It’s safe to say we’re at a point in the web where every “easy” business model has been tried by a thousand people. If you want to sell toys, or shoes, or books, or electronics someone has a huge lead on you. They’ve built a store, refined it a few dozen times, battled fierce competition, been undercut in the market, done some undercutting themselves, and have finally carved out a decent niche (or more likely went out of business). The web isn’t like a strip mall Chinese restaurant in the suburbs. Just being there won’t drive any business to your site.
So how do we think about an online business in 2009?
More than ever, we need to remember the Seth Godin mantra: Be Remarkable! Instead of just blindly migrating your existing business to an online model, you really need to think how can I differentiate my business?
There are a couple ways to differentiate your business:
1. Think Small
What’s an extremely passionate, needy, or underserved market for me to explore. Instead of selling an acupressure kit for all problems; think Acupressure for Fibromyalgia pain or Acupressure for Sleep Apnea.
The Google Keyword Tool is an amazing way to search for smaller and smaller demographics. You’ll be amazed at how many thousand people search for knitting patterns or digital scrapbooking. If 10,000+ people search for a term every month, you can build a powerful niche business around serving that demographic.
2. Create Fanatical Customer Service built one of the fastest growing brands on the web by dedicating themselves to customer service. The company is run by people who are obsessed by shoes. They translate that passion into incredible customer service. They have an incredible return policy. They have wonderful live people to talk with about your order. They’ll sometimes even throw in free overnight shipping to make you feel special.
Shopping on the web tends to feel pretty impersonal, so knock-their-socks off customer service really gets noticed. Shoppers told friends, friends told more friends, and soon Amazon bought their company for almost a billion dollars.
3. Serve Customers in a Unique Way
d2The greeting card business has always been a tough business. You have to manage huge inventory costs and most card purchases are spontaneous, so your brick and mortar location is very important. found a great way to serve customers online. They’ll use your handwriting as a font to deliver custom cards anywhere. They serve customers through a subscription service, encouraging people to send cards more often.
Their approach works because they took time to turn the idea of buying cards on its head. Instead of thinking about the cards they provide, they thought about the goals of someone sending a card and made it:
• Simple – send a card in a few seconds.
• Immediate – think about a reason and send right away.
• Personal – it’s not just a pre-printed card, it’s one in your handwriting.
4. Take it to the Extremes
d1Be the biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult. Being remarkable isn’t a formula, but if you pay attention to your competition and constantly think about how to turn that business on its head, you’ll find a niche. only sells one item each day. They choose one random thing, make it a spectacular price and take time to write something clever and funny about the subject. One item definitely stands out in the sea of options that are on the web. How can you take your business to the extremes and make it worth talking about?