I have known and respected Richard for a long time now and have learned a lot from his insights His rise to become a top marketer bears an uncanny resemblance to mine and often I read his newsletter amidst a cloud of deja vu!
He has had great success with his membership sites and one is in direct competition with Government Auctions! But, he packages it differently to me. I wanted to get this interview in early as Richards main income is derives from membership sites – something very close to my heart!
Q. Richard, to start with would you mind giving our readers some background on what your sites are all about (i.e. What kind of value, opportunities, etc… do you offer your visitors)?
A. My main sites basically offer information – whether it be in the form of an eBook or a ‘members only’ website. Two of the sites offer wholesale contact information and these sites tend to be used by people that want to start their own businesses (either online or offline) and need wholesale sources from which to purchase their stock. Whilst it is possible to find this type of information elsewhere and sometimes even for free, it would be extremely time-consuming finding the information ‘manually’. My sites offer the opportunity to pay a small fee and have instant access to a wealth of information in just a few minutes.
Originally, the above sites just sold an eBook directory of wholesalers, but they now offer the option to join a private ‘members-only’ website. The private sites offer far more information than the eBook directories, such as details of Government Auctions, street markets and other downloadable products. The private sites are also updated every month and are a complete online resource for traders.
The third site is aimed at people wishing to start their own online business with a particular emphasis on info-products (eBooks etc). This site also operates as my affiliate site, which means that other people can link to it and earn 50% of my sales proceeds if any of their customers buy from me.
I also run a very active forum for anyone wishing to learn about earning an income online – Trader Online Forum
Q. Which of these three sites did you develop first? Do all your sites now work together? And which is now your most important site? (Richard, we normally try to highlight one main site – with reference to other sites along the way. Will this work in your case, or do you think we should alter our approach?)
I developed the uk trader first and this site, along with the us trader are my most important sites. To be honest, the two sites are mirror images of each other, the only difference being that one is aimed at UK customers and one is aimed at US customers. For the purposes of this interview, it would probably be easiest to treat them as my ‘joint main’ sites as everything I do on one is replicated on the other (if it works in the UK, it will probably work in the US too!)
All of my sites are linked in one way or another, be it by web links or hyperlinks in my eBook products.
Q. Can you tell us about how you first got started on the Internet? What was your first web site, and how did you grow/expand from there?
I got connected to the Internet in 1997 and started earning money online in 1998. My first experience of Internet business came from selling on eBay.com. Initially I sold bits and pieces from around the house and then, as I saw the potential, I started sourcing new products to sell on online auctions. At this time, it was just a part-time thing for me – I still had a full-time career, so I managed my auctions in the evenings and at weekends.
Whilst it was great being able to sell all different things on eBay, I did find the packing and shipping of the items a pain and fancied trying my hand at something else. I had noticed that because of the number of auctions I was running, that I was receiving quite a few emails from people asking where I was buying my stock from. Now clearly I wasn’t about to divulge this information as it would have meant instant overnight competition for me. However, I started to think that if so many people were interested in finding out where to buy stock, some of them may be willing to pay me for the information.
Therefore in early 2001, I put together the first edition of the ‘UK-Trader’s UK Wholesale Guide’ – an electronic guide listing several hundred UK wholesale suppliers. To be honest, to call it an electronic guide makes it sound much better than it was! It was actually a folder of 15 HTML pages full of names and addresses. Looking back, I can’t believe I had the nerve to offer it for sale, but what is more surprising is that it took off from day one and my customers loved it! Just goes to show that it is the quality of the information that counts, not the presentation.
Initially, I was only selling the guide on eBay and during the first week, I sold something like 50 copies at $8.99 each. This meant that I made over $400 profit after my eBay fees. Obviously the guide cost me nothing to reproduce – I just emailed it to buyers.
Shortly after writing the first version of the guide, I compiled it into a proper eBook format and launched my first website, ebooksnow from which to sell it. Whilst this site still exists, I rarely spend any time maintaining it these days and only leave it online because it brings in sales of several hundred dollars a month whilst costing me next to nothing in time or money.
Q. Do you own any other web sites? (Richard, if you own others sites, please feel free to list them here with a brief description of each – more publicity for you!)
I actually now own several hundred websites but many are in highly ‘niche’ markets that I don’t really want to share with a public audience (for obvious reasons!)
Q. Can you give us some background on yourself? Where did you come from? What was your experience before you first got started online?
I am 36 years old and live in the UK. I left school at 16 without going into further education and started to work for a major UK bank. This turned into a 17 year Corporate Finance career and yes, it was as boring as it sounds! I always wanted my own business, but just didn’t know what to do – I saw different businesses every day in my finance career, but nothing really appealed to me. I looked at franchises several times, but again, none of them really appealed and I didn’t see why I should pay someone $10,000 or more just so they could tell me what to do – I was sure I could work it out myself, if only I knew what ‘it’ was!
Q. What compelled you to take the plunge and start your own Internet business?
I have always been interested in buying and selling and ‘doing a deal’ and initially when I started selling on eBay, I had no idea of where it would lead. At first, it was a hobby more than a business, just a bit something to do that I enjoyed and that also earned a bit of extra money.
However, when I saw how well my info-products were selling, I knew that with some hard work, I could make as much money as I was earning in my ‘normal’ job and with a bit more hard work, I could exceed my current earnings, so I decided that this was my opportunity and grabbed it with both hands.
Q. Can you give us a feel for the size of your site – in terms of the number of employees, the number of offices, the annual revenues, and profits?
My business consists of just me – I don’t have any staff and I don’t want any either. I spent 17 years working in offices and dealing with all the politics and hassles that go with looking after employees. This way, I only have to worry about myself.
Annual revenue is a healthy six figure sum and I have actually let my income drop slightly in recent years in order to reduce my workload and give myself more time. Because everything I sell is digital, around 87% of this figure will be profit.
Q. How long did it take for your sites to start making a profit?
As I said above, initially I didn’t even have a website, I sold my wholesalers guide on eBay and I made a profit from day one – my only costs were the eBay fees. Setting up a website and buying the software to create a proper ebook cost me about $50 and I recouped this outlay within 24 hours.
I am living proof that you don’t need a huge amount of money to get an Internet business up and running.
Q. ) How much time and money did it take for you to initially get the site up and running?
The first version of the eBook took me about 3 months to collate and publish and then about another month to design the website. I didn’t really know anything about setting up an online business, so everything was trial and error and a huge learning curve. In terms of money, my total investment was about $50.
Q. Did you design the site yourself, or did you hire a web designer to do it for you? Can you tell us a bit about this experience?
I designed all of my sites myself. I simply downloaded a free trial of an HTML editor and sat for hours working out how to use it. My first efforts were terrible (some may say my current efforts are not much better!), but, like the first edition of the wholesale guide, the site worked and it made sales. Designing the first site was painfully slow as every step brought new problems, but I don’t like to be beaten, especially by a computer, so I kept at it and learned from all of my mistakes.
I still use the same HTML editor to design my sites today – I keep the designs very simple and ‘plain’ – no fancy Flash animations etc. Look at sites like www.yahoo.com, www.ebay.com and similar and their general layout hasn’t changed for years and it is very simple. If it works for them, it will work for others too.
Q. Who is your target market? Where can your visitors be found online?
My main target market is really anyone that wants to earn money by buying stock and reselling it. It doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy new stock from a traditional wholesaler or drop-shipper or used goods from an auction house. Whilst many of my customers are online auctions sellers, many don’t have any intention of selling online and I have lots of customers that own stores or sell at flea markets etc.
Q. How much traffic are you seeing to your site (unique visitors vs. repeat visitors)? And where is your traffic predominantly coming from?
My entire portfolio of sites receives in the region of 150,000 unique visitors a month – the majority of this comes from organic search engine results, articles I have written and other general inbound links to my various websites. I do very little paid advertising nowadays – less than £100 spend per month.
Q. What are you doing to collect the opt-in e-mail addresses of potential customers?
I have opt-in boxes on most pages of my websites and also use pop-ups to collect email addresses (I know people moan about them, but the fact is that they work very well). I offer a couple of free eBooks to new subscribers as well as access to my newsletter archives.
Q. How often do you make a point of following up with your leads and previous customers? What sorts of offers do you typically follow-up with?
I write a newsletter twice a month called ‘The Online Trader’. The newsletter contains hints, tips, observations and recommendations related to making money online. I sometimes include interviews with other Internet marketers and also use the newsletter to announce new products that I am releasing. If I release a new product, I always offer a special deal to my subscribers – maybe a few dollars off the price or something extra.
The newsletter is sent to all opt-in subscribers and previous customers – currently around 40,000 and will usually include a couple of affiliate links to products that I earn commission on – this means that I make a bit of income each time a newsletter is sent out.
Q. In order of importance, could you please tell us about the top 5 marketing strategies that you use on a regular basis. What percentage of time does each take? And what kind of return does each produce?
• I base my entire business around offering superb customer service and whilst this may not be considered a marketing strategy as such, I consider it one of the best forms of marketing that I do. Whenever I give good customer service, I am marketing myself. My websites are quite ‘personal’ in their feel and people buy from me because they relate to me as an individual and trust me. Therefore, answering emails within a few hours, resolving problems quickly and politely, trying to help with queries that may not instantly earn me anything (but may result in a sale in 3 months time) are all things I do every day that help to keep my business going. Takes anything from half an hour to 2 hours a day.
• Publishing ‘The Online Trader’ newsletter every two weeks. Whilst the newsletter results in fair amount of direct sales every issue from the affiliate advertising links, it’s real importance is in getting people familiar with me and my websites. We all know the old saying that a customer will visit a website 7 times before buying, well the newsletter helps get the customer back to my site those 7 times! Takes about an hour every two weeks.
• Arranging new joint ventures and affiliate arrangements. I contact other online marketers fairly regularly to see if we can promote each others products via our newsletter lists or websites. This can be on a one-off basis or something a bit more permanent such as an affiliate link on their website. How much time I spend on this task depends how busy I am, but I try to put at least a couple of days a month aside to work on this type of marketing. I have been pretty tied up with product development over the past 3 months, but once my desk is clear of these projects I will be spending a lot more time working on Joint Ventures and affiliate linking.
• Seeing what everyone else is doing. It is vital to see what other people are doing online in order that you don’t miss an opportunity or risk someone sneaking in and taking some of your business. I spend at least an hour a day reading other marketers newsletters and having a general surf around the Internet just ‘observing’.
• Keeping my products up to date and ‘fresh’. Things change fast on the Internet and there is always something new to offer. I offer free updates with the majority of my products and I update the member sites every month by adding new content. This keeps people interested and keeps subscription cancellations to an absolute minimum.
Q. How much emphasis do you place on search engine placement & optimization?
Search engine placement is very important for me. I get the vast majority of my traffic from the main search engines. I spent a lot of time optimizing the two trader sites in the beginning but now I just check on them every now and then to ensure that I am still holding my positions and if not, I tweak them as necessary.
Q. Have you ever bought online advertising (i.e. banner ads, e-zine ads, pay-per-click search engine campaigns, etc…)? If so, what kind and were the results successful?
I have used pay per click advertising heavily in the past (spending several thousand dollars a month) but in recent months I have gradually phased this out almost completely as it is no longer as effective as it used to be and it is also much more expensive.
Q. Do you promote your site offline as well?
No, I have never done any offline promotion.
Q. What have you done to automate your site?
Everything I possibly can! The thing about selling informational products is that you can automate just about everything and this leaves you the time to move onto the next project. If a customer buys one of my eBooks, the payment processing is handled automatically and assuming the payment is approved, the customer is automatically transferred to the appropriate download page where they can obtain their purchase. They also get an email with instructions as to what to do if they miss the download page or have a problem.
When someone joins one of the membership sites, they choose their username/password and once payment has been made, they can instantly access the site. Each month when they make their subscription payment, their membership is extended for a further month. If they don’t make their payment, their login details are deleted automatically until they renew their subscription.
Newsletter subscribers are added and removed to my ezine mailing list automatically with no intervention from me.
I also have a dedicated online ‘Helpdesk’ which includes a comprehensive knowledgebase with the answers to the most commonly asked questions I receive. This means that my customers can often resolve their problem without having to contact me.
Really, the only time I get involved in any transaction is when something goes wrong (which it does occasionally of course).
My main credit card processor even pays my sales proceeds into my bank account every Friday!
Q. Richard, could you please tell us about four online tools or web sites that you’ve found to be powerful resources for marketing your business or locating e-business strategies and information? What are they and how have they benefited you?
www.alexa.com I use Alexa regularly to assess other websites before approaching the owners in respect of joint ventures. Although I know from the way that my own sites are ranked that it is not 100% accurate, it does give a good indication of the level of traffic a certain website is receiving. The results are often surprising – I have seen some great websites and been convinced that they must be attracting huge levels of traffic, only to find that Alexa doesn’t even rank them! Equally, I have found some appalling sites that are receiving unbelievable levels of traffic – without Alexa, I wouldn’t have given them a second look.
www.google.com Google is my number one search engine when it comes to finding new JV partners or marketing resources (or in fact anything at all!) I can’t remember the last time I used a different search engine.
www.clickbank.com Although Clickbank is first and foremost a credit card processor, they also offer a superb built-in affiliate system for all of their members products. I regularly find new products to promote in the Clickbank marketplace and creating my affiliate links is quick and easy. I often promote other Clickbank member products in my newsletters by way of a ‘classified ad’ – costs me nothing and usually results in quite a few sales if I get the product right. It is a one-stop shop when it comes to finding new products to promote and selling on an affiliate basis.
Q. Could you tell us about the top software products that you’re using to automate your sites? What are they, and how much time have they saved you?
• aMember Pro (www.cgi-central.net) – This is the script that I use to run my membership sites. It integrates with my payment processors and keeps a note of users and their login details. As well as dealing with the initial sign up process, it also deals with ongoing maintenance such as removing members if they cancel their subscription. The script also monitors logins from different IP addresses and will block a username/password if it looks like someone has started sharing their login info. All in all an extremely powerful piece of software, packed with features, that save me hours and hours of time every month. In fact, I doubt that I could run the member sites efficiently without it.
• Clickbank Manager (www.thetraderonline.com/cbm.html) – This script works in conjunction with Clickbank to manage my Clickbank sales and run my affiliate program. Because of the way that Clickbank combines an affiliate program with a credit card processing system, I am saved absolutely hours of time every month. The entire affiliate process from sign up to pay out of commissions is automated.
• Kayako eSupport (https://www.kayako.com ) – this is the script that I use to run my helpdesk. Simply excellent and saves me hours every week.
Q. How many hours per week do you spending running your business versus growing it?
Because of the high level of automation across my sites, I can actually run the existing businesses in less than an hour a day – this time being spent checking emails and dealing with any problems that may arise.
Q. What unique challenges exist for companies in your market?
The main challenge for any Internet business that is selling information is to ensure that the product being sold is top quality. Whilst there are plenty of eBooks etc that you can buy with resale rights, I truly believe that the only way of making any serious money is to have your own products. Sitting down and writing a good eBook or setting up a good website can take several months and many people just wouldn’t be able to do it. I would guess that most people give up before getting past this hurdle.
Once you have a great product, you need a website. The vast majority of Internet Marketers are not computer experts and, like me, have simply learnt to use software etc as they went along. This means that after developing a great product, most people then have to sit down and work out how to create a website.
And thirdly, once you have the product and the website, you need to get some traffic and that is a challenge for any online business.
All of the above processes take time and while a new marketer goes through each process, his online business won’t be generating any income. To keep the enthusiasm up for 2, 3 or more months, whilst working for nothing is a huge challenge in itself. Especially when those around you will probably be telling you that you are wasting your time (most people seem to be pretty cynical about whether it is possible for ‘ordinary’ people to make money on the Internet).
Q. What are some of the challenges you have personally experienced building and growing your site?
Well, all of the above to start with!
I was lucky in that I was given an indication of the possible success of my first product when I advertised it in eBay. This helped to spur me on to improve the product and develop things further. If the first eBook had ‘flopped’ when I advertised it on eBay, I am sure that I would have given up like so many others.
Other than the initial challenges of developing a product and a website to sell it from, I generally find I have some sort of challenge everyday! I find that the majority of issues relate to software – for example, trying to get a new script to work on a particular website or trying to troubleshoot a problem that a customer has with reading an eBook etc.
Computers and the Internet are great when everything works smoothly, although this doesn’t seem to be the case very often – there always seems to be something that needs tweaking or replacing. It can feel like the old duck scenario at times – graceful, smooth appearance above the water, but under the surface it’s a different story – feet madly kicking to keep things afloat!
Q. What would you consider to be your major achievements?
I suppose my main achievement has been building a business from a $50 investment to making a six figure profit in less than 18 months.
Q. What do you think has helped to make your site so successful?
Initially, the wholesale sites filled a gap on the Internet. Contact details for wholesalers used to be very hard to find on the Net – many don’t have websites or if they do, they are badly marketed. I knew from my experience as a seller on eBay how hard it was to locate new suppliers and clearly this was a problem that others were experiencing.
Having a good product was half the battle, but I think that my high standard of customer service and being approachable has been one of the main reasons for the success of the sites. I have a great rapport with many of my customers and people have grown to trust me (which they are right to do!). They know that if I recommend something in my newsletter, then it will be a good product – I am not going to try and get them to buy something just to earn a $20 commission for myself.
There are many competitive products to my wholesale sites on the web today, yet my business is still growing, so I guess there must be something that makes my sites stand out from the rest. I would like to think it is the superb service and personal touch that I offer.
Q. What is the biggest mistake you have made since you first launched your site?
Probably not putting much effort into marketing it initially. I didn’t really understand what the potential was and for the first six months I made very little effort in building up traffic etc. At this stage, I wasn’t thinking of the site as a business as such, it was still a hobby – something to do in my leisure time. Taking this lax attitude initially probably lost me several thousand dollars worth of income and put me ‘behind’ by six months (which is a long time on the Internet).
Q. Could you tell us about a “light bulb” moment that you’ve had? A moment when you’ve thought to yourself, “If only I’d known that earlier…”
My biggest light bulb moment was when I actually thought to myself one day, ‘Hang on, if I am making this much money with 100 visitors to the site each day, how much can I make with 1000?’
That was when the penny dropped that the Internet is a ‘numbers game’. The more quality traffic your site gets, the more sales you make – simple. The hard bit is getting the quality traffic.
That moment occurred about six months after I developed my first site and from that moment I started to work my socks off building the businesses and I haven’t looked back.
Q. What major mistakes do you see other Internet entrepreneurs making?
Oh gosh, all sorts of things – I am sure that I am making loads of mistakes myself!
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is not looking after their customers (or potential customers). Too many web site owners are slow to answer emails or just don’t bother. Many give poor replies to emails and don’t take the time to try and make the customer feel ‘wanted’ or important.
I will give you an example, a major name in Internet Marketing recently launched a new newsletter. This is a person who I have purchased products from, but never actually corresponded with. I subscribed to the newsletter and thought it was original in content and style, so I took the time to drop the guy an email telling him so and congratulating him. It was a short email of just one paragraph, which would have taken 15 seconds to read.
The reply I got back?
One word – ‘Thanks’
Regardless of what he wanted to say, this one word reply actually said the following to me,
‘My time is more valuable than yours and I don’t believe that you are important enough to my business for me to spend 30 seconds writing a polite reply, even just a sentence would be too much!’
As I said, this is a guy that I have already spent money with, I have subscribed to his newsletter AND written to say I thought it was good. I am also an affiliate of his products and could do more to market his product range if I wanted which would obviously make him more money. However, with that one word email, he blew the lot. I unsubscribed from his newsletter list and doubt that I will buy from him again. To my mind, the fact that I had spent my time to email him in the first place deserved more than a one word answer IF he wanted to retain me as a future customer/affiliate.
Customers are key – no customers, no business. There are an awful lot of other websites out there, many doing exactly the same thing – if business owners don’t make the effort to keep/win their customers, they will lose them to someone else. It takes hardly any time at all and no real effort to make a customer feel important, but the benefits in terms of customer loyalty are huge.
Q. Where do you see your sites one year from now?
In a years time I think the main focus of my business will be on the membership sites – this is where the majority of the future income of the business will come from. The member sites will be a lot larger in terms of content and the price will have gone up, but the concept will be the same – trade information for on and offline sellers.
I don’t plan to be working as hard as I am now in a year’s time but then I have said that every year since I started working online!
Q. What advice do you have for beginners who are interested in selling over the Web?
Be aware firstly that it is hard work and if you want to succeed, you must be willing to work long hours for several months before you see any real rewards. Too many people give up far too quickly – quite possibly just before they start making any money.
Try to develop something completely original – if you can’t think of a totally original idea, do something that is already being done, but add your own twist to it.
Find a ‘expert’ that is already successful in your field of interest and learn from him/her. I don’t mean copy their website word for word or duplicate their products, but learn from the techniques that they are using. Don’t be afraid to email them and ask them questions – they may not answer, but if they do, the advice you receive may be invaluable.
Q. Finally, how has running your sites impacted your personal and professional life?
Running my own online business has improved my life no end. These are just some of the benefits that come to mind:
• I am completely my own boss and I can work when I want to. Whilst I do work long hours most days, I enjoy doing it. The only restriction that I put on myself is that I ensure that I check my emails at least every 12 hours, regardless of where I am in the world.
• I earn more money than I have ever done, doing something that I love – I could never say this about any job.
• I never have to drive into the city again at 7.30am to attend a stuffy corporate finance meeting!
• I can work pretty much anywhere in the world (as long as I have an Internet connection). This flexibility (and my online income) has allowed me to purchase my dream house on the South Coast of the UK. The house is right on the beach and whilst the UK weather isn’t exactly tropical, I can’t think of a better place to live and work.
• None of my friends earn their living on the Internet, so I have something original to talk about at dinner parties!
‘I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with something tremendous – a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man … I am dynamite.’ Anon.
Thanks Richard – wise words and as you can can see there is a theme running through the secrets to the success of these people earning more than they ever could in their jobs.
Perseverance, plain and simple – You can learn most any of the marketing techniques, systems and methods over time but if you don’t put them into action and just keep going you’d best find a good job or be a good criminal!
There are no short cuts and remember this – If you follow everything you read in The Wealthness Blog the question is not a matter of if you’ll be successful, but when!