With a computer, a product or skill to sell, and a focused marketing plan, you can run a successful business from the comfort of your motorhome.
By Janet Groene, F47166
Your campsite overlooks a lake, the ocean, or a forest. The laptop computer on your knees is telling you that you made $225 today. Yet, you have never shipped the products you sold, seen the campus where you teach, or visited the city where the real estate was sold.
Internet businesses can be easy and infinitely portable. Start-up costs may be almost nothing and you might not be subject to all the state and local permits, licenses, and taxes required for local workers. Freedom has become even freer.
For years, thousands of RV travelers have made a living on the go by temping, writing, crafting, etc. Then the Internet opened new professions while reaching a whole world of potential customers. As people learned to monetize these opportunities, Web sites and e-storefronts such as eBay transformed working on the go. Then came Web 2.0, and now social networking is the new and necessary business tool.
Typical of the new cyber-preneurs is talented artist Nicole McCullum of Captivate Designs, who creates Web sites, blog designs, and logos. She then e-mails her work to clients in Canada, the United States, and overseas. She tells us she makes a six-figure income no matter where she is. There are so many ways to slice and dice the Internet. Deepak Gupta even has a Web site featuring a different Internet entrepreneur in each posting at www.MarketingByDeepak.com.
The old Internet business model relied on knowing how to use a computer. In today’s business climate, that’s like saying learning how to type can make you a best-selling, novelist or knowing how to use a wrench makes you an expert mechanic. The computer (and its electronic cousins) is merely one tool that gets you on the playing field. You also have to be a marketer and a worldwide social networker offering a unique brand.
My survey of online entrepreneurs was answered by more than 100 people who make a living via the Internet. About half the replies came from people who sell courses about how to make money on the Internet. Unfortunately, that field has become pretty crowded, some courses are outdated.
Giving such courses might work for you if you have a new angle, unique audience, and the skills for reaching that audience. However, people are wising up to the fact that learning search engine optimization or html doesn’t translate into income. One must learn how to monetize a computer-based business, starting with a product or service people will pay for and ending with a way you can safely collect money from customers (including international customers), such as accepting credit cards or setting up a PayPal account.
Here’s a look at the new world of social networking and worldwide marketing.
Obviously, you need reliable computer equipment and Internet access. The more remote your campsite, the more important it is to have backups for your data, hardware, software, electricity, etc. Some cyber-businesses can operate on autopilot for days, but most rely on your being in touch fairly frequently. Your customers must be able to find and trust you.
The next step is to analyze your energies as a self-starter. Running a business from a Blackberry on the beach sounds good, but can you pump yourself up every day to bring consistency and reliability to your site? Next, get an idea of what product or service you’ll offer. Then do market research to find out how many others are already feeding at that same trough. It’s estimated that there are 3.9 million mommy bloggers alone. That spawned another industry that serves the mommy blogger craze by organizing conventions or giving courses about how to be a mommy blogger.
Travel is another very crowded field. Many are now writing phone apps that retail for a dollar or two, with the author getting a royalty of about 30 percent. Many travel experts are teaching courses about how to be a travel writer, even though they no longer can make a living in that profession.
Finally, see how much you can learn about e-commerce on your own before taking a costly course. Many cyber-preneurs in our survey revealed they are self-taught. Some took expensive courses, then hit a dead-end because the course taught a skill, such as how to take a good photograph, but not how to make money using that skill.
Make use of your specialized knowledge “” the narrower, the better. Say you’re a math teacher. To stand out online, you might specialize in tutoring students ages 10 to 14 who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. You might turn your foreign-language skills into giving one-on-one crash courses in Spanish to medical missionaries, or use your expertise in pastries to create an online coaching business for people who want to make killer kolache or the world’s best king cakes.
In your hometown, you may be a dietician in a hospital. Online, you’d be lost in the crowd. But you’d be a standout if you, say, design diets just for teenagers who have celiac disease or for professional models who are vegans. The Internet is a huge world market for even the most obscure specialty or rare product.
Here’s one example. We heard from a woman who makes a living by finding people who are looking for homes in a particular large U.S. city. She then puts them in touch with real estate agents in that city. Yet she lives half a continent away. She doesn’t even need a real estate license! She’s simply a smart matchmaker who found a way to harness the power of the Internet.
People who sell information may charge a fee or commission, sell subscriptions, accept paid ads on their blogs or Web sites, or even solicit donations. You also can run a cyber-storefront in which you collect commissions when people click on links. The more targeted your audience, the easier it is to find followers and advertisers. One “store” operator sells only jamming equipment for cell phones, radar, and other electronics. With the key words “jamming equipment,” he targets a small but highly motivated audience. What two or three keywords might bring the world to your door?
If you write, consult, or sell e-books by e-mail, business is as easy as hitting the “Send” key for the outgoing work and a PayPal account for the incoming money. One couple makes an excellent living by writing custom romance novels. Clients provide the names of the characters, the locale where the romance will take place, and whether they want the mild or spicy version.
If a physical product is involved, things become more complicated. Yet we heard from several people who live in remote, overseas paradises who use the Internet to sell their products by forwarding orders to a drop-shipper or fulfillment agency. One example of these services is Amazon’s pack-and-ship service for book authors.
Although many cyber-preneurs do fine using a Web site without video, it’s increasingly important in online business. Technology never rests. The cyber-preneur must constantly work to keep ahead of the competition.
Many Internet hopefuls are piling into the placement field, offering to find jobs for people. Many are legitimate clearinghouses, useful for people in highly specialized professions. Others simply prey on people who are desperate to find work in fields that are already hopelessly overcrowded.
The Internet changed the way business is done, and time continues to change the way Internet business is done. Your motorhome can be your workplace if you work smart, work hard, and keep in step with the ever-changing technology.