November 7, 2000

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Reaching Great Minds Online
November 7, 2000 Issue #68
Mike Valentine, Editor,

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online at WebSite101 Reading List
The following is an excerpt of an interview with Website101
founder Mike Banks Valentine that is to appear on a small
biz website called by Mark Brownlow of iBiz.

iBiz* Hi Mike, and welcome to ibizInterviews. Tell us something
about yourself - where did the motivation come from to work with
and help small businesses with their initial web efforts?

A love for the medium and frustration at the lack of information
about how to put it all together that lead me to WebSite101,
which is not so much about writing HTML or about web design,
rather it's about marketing issues and content development for
the small business entrepreneur. It is meant to help the little
guy understand what makes an effective web presence and how to
go about getting noticed, including search engine positioning

iBiz* Let's talk now about newcomers to ecommerce. What are the
areas where expectations differ most from reality?

The expectation that everything can be had for free is the most
unrealistic thing the web has created. My first web site cost
me about $1400 over four years ago (including design, production
and hosting) and I thought it was a steal at that price! I'd hate
to tell you how often I have to explain to entrepreneurs that it
costs at least that much now and usually more than that if they
are serious about doing business online. The biggest shock to
many is that there are ongoing marketing expenses involved.

Online networking, content development and regular updates to
the site need to be done. Email needs to be answered quickly.
Constant search engine positioning, ad testing, ezine production,
distribution and archiving needs to be maintained. Link campaigns
to be launched and affiliate or referral programs established.
You don't just post a site and forget it -- that's a recipe for

iBiz* How does a newcomer distinguish between those sites and
"experts" essentially looking to sell their own and referral
products and those, like yourself, with a more genuine interest
in seeing the newcomer find the (often in-house) solution that's
right for their needs?

Those who are simply promoting themselves often come as unwanted
spam in the emailbox, poorly written articles full of affiliate
links and badly rated experts at places like or Those sites have a ranking system that has
users to rate the answers. You'll find that those who are highly
rated generally provide good advice. and only accept columns from reviewed and
trusted sources. It's fairly certain that advice received via
email that you didn't ask for or ezines with poor content full
of affiliate links are acting only in self-interest. Large lists
like the one from AddMe and DEMC have publishers that know great
content from thinly disguised self promotion and generally
"experts" will have affiliation with some substantial companies.

I was thrilled to get just a paragraph in the December 1999
Entrepreneur Magazine and very quickly posted it to WebSite101
to help visitors know they could trust the advice offered
there. Testimonials from happy clients with contact information,
full names and web site or email links will distinguish the
trustworthy experts from the rest.

iBiz* Are there any mistakes you see small businesses constantly
repeating when it comes to their websites and web activities?

Absolutely! Putting up an essentially contentless web site with
only an order form is a sure sign the site owner hasn't got a
clue. The web is based on information, community building,
networking, content rich and interactive web sites from a
dedicated business that responds quickly, answers email fast
with real responses, not canned FAQ's. They will make referrals
when they can't solve your problem and respect your online
privacy by protecting the information you provide them from
third-party sites and advertisers.

iBiz* You're a strong proponent of the do-it-yourself approach.
Can small business still compete on today's high-tech,
well-funded Web, and what are the opportunities they need to
exploit to do so?

Like I said before, my first business web site cost me about
$1400 four years ago. Business owners that won't invest in the
basic necessities of ecommerce and site maintenance have a long
struggle ahead of them which will most often lead to a dead end
online. Do-it-yourself is great as far as getting a start to
compete against and to earn a reasonable living
online. It's only when you compete against the big dogs of the
web that you need to outspend them. Recent statistics show that
the small business community is thriving online. The big-spending
giants are failing.

iBiz* Got a short piece of advice for those setting out on the
ecommerce adventure?

Get-rich-quick schemes will always be fantasy, not reality. Live
within your means, grow slowly and enjoy the online game!

WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet
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by Bob McElwain

Many people have selective hearing. That is, they hear only
what they are listening for. When such people tune in to the
notion of getting rich on the Web, they can't seem to hear
anything else. They are deaf to the news of dot-com failures in
mass. Deaf to the certain doom that lies at the end of any path
claimed to be quick or easy. And deaf to any mention of how
tough it is to succeed in business anywhere, online or offline.

If you have fallen into this trap, there are only two
options. Continue on your chosen path and fail. Or redefine
what success means to you, then begin working to achieve it.

Getting Rich Is Unlikely

It is no easier to become wealthy online than offline.
The only advantage to beginning a business online, rather than
offline, is in the lower startup costs. The rest of it is work,
learning, then implementing what you learn. Which, of course,
is more work.

What are your chances of opening a new business in your home
town and becoming a millionaire? Unless you have very special
talents and skills, it's unlikely. The chances of doing so
through a website are no better.

Would Making A Living Suit You?

Do you have what it takes to open a business on main street
and earn a comfortable living? If you lack essential infor-
mation, are you willing to take the time to hunt it up? If
there are things you do not know, are you willing to learn them?
If you lack needed skills, are you prepared to develop them?

One who can answer a resounding, "Yes," to the above
questions, can succeed. Online or offline. Until you can shout
this right out loud to your family, friends, neighbors, and even
strangers on the street, any effort to build a successful website
will break your heart. And waste a ton of your time. And more
than a few bucks.

One Path

If you want to succeed on the Web, you must first come to
grips with what you mean by success. If your definition can be
simplified to making a good living with the opportunity to make
more, then all is quite doable. And one of the best ways to
start is to begin part time and grow your business as you learn.
For a description of such a path that works, send any email to

Getting Real

Whether you have started a business or are still only
thinking about doing so, you may find it informative to check
out some successful sites. Successful, that is, according to
the definition of their owners.

Common Elements

While the following sites may appear quite different from one
another, they have much in common.

> Nobody is making a million bucks a year; this was not the
goal. Rather they are making a living (their definition) and are
in an excellent position to increase their income.

> The site designs are quite simple; very few fancy graphics
are to be found.

> Each site is well focused.

> Each site is loaded with content.

> Some face stern competition; others have carved their niche
and conquered it.

> You will probably note ways in which each site can be
improved. But this is true of any site, large or small. And
it's true of yours. And mine.

MoHotta.Com <>

Features hot peppers, sauces, and such. A great example of
niche marketing. Not many are into hot in this fashion, but
those who are search constantly for more and hotter. Note there
are a few such people in your community. Every nursery stocks
pepper seedlings in the spring, labeled, "HOT!" This site tapped
into this wide, if thinly spread interest. Something impractical
in even a major city, but easy to do on the Web.

YouCanSave.Com <>

A super smooth catalog site. They resell TV direct sales
merchandise. Their growth has come through the site and all
business is transacted on it. Beyond what you see there is
undoubtedly at least one person who spends a good part of each
day with routine business chores, solving problems, dealing with
customer complaints, and above all searching for even better
deals for existing customers.

PrairieFronteir.Com <>

This company began as a marginally successful local wild
flower seed company in Wisconsin. They grew significantly when
the owner took the business online, expanded the product line,
and reached out to a national (and to some extent, international)
audience. In the reply to a message, Deb Edlhuber said, "It [the
site] has totally amazed me and continues to grow."

Specialist-Herbal.Com <>

Malcolm Simmonds launched his first site in late 1997,
selling herbal products, which he had been making and selling
offline since the early 80's. He learned HTML and did the entire
site himself. Within a year, it had paid for itself. Since
then, he has expanded and enriched the site enormously,
increasing his profits in the process. While looking ahead to
even further increases, he is doing quite nicely now. All this
in addition to his continuing success offline.

ParaPub.Com <>

Dan Poynter had a successful self-publishing company
going before he launched his website. What used to be a
travel/phone/direct mail company is now strictly a web-based
company. In a reply to a message, Dan said, "This morning I
checked the order-email account and found we sold 21 reports
overnight. The customers benefited because they received the
reports instantly (on a Sunday) and did not have to pay for
shipping or sales tax. Para Publishing benefited because we
did not have to print, inventory, wrap, ship, or place postage
on the reports. This is truly a win-win situation made possible
by the Internet."

CarAccessories.Com <>

This site was built by a mother-daughter team. They first
learned the brick and mortar catalog business, then expanded to
the Web. The site is now a profitable component of their
business. For their delightful story, see "Net Lessons from the
Monster Girls" by Rob Spiegle.


(An Aside: Rob also pointed me to a couple of the sites above.)

Wrapping Up

A while back, a visitor asked, "Do you know of a small site
that is successful?" I referred him to one of the above. A
short while later, he replied, "You gotta be kidding. That's

If you visited any of the above sites and found "nothing,"
then you probably need to know more about business and the web
in order to build a successful site. Revaluate your definition
of success, learn what is needed, then take another look. These
sites are successful. That is, successful in the eyes of their
owners. And in the eyes of their customers. What else matters?

Bob McElwain
Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already
have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe
to "STAT News" now!

Web marketing and consulting since 1993
Site: <>
Phone: 209-742-6783

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Copyright 2000 Mike Valentine

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  June 10, 2001