Prior to 2010, every single client I ever worked with met with me in person.
I’d show up at their physical location (which over the years included businesses from custom industrial machines, a biotech startup, and – my personal favorite – a vineyard). From Atlanta to Washington DC, there were weeks when nearly 5 out of 7 days I was heading off to spend time face-to-face.
Fast-forward 5 years… and I’ve met with my clients in real life less than a handful of times. Technology has made it easier than ever before to work virtually. And with 3 littles running around, having an online business has been an amazing way to have more quality time with my kids while running a business.
If you run a face-to-face local business, the idea of taking your business online can be pretty appealing. Especially when you see promises of frolicking on the beach and making money while you sleep all over your Facebook feed.
While building an online business is a bit more complicated than you might think (with an often steep tech-learning curve), for face-to-face business owners it can be an amazing and rewarding experience that helps you leverage your expertise and to make a bigger impact on the world.The truth is, businesses fueled by passion do amazingly well online.Click To Tweet
Here’s the scoop on what you’ll want to think about if considering taking your business online:
Going Online Eliminates Barriers
When you’re a service provider like a yoga teacher, a health coach, or photographer (and you’re consumer-facing – meaning, you’re serving people, not business owners)… you may find yourself limited by the budget or expectations for your location. Adding an online component to your business lets you do the work you love, eliminate geographic barriers, and create the business you really want in the process.
With a face-to-face business, you’re limited by the economic conditions where you live. Which is great if you’re a wedding photographer in NYC charging upwards of $20K per wedding… or a yoga teacher charging $200 per private lesson; but if you’re in a smaller city or rural market, you’re going to have a much harder time charging those same premium prices. Think of it as trying to sell your service at Nordstrom prices when you’re dealing with clients looking for Wal-Mart bargains.
Taking your offline business online helps you achieve so much more. You can reach more people, make the most of your time, and even make more money… especially when you eliminate the geographic price differences so you can charge premium prices.
And if you’re really savvy, you’ll also realize that this creates an entirely new opportunity for your business and lifestyle when you can charge premium prices but your business and living expenses are still inexpensive. This is why so many online entrepreneurs showcase frolicking on the beach – it’s much cheaper to live in Mexico and make NYC prices!
Streamline Your Workday
If you were to review your calendar right now, you’d likely find “dead” time where you’re driving to appointments, or simply waiting for your next session to arrive. With an online-based business, you can make better use of your time and create some efficiency.
Ready to free up 10 hours in your work week? Take your biz online!Click To Tweet
Most of my clients are spending between 5 and 10 hours a week traveling to and from clients – time that can be used to run your online business and/or serve more clients. Adding an online component to your business lets you become more efficient and not end up stuck at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.
One of my favorite ways to streamline my client calendar is to literally book appointments back to back. That was pretty much impossible before going online – there were days when I could only see one client and more time was spent traveling than actually doing the work. Now, I’m able to block out chunks of time in my calendar where I can talk with 3 people in a single afternoon (if you’re not as big an introvert as I am, you might be able to see 5-6 in a single day).
Combine Online + Offline into a Hybrid
Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of entrepreneurs who really thought going online was exactly what they wanted… only to find themselves feeling isolated and lonely. If you’re an extreme extrovert – take note!
Going online likely means you’ll spend a good majority of your time solo. Yes, you can chat with people on Facebook but if you’re craving the connection that comes with a more local presence, you’ll want to find a way to bridge the gap.
Taking your business online isn’t an either/or proposition. You can do both and that’s exactly what I recommend to many clients… especially as they are first making the move. There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Maintaining a thriving local business can help you build the online portion of your business in a way that’s healthy and allows you to scale over time.
If you smart small with moving online (great options could include small information products or workshops), you’ll be able to get more comfortable and free up time that you can use to focus on creating other opportunities. That book you’ve been dreaming of writing or that program you’re dying to create can come to life as you find more time in your schedule to explore new options.
Experience is EVERYTHING
Wondering if you have enough experience to take your business online… if you’ve been running your local business and have worked with actual humans in person, the answer is a big fat YES! The experience you’ve gained working with your clients can help you be successful online.
There’s no substitute for experience. The months and years you’ve spent honing your craft mean you have deep insight and knowledge about your clients and you can bring that to a new audience using the web. And trust me on this – that experience will stand out from the crowd as the online space is full of inexperienced ‘experts’.Experience is the key to a stand out online business!Click To Tweet
One of my clients is a yoga teacher that taught 25 classes a week for 10 years, so when she started the online portion of her business she’d logged more than 10,000 hours perfecting her way of doing things.
When she wanted to create an online program, she crafted that program offline working with in-person groups over the course of 18 months. All of that knowledge and experience let her turn around and create an incredible, completely transformative online-based program that fills up whenever she runs it.
It’s not exactly an overnight success story, but it shows how important and valid all those hours of working with clients face-to-face truly are. When you’ve put in the time and effort, you’re excellent at what you do and have what you need to back it whatever you offer online.
If you’re still building your skills and mastering your craft, take time to get really good at what you do first! It’s great to start working on your online business during those early days but be realistic with your expectations. You’ll have a lot more success if you leverage your budding online presence (especially via your blog and social media) to start working with people so you can really learn what you have to offer.
Starting by Taking Your Services Online
Running an online business isn’t as different from your face-to-face business as you may think. Sure, the online part of it has some learning curve, but if you break it down, whatever you’re offering in your face-to-face business likely translates to being offered online in some way.
In many cases, it’s as simple as taking how you serve your clients in person and adapting it for people who aren’t physically there with you. That may mean you offer a video instead of leading your class live, or you have a phone session versus a face-to-face one.
When I first took my business online, technology had finally become more affordable and internet speeds were finally fast enough for me to start hosting all my appointments virtually. Not only have I worked with all my clients via Skype (which is 100% FREE), but my entire team uses Skype to collaborate and check-in each week.
The exact same workshops and seminars I used to run in-person became easier than ever to offer via a teleconference line like UberConference or live video streaming like Spreecast.
And if you’re a service provider who needs to collaborate with clients, tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, Asana, and Basecamp make it insanely simple to stay on the same page without struggling with huge emails back and forth.
Prepare to do MORE Marketing
This is possibly the biggest misconception about going online I hear from hopeful entrepreneurs – that once they take their business online, launch their website, and start posting on social media that people will come beating down their virtual door.
When you go online, you’re now in a global marketplace. And there aren’t just a few dozen people who do what you do… there are THOUSANDS. And when there are tens of thousands of new websites being launched every single day, you’ve got to learn how to attract your tribe and stand out.
Understanding how marketing works in the online ecosystem is one of the most important things you’ve got to learn when taking your business online. The good news? If you’re starting with a strong local business and experience, you have a baseline to work from. And if you start by taking your services online, you won’t need to do as much marketing as someone who is focused on straight information products (trust me – you only need a handful of great 1×1 clients to make a sustainable living… but if you’re trying to survive off $19 e-books, now you’re needing thousands of sales per month).
And if the technology piece of this is scaring you off, remember everything is figureoutable. If you’ve got the chops to run an offline business, you can make it work online! Especially as you’re bringing real experience to the table – your body of work will stand alone.
Running an online business is an amazing way to build on the work you already do with your clients and to help you reach more. The secret is understanding how to translate what you’re already doing today into a more leveraged online business model (without unrealistic expectations of instant internet success).
I’d love to hear from you – what questions do you have about taking your offline biz online?
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