I caught the first episode of the new season of The Apprentice on BBC iPlayer yesterday and my ears pricked up when I heard Sir Alan declare that “a quarter of all new businesses don’t make it beyond year two” It soon dawned upon me that my freebies based money-saving blog Gratisfaction UK (www.gratisfaction.co.uk) was now safely into year three! What started as just a fantasy chat over the Christmas dinner table with my brother, had actually surpassed some of Alan Sugar’s start-ups and made it beyond the first 24 months. As I’m sure most bloggers can relate to, running an online business consumes every part of you and tends to be the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you go to bed. So it’s no wonder that we’ve propelled ourselves into year three already, without even noticing that we have overcome the 24 month Sugar sweetness test!
So here we are coming towards the end of our third year working together as Gratisfaction UK LLP. We’ve by no means got everything right in that time but we’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. So we thought it best to share our experiences of running our online business with you guys who are likely in the same boat as us. Here’s our top 5 tips:
1) Focus on what you are good at and what is delivering results – For ages we tried to do too much and as a result we spread ourselves too thin. There’s only two of us in the business and we started out trying to make sure we publish everything on our site. As time went on we realised that certain things either weren’t working or just weren’t worth our time. We’ve now streamlined Gratisfaction so that we concentrate only on freebies and our sole focus there is to be the first to publish the latest and best offers. It’s good practice to take stock of what you are doing with your time and to ask yourself ‘Is this the best use of my time?’ If a big chunk of your day is spent doing a task that isn’t achieving what you thought it would achieve, stop reassess your priorities and make any necessary changes.
2) Experiment with social media. It’s all very well and good creating amazing content for your blog but it you don’t have the traffic then it’s a hopeless cause! We’ve crafted an audience in excess of 200,000 simply by persevering with social media for the past two and half years. Concentrate on the platforms that work best for your niche. For us Facebook has been a huge asset to help us reach our target audience. Our advice is to try different strategies to grow your business on social media. Make sure you follow others as much as possible, join Facebook groups that are a good fit for your niche and keep up your sharing rate, without overdoing your message and looking like spam.
3) Keep a record and keep on top of your accounts – Once the money starts to trickle in from running your own online blogging business, be sure to get organised with your record keeping. Get professional advice if necessary, but right from the off make sure you keep hold of any receipts and expenses. Make sure you ask for invoices from any companies (or individuals) you do business with. Having a process in place from the outset made it a lot easier for us the first time we had to get our heads around tax returns. HMRC also offer loads of free webinars (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hmrc-webinars-email-alerts-and-videos) throughout the years which have helped us figure stuff out and kept running the business as simple as possible.
4) Make friends – sounds silly but we have learned to keep every door open since we started out in 2014. There’s so much you can learn from more experienced online bloggers. Without starting random conversations on Facebook comments threads and direct messaging like-minded souls on Twitter we would be none the wiser. Running an online business can sometimes be a lonely existence too – especially if you don’t have colleagues, so developing relationships with people in your field can help keep you sane too!
5) Jump at new opportunities – similarly to keeping doors open with potential friends in the industry, we’ve also come to realise that things move quickly and that new opportunities (and threats!) are constantly appearing on the horizon. A big part of our business now involves promoting new products as they establish themselves in the marketplace. Being able to anticipate what’s coming and how we can use social media to engage with these changing audiences has been a key to our early success.
I hope that some of the above will help you to shape your online business for the better. In the words of Sir Alan “You’re NOT fired!”
Best of luck everyone.
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