Web of opportunity?

As e-commerce grows, techniques for success emerge and are passed along

Online businessperson Laura Ramirez sometimes works on her Web sites from a coffee shop to get away from home, where her office is.

Online businessperson Laura Ramirez sometimes works on her Web sites from a coffee shop to get away from home, where her office is.

Photo By David Robert

Build a Successful Web Business:
Register at wdce.tmcc.edu

To research Scams and Dot “Cons":
Better Business Bureau, Truste.org, Alexa Rankings, i-cop.org and entrepreneur forums at About.Com.

Internet commerce is too saturated. Competition is too fierce. Only those who got in early can make money.

Comments like that are rarely spoken by Web entrepreneurs whose sites consistently rank within the top 10 on search engines.

According to Marketing Sherpa, about 134 million Americans use search engines to assist in online information quests. And 63 percent of those people look only at the first page of results.

From her office, a mobile Mac Book Pro, Laura Ramirez multi-tasks five Internet businesses while negotiating sibling rivalry and getting the laundry done. Taking it all in stride and working in blue jeans demonstrates her laid-back style. She defines her thoughtful, methodical system for creating successful Internet businesses as “the way of the tortoise,” and she’ll be teaching her system at Truckee Meadows Community College’s Meadowood Center beginning Sept. 11. She’s a stay-at-home mom, raising Dakota, 13, and Coltan, 11, with her husband in Hidden Valley.

“The Internet is not a field of dreams,” Rameriz says. Statistics agree. Estimates range from 85 to 95 percent failure rates for Web businesses in the first year. The small percentage who succeed understand that Net businesses require as much attention as setting up a brick-and-mortar shop. Just because a person builds a Web site doesn’t mean that people will enter and provide income.

Ramirez cites three key reasons for online business failure. First, people bring their off-line mentality to the Web, which isn’t about location. In the online world, information quality is a larger factor. Second, people don’t take the time to research a business and find out what people want or how they search. Third, people are distracted by the get-rich-quick mentality, which is where scams and “dot cons” thrive.

Stay-at-home moms, retirees and people needing additional income often seek benefits from Net business opportunities. In turn, they are most preyed upon by Internet scams. The duped are left feeling ashamed and disillusioned with Internet businesses, with little or no income to show for their efforts, just wasted time.

Internet opportunities require diligent research. Joining a forum to discuss programs before you leap can help. Both scams and opportunities come into the light.

An online world of opportunity exists for Web entrepreneurs who learn the ropes, are willing to work and know how to draw traffic to their sites. E-commerce is growing 20-25 percent each year, according to Shop.org. And Forester Research projects $329 billion in online sales in 2010 for U.S. businesses, while $172 billion was totaled in 2005.

In 1999, Ramirez had her first Web site, Kokopellistreasures.com, up and running. Her idea was helping people purchase hard-to-find Native American and Southwest items while promoting lesser-known artisans. It took a week for the first customer to purchase from her site. Within six months, a reliable income source was cultivated and growing. She survived the dot-com bust and two cases of fraud. In eight years, she’s had 10 returns.

Her secret is finding a niche, selling products that she’s passionate about while creating personal relationships with her customers and knowing her target audience. Especially in Web businesses, people like to promote automation. Contrary to scads of “expert” advice, Ramirez believes automation is never beneficial.

“That personal touch means I’m dealing with an actual human being, who is what I want when I do business, unless of course, I’m putting money in a vending machine,” she says.

It pays to respond personally to every e-mail. A happy customer notes, “The staff was incredibly helpful,” and “I will use them again.” Ramirez is a staff of one, giving the perception of a big company. And perception can dictate transactions in the online world.

Her first Web site is hosted by Yahoo, which took away features and sold them back to her. She didn’t make the same mistake twice. Researching alternatives led her to SiteSell. Internet entrepreneur wannabes can log onto http://sitesell.com/videotour to watch a video, or browse the site to read case studies. In the past decade, the company added features but never increased the price.

“They [SiteSell] are a company of ethical and responsible people, and I stake my reputation on them,” Ramirez says.

Ken Envoy founded SiteSell in 1997. His idea was to promote “e-commerce for the rest of us.” His software includes hosting, domain name, site building tools, and other Web resources for an average or technologically impaired person to get a Web business going. The software focuses on drawing traffic to a site and ranking high on search engines.

One success leads to another.

Ramirez’s passion for parenting finds expression at Parenting-Child-Development.com. The site is an e-zine called Family Matters! with 13,000 subscribers worldwide. Ramirez has a bachelor’s degree in child psychology, which lends credibility for her content. She writes an article or two each week. Once an article is written, she earns income every time embedded product links are clicked or when sales from such links are made.

“You have to please Web surfers by providing content they are looking for, and you have to please search engine spiders,” she says. Spiders are programs that automatically fetch Web pages and feed them to search engines.

A love of inspirational words works for her at Love-Quotes-and-Quotations.com. This site receives 200,000 page views per month. Inspiring others pays by monetizing with e-books and Google AdSense. Success at this site branched off to another site, where she advises people who e-mail or video questions, seeking relationship and love assistance.

The Ramirez family has vacationed in Cabo San Lucas for 20 years. Her knowledge of the area works for her at Cabo-San-Lucas-Beaches.com. “I’m not competing with the big guys,” she says. “My niche is a family acting as your tour guide.”

Once a week she writes an article and adds pictures. She made a commercial with her kids to help sell software that teaches Spanish to travelers, earning her business $20 per sale. This site also makes money when travelers click hotel links. Software and links are examples of affiliate program income streams.

Ramirez uses a four-step system for Web success: content, traffic, pre-sell and monetize. Making money is the last step, taken after a firm business foundation has been set.

She partnered with TMCC to teach a class, Build a Successful Web Business, from Sept. 11 to Nov. 13. The Tuesday class, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., meets at TMCC’s Meadowood Center. Only 12 students will be enrolled, and the registration deadline is Sept. 4. The class costs $199, plus a $300 subscription to SiteSell.

“You don’t have to know how to build a Web page, just be able to type text into boxes, be able to write like you’re talking to a friend and know how to use e-mail,” Ramirez says. If all goes well, students should be able to walk away with a Web site launched and knowledge of the tools to build a successful Web business.