industry under her belt. She was not burned out at all, and was in fact enjoying her work. But she and her partner were also planning to start a family, and one of them had to significantly cut down their workload to attend to growing family commitments. Both decided that this had to be Sandra.

For a short while, Sandra worked part-time utilizing her network of professional contacts, and this worked out quite well. But then they “discovered” the potential of making money online (a lot, if they hit the jackpot). This, and the possibility of further reducing Sandra’s working time, was too good to pass up.

So Sandra educated herself; first by purchasing and reading a couple of books on making money online, then by subscribing to and following online money making blogs. After some period of discernment, Sandra decided that she would create a monetized blog on project management and related topics. She thought that this was going to be a natural progression for her, having had the industry experience to back her up.

Sandra decided to invest $1,000 for this venture, most of which was envisioned to go to once off costs: purchasing a proper domain name, paying for website hosting, buying a custom template for her blog, and the rest for initial marketing and promotion. Of course Sandra, like us, could have just gone for one of the many free blog hosting services on the internet, but because she was looking at a longer-term business prospect, she thought it was a good idea to initially invest some money into it. Besides, $1,000 was not a lot: it was less than her daily rate as a contract project manager.

Sandra planned a phased rollout of six months’ worth of content to start with (she had mapped out the topics in her mind). She projected that it would take about three months for the blog to start gaining some serious following. Her promotions plan was to just initially submit to blog directories and search engines, and regularly participate in related online forums and social networks in the first three months. She planned her online “marketing blitz” (mainly through Google AdWords) to only commence after the third month, to run for three months, and she planned the posting of some of her best content during this period.

Problems came up as early as the second month of Sandra’s online venture. Foremost is Sandra realized that writing original content was not as easy as she initially thought. Sure, she knew her topics very well, but writing about these was a totally different kettle of fish, especially since she was not a natural writer. Her number of real visitors was way down on initial projections, and her blog was still buried in (at best) page five for search results of her targeted keywords.

To fast-track readership growth, Sandra decided that she needed to advertise online two months earlier than she initially planned. This meant that she also needed to spruce up her content and produce a subscriber-only free e-book meant to entice subscription sign-ups (she planned to do this at the start of her marketing campaign) more quickly. The need to write a big volume of material at such a short period of time required Sandra to temporarily hire a ghost writer, something that she had not originally planned.

The advertising campaign worked, and Sandra saw an immediate spike in site visits and newsletter subscriptions; and she even started seeing her site landing in the first few search results of her targeted keywords. Unfortunately, all these did not automatically translate to financial returns. Sandra initially intended pay per click advertising to be her main source of revenue, but she quickly realized that only a small proportion of her visitors clicked on ads, and the monthly revenue she was getting from these was barely enough to cover for her site’s hosting.

Sandra’s operational costs had also increased. She realized that, despite her subject matter expertise, she could not keep writing good original content, both for her blog and her newsletters. So she found it necessary to permanently hire a part-time writing assistant, costing an additional $100 a month. She also noticed that traffic to her site immediately dropped when she stopped advertising, so she decided to keep a fixed monthly advertising budget. To make up for these, Sandra selectively signed up for various online affiliate programs and started a premium newsletter service.

Sandra’s blog is now close to two years old and it is popular enough to have a decent number of regular readers and subscribers. Despite its popularity, the blog is not making Sandra the money that she envisioned. By the end of the first year, the blog was only making around $200 a month from advertising, affiliate programs, and premium subscription; it is now up to around $550 per month. The blog is only costing Sandra approximately $200 a month to keep (for hosting, advertising, and paying a part-time writer), but she is spending close to six hours a day for work related to it. A simple cost-benefit analysis, considering how much Sandra could have earned as a part-time project manager, would show that the blogging venture is a failure.

Sandra’s case may be more common than we think. The good thing about Sandra is she tries to provide quality content for her readers and subscribers. A simple search of the blogosphere and the wider internet will show a lot of online money making schemes that promise a lot but provide very little tangible value for the internet consumer. We will give our $0.02 on these in our next post.

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4 Responses to “The lure of online ventures”

  1. Laura said

    Excellent post and very well-written. Any chance Sandra’s ghostwriter is looking for more work? I could use a talented individual to ghost write original content for my blog posts and ezine articles (topic is global warming and living green).

  2. A Friend said

    Laura –
    Thanks for visiting. It is in the nature of our posts that we cannot reveal real identities, so we can’t provide recommendations. “Sandra” is an altered name, and some items not relevant to the message we wanted to convey have also been changed. What we can suggest is you check out some online freelancing sites like http://www.elance.com. You can source some really good talent there.

  3. Eve said

    Great post- I have been burned several times by online business- I like to think that all those mistakes got me where I am today!

  4. […] Posts Personal responsibilityOf project signoff pointsA personal leadership development frameworkThe lure of online venturesThe case of the red-faced autocratic […]

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