I've been working on Internet-based business since December 1998, so I have seen almost the entire history of this industry. I have seen what works and what doesn't. Now I'm going to give you a brief guide to what works...
Hard Work Is A Must.
As far as I know, it is not a secret that hard work is the key to succeeding in almost anything. We, humans, are just too lazy to even realize that simple key of fortunes.
It's true what they say: the Web levels the playing field. A high school student can make a better website than a large industrial company. This is a fact. On a level playing field, how big you are matters less than how hard you work.
There are millions of consumers out there, but lots of other websites are competing for their attention. So you can't just build an online business and walk away from it. You have to work hard to draw visitors to your site, work hard to create a site that those visitors want to buy from, and work hard to give those buyers or clients such good service that they and their friends will buy again in the future.
So the bad news is that starting a business on the Internet is just like starting any other business: work, work, work. The good news is that it is a lot cheaper than ever.
The web gives you something that has never existed before in history: an inexpensive sales channel direct to consumers. Before the age of web, if you wanted to sell direct to consumers, you either had to build retail stores or do catalog mailings. In either case the start-up fee is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
On the web, you can sell direct to consumers worldwide for thousands of dollars everyday. You have to work hard to exploit this opportunity. But if you are willing to work hard, you don't need a lot of money to get started.
Choose the Right Niche.
What sells online? That is probably the question we get asked most. At the risk of being repetitive, what sells online is work. In our experience, the difference in success between one site and another depends a lot more on how hard they work than on what they are selling.
I know of two stores, Store A and Store B, that are selling exactly the same products. Store A sells five times as much as Store B. The reason is, Store A works a lot harder. They work on their site almost every day, and they also do more to promote it.
But although work is the decisive factor, what you sell matters too. As a general rule, whatever sells in print catalogs will also sell on the Internet. If the customer has to touch or feel something before buying it, then you probably can't sell it in a print catalog or online. Otherwise, you should be able to sell almost anything. Yes, anything.
It's true that more men use the Internet now than women, so if you sell something that men buy, you are likely to have a slight edge. Someone who works with computers is almost certain to have Web access, so anything computer-related is likely to do comparatively well. And Internet users are richer and better educated than the population as a whole, so luxury items may do well.
But these trends are not set in stone. When televisions first became available, the first buyers were probably richer and more technologically inclined than the population as a whole. But TV rapidly became mainstream, and the same thing is happening to the internet.
More important than the type of products you sell is the size of the niche you choose.
In the physical world, niches are based on geography. I often buy food at the corner store near my house, despite the small selection and high prices. If this store were more than 100 yards away, I would never buy anything there.
Not on the Internet. Geography is almost irrelevant on the Internet. Niches on the Internet are based on what you sell, not where you are. And whatever you sell, you have to be the place to buy it, because your customers can just as easily visit any other online store with a single click on their mouse.
Make Your Site Easy.
It is no accident that the people who visit your site are called "web-surfers". They have the same short attention span as TV "channel surfers". The average visitor to a Web site looks at only three or four pages before going somewhere else. Your visitors will leave at the slightest obstacle. Trust me.
If you want people to visit and order from your site, don't put any obstacles in their way. The design of your site has to tell them immediately where they are, and what their choices are.
Whatever you do, don't make your visitors to think..."What next?"...
When they do, you're done.
Also, most major sites have learned not to use frames. Frames are a lot more gratifying to the site designer than the visitor. To visitors, frames are merely confusing. Another big disadvantage of frames: many search engines don't index sites that use frames. So using frames will decrease the amount of traffic you get from search engines.
None of the most heavily visited sites use frames. In fact, the more important the site, the simpler the design. Look at what is probably the most important site on the web, Yahoo! There are no bells and whistles to distract you. The design of the site is so simple that you get it at a glance.
Just make your visitors comfortable, then you will realize that success is more than a word.