10 Influences the Web 2.0 has on Running Businesses Online

I wrote a while back that I yet again took the steps in becoming an entrepreneur after failing twice before. What I was actually talking about was my setting up of a not for profit website that focused on incubating, promoting and networking the best Singaporean and Asian multi-disciplinary industrial design talents.

My effort in creating and developing IDAsia.org (Industrial Design Asia) was a route fraught with ups and many downs. The site had evolved its plans 5 times, with each time coming closer to me throwing in the towel. My apparently noble effort about doing something for the misunderstood design industry had fallen on deaf ears. Almost at breaking point frustrated with the lack of response and lack of head way in getting sponsors I wondered why I was doing it in the first place.
However the learning process in particular about creating successful businesses on the web was worth more than its weight in gold. What I have found is that many traditional successful business practices still apply while many new ones have evolved due to the web’s influences.
Before we go on I do like to state that neither has IDAsia.org become a huge success, nor do I profess to be an expert in Web businesses in anyway, but here is what I have learnt so far over the last year, and hopefully something we can talk and bounce about.

1) Don’t always trust technology
Web technology is evolving faster than the hair growth rate on your head. Well at least to a web technology illiterate like me. Things that worked before now don’t. So keep up to date and be aware of the engine that drives your business. For example using mass mailing programs to send info to your customers will likely get your efforts into their spam mail box.

2) Get yourself organized before get go
The web is so pervasive and quick, that it is pretty easy to dream up and idea and jump right into it! That’s want I did, IDAsia.org was dreamt up and running in a week! However this was in part the reason for its early failures and teething problems. For one I had not organized enough help to run the site taking most of the responsibilities on myself. And as I was learning the web technologies as I went along, this caused me to change websites, servers and even a domain name, creating a great disconnect with my customers.

3) Don’t take too long to start or you never get going
While I did mention, you should get organize before you start, waiting too long to get in there could leave you behind the pack. The speed of the web allows many ideas, often similar, to bubble very quickly to the surface, often much quicker than traditional businesses. Take a look at it this way, there is no point in waiting too long to start because you want to make your product perfect, as you will likely still have market test the success of your system anyway. It’s a delicate balance, and do consider applying the 80/20 rule while you think through carefully the pros and cons of launching your project.

4) Constantly Evolve.
Heard of the term used in websites about being in Beta? With things moving at light speed on the net, the business environment changes at a blink of an eye. As such your online business should and you should be nimble enough to evolve as well. Otherwise an upstart with a better design, better technology, better name etc will run out of business. Being online, with little overheads or bricks and mortar, makes constant evolution easy and a good reflection of the organic nature of the internet. Be mindful though, that it’s easy to be distracted and run the risks of not seeing projects or business efforts through to the end.

5) Time Commitment.
Every business requires some kind of time commitment. In the web all the more so, as things happen 24hrs a day 7 days a week. It used to be large business required such customer support, but these days small internet businesses with the web as a face, could need such efforts as well. This is especially if you sell products directly to you customers or run your online business during your free time. I once spent an entire afternoon sending 60 odd T-shirts to my customers, and that did not include packing the 60 pieces into individual bags. Plan your time, and only offer what your time allows you to do.

6) Talk to People.
The web is very organic, and the word spreads hard and fast. Never before have businesses large or small have been so equalized, as the web allows direct access to customers. Therefore talk to your customers and find our makes them tick. As it does not take very long for people to spread the word on what you did wrong. This is a good way to beta test your product and get feedback and make running changes. However do note that often people on the internet are the ones that shout the loudest, and my not be representative of your customer base as a whole.

7) Content is still King.
Your product/service is still the key. It is still absolutely all about the product and nothing has change. All these things you hear about, Blogging, The Long Tail, or Crowd Sourcing etc are only a means to an end, really just business tactics. You can’t create a business idea around these if you don’t have a good product in the first place. These days with the transparency the web brings, people know instantly if your product (tangible and intangible) is good or not, so focus on getting your product/service right.

8) Unique is King.
If you look at Point 7 above you can get an idea that businesses online now really need a unique product to stay alive. In my recent post on The Museum of Modern Betas, you can see a running list of anticipated web technologies, that interestingly very similar to each other. Twists of existing Ideas or superficially localized content will get you no where. All you need is the market leader (who is always evolving) to introduce a similar feature to what you have and your product is finish. Why? See the next point.

9) Community is King.
Because the person who controls the community rules. Basically the first movers into a particular market or a unique and novel product rule the web. However it’s not all doom and gloom. The web is so ubiquitous and pervasive that people often will sign up for very similar services, programs or websites (ie Friendster, MySpace, Zik etc). But it’s the community and the product that keeps people coming back. I recently signed up on a site that supposed to be better than the business networking site Linked In, but there was hardly a community to interact with and get contacts. As a result I never went back.

10) Build your Team.
Just like in any business, running one online requires you to build a team to ensure your success. The good thing about the web is your team does not need to be all permanent. Just make sure your stake holders, such as the guy designing your code, are.

11) Make sure you have a Vision.
I’ve enjoyed writing this so much that I’ve included a bonus tip! As you can see the organic nature of the web and its fluidity makes running a business very different to that of traditional ones. It’s pretty easy to get side track or lost as you get bombarded with many stimuli like I did. What keeps you from clutching your head and whimpering under your desk (like I did) is your vision and plan for your business. Ultimately the quality and strength of your vision is the key. Keep it simple and use it to keep you on the right track, because believe you me, an online business sometimes feels like trying to steer a roller coaster cart, which you basically cant!

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