Not a week goes by that I don’t hear the dreaded phrase – “I run an online business.”
It’s my pet peeve.
My I can’t take you seriously.
Allow me to tell you why.
I hate it because I used to believe it
For the past 6 years I’ve struggled to build a utopian business – the online business. Like many of you, I read The 4-Hour Workweek and thought “I can do THAT!” I also read The Millionaire Fastlane and learned that my life was in the slowlane.
If you’ve read my story, you know that I owned a remodeling company for 14 years. I was tired of searching for new clients over and over and over. We spent months creating a great relationship with a client only to have it end with their project. After all, you only need one kitchen or one room addition. I wanted something repeatable.
I also wanted a business that could infinitely scale. Remodeling is a tough business to build big. It requires lots of man power and capital. I didn’t want that.
In short, I owned a really great job – not a business.
An online business seemed like the perfect solution. Sit behind my computer and watch my PayPal account climb. What could be easier?
I set out to build one – THREE TIMES
Over the last 7 years I’ve had three “online” businesses. I won’t go into the details of each one. Some are still around, but all were a miserable failure.
I followed all the lame advice you hear from the gurus. Follow your passion. Start a podcast. Do Twitter ads. Do Facebook ads. Write about what you know.
None of it worked.
None of them were a business first
Go to any local networking event and ask someone what they do. You’ll never hear them say “I run a brick & mortar business.” or “I own a local company.” Because those are TACTICS of the business. They are the business strategy. They do not define the business.
Just like “online” is a business strategy – not a business.
Some other strategy descriptions a business wouldn’t say are…
- We run a 1/2 page, 4-color newspaper ad company
- I own a chain of minimum wage employees
- I lead a 10-year lease on an office condo firm
- I run a full-page yellow page ad company
My main problem with the “online” business is that it defines the company by the wrong descriptor. It defines the company by its strategy. But strategy FEELS good. It makes you think you’re doing something. That’s why most of the guru advice is based on strategies and tactics. They’re easy to sell.
Instead a company should be defined by one massive question.
Why does this business exist?
Here is why all my “online” businesses failed. I had the wrong priorities. I never started with why.
Now, I’m not a business dummy. I know I need a business plan that casts a grand vision of who my customer is and what I’m going to offer them. And I did all that for each business. I spent hours creating detailed plans, customer personas, product descriptions, marketing funnels and more.
But deep down, I was more concerned about the tactics and the business strategy than I was about the customer and the product.
My decisions were always guided by “How do I build an online empire?” more than “What’s best for the customer.” F-A-I-L-U-R-E
Enter Email SPLAT.
In January I took a very different approach to starting this business. First, I was humble. I didn’t start with some arrogant plan of world domination. I started with a simple premise – businesses need help with email and marketing automation.
I’m not obsessed with how I can scale the business or how I can build a humongous email list.
My goals for 2015 are simple – find and help 12 businesses each month with email and automation. They can be the same 12 every month. They can be a new 12. Or most likely, a combination of both.
It’s not a grand vision this time. Honestly I don’t even have a business plan or detailed customer personas. I just have a gut feeling and the desire to help.
I can tell your from my experience this past year that it’s working. I’ve made more traction with Email SPLAT these last few months than I made with the other three businesses combined.
And the best part? When I go to a networking event I don’t get the blank looks when I say “I run an online business.”
Semantics are important
I’ve learned this past year that what you feed your brain is what it works on. I guess Stuart Smalley was right. 🙂
Calling your business “online” subtlety tells your brain that this “online” thing is the most important factor. It becomes your identity. It certainly became mine. I wanted to be the cool kid with an “online” business. So I let the title dictate the business.
And that’s why I can’t stand the term.
It’s probably a reflection on me. But just in case it isn’t, take it for what it’s worth.